Just a few years ago my daily beauty routine was what you would call 'high-maintenance' and my bathroom was covered with sprays, bottles, jars, stacks of make up palettes and countless half-used shower gels and body lotions.
But even though I definitely wore a lot of make up and skin care products (way more than I do now), I still probably only used about 5% of all that stuff on a regular basis. The rest were things I had bought on a whim, because I liked the packaging or the scent or because I had once again bought right into whatever clever sales strategy a marketing team had come up with.
I now cringe when I think about not only how much money I wasted during that time, but also how much mental energy. Every day I would get stressed out at the sight of my jam-packed bathroom, I always had to plan in an extra 10 minutes just to dig through the mountains of pencils, pots and lipstick tubes in my make up bag, and packing for trips was a complete nightmare.
But eventually, as I got into minimalism and overhauled my wardrobe, my approach to beauty changed and I slowly started to pay more attention to what I was buying, why I was buying it and how it would fit into my daily routine. Nowadays, I own a relatively small set of beauty products, but I am much, much happier with it. My routine is simpler and shorter, yes, but it’s also much more personalised, tailored to my personal style, effective (=skin care) and time efficient, because it fits right into my everyday routine.
In this post I’ll show you the exact step-by-step process I used to overhaul my routine at that time and still follow whenever I feel my bathroom cabinets are getting a little too cluttered for my liking. To give you a concrete example of the entire process, below each step you’ll also find the answers of Julia, a lovely reader who lives in Berlin like I do :)
An important point before we get started: Although the focus of this post is to simplify and de-clutter, it’s not about ‘blind reduction’, i.e. getting rid of as many products or steps as you can. Your goal is not to build a routine that’s as short as possible, but that’s as functional as possible and optimally tailored to your individual needs and objectives.
Choose one area of your beauty routine to focus on:
- MAKE UP
- SKIN CARE
- HAIR CARE/STYLING
- BODY CARE
You can repeat the steps below for each of these, but for the first round choose whichever area you feel needs the most work and has the biggest impact on your everyday life. Julia completed the process for skin care.
Step 1: Analyse your needs
As a first step, write a list of every product type you use on a regular basis, e.g. foundation, hair spray, shower gel, and so on, and tie it to specific times of the day or week if you can. The trick is to do this completely from the top of your head, without looking though your bathroom or make up bag. That will help you separate steps and products you actually need and find useful from those that you are only using because they are there.
In your head, walk through a typical day of yours to identify when and what kind of products you need, including touch ups. Also write down any products you use regularly but less than once a day, like skin or hair treatments, special occasion make up (feel free to include different colour options if you use them regularly) and stuff like shaving gel, etc. If you want to change up your routine a little and include a new product type that you aren't currently using, include that too. Here is Julia's list:
- Face wash
- Moisturizer with SPF
- Make up remover
- Face wash (same as in AM)
- Daily exfoliation
- Anti-aging treatment
- Eye cream
- Face wipes
- Tinted moisturiser or BB cream
2-3 times a week
- Mask for extra hydration
- Face wipes on bedside table (for late nights)
- Spot treatment
Step 2: Define must-have and nice-to-have criteria
Once you have made a list of every product type you need, take a couple of minutes to define exactly what criteria each of these products needs to fulfil to work for you, based on your routine, your skin/hair type and your personal style (for make up and hair styling). To keep it practical, distinguish between criteria that are non-negotiable/must-haves and those that would be nice but aren’t absolutely essential.
Must-have criteria are usually things like the basic formula (should match your skin/hair type) or specific ingredients like glycolic acid, antioxidants, an SPF above 30 and so on. For make up products, the colour should also always be defined in the must-have section, although you don’t have to be super specific about it.
