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Beauty Spring Cleaning: Getting the Most Out of Your Beauty Stash

Megan K.
ByMegan K.Mar 19, 2021 | 19 comments

I don’t know about all of you, but when it comes to beauty and makeup, I have quite the collection. Variety is the spice of life, right? With such a collection comes with some arguably fun challenges, some math to consider, and sometimes, tough choices to make. A few weeks ago I decided to tackle what has developed into a huge beauty mess, and really organize what I wanted to keep and what needed to be gifted or donated. I also wanted to be able to take super cute shelfie shots and feel good about my collection.

Take Stock of What You Have

The last time I checked my collection, I had over 100 makeup brushes, 25+ night creams, at least 50 eyeshadow palettes, and countless serums. My house isn’t tiny, but sometimes, well, my collection feels like A LOT. Since we have been in WFH mode (for over a year now, wow!), I have converted one of my extra bedrooms into a combination art studio + office. For months all of my stash was basically dumped into milkcrates, left in their original boxes, or even scattered across my little office chaise. I am in no way an organizational expert, and I don’t actually enjoy organizing, but something had to give.

Not cute.

Admittedly, as a disorganized and utterly chaotic person, the first thing I did was try to organize my items into piles by product type. Then I could totally focus on what I had, what I used, and what I wanted to keep. Dealing with all of the eyeshadow palettes at once was much easier than dealing with all of the eyeshadow palettes mixed in with every other product imaginable. It is very easy to realize you don’t need that many palettes when you see how many you actually have! It also made it easier to split that assortment of palettes into two piles: keep and don’t keep.

Know When to Say Goodbye

Expiration Dates and a Dating System

I know, I know. Expiration dates are really easy to ignore. And when you are in my line of work, or you are just a beauty product enthusiast, actual empties can be exceedingly rare. Between the items I received in my boxes and the skincare samples sent to me at my studio, it all begins to feel like more than a lot. Even so, there is nothing I hate more than discovering a product I really loved has expired before I got a chance to use most of it. The majority of skincare and beauty products will have a little icon on the back that looks like an open pot, and there will be a month indicator inside the design. Others will have very clear expiration dates. Here are a few examples:

Easy! I know exactly when to stop using this because it is clearly labeled, down to the date.

This becomes a little trickier. It looks like I have a year to use this, but, uh.. when did I open it again?

This is a great indicator of how long you should be keeping your product before the ingredients lose potency or start to oxidize. I have found that cleaner beauty products will often have shorter shelf lives because they are often preservative-free. My system is taking a sharpie and writing the date that I open each product on the bottom or on the side label. This way I can keep an eye on how old any cute little bottle is without ruining the look on my shelf. I have found that putting a little tape over this date keeps it in place if you keep your items in a humid area (like a bathroom).

Clear as day.

One of the drawbacks of adorable bottles is that sometimes you know there is more in there, but you just can’t get to it. I recommend ordering some little spatulas designed to make sure you get all of the product you can out of your favorites.

Saying Goodbye

Sometimes you come across a product that isn’t right for your skin or your preferences when it comes to color, texture, or whatever. Sometimes you receive the same product and just know you aren’t into it. I have found that there are three really good ways to rehome products that aren’t expired:

Donate Unopened/Unused Items

Most charities will not accept open or used products, and for good reason. But sometimes you just know a product isn’t for you without even opening it and finding a local women’s shelter or donation option is a great way to get beauty and skincare into the hands of someone who could really use and enjoy it. Dress for Sucess is one of my personal favorites and this organization usually has local chapters you can reach out to.

Gifting

An assortment I recently took home to my mom on a visit to Tennessee.

One of the best perks of my job is always having the perfect gift for someone for literally any reason or no reason at all. I truly love showering my friends and family (especially my mom!) with fun beauty products that they would never buy for themselves. My mom actually never treated herself to anything fancier than drugstore products before I joined MSA in 2018, and since then she has really become a brand and ingredient expert who knows exactly what works for her and what she likes. It also makes her feel super fancy which is adorable. Close friends are always reaching out to me for recommendations, and when I can, I recommend a product that I also can pass along to them. For someone who loves gift-giving more than receiving, it feels pretty darn great.

Swapping

Many of you also know that MSA has a really cool Swaps section that allows you to search for products and swap them with other MSA readers. This is a really fun way to engage others in our community and make sure your items go to someone who will love them, while getting something you might have missed out on in return. Basically, Swaps are the antidote to FOMO.

Organize in a Way that Works for YOU.

Ok, so we finally whittled down our massive collection. Now how to organize it? Again, I am kind of a human disaster when it comes to this sort of thing. I think I could unintentionally make Marie Kondo cry (which would then make me cry and we would get nothing done). I generally keep my skincare on a vanity in my bedroom and my makeup in a vintage marble side table in my office, so my first step was dividing my items into these two piles.

Here is a look at the top of my office storage table. I have my brushes split between larger and smaller ones in two pots, my lipsticks in their own Boxwalla box, and my perfumes in a glass display case because they are essentially art to me.

Inside the table is space for unopened product, extras, or anything else I am hanging onto for a gift for someone.

