Why I Did a Massive Beauty Purge (and What Products Survived It)

When Leandra moved, she promised she would only use one shelf in her medicine cabinet for beauty products


I have a hunch that we are re-entering an era of minimalism. Call it a response to Gucci mania (though to be clear, I am still very much not over jewel-encrusted sunglasses, nor will I ever retire an interest in embroidered tigers climbing down my leg), which, ironically, was a response to the minimalism that came before it (when Phoebe Philo first started at Céline and her tailored navy coats and crisp white shirts and plain-but-stellar-fit black pants seemed revolutionary), but even more frequently than usual, I am hearing people, particularly women, talk about having less.

In order to have less, the assumption is that you will capsule-ize your wardrobe — do away with the wild prints and unconventional silhouettes and one-time-only dresses that never even saw the light of day. Dressing — or doing anything — is so much easier when the choices are limited, the product is pared down and those items fall into systemic, useful categories. Can this principle be applied to a medicine cabinet?

When I moved from an apartment on Bowery to one on Grand Street in early October, you wouldn’t believe how many skincare products I gave away: unopened bottles of moisturizers and face wash, varying serums and toners and acids and oils. This does not account for the volume of makeup that followed: lipsticks, eye palettes, mascaras, pencils, brow gels, two lash curlers I gave to my mom.

I had this vision in my head of what my medicine cabinet would look like when I moved. It was pretty insignificant, with empty shelves sandwiching the one shelf, at eye level, that would hold every single product I both own and use. What resulted was the use of two shelves (one for skincare and the other for makeup), which is good enough.

On the skincare shelf, I maintain a full suite of Drunk Elephant products: two serums, an oil, a face mask, one hydrating gel, two moisturizers and, right next to my sink, a bar of facial cleanser. On this shelf, there are also La Mer products: an oil, a serum, cream, foundation and “miracle broth” (which I swear makes me look like a 12-year-old). I have two dispensers, both half empty, of Chanel’s Solution 10.

On the makeup shelf, there is a brow gela liquid eye pen and mascara. Concealer, a makeup brush, an eye shadow stick, four lipsticks, a blush, a bronzer (which apparently is “out of fashion,” by the way) and makeup remover.

It is the smallest accrual of beauty possessions that I have owned in many years, and, save for less rummaging, nothing about my beauty routine has changed. I look the same, I act the same, I feel the same way I did when I owned 10 times the amount of product. But there is more space, both physically and mentally. What a delight it is to walk into a bathroom only to find a selection of products that I actually use! How much time is saved when I’m not looking through lipstick colors and eye shadow palettes that I will never wear, but for which I want to make a case because I have good intentions and don’t want to be wasteful.

Of course, I recognize that to have this conversation and to make these observations is an absolute privilege in its own right — to decide that you will forgo your stuff because you want (not need) to “purge” is a charmed position to be in, which is why minimalism is different from essentialism. What we’re talking about here is eschewing excess, whatever that means to you. And it really makes me wonder, as I do so frequently: How much of my wardrobe, kitchen pantry, furniture, etc. do I not need? How much am I holding onto because of those “good intentions,” because someday, surely, I’ll use them? Because I am a frivolous dresser and eater and squatter who gets bored quickly?

The reason people who are lucky enough to purge rave about doing it is because it does feel that good — like you’ve completed every task on a to-do list and still have space (pun intended) to add a couple more bullet points and check those off too. Can you even imagine?

Illustrations by Stephanie DeAngelis

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  • K

    I wish more beauty products had “use by” dates. I hold on to things because I think I might use them, but then invariably don’t due to fear that (say) my two-year-old eyeshadow has turned into some sort of face-corroding nightmare.

    But also: throwing away is excellent – and easy once you get into the swing of it. I only wish I could do better at the not buying part.

    • Isabel

      I think it’s important we change the concept of ‘throwing away’, we think that means the item is gone but really it’s just sitting in a landfill somewhere. Nothing can be really thrown away. Its good to cleanse and de clutter but it needs to be followed through on by not buying unnecessary crap. (This is for myself too!)

    • CB

      For the record, ALL beauty products are labeled with a product life. It’s the little icon that says 3M, or 6M, or 12M etc.