Nice-to-have criteria could be things like the scent, packaging or specific formula requests (like long-wearing or 'gives a dewy finish'). Here are Julia's criteria:
- MH: Formula for dry skin, non-foaming
- NTH: can be used on eyes as well
Moisturizer with SPF for daytime
- MH: SPF above 30, formula for dry/very dry skin
- NTH: non-sticky, sinks in quickly (read reviews)
Make up remover
- MH: non-greasy, wipe off formula
- NTH: -
Daily exfoliation product
- MH: AHA 3-5%, non-drying, must sink in quickly
- NTH: with salicylic acid, lotion formula
- MH: Vitamin C, serum formula
- NTH: smells nice, pretty bottle
- MH: for dry skin
- NTH: -
Moisturizer without SPF
- MH: formula for dry/very dry skin
- NTH: non-sticky, can be worn under make up
Face wipes for gym
- MH: removes water-proof make up, portable
- NTH: for dry skin
Tinted moisturiser or BB cream for gym
- MH: moisturizing enough on its own, colour match
- NTH: -
Mask for extra hydration
- MH: sink-in formula
- NTH: nice smell
Face wipes on bedside table
- MH: must remove water-proof eye make up too
- NTH: not too drying
- MH: effective (read reviews)
- NTH: transparent
Step 3: Look at what you have
Now that you have defined your criteria for each product type, look through what you already own and check for items that could fill a slot in your routine. Start by picking out every product that matches the must-have criteria on your list. If you own several products that all fit these, use your nice-to-have criteria to decide between them.
Julia was able to fill 5 of the 12 products with items that she already owned and that fit both her must-have and nice-to-have criteria: 2x face wipes (gym + bedside table), make up remover, eye cream, face wash. For 2 product types she owned versions that fit her must-have criteria but not her nice-to-have ones: moisturiser without SPF, spot treatment (more on that below). For 5 product types, she either didn’t own a product like that at all or none that fit her must-have-criteria for it: daily exfoliation product, anti aging treatment, moisturiser with SPF, mask for extra hydration, tinted moisturiser for gym.
Step 4: Spend wisely
Time to shop! Use the criteria you outlined in step 2 to find the best version for each missing product that your budget allows. If you are on a tight budget and still need a lot of items (or just a few particularly pricey ones like serums or treatments), make sure you prioritise well. That means two things:
1) Prioritise products that fit your must-have criteria 100% but not your nice-to-have criteria over products that fit 50% of either.
Julia still needs an anti-aging treatment and those are usually quite expensive. So, to make sure she'll still have money left for the other four products on her list, she'll look out for a treatment that includes vitamin C and has a serum formula, without worrying too much about whether it also has a pretty packaging or smells nice.
2) Prioritise filling completely empty slots over replacing products that fit your must-have criteria, but not your nice-to-have ones
There is no point in forcing yourself to use up stuff you dislike (check out point 4 on ‘sunk costs’ of this post for an explanation why), but as long as your products fit your must-have criteria, replacing them with slightly better versions wouldn’t be a good use of your budget. Using that money instead to buy products that are completely missing from your routine will have a much bigger immediate impact.
In Julia’s case, because she still needs to buy quite a few more expensive product types, she will keep on using her slightly too-sticky moisturiser (without SPF) for now, even though it's not great as a make up base. Once she has all of her essentials and some more money saved up, she'll replace it.
Step 5: Assess the rest of your kit
Ok, so as you have probably noticed, we only focused on optimising your beauty routine so far and have done little to de-clutter your kit.
And that is, again, because owning a functional set of products is more important, i.e. will have a bigger positive impact, than owning a small set of products. But there's also a second good reason why you should optimise your routine BEFORE you de-clutter your kit, and that's because it just makes it easier. Once you know you have a good routine in place, you'll feel much more confident about what you don’t need and can get rid of that excess without second-guessing.
So: Once you have curated all of your missing products and feel good about your new and improved routine, take about an hour or so to go through the rest of your collection:
Give away or throw out anything that you feel is now redundant, that doesn’t even fit your must-have criteria and that you haven’t used in weeks. Feel free to keep products that you think you’ll still like to use from time to time, even if they aren't part of your regular routine. But if possible, store them separately.
How do you keep your beauty routine functional and simple? What area of your routine are you currently the happiest with (for me that's make up) and which needs the most work (skin care)?