And on the ground underneath the table are more boxes for eyeshadow palettes, blushes, highlighters, and more. I use all of the Boxwalla boxes I have kept for literally years and organize specific types of items in their own box. Typically, if all of the items won’t fit into one box, I try to edit down more.

Lipsticks are an exception to this rule because I love them and I can’t help myself.

My Two Bag System

Last year was super weird because I quickly started wearing less makeup on a daily basis. That didn’t mean I wanted to have less in my arsenal though! A system that has worked for me is having two bags on hand: a smaller basics bag and a larger bag for when I actually feel like trying.

My basics bag is filled with, well, basics. A BB cream tester I love, mini hand cream, brow gel, mascara, tinted balm, and a lipstick. I can easily toss this in my purse or car on-the-go, and I usually just leave it downstairs in my living room to toss a quick face on when heading out the door.

My larger holographic bag holds some extras, like a full-palette, high-shine gloss, blush, highlighter, and a handful of brushes. I can easily dump the basics bag into the larger bag if I need to take more with me. This system allows me to always have what I use most each day on hand quickly and without digging through my entire collection each time I need something.

Make It Pretty

One of the really fun things about beauty and makeup is how unique and pretty the packaging is. If an item makes my face look better and is also gorgeous to look at, I am in love. In my bedroom I have an antique $25 vanity where most of my perfumes and skincare items live. I tend to use those items in my bedroom, so it seemed right to put them there, and I get to gaze at them before bed.

I bought myself a pretty mirrored riser for my fragrant treasures. It makes selecting one each day feel extra fancy.

And my skincare is an assortment of old favorites combined with whatever I am testing from my current boxes. This is honestly the hardest section to choose from each day and night.

My Results

  • Down from 56 eyeshadow palettes to a more reasonable 18.
  • Donated 34 unopened products.
  • Tossed 18 expired products.
  • Gifted 65+ products (in addition to those palettes).
  • Made absolutely zero progress on lipsticks and perfumes (hey, I’m not perfect).

I still have a milk crate to finish organizing, but I already feel much better about my newfound and significantly more reasonable collection.

Are you planning to spring clean through your beauty stash? What systems work for you? Seriously, I need to know. I am a mess.

Megan K.
Megan K.
I love natural/vegan beauty products, Korean skincare, unique jewelry, and weird candies from far away places. When I am not waiting for my next exciting box you can find me painting or taking photographs of interesting people. I never leave home without pug hair somewhere on my shirt and a bold lipstick on my smile.

Megan K.
Megan K.
I love natural/vegan beauty products, Korean skincare, unique jewelry, and weird candies from far away places. When I am not waiting for my next exciting box you can find me painting or taking photographs of interesting people. I never leave home without pug hair somewhere on my shirt and a bold lipstick on my smile.
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19 comments

Angela

Where did you find that mirrored riser for your products? I love that!

Cathy W

I bought big fillable eggs and stuffed them with some of my stash for my nieces for Easter. They LOVE skin and makeup samples!

Diane

That sounds like a good idea.

Joy

If you’re looking to donate unwanted item, the local Buy Nothing or Free Swap groups are a really easy way to pass things along.

Danni

I have a very old Victorola credenza from the late 1920s. It’s missing it’s player inside so I use it for a makeup vanity and storage. I sort my stuff by keep/donate when I get it. I also label with open dates. I’m being more choosy about what months I get Ipsy Plus so I don’t get overloaded and cancelled boxycharm.

Sherry

I have a pink Craftsman tool box (gift from my dad) to stash my unopened samples and the drawers are organized by hair, skin, eyes & make-up and body. My make up is in cute bins separated by skin, eyes and lips. Palettes and unopened larger items are further stored in my medicine cabinet and under my sink (again organized by category). I have a nail polish rack on the wall which holds my approx 100 colors 🙂

Carol

I got two of those Sorbus organizers for Christmas and they hold an impressive amount of product! I have one for makeup and one for skincare. I have another acrylic organizer for my palettes. Full-size “backup” items are lined up in a box behind each organizer (I don’t have a lot of those–I tend to subscribe for samples and just buy full-size items when I need them, but sometimes there is a good deal lol).

More items get used now since I can see everything!

JuliaJ

When it comes to skincare, I live by one rule: Use what I love first. If something is going to expire before I can use it, at least I’ll feel less terrible if it’s not something that is a favorite. There’s no point in trying to “use up” some face cream that is just OK just for the sake of emptying the container if I’ve got something that my skin loves on deck waiting around. I can always use it as body lotion and use it up that way. If it’s not even good enough for that I need to toss it!

My downfall are palettes. I barely use make up right now and I finally had to face reality and get rid of over a dozen palettes that I know I will never use again or use at all. I’m down to about another dozen that I actually use and like. But I know I won’t stop collecting more lol. Please don’t ask me about lipsticks…….