      • K

        They do? I’m such a moron. So is that the length of time you should keep it after you open it? Because my moisturiser bought some time last year says 12m but then it turns out has an actual expiry date of some time in 2019.

        TBH I agree with people below about being able to ignore use by dates but I’m a little paranoid about stuff very near the eyes, especially mascara.

        • K

          You know what I read the byrdie article, all my questions are now answered.

        • Marie

          There should be an icon that shows how many months after you open the product. Some show an open jar, some just show the jar with the number. But, yes, it is how long the shelf life is after opening (as long as you have not reached the actual expiry date, i.e. your example sometime in 2019).

    • pamb

      IMO, use by dates are for the safety of the company, so you don’t sue them, vs. real necessity. I have powder shadows and blushes that are 10+ years old that I should maybe throw out but why? They are dry products, and only I use them, so there is no contamination. If it smells or separates and shaking doesn’t fix it, out it goes. But otherwise, it stays.

    • The Style Page

      Call me cynical, but I often think that USE BY dates are a ruse to make you replace and buy new products. Don’t base the safety of products on arbitrary dates. Byrdie has good information in its article What You Really Need to Know About Makeup Expiration Dates, http://www.byrdie.com/makeup-expiration-dates-mascara-foundation-lipstick/ – just ignore the shelf lives and instead rely on the tips given in the article. Has the product “turned”? Is it causing problems for your skin?

  • Arianna Garcia

    I feel this ALL. THE. TIME. lately. I am itching for a closet cleanse! I think it may have to do with the fact that I am preggo and even though the tiny human inside of me wont take up THAT much space, it would be nice to declutter for him/her!

    • Laura M

      Aww, it’s called nesting. Like when birds make a nest to welcoming mentheor offsprings. You only want to make a welcoming home for your little one, no matter what room or what space in your home you’re itching t declutter/organize.

  • ooooooh love these illustrations. the two shelves sound like a dream, I share a bathroom so I long for the day I can open up the cabinet and it’s just all my stuff, all right there. also, getting rid of shit is the beeeeesttttt

  • Cristina

    I go through these phases and I do love it. But almost always, when I am out of the phase later, I regret getting rid of quite a bit. I have recently decided to keep my skincare at the bare minimum that works. Why do I need more? That’s just more money I have to shell out when I run out of product?
    This year, I’m going through my closet not necessarily with minimalism in mind (capsule’s can be just as expensive as an excess wardrobe) but with intention. Things that fit me now. That are flattering. That I like to wear and that make me feel confident. Anything that doesn’t fit right at this moment can go in storage, or if I don’t even like it, Goodwill.

  • Adrianna

    La Mer is owned by Estee Lauder, who tests on animals. Is that worth looking like a 12 year old?

    • CB


      • CB

        Laughing at you. Not with you.

        • Adrianna


          • Stacy

            Adrianna, I’m sorry that person was so rude.

          • prairie dogs

            Seriously! I clicked CB’s profile and it looks like it’s a troll account. Some nasty comments about Obama and such. Yikes. 🙁

        • M

          It takes a special kind of idiot to laugh at such a valid point.

        • pamb

          I’m not one to specifically look into whether a company animal tests or not. But that’s just rude.

          • H

            I do not have an account here, and resist commenting to save myself for only the most egregious idiocy and amorality. Adrianna, I read your insightful comments often. This person is a depressing symptom not only of our slumberous moral age, but also the phenomenon of the entitlement to speak without the obligation to listen. I worry about our planet everyday, but the planet will have the last laugh. Glad to know you are out there! X

          • Adrianna

            Oh wow, thanks. Sometimes I feel like I use Man Repeller like a diary. Can you tell I’m bored at work? (I edit photos all day, I otherwise don’t write.)

            I’ve had my set of trolls that touched a nerve. Can’t say the same about CB

          • H

            My pleasure! It’s true. I am very interested to hear what you have to say. I don’t think you do, your comments are not self-serving, they offer insights for otherwise from a personal point of view. You should write! I think MR underutilises the community- there should be some sort of forum scenario to upload extended articles/ observations/ philosophical questions. You should definitely write! Hope your work appreciates you! Have a nice day x

          • sonu

            Wow I loved reading your comment. You should also write!

