I am by no means a minimalist. If you are I suggest you check out the blog and videos of The Anna Edit. She started out on YouTube as a beauty vlogger but has gradually moved to more lifestyle/fashion while transitioning to a very minimalist beauty collection. Her principles and "capsule wardrobe" ethos apply equally well to makeup, skincare, housewares, and fashion.
I am a beauty maximalist. I like to have options and I wear quite a bit of makeup on my face. I don't have a signature face that I wear on the daily, so I can't quite get by with a tiny collection. However, that's no excuse for hoarding or collecting useless products. The goal for me is to have a reasonable stash- and while my "reasonable" might not be the same as yours, there are still some good guidelines that every person can follow or learn from. Here are some tips and tricks that I have based on my experience with decluttering makeup many times over the years...
1. Do not rush to declutter or do it when emotionally compromised.
2. Separate your collection into "keep, maybe, and no" piles.
3. Come up with your own "hard limits" and "soft limits."
4. Place your "maybe" pile in a box and store in a closet for 1 month before trashing.
5. Return all products that you can. Sell any that are worth it. Throw away what's left.
6. Do not declutter and then haul right after, or do it to "make room" for new things.
Do Not Declutter When Emotionally Compromised
I frequently hear people bemoaning the state of their bloated makeup collections, and in a guilt-wracked haze, they trash a huge number of products all at once. This is not a good idea. By decluttering as a means to punish yourself for your past mistakes, you will not learn your lesson, and you are doomed to repeat the error of overbuying.
Bingeing on destashing/minimizing is just as harmful as bingeing on a shopping spree. You are taking the shortcut that you think will lead to happiness or satisfaction. But happiness doesn't ever come about as the result of actions taken in a single moment. Happiness is usually built on repetitive good habits. If you are feeling extremely upset, guilty, or overwhelmed, it is not a good time to go shopping or to tackle your makeup clutter. Do something relaxing and not drastic like taking a walk, a bath, or talking to a friend.
Decluttering is a task, not a journey of redemption, and it should be undertaken when clear-headed and rational. If you are having difficulties approaching your makeup destash with a level head, your first step should be to write out your makeup collection goals. Try to understand what you will use, what you will enjoy, and what you should own before literally dismantling your collection. Once you have made that list, sit on it for a week and see how your perspective changes. Then start your destash.
Separate Your Collection
Every person has holy grail, use-it-every-day items that they don't have to even think about keeping. Those should automatically just go back to your shelf/drawer without worrying. The difficulty comes in separating the products you might still want to keep, and the ones that you should absolutely get rid of. For someone who has a large, unthought-out collection, or trouble letting go, this gray area is the challenge.
When I go to a restaurant with a large menu and can't decide on what I want to eat, I first subtract all the low-hanging fruit options that I definitively don't want. You might only have 1 single lipstick you know you hate, or maybe you have 10 bronzers and you realized you never wear bronzer. Just separate those out right away to get some momentum.
Hard Limits and Soft Limits
What makes sense for one person to keep doesn't for another. All that means is you cannot use somebody's exact rules for yourself. If you wear red lipstick every single day, and you like to wear a different one based on the weather and your outfit, then for you 15 red lipsticks could be reasonable. Wearing each of them at least 5x a year could be your metric for keeping. But if you wear red lips only once a month, and you have 3 red colors that you haven't worn in over 2 months...then your rule for red lipsticks needs to be much stricter.
Your exact time limits and usage rates will vary based on the individual product, so it's helpful to write out a list of your personal rules. Example list, based on my collection and my makeup habits:
1. Lipsticks that have not been worn in over 60 days must go
2. Eyeshadows that have not been worn in over 3 months must go
3. Base products that have not been worn in over 30 days must go
4. Highlighters that have not been worn in over 60 days must go
It's better to come up with these rules first, write them down, and keep them in front of you when you're rummaging through your makeup pile. If you don't have some hard limits, you will always find yourself justifying the items you have some affection for.
If you feel that you are responsible and reasonable enough to handle it, you can also make a list of "soft" limits, which are a bit more wishy-washy and up to interpretation. If you are doubtful about your abilities here, nix the soft limits list and stick to hard limits. Example list of soft limits:
1. Keep 2 dark vampy lipsticks in collection, regardless of last time I wore them, as I will probably wear them in the autumn.
2. Destash 2 out of 3 "funky" highlight colors, keep the last 1 in case I have a costume or festive look to use it for.
3. Keep this lipstick I haven't worn in a year, with the understanding I must wear it at least twice in the next 2 weeks.
A common fear for people approaching a decluttering project is that they'll all of a sudden need or want the product they threw in the trash, and they won't be able to get it back. Even though this situation almost never materializes, it's important to work with your fears rather than making this a painful process.
