Sunday, March 12, 2017

Addressing That Terrible "I WANT IT!" Feeling

comic from

I'm about to say something that I know--I just know--will make a few of my regular readers cringe: I don't think capitalism is the devil. I agree with economist Robert Reich: while the staggering income inequality in the US today must be addressed, history has shown that a powerful middle class that works hard and buys stuff benefits our economy. I think it's totally fine for my boss to make more than me; he's better educated, deals with more nonsense than I do on the daily, and takes larger risks when he makes decisions about the future of our college. None of this changes the fact that marketing, a cornerstone of any capitalist society, is ubiquitous and, to some extent, creepy. As stated in Rafael Behr's article "Anti-Consumerism: New Frontier or Dead End for Progressive Politics?":

No-one is forcing shoppers to shop. They must, at some level, want the things they buy. But at what level? We now have, thanks to developments in neuroscience and behavioural psychology, a greater understanding of how consumer demand is generated within an individual. A picture is emerging of the areas of the brain that are stimulated by advertising messages and how they relate to conscious behaviour. The function of much advertising is to provoke responses that correspond to primitive urgent needs--fight, flight, eat, procreate. That is why so many products are sold either as antidotes to fear (soap X will stop bacteria from harming your children) or as promises of sex (soap Y will make you irresistible). Junk food advertising animates our troglodyte urges to eat as much and as often as possible, regardless of whether we are hungry.

Students sometimes roll their eyes at me when I tell them that they are constantly basing decisions on advertisements, but a few moments of discussion reveal that, unless you're an ascetic hermit living in a fortress that blocks all wi-fi signals, you're experiencing it. Advertisements are in our magazines, plastered on the walls of our stores, dropped in our mailboxes, flooding our iPhone apps and web browsing, and paying for our few remaining print newspapers. An article from the Los Angeles Times points out just how much of our television time is taken up by commercials: roughly 15 minutes per hour. (I'm painfully aware of this fact because my mother hates commercials with a fierce and fiery passion; she will flip between four or five different news channels just to avoid the latest McDonald's advert.) And again, these advertisements are designed to make us feel things: "I need it or I'll be unhappy." "It's so beautiful; I'll just buy this one product and I'll be satisfied." "Nothing has worked so far, but this one definitely will."

But that sort of advertising is obvious. It's the sneaky shit that we need to watch out for, the kind that speaks to our fears or subtly strokes our ego. In terms of the beauty industry, I've noticed this most frequently with "green" products. Take the above advertisement for Une products as an example. The focus in this ad is the line, "I am not artificial." Western countries, and particularly the United States, tend to be big on this notion of the "true self," "being you," etc., provided being you doesn't run too counter to the societal norms. Even the paragraph in finer type starts with, "I am true to myself." Combined with translucent, uber-positive buzzwords in the background ("free," "natural," "intuitive") and a second text box outlining just now safe and ~~natural~~ the products are, this advertisement claims that Une products can help you break the shackles of society and be the real you!

By doing what society wants and buying more shit.

"Renee," you say patiently, "we know this. We've seen the documentaries and read the articles about the non-stop marketing in our culture. You're not telling us anything new."

I know I'm not. You see, I kind of have to go on this little ramble because...I'm embarrassed. I'm embarrassed that I'm hyper-aware of marketing strategies and consumer culture, yet I still want to buy everything. It's the definition of First World Problems: wanting to buy new products, despite the fact that you already have plenty of stuff, and feeling frustrated by that desire. Somehow, I'm still getting sucked in.

And yet I've managed to stick to my $250 budget for the year thus far, to go on buying freezes for months at a time, to pay my bills while maintaining this blog despite facing some financial setbacks, and to overall feel happy with my progress as I downsize. How? Let's talk about the terrible "I WANT IT!" feeling and how we suppress it.

I've been on a downsizing, buy-less-shit journey for years now, but I still have some bad habits. The biggest bad habit I had to admit to this year? If I can get a lipstick for free or free-ish, there is a 95% chance I will get it without thinking twice.

I noticed this most recently when I placed a Sephora order (using a gift card, weeee!) for a new candle and some fragrance. I waited to place my order until Sephora had updated their Rewards Bazaar with a slew of new deluxe samples, and until there was a coupon code I wanted to use. There were two lipsticks I haven't owned available, Marc Jacobs Slow Burn and Bite Beauty Pastille, and I hit the "Add to Basket" button immediately.

But something stopped me when I went to hit the "checkout" button. Wait. I have plenty of lipstick. And both of these shades are mauve pinks! Not only do I already own a few mauve, pink, and mauve-pink shades I like, but why the Hell would I need two new lipsticks in very similar shades?