Alice

I recently spread all of mine out to take stock. The first thing I did was pause and cancel subscriptions! When you find yourself in a hole…stop digging. I have more than any person could possibly need and use. I have gifted and donated a LOT over the past year and still have too much…from recent subs, of course! I’ve received encouragement to sell some, which I probably will. I just sent another huge gift box to my sister and niece. And, I dropped off another huge donation to a community blessing box (leave what you can, take what you need). As far as what I kept, I organize by product type, then by expiration. Nothing fancy, just plastic storage tubs.

DW

I use empty Boxwalla boxes for organizing beauty products, too! Also art supplies, and anytime I need a box for a small gift. They’re so handy, and – after years of the Book and Beauty subscriptions – plentiful! 🙂

Angel

Thank you so much for this article! So many of us have this problem lol.

A few system/organizational ideas: For a fancy splurge, or a big gift idea- the Alexa drawer unit from Ikea works fabulously for our collections. Small footprint, perfect drawer sizes, and can hold a lot. I paired mine with acrylic organizer trays from Impressions Vanity (they sometimes put them on sale, also). I also use the Skadis wall organizer systems from Ikea. They’re customizable, look good, and don’t take up any floor space. The little clear containers with lids are perfect for cotton balls, q-tips, and my Shiseido cotton pads. The little open top containers work fantastic for brushes. The shelves hold a lot and are large enough for most of my skincare and makeup bottles. I hang the little Skadis storage bags off of the bottom to store my straightener, Dyson airwrap, curling iron, etc.

A few tips about using the Ikea stuff: Ikea charges a ridiculous amount for shipping, so it might be better to plan to pick up in person. Also, if you ask your significant other for the Alexa drawer unit (or Skadis wall organizers), make sure you include them putting it together for you (unless you’re handy at that sort of thing. I’m not lol). The Skadis doesn’t need to be put together, but it was much easier for me to have my husband secure it to the wall. If I had done it, my collection probably would have ended up on the floor haha.

Lauren

I did a big clear-out a couple of years ago, and I was shocked to see that I easily filled four or five big brown grocery bags with unwanted samples, makeup, and cosmetics bags (!). After spending some time looking around for a place to donate these items, I found out that my local community college (City College of San Francisco) has an office that supports homeless students. I was able to meet up with the coordinator, who keeps a stock of toiletries and treats for her students in this program. I really loved the idea of helping homeless college-age women feel a little pep in their step with something like a beauty bag that could make them feel like just regular college students for a moment. I would be curious to know if other community colleges have programs like these.

Alice

They do! Mine even has a food pantry for students.

Erin

Definitely a good idea to go through it all. Be careful not to store any parfume/skincare products in sunlight. Keeping things in a cool dark place will help keep your products longer. Think closet or dresser with doors that close. Displaying out in the open may not be the best for product longevity. Just an FYI 😉. Donation is a great option there are many women who don’t have the ability to purchase things like perfume or skincare.

Renee

I recently went through some of my stash and was wondering how to organize better so thanks for the tips.

Tiffany

Love it! Thanks for this.

Colleen

In my closet, I have one of those 3 tier metal shelves that I spray painted a pretty color. I keep my glossy boxes and allure boxes and use them to organize. each box has a sticky note on the top. I sort my skincare / makeupby category. I only keep unopened products in these boxes.

1 box for eye masks, a couple glossy boxes of sheet masks, 1 for moisturizers, 1 for lipsticks, etc.
then I have one of those door racks , on the inside of the same closet, that I keep bigger or full size items, bath bombs, lotions, curling irons, etc. on. Again these are all the unopened items.

This way I can see what I have too much of, or what I need, and I can see if even if it unopened, if I’ve had it for a few years, it’s time to toss it.

The skincare I’m currently using is organized in my medicine cabinet in the bathroom, or in a drawer, again in boxes ( with the lid off) because that’s where I use it. I can fit 3 allure boxes or birch boxes in my bathroom drawer.

My makeup, I have in acrylic organizers in the spare bedroom on top of a dresser. I so rarely wear it anymore. So I was planning on going through all that today, and I need to find a system for that, because it is taking up a whole dresser top.

I keep my swap / donate stuff in the same bedroom, In a couple of closed fab fit fun boxes.

But yea, it quickly gets overwhelming. I only have one face. And I am cutting way back on the subscriptions I have and the products I keep. After 5 years of this, I have a good idea of what products work for me.

Dea

Lawdy, I have more makeup brushes than the Big Beauty Chief of MSA! Ha!!!!

I actually have a typed list, sorted by item category (foundation and concealer/eyeshadow singles/eyeshadow palettes/cream or crayon eyeshadow/eyeliners/highlighters…) with a count. I’m very diligent about updating the list when I trash or use up something. My goal is to get below 100 items. This is makeup only! The skincare list is separate.

Ragan Buckley

Haha, yeah, I have more than 200 brushes myself and I haven’t even touched them in a year because I’ve been working from home. (Well I take that back, I did wash all the ones that had product on them at some point last year.)

Kind of kicking myself for spending $100 on foundation and powder right before everything shut down last year, the foundation will probably separate and I haven’t even opened it yet. The powder should be good since it’s also not open.

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Our reviewers research, test, and recommend the best subscriptions and products independently; click to learn more about our editorial guidelines. We may receive commissions on purchases made through links on our site.