How To Streamline Your Makeup Bag (This Might Hurt A Bit)

It is a painful, but necessary process.
Publish date:
April 16, 2014
powder, lipstick, mascara, makeup bag, how to organize your beauty products

I like to think of my makeup bag as the little black book I keep in the relationship I have with myself. Inside of it holds the products I know I’d marry if they’d just up and commit already, a few reliables that won’t let me down when I need a pick-me-up, and all too many one night stands or bad first dates that are still, somehow, hanging around in there.

Much like your cell phone’s contact list with real-life love affairs, an overpopulated makeup bag can get, well, crowded. And while I know we’re holding out for that time we’re bored and might give “Cute guy from bar” or “Sam???” a call, let’s face it, that day probably won’t come. Just like how you’re waiting for the perfect day to use that free sample that you got from Sephora once last year that seems really cool but you’re not sure what it’s for, but it was free so you never know -- that day’s not coming either.

In the spirit of spring cleaning, here are some pointers for that painful process of streamlining your makeup bag.

1. Trim the Fat

The first step when you cook meat is to cut off that extra fat, right? I don’t know, I’m a vegetarian. But the concept applies here. Just get rid of all the extra stuff that you know, in your heart of hearts, is not needed. Generally speaking, we only need one of any given product -- mascara, foundation, concealer, powder, eyeliner -- for our daily routine at a time. I know some days we’re feeling a light BB cream and others we’re feeling full coverage foundation, so adjust this idea as it fits to your personal needs. It’s when we have three different full coverage foundations and four BB creams and five different pressed powders that it’s time to reevaluate what we really love and what we really use. So as you add a new mascara into the mix as the old ones dry out or disappoint you, throw them away. (I say this, painfully, as a notorious makeup hoarder.) When you go in to trim the fat, give yourself some goals. Will you allow yourself two eyeliners, one mascara, and two foundations? That is progress if you were starting with many more. When you open your bag and see only the products you know you use and love, your morning beauty routine will be stress-free.

2. Note: Beauty Products DO Go Bad

It’s generally recommended that beauty products should be replaced every two years, unless of course there is an explicit expiration date on your product (thanks, Lush!). Of course, there are a few of exceptions. For example, mascara should be replaced every three months and face creams with active ingredients might only last a year. And hair products might have a longer shelf life. But let's focus on the stuff that's most likely to be in your makeup bag.

A product will usually run out before the two-year mark (if you love it), but I have been guilty of holding on to one too many eye shadow palettes from proms of yesteryear. I’ve also been known to have mascara identity crises (because I swear different tubes of the same brands do vary!), and can end up with five different tubes in my bag at any given time. I also live my life like an episode of Extreme Cheapskates and the “free samples when you spend over 50 dollars” are my everything. But these samples usually hang in my bag for much longer than they ever should, and could possibly be harmful to me if four years from now I decide to finally give them a try. So dig around in your makeup bag and evaluate when you got that product that’s been hanging around. It might be its time. As much as it hurts to let go of the hot pink eye shadow from that one time you were “80s” for Halloween in high school, remember that it’s generally not sanitary for your face if it has passed the two-year hygienic milestone.

3. Separate your “Fun” Makeup Bag from your “Everyday” Makeup Bag

I find it super helpful to keep the makeup I know I wear everyday separate from the makeup that I wear only on special occasions. I have a smaller bag that holds my brushes and routine makeup for work that is easily accessible and appropriately stuffed. I have a much larger bag, which holds all my indulgent makeup purchases that range from $30 sparkly black eye shadow to vampire-purple lipstick, which I like to bust out for the weekend, or for when I do a friend’s makeup. I used to keep everything I owned in one bag, which made for a frustrated me on mornings where I didn’t feel like digging around and accidentally dropping and breaking products on the floor. Ever been there? So throw all those extra, not-yet-expired, I will actually use you this weekend products in a separate bag and pull it out only when necessary.

4. Lipstick Is Exempt from Spring Cleaning

Hoard that sh*t. I have seven in my pocket at any given time. We’re only human.

Do you have any special checks-and-balances to make sure you aren’t hoarding old beauty products?