So I did a quick inventory and realized, with a start, that half of my collection is "nudes and soft pinks;" about a third of those lipsticks are minis that I received as gifts or tossed in my shopping cart on a whim. I know I'm not as viscerally attracted to nude lipsticks as I am to bright reds, so I don't judge myself as harshly for getting new ones--it doesn't feel like I'm feeding the addiction.

It sounds silly, but just realizing that I hoard lipstick samples without even thinking about their place in my collection was a huge turning point for me. So was this inventory, and therein lies the next way I address that terrible "I WANT IT!" feeling: sometimes, we have to admit that we're not buying things to fill a gap in our collection. We're buying things because it feels good to have something pretty and new.

Lena recently wrote an incredible blogpost outlining how this works with eyeshadow palettes:

Because makeup companies only really have to hook you on one special awesome shade per palette to potentially get you to purchase the whole thing, they have 10 opportunities to catch 10 unique customers, all who will be paying $50 for 10 eyeshadows, a "good deal" by all accounts. But those customers, if they weren't presented with the 10 shadow palette, would only be "worth" the $10 they would have paid for a single shadow in that one appealing color.

Damn, is that on-point! I'm not in to eyeshadow, but I have friends who are, and they'll gladly exclaim that palette Y is perfect for travel and gives them every shade they need to complete a look. Meanwhile, they have roughly the same shades in palettes A, B, and C. In reality, most eyeshadow palettes only have one or two unique-to-us shades, but that's enough to make us buy.

Please don't think I'm being snide, because I do the same fucking thing. "Well, of course I already have a few pink blushes," I tell my eyeshadow-obsessed friend, "but this one is different. It's warmer!"

"If you want a warmer pink blush, why don't you just mix in some of that peach one?" my friend asks.

"Shut up."

"I mean, they all look the same on you, anyway."

"Shut. Up."

In all seriousness, this is where inventories and flatlays come in handy. Any time I feel tempted to buy a new lipstick, I organize what I have, take photos for Snapchat or Instagram, and chide myself for wanting another neutral red Besame lipstick when I've barely dented my Red Velvet sample tube. Having all of your makeup spread out in front of you, and realizing that you already have that exact shade or the ability to mix something like it, is a great way to stop the "I WANT IT!" feeling. Yeah, maybe you want it, but you definitely don't need it. You can see that you don't need it--take a look at those six eyeshadow singles that almost perfectly dupe that palette, or the three cool pink cream blushes you have that are indistinguishable when swatched on your skin.

I think it's also wise to spend less time focused on individual products and more time on the looks we create with them. I'll show you an example using Alia Shawkat, one of my newest crushes thanks to too much Drunk History:

Beyond the fact that Shawkat is super cute, she's got the kind of "my face but better" makeup look that suckers me in. Now, I could go on a quest to figure out what exact makeup she's wearing in her public appearances. I could even draw some conclusions from more general information, like this interview where she mentions wearing Hourglass products.

Hourglass, you say? And you often wear very soft, rose-petal-pink lipsticks? I bet you're wearing one of the Lip Stylos, maybe Dreamer or Seeker. That's it, I'm buying a brand new $32 lipstick just to copy that one look! Mission accomplished!

I wish I could say the sight of Aubrey Plaza and Alia Shawkat in Revolutionary War Hero drag doesn't affect me. I'd be lying.

WAIT A FUCKING SECOND. No, I'm not going to buy that Hourglass lipstick! I already own rosey and peachy pinks! I even swatched a slew of them for my Moderate Stash series last year! Why the fuck would I buy another one just because it's the exact product she used?! That shade is not unique! I can replicate that look with what I own!

Yelling aside, this is something I think most of us can do, and it'll benefit us in the long run. Instead of buying an eyeshadow palette, we can Google looks created with it, see if we can replicate our favorites with products we already own, and then just fill in the one or two gaps with a couple of single shadows. Emma Stone's Oscar lipstick sold out as soon as the exact shade she wore was announced, but before I rush out to buy, I should try mixing what I already own to see if I can get something similar without spending more money. As one Reddit user put it,

[Eyeshadow palettes] always catch my eye! Shiny! Cute design! But the last few releases I've found myself just buying the singles of the colors I'm missing. That's how I managed to not buy ABH Modern Renaissance - I bought one red single. So now, I can't think of any eyeshadow colors I'm missing and the new palette releases don't catch my eye anymore.

When the mental exercises are failing, it's time to try some challenges. The first time doing any kind of challenge that restricts spending is tough, which is why I often recommend starting with a low buy instead of a no buy. You can also try smaller versions of classic challenges, like "Just Don't Buy Shit This Month" (versus a year-long no buy), or "Finish One Item This Month" instead of a traditional "Project 10 Pan."

