Compulsive Shopping: How I Stopped Buying Into Fantasy
Lancome stopped selling Juicy Tubes in Canada (Why, Lancome? Why?!) five years ago - but I still have seven. My name is Sarah and I am overcoming a compulsive cosmetics shopping obsession.
At one point not long ago, I had managed to collect over 200 products. That might not sound like a lot to some of you makeup mavens, but as a lifelong tomboy, I don’t really wear that much make-up. Thus, it’s even more ridiculous that those 200+ products were limited to mascara, skin and haircare and lip gloss.
You know that hopeful feeling that you just need to find the right product and your worries will disappear as you somehow transform into a beautiful butterfly? I do - and it took me a lot of money and time to get over it. This is how the cosmetics industry triggers our insecurity; promising devastating results and effectively wrapping us in its seductive web.
I’m not blaming them - I chose to buy into the fantasy after all, but I can tell you that thousands of dollars and 20 years down the road, I still look like me. It’s just that now, I’m kind of OK with that. How did I get here?
I Bought Into the Fantasy
At least once a week, I was dropping into my local drug store, beauty counter or Sephora cart. I would go out with a girlfriend and come home with 4 shampoos, satisfied with coming away with a pretty bag just as much as I was about the promise of bouncy, shiny hair that came with what was in it.
Lancome has a new mascara? This skin cream gets rid of brown spots? A Moroccan Argan Oil in a green bottle? Ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching.
‘Gift with Purchase’ and ‘Bonus points’ were massive triggers for me. No matter what the offer, I was getting a deal - and that meant high-tailing it to the store for some great looking package that was sure to make me look better, fresher, younger, whatever. Plus, free stuff... hello?
There’s a reason the global cosmetics industry pulls in $500 billion annually - and is expected to rise to an unbelievable $800 billion by 2023. They are laser-focused on making us feel like we are not good enough - so we buy more. Would you still push an old lady out of the way to get the last Fenty highlighter if Rhianna’s glamorous celebrity mug wasn’t attached to it?
There were really two issues for me:
- I have an obsession with reward programs and getting free stuff, and
- I thought that getting the right products would somehow make me better.
Part of my compulsion was/is definitely the sense that I am getting something for free. ‘Gifts with purchase’ is still an especially tempting message; it was never hard to spend $30-50 on something to get a free beauty bag full of goodies, but then instead of bringing home 1 or 2 products, suddenly I had 7-8. (much later, I would wonder if the free stuff is just old crap they want to get rid of.)
Looking back now, I realized that I just latched onto an obsession with skin care, which sounds manic, and it was. I’ve never considered myself ugly, but I’m known for my quick wit, not my natural beauty. One of the surface things I got regular compliments on was my skin - so in a weird way, that alone became a source of confidence for me - and I did what I thought I had to do to keep getting those compliments.
I Wanted a Cabin, but Instead, I Spent $8,000 on Shampoo & Wrinkle Cream
I dream about buying a tree-nestled little cabin overlooking a serene lake that I can escape to on weekends.
One day a few years ago, I looked at the drawers and boxes full of cosmetic products I had accumulated over the previous 5 years. Who needs 11 mascaras? At an average of $20 per, that’s $220 right there. We’re not even talking about the $120 average jar of skin cream with baby llama emulsion that wipes the wrinkles right off your face (not real, I don’t think).
Sure, I’ve probably collected 80 billion points over 25 years, but how much did I spend on stuff I didn’t need and never used? There were also those that gave me a rash or left me looking worse than before because the instant gratification jolt of dopamine I would get from buying eclipsed the rational thought that goes into investing in something I’m putting on my one and only face. I gave a lot away for Christmas gifts.
I still remember the day I stopped long enough to realize how much stuff I had accumulated. Just like Marie Kondo tells us to pile all of our clothes on the bed to really take in just how much we have, I pulled every lip gloss, hairbrush and hand cream out of my purses, coats and car and made one giant pile in my bathroom.