  • Making space, going through, and organising stuff has been a habit since I was probably six years old (which at the time must have annoyed my parents who love to sleep in and my moment of getting at it was Sunday morning at 7:00). Even now that I own a lot less stuff (still way too many clothes I haven’t parted with) I love organising everything, and I get itchy fingers when I think of all the places that could use some crazy organiser like me.

    • Hi, would you like to come over sometime?

    • Cristina

      ME TOO. Like when I am stressed, I clean and organize. It gives me so much life. Like, let me loose in a garage, I DARE YOU! haha!

  • Jessie Oswald

    If it hasn’t gone bad, and isn’t opened, see if you can send it to our armed forces. They (ok women) have a hard time getting ahold of nicer products. I send all the subscription box stuff that I know won’t suit me to our women heroes.

    • Bmo

      Can you give more information about how you do this?

      • Jessie Oswald

        Contact your local American Legion or ARW post. See if they do care packages for the troops. (They also like snacks.)

        • Sarah

          this is such a great idea! i know what to do with this stuff now, thank you!

        • Nora

          Great idea!

      • Jessie Oswald

        That should have been AFW -Americans of foreign wars. Autocorrect is a cruel mistress

      • pamb

        Many synagogues/churches ‘adopt’ troops as well. I donate my magazines (everyone deserves to read Oprah!) as well as the BBW minis I keep getting free coupons for…

    • Cristina

      I’ve heard the same about women’s shelters! Everyone deserves to feel beautiful!

      • belle

        In addition to feeling beautiful, it’s very helpful for women who are seeking employment and may not have access to cosmetics or grooming tools and services. I also donate menstrual supplies, and some womens’ shelters take diapers as well.

    • tinygoldenpins


    • Leandra Medine

      That’s such a great idea Jessie! I had no idea – thanks for sharing.

    • Beasliee

      If you are in the UK then you can check this out: https://www.carolinehirons.com/page-give-and-makeup

  • Lindsey

    I literally get a high from throwing things away.

  • CB

    Hmmm I’m all about only keeping what you use, but I’m not basic, so… I literally laughed at the makeup products this basic kept. Oh hun… you should just stop patting yourself on the back. 😂😂😂

    • Mo

      Lol wow someone’s having a bad day

  • Cristina

    Stopped back by to see if maybe we can do an MR skincare swap? ISO: Hyaluronic Acid Serum because the StriVectin one I like costs $80 and I ain’t doin it. Great, thanks. Hahahaha!!

    • Meghan

      I don’t have anything to swap, but I do have recommendations! I loved Indeed Labs’ Hydraluron serum and I liked Hylamide’s Low Molecular Hyaluronic Acid serum

      • Cristina

        I’ll add those to the list, thanks! I just ordered The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid + B5 serum and am really excited to try it!

        • Jen

          Cristina The ordinary’s ha is wonderful! I buy it in multiples.

  • ariel

    can you talk more about bronzer being “out of fashion”

    • Julissa

      Right?! It can’t be. It’s the one thing I wear consistently.

    • Leandra Medine

      Amelia is going to tell you all about it in a feature length film set to debut next month.

      • Leandra Medine

        But also, who cares what is and isn’t “in fashion” — should sooooo not stop you/us from using it if we like it (I for one wear self tanner with reckless abandon, see: https://www.manrepeller.com/2017/04/confession-i-love-self-tanner.html)

        • ariel

          agreed – love bronzer, hate feeling pale but also very intrigued….

      • ariel

        cannot wait

  • pamb

    I am constantly saying “no more skincare!” and then get tempted by a review on one of the many blogs I read (like this one!) But, I mean it, no buying until I run through the face washes, the body lotions, the face oils. Luckily, I have two teens that I can pawn off stuff when I get bored, but they are not enthusiastic adopters… yet. (I’ve turned my daughter into a lip balm obsessive, but aren’t we all?)

  • Holly D

    For anyone interested, Project Beauty
    Share takes donations of used beauty products and cosmetics.