More importantly, you have the freedom to create your own "use your stash" challenges. I'm currently doing another round of the Lipstick Diaries, for example, which has helped me purge more lipsticks, better appreciate shades I haven't touched in a while, and keep a record of what shades I already own (and therefore do not need to buy right now). Here are a few other challenges and activities I've seen people do to get more use out of their makeup collection:
  • Calendars -- Print out a calendar with a challenge or key word for each day of the week. Let this guide your makeup. For instance, you might have a week like this: "goth look Sunday, red lipstick Monday, bright eyeliner Tuesday, no foundation Wednesday, movie-inspired Thursday, something blue Friday, all drugstore products Saturday." Obviously, this works best for people who wear makeup every or almost every day.
  • Beauty Roulette -- I've done this before, and it's always fun! There are two versions. The one I've done is a form of Project Panning that requires you to pull random products, product types, or goals. The other form has you pull random products from a box or a bag, and then you have to work them all in to a look. Oh, geez, you pulled out a green, red, and mustard eyeshadow? Figure it out!
  • Catalogues -- This is sort of what I do with the Lipstick Diaries: I wear each product at least once, photograph it, and use those photographs as a running reference guide. But you can certainly tweak this to suit your needs. If you have thirty lipsticks and you want to get rid of a few, for example, you can force yourself to wear each one once and only once--you don't get to re-wear a color until you've gone through the entire collection. This will force you to wear every shade you own and encourage you to get rid of the shades that aren't flattering. Or maybe you could use it to help you with a no buy: "I don't get to buy a new eyeshadow palette until I use every shadow shade in my collection at least once."
  • Weekly Rewards -- This works best for people who have a lot of unopened products and samples to try. (I always do because I do most of my shopping at Sephora, and there are at least three free samples in every order.) Allow yourself to pull out one new item a week; this will give you that "Ooooh, shiny new product!" experience without making you spend more. Again, tweak this to suit your needs. Maybe you can't haul more stuff until you empty the box, or you have to write a review for each product before you can buy something new, etc.
  • Dupe It -- As I mentioned earlier, I think trying to replicate looks is a great place to start on a downsizing, buy-less-crap journey. Find a look you love and use what you already own to duplicate it. It didn't come out perfectly? That's fine--try again with different products or new techniques. Keep trying until you get something you love. I recommend documenting and writing about the process, but I'm a nerd who gets in to that sort of stuff; pass if it's not yo thang. Try this with colors, too: instead of buying a warm red, see what happens when you mix some of your neutral reds with a coral shade or a yellow pigment.

Last, but not least, I have to ask: how do YOU address that terrible "I WANT IT!" feeling? These methods have worked well for me, and some of my friends and readers have told me that these suggestions helped them as well. But not everybody is the same. What does and doesn't work for you?


  1. I've started keeping a running list in my planner of things that I want - and that includes anything, from makeup to household items to clothes. If I find myself online window shopping, I fill my cart with what I want, and then I refer to the list and see what the amount of money in my cart would buy. And then I close the window.

    The things on my running list are things I need or things that would improve my life in some tangible way, even if the way is frivolous. Nothing goes onto the list unless I've been thinking about it for at least two weeks. These are things that would provide me with much more pleasure than a lipstick I found swatches of five minutes ago. If I still want the lipstick in two weeks, it will go on the list. But the list has been really useful, because it helps me think about how I spend and what I spend. Why am I willing to toss $50 at Sephora for some makeup I only just found and unwilling to toss $70 at Best Buy to get the stereo I've wanted for months? It's ridiculous. But it's been helping me refine my priorities for my fun money.

    1. Oh, I'm right there with you on keeping a list! I dedicate a page in my notebook to products I want; I jot them down and revisit a week or two later, and I almost always end up crossing them off. The only things still on there are some Besame lipsticks, and I'm still holding off on those because, I mean....22 lipsticks. I don't need more right now.

      And it's very true about the Sephora order! Why am I willing to drop $50 at Sephora, but spending that on a high-quality, made-in-the-US thrifted jacket makes me cringe?

  2. I can totally relate. It's like I am floating above my body watching myself get sucked un by marketing crap even as the floating me is picking apart the bullshit. In fact, I have that Bite lipstick in my Sephora cart right now, along with a few things I would probably use but don't really need. So far it has sat there for a few days without my actually buying anything--so far so good.

    I don't have a lot of tricks, but I'm going to follow this comment thread to see if I can pick up any tips, in addition to your suggestions here!

    1. I sometimes load up an online cart with everything I want, see the total cost, and "nope" the fuck out of there.

  3. For me, the best way to avoid the "MUST BUY NOW" feeling is to focus less on individual products and more on techniques or overall looks. Right now, I have pretty much everything I need to create every kind of look I'd realistically want to wear out of the house. I need to get a lot better about layering and mixing products before I dash out to buy a new one, though. If I've learned one thing from reading interviews with makeup artists, it's that those beautiful, covetable looks we see in films or on the red carpet are usually achieved with a whole cocktail of stuff, not one or two magical products. And if you don't have skill, the highest-end palette isn't going to make your smoky eye look great.