I started to do an inventory.
My family has always instilled a sense of value in me - I am keenly aware of how many hours I have to work to earn the money to pay for something - so throwing things out that still have use is just not written into my DNA.
I decided then and there; if I’m serious about overcoming this habit, I need to start right now. Use up what you’ve already bought and no more until you do. End of story. That was 5 years ago.
The good news? I’ve not spent nearly as much since I stopped the obsession. I’ve found a dependable handful of products I really love and continue to purchase - without feeling guilty about the price tag - and I have a great routine that keeps it all looking healthy.
Other Good Things Came Out of This
I’m no longer obsessed with the collecting; that feeling of buying something is still there like I have money burning a hole in my pocket, I don’t know if that’s ever going to go away for me. Now I’m more obsessed with using up my products. It’s still there, but definitely more in control now.
I stand by the collecting points strategy - if you can keep it under control. Saving up your list of needed products for a 20x or bonus points event at your favorite cosmetics shop is a smart way to go if you want to save up for something really expensive. Make sure you’re not going just to get the points - that’s how I got into trouble. Also, ask for samples if you’ve never tried it.
I Only Buy New When I Run Out of Old
Instead of buying a new mascara every time I go to the store, now I wait until I completely run out of the old one. I still keep track of all the cool ones I see, but it forces me to choose the one I am most excited about, instead of dropping a wad on all of them - which you’re supposed to retire after 3-6 months anyway.
Delayed gratification means I really stop to consider how much I want something. Then when I get it, I am extra excited to try it and I don’t feel guilty about spending money - because according to my own weird rules, I have earned that treat.
I’ve accepted the simple thrill of indulgence involved in buying something extravagant. Did I spend $120 on Fresh Black Tea Age Delay cream? You bet I did - and I still do! I lucked out on that one - because I got a sample of it when I bought something smaller - Sugar Face Polish ($30). This is an example of a rational choice - I did not just buy it on spec!
I Take Inventory Every New Years Day…
...and reward myself when I use up a product.
That’s right - now I get excited when I finish something. The full value has been met and I can dispose and move forward with no guilt! At the end of the day, I still have my head turned by beautiful products that promise extravagant transformation if I just use this blush. I think the point is not how I ‘cured’ my issue, but how I have learned to control it.
Sometimes my reward for using up products is a new product. Just one though. More frequently, it’s something else that lets me celebrate a small win without poking the cosmetics bear, as it were. A new plant for my office or an extra massage, for example.
I Don’t Hate my Face
Overall, I came to realize there’s no miracle cream that’ll give me self-confidence and no product out there to make me beautiful if I don’t feel that way. You can keep piling crap on your face, but at the end of the day, if you don’t like looking in the mirror, that’s not an issue cosmetics can necessarily solve. It wasn’t for me, and I had some demons to exorcise.
I’m not saying we should stop trying to improve our appearances if that makes us feel our best, but there are an alarming amount of stories about lovely ladies who turned to cosmetics to fill a hole made by loneliness or self-doubt.
Be your best you - enhance those gorgeous eyes and use your wrinkle cream - but stop buying into the idea that you’ll be ugly and worthless if you don’t have the same foundation as Adriana Lima.
Of course I still care when I have a zit or when my skin just looks tired - I’m not completely immune from vanity. It’s just that now I don’t feel like I’m desperately searching for a way to change my face. It is what it is. Sunscreen ain’t sexy, but it’s the single best product I have - contributing to me not looking like a leather handbag by the time I’m 45. (Thanks La Roche Posay SPF 60!)
I am going to get old. I’m already 3 hours older than when I started writing this. It’s OK. Buying more products will not stop that from happening. I have fantastic skin for my age, but there are also a whole lot of other things about me I can be proud of - and they didn’t come in a jar.
I am proud to say that I can now fit all of my cosmetics in one shoe box - I still have a ways to go, but I’m on the right track - and my mattress is full of cash for that dream cabin.
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