Living Below Our Means: Use What You Have

I have lots of ideas brimming and swimming in my head about the way we have been living lately. If you remember at the beginning of the year, I jumped in and started the year with decluttering my wardrobe. It inevitably spread into other things in my home: my son's clothing, my books, my digital documents. When it comes to toiletries and makeup, I got stuck.

Here's how my medicine cabinet looked like at the beginning of the year.

Is this a poster child of minimalism or what? I am paralyzed, absolutely paralyzed. Then I mulled things over again and again, and something becomes clearer to me: these purchases were loved when I got it. I mean, let's face it, who does not get a kick out of purchasing that new lipstick or new skincare from Sephora? And every single one of these items serve a purpose, downright to that 70% rubbing alcohol in the gigantic bottle. 

So, I have decided to use what I have. 

Most of using-up project has self-imposed rules: only buying staples are allowed, X number of new items per months are ok, etc. etc. but who am I kidding? I am, after all, a recovering makeup and skin care junky. I thought this time, just to humor myself, I'll see how far I can "survive" with only using the ones what I have without buying anymore items, not even staples, sales, whatever! Just use it up, period. No excuses. 

Then I thought about blogging this journey, you know, sort of when you are on diet, you'd tell everyone you know so you won't be tempted and be accountable and such. But then, I've always been an introvert; my motivation would often stem from the inside, not outside rewards. I decided that I will only blog about this if I have learned something worthy of sharing, and this lead me to the following:

  • I don't die without my staple products.
    I've rarely strayed from my skin care routine, which consists of acid toner/exfoliant, serum (vitamin C + antioxidant), retin A, and a good sunscreen. Masks, sprays, toners, creams, eye creams are all extras. Most of my skin care products are either from Paula's Choice or Skinceuticals. They are the ones to run out first, yet I still found things in my cabinet that can serve the purpose of these cant-live-withouts.
    More over, my skin looks and feels the same. There are several reasons why this is true. I rarely purchase products that does not agree with my skin to begin with, and if I feel like "experimenting" with my skin care, I usually get samples first (thanks Sephora and Nordie!). Now that I ran out my PC's BHA, for example, I fall back on PC's AHA. When I ran out of the serums, I use Sunday Riley Juno. I learn that the products I deemed as staples only pretend to be necessary. Look, I'm still alive!

  • Using up what I have made me appreciate the value of each item.
    Cliche but true. This is something I have to experience in order to understand. Not having anything else to use makes me appreciate every drop of the things that I do have. Sort of like, if you are a coffee drinker and almost ran out of coffee, but can't buy some until payday, you will start nursing and using up your coffee to last you until you can purchase it again.
    This is also the more reason that when I do have the means to spend for an item, I would rather spend it in something of high-quality and well-thought, just to be absolutely sure that I will use this product and continue using it.
    On the flip side, having too much things too easily will "cheapen" the value of each item. I just thought of the items I donated/got rid of quickly: they were either bought thoughtlessly or in the manner that was easily obtainable to me (price-wise, availability-wise, etc.). The value of an item has nothing to do with its price. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for affordable, low-priced items (in fact, most of my much-loved makeup brush collections are super affordable from Sonia Kashuk). Buying thoughtlessly is the point. Ditto with buying obsessively -- obsession is never a good thing when buying because buying based on such fleeing feelings is well.. fleeting. Obsessions come and go, and what's left after that is nothing but guilt, and regret, and the cycle begins again.
    Using up what I have actually is a joy and an exercise in appreciation.

  • Using things up liberates me.
    A common theme that comes after true appreciation is freedom. I realize that there are very few things I truly need to take care of myself. Sometimes basic things are more than sufficient. Moreover, I know in my mind that I do not tie up my time, energy (mental or physical), and money to any particular item. There is something very liberating in this realization. I started to see that these "things" are things which help me to get from point A to point B in life, whatever that may be, and without them, I will still get from A to B.
    Freedom is also knowing that I am ok not having a certain things (see the last point below).

  • Using things up does not deprive me.
    On contrary, I feel more "satisfied" using things I already have, similar to the above-point that I mentioned. I think a sense of deprivation is just my fear speaking: will my skin be full of zits or worse, fall to the ground? will I be bored using the same things over and over again? will I feel "empty" inside? what will happen if my obsession really cease at some point? who am I without all these products??
    And when I see this clearly in my own pattern of consumption, I see it more clearly in the external forces that govern patterns of consumptions: ads, subtle commercial blog posts, YouTubes, TV, etc. They do, like they said, prey on that sense of vulnerability and fear.

With all that song and dance, here's how my medicine cabinet looks like now (aka six months later):

Aren't you glad to see it is not even half-empty? What do you expect? I have lots of things to use up! But, there is another unexpected side-effect of this experiment: I have not thrown or donated a single product. I probably won't hesitate doing so anyway, but in reality, I've actually keep on using them. After all, this is not a "project purge," this is all about using what I have, and that means, I will nurse and squeeze every one of those bottles till the last drop if I have to. This medicine cabinet can last me several years if I am really that frugal (which I'm not!). Let's just say I am still a work in progress.

You may know or recognize these ideas intellectually. However, if in reality you are, like I am, paralyzed to declutter, yet equally paralyzed to resist the temptation of spending, I invite you to an experiment similar to mine: just use up what you have for a week, a month, a year, and see where the experiment leads you. No fanfare, no big announcement, if you wish. And when you do, I invite you to share your experience with me. 