    THAT SAID, do I currently want like five different lipsticks? Of course I do. Ugh.

    1. Oh, and I totally share your Alia Shawkat crush. I have such a thing for freckles.

    2. No judgment; I need another nude pink like I need a hole in the head, but my lust for Besame Portrait Pink is limitless.

      And ugh, Alia Shawkat in ALL TEH PERIOD COSTUMES gets me, but that Hamilton episode. Oh my lord. Aubrey Plaza? Alia Shawkat? Soft butch? Fascinating era of American history with weirdly flattering androgynous male fashion?! I WAS NOT PREPARED.

  4. Clear thinking. Clear writing. Many thanks for both.

    1. I could do a much better job framing my ideas on this blog, I think, but I'm so grateful for your kind comment!

  5. I love this post- it really gets to the heart of the frustrations I feel. I'm not dumb > I know what things are > I see what you're doing, companies > It's SUPER DUPER WORKING. Marketing works so well because it tickles the lizard brain we all have. And as someone who frequently finds myself overthinking/tied up in anxieties over non-issues, modern commercial consumer culture offers me so many little fake-out "doors to happiness." And I have the impulse to open every one of them- even when I know better. For me I think the systematized approach to spending you outlined is like exercising to make the willpower muscle stronger. I still get the urges, but I have something to fall back on. Also WHAT you linked me, thank you.

    1. You've nailed it. It bothers me that I know *exactly* what they're doing AND I STILL FALL FOR IT.

  6. This article makes so much sense. I have the exact same problem, spending a lot of money every month on beauty products. I have tried recently to limit myself to an amount, and wait for the next month to buy more. But I'm happy to say I don't buy things on a whim anymore. With clothes, I stick to nice quality, and since it's expensive, I wait to see how bad I want it, and if I still think about that coat/shirt/skirt one month or two after seeing it; maybe it's just a trend influencing me? Or maybe I'll just wait for sales at the end of the season? I now try to do the same with skincare and cosmetics. What I do is I keep a list, that I update every week or so, with all the products I want to buy, along with the price it would cost me with shipping. I still spend time on beauty blogs and websites, to see what I like, and when I've found a product that I really want, I check ALL the reviews there are- is it suitable for my skin type? Does it work? Is the price/quantity/quality ratio reasonable enough? When I've answered all these question positively, I add it to my list. And I have to admit that it's crazy how one thing you thought you absolutely needed just might not seem as necessary the month after. Maybe because I've had skin problems and have cut acids out of my routine; maybe because I'm not into this color anymore, or as you mentioned, I already have it. Realistically, there are only maybe 2 or 3 products I'll really want, and I will have to stick to this budget. When I get my paycheck, I make a quick addition and decide on what I want. If I'm not sure, then I'll wait some more. So many items have been crossed out of this list in a year. Dupes are a great thing- I'm more into skincare than makeup, but I'm glad for example that I waited before I bought Marula Oil, because in the meantime The Ordinary came up with their own, that is ten times cheaper than anything on the market. So my advice is: do your research; and give it time! Thanks Renee for this much needed article!

    1. I agree with keeping lists and waiting. I almost always end up crossing things off after a week or two.

  7. This is probably really unhelpful but I've found the only thing that works for me is a complete no-buy, including not transforming my make-up no-buy into buying allll the skincare or stationery or whatever. I still make a wish list but I fear as soon as I start making exceptions for one thing or the other it will all go sliding down some horrible path to oblivion. I'm just channelling my superserious Mennonite ancestors and being strict with myself.

    What also helps: having a Big Thing to save up for!

    1. No, it's very helpful! It's common for people to say, "I won't buy any makeup this month," and then the money gets spent on something else.

  8. Bookmarking this post to reference during moments of weakness...

  9. I think my two main problems with overbuying are the thrill of the deal (sales, gwps, etc) and that I really love trying new things.

    I am trying to be very conscious of not buying things that are a great deal unless I already was considering them at full price, and especially not buying something I don't need in order to get a GWP. If I really REALLY want the gwp I can always buy it on eBay - but I find that 90% of the time, I don't actually want it that much.

    Regarding trying new things, I often realize that I'm pretty meh about actually owning the product - I just want to play with it. I subscribed to So Choix for a while so I could play with things without owning them in full size, which was good - but they don't carry most of what I am interested in.

    For me, I don't really care how many items I buy or how much I spend (given that I am staying within my budget, which is not an issue) - the important thing is being careful that I actually want the things I am purchasing. So I'm trying to be more conscious - it's definitely an ongoing struggle!

  10. One thing I have been trying is: instead of buying something on impulse I will put the money in a savings account instead so I can save for larger things I really want. Another thing is when I exceed my low buy I can "make up" for it by depositing the same amount I spent into the account.