“Oh my God, look!” I rush into my bedroom, brandishing a bottle, where my husband is reading in bed, as if I’d just discovered the cure for cancer.
“Look! It’s EMPTY!” This is no ordinary bottle. It’s an empty bottle of moisturizer. I have the pump mechanism pulled out, wiped completely clean. “Do you understand what this means?”
“That’s great, honey,” he says sweetly. He’s not trying to shut me up and he doesn’t entirely get it, but he understands what this sense of accomplishment means to me.
This might not make sense to a lot of men (but that doesn’t mean you should stop reading) but this bottle, practically licked clean, cost about $9.00. Before I was unemployed (twice) and making a fairly respectable salary, I thought very little of spending anywhere between $25 and $40 on fancy, full-of- promise products. Despite decades of subscribing to scores of beauty magazines, watching the editors rearrange the same stories and “best of beauty” lists over and and over and over, I was too spellbound by lovely packaging and subtle fragrances to buy into the claim that “drugstore brands are just as good as department store brands.” Cetaphil LOOKED boring and clinical. It didn’t smell nice and it kind of looks like semen.
Like with skincare and makeup and bedding and bags, it’s not that I could afford “the best,” but I like having good quality “stuff.” I couldn’t care less about logos. I have to admit, though, that if J. Lo shared her daily skin regimen, the secret to making her look so fucking radiant all the time, I might be tempted to check it out. (Real life example of this: About 6 years ago I read about a cleanser that Niki Taylor, the supermodel used. In the picture accompanying the blurb, she just looked SO lovely and I wanted to look lovely too! Well, I tracked down the brand, a Japanese product line exclusive to Barney’s, and ordered it. I think it probably cost $40 or so, and was the creamiest, most delicious thing I have ever washed my face with. I think I used it for about a week and then forgot all about it. I recently discovered the ⅔ full tube. Oh, and I also bought the very “zen” products Christy Turlington created. I mean, really, who wouldn’t?)
I have about 50 lipsticks that all look exactly the same. I have bottles of shampoo ½ used in the same drawer as the barely used loose powders, eyeshadow (which I NEVER wear but love the look of in their neat little palettes), makeup sponges, “serums” that can either make you dewy, or glow, or make your wrinkles go away. I have zit miracle potions that never worked, foundation with sunscreen, foundation without sunscreen, foundations with more coverage, minimal coverage, average coverage, and matte coverage, I have cream blush, powder blush, blush “balls” that look like candy, bronzers both in loose and pressed powders, cheek highlighters in liquid and powder, concealers, camouflage creams, and eye creams. I have every tool ever created to apply eyeliner. Like learning to hold chopsticks, I’m convinced that this is something that can’t be taught. Even though you’ll mean well, don’t write to me with your methods and surefire techniques. I can’t do it.
All throughout my life I remember my mother saying “make do” when I wanted more of whatever it was I wanted more of. It might have been a brand new bar of soap, a desire to try a new shampoo, wanting another pair of jeans, or whatever, but that was her mindset and I’m sure it was very frustrating to me at the time. My mother came to America, a Holocaust survivor, after being hidden in a private home in Belgium for two years with her one surviving brother and mother. They were kept in a basement and literally thrown potatoes and bread when the homeowners felt like it. They had nothing down there to keep them busy so they looked out the window where all they could see were feet passing by for their daily entertainment.
A friend of mine who works for a genealogical library miraculously found my mother’s “inventory” of what she had with her when she flew over from Belgium on a TWA flight to Pennsylvania. Apparently she had one suitcase, about $70 and a GI husband who she apparently married to get herself into this country. Even though, by the time she married my father and had 4 children, and had everything she could possibly want, she still lived her life by “making do.”
So, mired in debt and living on unemployment forced me into a“make do” mindset. I have to say, it was, and has been, a fun and creative challenge. It’s FUN to use stuff up. It’s FUN to take inventory of your stuff and realize that you don’t NEED more. It’s quite enlightening when you take all of your lipstick, smear each one on white paper, and realize, that they are all basically exactly the same. It’s FUN to rediscover a long-abandoned and forgotten bag that you still think is really cool. It’s FUN to create a meal out of whatever you have on the shelf and calculate the teeny unit cost that went into making it, as held up to a minimum of $60 for dinner out.
Now, I’m not making lamps out of empty wine bottles (and not only because they are REALLY ugly) or melting soap ends to make one big bar, but, I truly am turning bottles of stuff upside down to use up the last drop and not replacing them until I’ve done so. I am absolutely sticking with my drugstore cleanser and moisturizer as my skin has never looked better. I have become a big fan of Groupon and all of its competitors. I buy supermarket brands of stuff. I go to the library constantly and haven’t bought a book for myself in about a year. Every time I move, and I have moved A LOT, I am ashamed to see all of the things I’ve carelessly shoved into boxes, but, am happy to rediscover them again.
I will confess that on my very first day of work a few weeks ago, I quickly discovered the coolest boutique in town and treated myself to a new bag and a couple of little pursey things. They make me happy. I have vowed to find a purpose for each thing I buy. If I can’t while I’m turning it over and admiring it, I put it back. I still shock myself every time I have the willpower to do it. I swear, and I know I’m sounding like Oprah or those crazy reality show coupon people, but I like the way this feels. I am not my “stuff.” I LIKE my stuff, but there’s only so much pretty writing paper or unused journals or fancy file folders or hair straightening products that one person can use in a lifetime.