We all know the single most sustainable way forward in beauty, as in life, is to buy nothing at all. Not a very likely way forward for most of us, though, so how can we at least buy less? ‘Shopping your stash’ has become one of the most laudable beauty trends in recent memory, and is all about using the skincare and makeup you already own instead of falling prey to the constant urge for something new. We're here to teach you how to do it in a way that's practical, safe (no using the expired SPF, thank you very much) and yes, even fun.

Two notes before we go on: inherent in the concept of ‘shopping your stash’ is that you have a stash to shop. If you truly do own a capsule collection of beauty products and only repurchase what you run out of when you run out of it, more power to you (and please DM me and tell me more about your superpowers). Also, when I refer to throwing out products, I don’t mean putting them in the bin. You can now take any beauty products from any brand to your closest DJs or Mecca to be appropriately recycled. Also, don’t forget about ‘soft plastics’ , which includes what many products come wrapped in and the plastic satchels they are posted to you in. Coles and Woolies accept these for recycling; I just keep mine in an old grocery bag and take it in when it gets full.


I know it’s a bit of a horrifying thought, but you do have to brace yourself and be ready to dive into every nook and cranny of your home, to get out every single beauty product you own. It’s the only way to be able to properly get to grips with what you already have, what is still usable, and what needs to be ditched. In order to get the most out of what I promise will eventually be an enjoyable task, you need to understand the full picture. There’s no use only going through what’s in your bathroom, if lurking in a shoebox in your bedroom are 17 unopened mascaras once stuck to the front of every magazine on sale ten years ago.

Yes, it’s a (potentially) very big task. Yes, it might make you feel uncomfortable to see every beauty item you own in one place. Yes, it’s necessary. Grab a coffee, pop on a podcast, and settle in. Don’t just create one monster pile, though. Separate as you go, at least into loose categories of makeup, skincare, and haircare. Most importantly, keep anything that is already open separate from that which is unopened.


Opening hours

Going forward, you want to use up any open products first, though do be guided by sense – as in, be sensible about what you can see, smell, and feel. If anything at all seems unusual or as though it has changed from the texture or scent you remember, it has to go. If a product is unopened, you can be guided by the expiry date on the package; all external packaging has a little picture of an open tub with a number next to the letter M, indicating how many months it should last once open. This is often six months for makeup and anywhere from six to 24 for skincare, though be mindful these aren’t hard and fast dictates. If you bought something a while ago, even if it is unopened, it may still have turned, and if you have so-called ‘clean’ products which perhaps don’t include efficacious preservatives, you will need to be even more mindful of this.

Sort spare products by type so you can easily tell what you have next time you run low on a certain product. You don’t want to have to repeat this mountain-of-things process again, and nor do you want to end up buying things you may already own because you couldn’t be bothered to wade through it all to check first. Depending on how many spares you have, you can make these mini stashes as broad (‘skincare’) or narrow (‘serums – hydrating’) as will be useful to you and appropriately reflective of your collection.

Once sorted, do keep an eye on your spares and don’t let them just sit there, unused, to wither and die. Set a calendar reminder to go through them at least twice a year; you’d be surprised how quickly skin needs or makeup preferences can change. if you check on your spares regularly and realise a product you had bought in the past may not be right for you now, then you can give it to a friend whom it would suit, while it’s still useful and usable, versus leaving it to degrade, all lonely and unused. It’s also not a bad way to regularly remind yourself that you do indeed have plenty of product, and perhaps don’t need to click with the speed of light on that latest ‘new launches’ email.

“Lady, you own HOW many spare cleansers?”

A room of one’s own

We want all of our items, open or not, to last as long as possible. So try and keep products out of the bathroom, an environment which, as it is regularly made humid with shower steam, will increase the rate of your products degrading. This isn’t always a practical option, depending on your home’s space configurations, but do try and keep as little as possible in the bathroom and only what is open and being regularly used, at that. I do have one strict proviso though, and that is to never, under any circumstances, keep fragrances in the bathroom. A box in your wardrobe is best, as it will be relatively cool and dark.

Tell me what you want, what you really really want

At this point, hopefully you’ve pulled together a collection of products that haven’t sprouted a Yeti-esque coating of fluffy white mould. If you’re someone who is indecisive (hi!) or nostalgic (…also hi!), deciding which of these technically-still-good products to keep can be a time-consuming and somewhat emotionally taxing experience. Fear not, as I have found a way forward, which I call, rather grandly, my ‘archive box’. It may seem like it’s just delaying the inevitable and another way of procrastinating, but even so, it really does work. Anything you’re not sure of? In it goes, for three to six months. During that time, don’t look at what’s in the box and put it somewhere out of the way. Set a reminder in your phone for whichever time period best suits, and when it alerts you, get to work opening up your DIY time capsule. If, when you pull an item out, you realised you haven’t thought about it once during your self-imposed exile, or your reaction is simply ‘…eh’, ditch it. If you’re flooded with joy, great ­– get it on thy face immediately!

