Last January, I couldn’t go on YouTube without a no-buy video hitting my front page. Probably symptomatic of our increasing awareness of how much waste we create, a group of people online were appalled by their current consumption and so committed to a year of not buying anything other than essentials. They created unique rules and parameters they needed to follow. Most of them focused on specific items; books, clothes, homeware. Last year, I watched many of these videos.
I worry more and more these days about how much I consume and how it impacts the planet. Watching these videos made me reflect on where I was at and if I could do better. I tended to buy clothing thoughtfully, and I didn’t buy a concerning amount of anything else really… but then there was beauty. I loved trying new products, and being sent PR packages every other day was acting as an enabler. I was opening products, trying them a couple of times and then trying to pass them on to family and friends in the hopes someone would want them. I’d buy palettes to only use when I was travelling, which for me is only a few times a year. I loooved trying skincare – let’s not talk about how many open bottles were lurking in my bathroom. So I decided it was time for a change.
I committed to do a no-buy for as long as I could. The rules were:
- I wasn’t allowed to open products I’d been sent unless I was going to use the whole thing.
- I couldn’t buy/open a new makeup or skincare product until I’d finished something else.
- Skincare was to be limited to one bottle per stage of my routine. No multiple moisturisers.
- At my boyfriend’s house, the same rules apply. No sneaking off across the road to open a new exfoliator.
The first thing I realised early on was just how much I had hoarded. It might sound obvious, but until I was forced to start using everything up, it was like I had been blind to how much there actually was. Shampoos lurked at the back of my cabinets, half-finished toners were in abundance. Some bottles had been around for two years, travelling with me when I moved across London the year prior. How had I not noticed these?!
It made me realise I got a cheap thrill from stuff and things. I’d never thought of myself as a “shopper” or a hoarder – sure, I got a kick from buying something new but who doesn’t? I didn’t realised how much it had infiltrated my life – and I only caught onto the endorphin rush I’d been getting from tearing the plastic wrap off the lid of a toner when I drastically reduced how often I got to do it. It made me think more carefully about where I was getting my small serotonin kicks from. I think it probably stemmed from social media; so much of the content I was consuming online was about newness – hauls, specifically – that it had distorted what I thought was normal, and put emphasis on getting satisfaction from abundance. The scary thing was that I hadn’t even noticed the mindset change happening. Since the no-buy, I feel as though that desire or rush at the idea of opening my fifth sunscreen has dulled; the urgency isn’t there anymore and that’s given me more mental peace. I am content with what I have and I don’t feel as though I want any more.
All of this also brought to light how the beauty industry has been playing into this mass consumption mindset in their marketing and approach to PR. I noticed just how often we are being recommended to buy multiple skincare products – encouraged by some store assistants to buy the whole set, or to select free (non-recyclable) samples in our online order checkout. When I am kindly sent products from brands, often they don’t email ahead, and one of every shade arrives, whether that’s lipstick or foundation. I totally understand if it’s going to an office, but for influencer PR there’s got to be a better answer. Even when the brands did take an interest in being better for the planet, their approach to reducing waste wasn’t all that well thought out. As I only use cruelty-free makeup, I think some brands see me as an “ethical” influencer – and as I’m sure you know, sustainability was a hot selling point to Gen Z and Millennials in 2019. More and more often, I was being sent products in recyclable outer packaging – great! – but they were accompanied by reusable water bottles, metal straws and other eco-tools. I ended up collecting about twenty water bottles and desperately giving them to friends and family – not exactly the sustainable approach I was hoping to take. Did they not stop to think that a “sustainable” millennial like me might already have a reusable bottle? I understand their good intentions but it felt short-sighted, and made my mission to create less waste through my beauty consumption a bit more challenging. By the way, if anyone’s looking for a metal straw or a beeswax wrap, I’ve got about fifty of each. My DMs are open to offers.
In September, I decided to stop the no-buy. There wasn’t a sudden change, or a moment when I ran into Boots and stockpiled twenty new things to try. It just… faded out. Other than one trip to Sephora on my visit to New York in April, I had managed to avoid buying any new products that were not replacements. My desire to buy had dulled, I had managed to use up a lot of open products and I felt that the impact my consumption was having had gone from high to moderate. I’ll probably never be low waste or zero waste – my job doesn’t really allow for that and besides, I still love beauty and trying new things. However I feel as though I have a much better approach to how I buy and consume beauty products now. It was a good exercise in self-control, and helped me regain perspective that I’d lost on what I valued. I’d encourage everyone to do the same in the areas they feel like they create the most waste, or tend to hoard. There’s no shame in liking things, but if we can take one more book out of the library a month, or avoid buying that extra t-shirt in a different colour, we could have a bigger impact than we think.