Something that has helped me and many other Nervous Nellies is to place your "maybe destash" items into a box, put that box in a hidden place (under the bed, in the closet, in your car trunk) and then not touch the box for a month.
If you find yourself wanting to use a product inside that box, you may remove it, but you may not sift through the box to shop around, and you may not impulsively repatriate your products into your everyday collection.
I recommend setting an alarm for 1 month from your declutter date, and keeping the box of maybes completely out of sight. What usually happens is that you completely forget that box, and you never even think of the products inside it. This can be a very comforting exercise, because it reassures you that you really don't need anything you put in the box. And if you truly end up needing it, well you can always grab it.
Some people extend this to 3 months or 6 months, and if you have the room to store something like that for a long period of time, that's fine. Remember that the longer you go with the item hidden and forgotten about, the higher the likelihood that you do not need it and never need it again.
Types of Destashing
In my opinion, the best thing a recovering makeup addict can do for their future (financial, emotional, etc) is to return every single unwanted item that they possibly can. In the USA this is easy as pie- any store with a membership program will allow you to return items without a receipt even, for between 30-60 days, usually for a refund, sometimes for store credit. Even drugstores will allow this, usually with receipt required but not always.
I know a lot of people have reservations about returning items, and I have written an extensive blog post on the subject. The TL;DR is that guilt over returns is entirely unnecessary, from my perspective, and that if you are currently battling an overshopping issue that affects your life and happiness, returns are a great tool to help you out of your problem.
There will be some products you cannot return. For those, you can choose to gift them, sell them, or trash them. In my opinion, the "gifting" option is quite a big waste of mental energy, and often contributes to denial over how much of a clutter problem you have. I have seen dozens of claims that beauty boxes are a "worthwhile investment" because you can give unwanted mini lipsticks/conditioner samples to friends as gifts. All this does is justify more spending in the future because you have the illusion of a safety net- in reality it's rare to give a used beauty item in a way that is satisfying to gifter and giftee. You are not saving money- if you give your friend nice, thoughtful gifts for Christmas anyway, a used deluxe sample of a random liquid lipstick is hardly going to cut down on your gift list that year. At best you are spending extra money on unwanted items that may work for another person. At worst, you are fooling yourself into acquiring more crap and lying to yourself about what your priorities are.
The exception to this rule is for very beautiful, high-end or expensive products that would genuinely stand alone as a thoughtful gift, that simply didn't work for you. Provided there is no big-time wear, those items can usually be sold or gifted. Because of the terrible resale value of most makeup, it doesn't make a lot of sense to post something for sale online unless the original price was more than $50. Nobody wants a $10 blush or $5 lipstick from an Internet stranger when they can buy it from the retailer for a similar price. Sell items if you feel you can recoup some cost, and give items to beauty-loving friends if they are beautiful or the person has expressed interest in them. Otherwise, trashing is the best option for used makeup.
When you throw a makeup item away, you teach yourself a valuable lesson about the consequences of spending money carelessly. If you feel a twinge of guilt or pain over throwing away something beautiful that you once wanted, you can store that emotion and recall it the next time you are about to buy something just for the heck of it. Maybe you bought that eyeshadow palette because it was deeply discounted, even though you knew you wouldn't get use from it. How much value was it, in the end, despite the discount price? Or perhaps you impulse-bought a lipstick from the drugstore because you had a terrible day at work, but you found the color and formula to be utter crap. Next time you're having a bad day, you might choose a healthier option like going for a walk, having a good necessary cry, or going out for coffee with a supportive friend.
Enjoy Your New Collection
At this point, you have the tools to create the best version of your current makeup collection. The easy trap to fall into is to now start fantasizing about an even better version of what you have. Now that you got rid of so many lipsticks, think of all the new ones that could fit into your drawer! Wrong. This is the time to breathe, "lean in" to what you own, and be invigorated by the fact that you know you love what you have. If you start to bring in new elements, you are only clouding your vision. Think of how crappy you felt the first time you realized you owned too much stuff that you didn't use. Now enjoy that that feeling is gone.
You can always buy new products in the future. But you decluttered for a reason- and that reason sure as hell wasn't "to be able to make room for more clutter." If you find yourself itching to replace old products, revisit the lists you wrote out for soft limits/hard limits. I find that once I've done a destash, a great distraction and reminder of just how awesome my collection already is, is to do a full makeup inventory! That means breaking out the ol' spreadsheet program and cataloging exactly what you own. Figure out what your goals are going forward and arrange your inventory in a way that furthers those goals.
If you want to use up products, keep track of how long you've owned your stuff, and how much progress you've made on each product. If you are determined to stick to a budget, write out all the dollar values of each product you own to grasp how much money is already tied up in your collection. There are so many ways to appreciate what you already have- so don't ruin your fresh and clean perspective by immediately buying more crap.