Bury your archive box out in the field if you have to, but no digging up before it’s time!
Image: Sebastian Kim for Vogue Russia, via Instagram @sebkimstudio

Make it nice

Once you have a lovely pile of items you are sure you actually want to keep using, they need to be stored in such a way that you can continue to see, easily access, and actually use it all. Soothing as it can be to scroll past rows and rows of professionally organised, matching storage in colour-coordinated Instagram posts, buying more plastic as a way to ‘sustainably’ use all of your beauty  products isn’t my favourite option to apply to your entire collection. Rather, I’m all for This Girl Can Organise’s real-world approach to using packaging we all already have lying around the house (i.e. the boxes half the things you’re now sorting arrived in), and do repurpose all sorts of funny boxes for storing skincare.

However, when it comes to makeup, I am a firm proponent of storing it in a way that is ready-made for the task. This is because makeup items are inherently naughty: they are often tiny and eager to disappear on us, or are purposely disobedient and unruly, ending up in a ‘what on earth have I got where’ cluster. The result of course being that you end up buying a twentieth eye pencil because you can never find the one you want when you want it. So I recommend using good quality clear acrylic storage drawers for your makeup. This means a set that will last you a long time, so you’re not just continually purchasing more plastic, is easy to wipe down (both for hygiene reasons and so you can see what’s inside them at a glance), and that is sturdy enough to carry the weight of all those pretty-yet-surprisingly-heavy glass bottles so much of our makeup comes packaged in. Really take note of your inventory before purchasing any storage items, and don’t let yourself be seduced by the incredibly loud siren song of ‘my life will be made perfect if I just have one more plastic cube’; buy what will suit you best. (If you’re after a pointer in the right direction, I’m very much enjoying and happily recommend my Ultimate Beauty Box and Three Tier Lipstick Holder from Étoile Collective).

Before putting your collection away in that nice new storage, make sure each product is spick and span, so you actually want to use it and it has its best chance at remaining germ-free. I find some Bioderma Sensibio H20 Micelle Solution on a reusable cotton pad is a great way to freshen up most items. If you need something a wee bit more industrial, such as if an oilier item like foundation or concealer is very smeared, a little eucalyptus oil applied the same way is an easy, inexpensive, readily available, and pleasingly fresh-smelling option.

Acrylic storage for makeup is the only way


Of course, safety first: if something has separated or smells odd, or if it’s a powder product that has become waxy, it has got go. Even if it seems unchanged, remember the hard and fast rule of SPF – 12 months after opening, no matter how much is left, it’s time for a fresh one or it may not protect you as intended. Anything you use near the eyes is going to have a shorter shelf life, so it’s a good idea not to have 47 mascaras on the go. Maybe have two at a time, like one for a more subtle daytime look and then a more dramatic night time option, or waterproof and regular versions, but there’s really no need for more than that, as they’ll all expire at the same rate and so end up in the bin at the same time.

Make sure you’re getting the most out of every product, quite literally. This applies more to skincare rather than makeup, but you would honestly not believe how much product is still left in any given tube of moisturiser or cleanser, even when a superhuman squeeze is no longer able to eke any out. Snizz any plastic tubes open just below their tops, and use a clean teaspoon to scrape the (truly astounding) amount of product out. Then pop your leftovers in a tiny plastic tub with a snap-on lid which all chemists and grocery stores stock, like the type you use for toting salad dressing. I often find so much product is left in the ‘empty’ tube that I need two of these containers.

My most important piece of advice? Please don’t save things for best. Of course you have your everyday products and then special occasion ones, be it tools to create a more glamorous makeup look or the ‘a ginormous spot has erupted and I need this to neutralise it immediately’ arsenal of sometimes-skincare, but really, do use what you’ve got. Life is too short not to use the lovely things, for starters, and, practically speaking, products sadly just do not just keep on keeping on. I do understand the impulse to save special items, but learned the hard way a long time ago, as a childhood adopter of hoarding-the-pretty, that eventually throwing out a too-adored-to-use product because it has disintegrated is so much worse, psychologically and environmentally speaking, than actually enjoying the damn thing.

Story by Zoe Briggs. Main image via Instagram @intothegloss

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