  1. All of your posts speak deeply to me and this one, as a true maximalist consumer, particularly reached out and bonked me on the head. One of the reasons I decided to wind down my beauty blog is that I didn't need even one more reason to want to own yet another piece of pretty makeup. :D I truly feel like making up my mind (and my heart) re: the blog took the wind out of my sails. You know, I have a big billowy sail with these words printed on: "BUY ALLL TEH NICE THINGS!"

    "having too much things too easily will 'cheapen' the value of each item." <---- this is very true for me. It's quite a wonderful luxury to own gorgeous things to my hearts content of skincare and makeup, but at the point I just want to chuck a $79 Tom Ford eye shadow quad out the window out of boredom and/or dissatisfaction means I have too much crap!

    I seriously laughed when I saw the "after 6 months" shot of your medicine cabinet. Not laughing at your expense of course, but I recognize that it's very easy to get to the point where one can own just so much amazing things that barely a dent can be made even if you do go as drastic as don't buy even the staples as you have.

    Truly, Claire! Kudos to you and so excited to see what unfolds from your experience.

    1. Hi Belly, the feelings are mutual. I remember you once said about your "uneasy feeling" about the size of your collection, about spending, etc. etc. I had that, too, ALL OF IT! Many of us are in the same boat, so to speak, and yes, isn't it true that we (strictly speaking you and I, in this case, who are blessed to have expendable income to drop $80 without making a dent into our true life necessities like food/shelter/clothing, for example) can be bored with all the luxuries that we can access?? So, so true..

      When you announced about possibly closing your blog, I feel sad, because what I love about your blog, besides all the PREETEH, is your candid observation and thought, something that resonates with many of us, yet rarely discussed. Maybe you will consider going on this tangent, instead? :-D

      My cabinet will probably look the same by the end of this year. Makeup? Forget about it -- I won't even try, I still have some items from YEARS ago. But in all honesty, I can say I am slowly but surely making peace with my belongings and the way I spend on things. I think minimalism is not about how many things you own/don't own, but more of a state of mind: clean, settled, and at peace. I don't have a goal in mind, but if I can be happy with myself with the way I life my life, I think that's good enough for me.

    2. Wait, what, Belly, you're winding your blog down?! All the sad feelz... Like Claire said, maybe you could consider writing about a different topic than beauty? Because we will all miss your humor and observations! And PIKCHURZ.

      Claire, what a wonderful post you've written! As you know, I'm in the same boat as you. My recent Use Up Those Freaking Samples project also brought home that no, my face will not fall off if I don't use a particular $$$ serum, and that as long as I stick to a routine (which is very similar to yours: oil/ cream cleanse, acid tone, hydrate and SPF), my face does just fine. Sure, sometimes it does freak out on me, but I don't think anymore it's so strongly related to products I use; more so my stress levels, diet, weather...

      I should have taken photos of my sample pouch before I started my project and now - it's very similar to your medicine cabinet, there's basically no change. I still want to continue using up what I have (well, I do purge an occasional mediocre product), but at the same time, I still find a lot of joy in discovering new finds. Oh, where to find the balance...

    3. Monika!! I was on vacation then came back to "catch up" and found the sad announcement post on Belly's blog -- it was maybe last month/few weeks back. Thanks for stopping by, Monika. I love it when you chime in -- you are real & not afraid to speak your mind. Like I said above, I won't even attempt on project using up makeup.. I probably won't make any dent and, I did a bit mulling over about this a bit, makeup is about aesthetic, so my taste & preference changes from day to day -- I follow your "Project Make A Dent" and I will say this again: it take sheer will powder and dedication to use few makeup items over and over again. Whereas skin care is more utilitarian, something I will inevitably use *every* day -- a cheat, really, but even that, for a junky like me, is still "hard work."

      Belly, see what I mean? You have another fan already for alternate-reality Belly blog. Or maybe we should call it "bizzaro universe" Belly? :-)

      You ladies just made my day!!! <3<3

  2. Just found your blog from Monica's blog! Great post, although I must admit to feeling a bit disillusioned with the second pic. I kept comparing the two pics and thinking maybe it was some type of optical illusion. wow. I've been on a kick to try to use up my stash/declutter and your point about having so much stuff actually cheapens it resonates with me. I remember when buying high-end makeup gave me such a thrill, but now I feel slightly jaded... just another $35 lipstick - meh. I'm looking forward to seeing what that medicine cabinet looks like in another 6months.

    1. Hi there! If you are trying to compare the *amount* of things I owned, don't even bother coming back here another 6 months, I will tell you now: it will look probably just the same. My point is: minimalism is a state of mind -- it is about making peace about the way one spend on and use things. If that "cheapening" or "jaded" feeling is still nagging, it worth investigating & experimenting to see why and how this can be turned into something more positive.

      Thank you for stopping by and sharing your comment. I'm glad my ideas resonate with yet another person in this planet!

  3. I have so much love for this post. I feel exactly the same way and actually feel so much satisfaction from using stuff up. I have a few spares in stock but I love knowing that I'm thowing something out before I can buy a new one.
    Every few months I'll also do the "fridge freezer challenge" and use up all the things in my fridge and freezer. I'm such a dork but I love it.

    1. Hi Charlotte, no, you are not a dork, if you are, then I am, too!! :-D I also do the "use it up" on my pantry and refrigerator. I love having my fridge clean and "empty" before going to the grocery again. Same with my pantry, I'd try to use up all my dried goods before stocking up more. Love to hear someone else is doing the same thing. Thanks for stopping by!