  • I have bought too many face masks in recent months, so I’ve promised myself I will use them to the end and only buy a new one once I have cleaned out the tubs. The promise of a shiny new product can be so alluring, but most end up disappointing. I do like samples though, since I can try a little and see if I want to commit. Actually I feel like everything should be offered in sample size because of how variable all our skins are.


  • coffeebee

    About that bar soap…do you use it morning and night? Do you use a separate makeup remover? I love bar soaps and it’s been awhile since I’ve found one suitable for the face.

    • coffeebee

      Oops – just saw that you also have the makeup remover. Still, interested in the soap!

  • Valerie

    All very high end brands…

  • Leora

    Don’t you have stakes in Drunk Elephant? More transparency about vested interests would be appreciated (and ethical).

    • Whatwould Slashdo

      now that’s a very valid point, shouldn’t even be a question?

    • Chess


    • Chelsea

      Agree! As a reader, I appreciate disclosures of this.

    • Carolina Cornejo

      You are right that ethical writers should avoid writing about things they have a financial interest it or at least give disclosures; unfortunately Leandra is not the most self aware person or particularly open to valid constructive criticism (first hand experience). Personally I am mostly here for Haley and the other girls.

      • meisje

        Hi, sorry, but I think this comment is out of line. I personally think Leandra takes a lot of suggestions/critiques to heart and cares deeply the MR community. I totally respect the transparency comment, but not hot on the diss. Just thought I’d throw it out there…

        • Carolina Cornejo

          I disagree and ask you to you look for the Beyonce post and her sorry not sorry attitude responding to comments, called it again on instagram later after she was flaunting her pregnancy the way she critiqued and got the same response, anyhow regarding personally I think that if you “care about your community so much” you don’t try dishonest marketing tactics like this one.

    • Gab

      Idk this seems like a bit of an unfair comment to me. Man Repeller is a lifestyle website, and a (private) commercial entity. Why should MR refrain from a bit of surreptitious product placement? I don’t think Leandra Medine should be held to the standards of high public office. Although she does perform great acts of public service.

    • CM

      The FTC would appreciate it as well

    • Jennifer
  • R. Leary

    Love you, Leandra! Deeply appreciate that you took a moment to acknowledge the privilege of minimalism — without invaliding its benefits.

  • Ambrey Rice

    Love the illustration in this piece!

  • EchoCat319
    • Leandra Medine

      Yes – I am super duper candid about my involvement in DE

      • belle

        Call me critical, but it doesn’t feel honest to read an article about purging tons of skincare except for Chanel, La Mer and a line of products you’ve invested in, but never mentioning those financial stakes. Of course people invest in ventures they believe in, but it is worth being transparent.

  • Hannah

    Clicked the link for the look-like-a-12-yr-old cream because hello yes please, and after being like ohhhhh hellll no when i saw the price, I watched the video and my life was made well again. I have found my calling: Moisturizer Model.

  • lateshift

    just to be clear: is this “new era of minimalism” different than the one we entered 4-5 years ago around the same time as the decluttering rage? Like, we’re defining “era” as “some period of time less than four years,” so it’s already time for a new one? or are we defining “entering” as, we’re only four years in but this is going to last decades and decades, so four years is still just the entry point? or were you being hella sarcastic, and I’m just way too exhausted by winter and work deadlines to get it? (I know it’s one of those and I’m pretty sure it’s GOT to be the last, but I honesty can’t tell…)

  • Laura D.

    I’ve always been one who reevaluates and purges unused/unnecessary things, so I applaud the concept and the effort. I am concerned, however, that, since you have crossed over from”influencer” to “promoter” that your priorities are more slanted toward advertising for sponsors and away from sparking conversation. I can’t help but read your pieces with that always in the back of my mind. I still read them, but it’s different now. Kudos for monetizing your brand, regardless.

  • Donni77

    The older I get (an ancient 40!), the more I live by the maxim “Waste not, want not”. It’s so fitting for every category of life, I think it’s the original “reduce, reuse, recycle”. If everybody bought less crap, the world would be a better place. Seriously. Next up on my maxim agenda: “a stitch in time saves nine”!

  • Leandra! I love that you covered this topic of minimalism. I’m trying to live a simpler life as an aspiring minimalist and thought this article depicts a simple beauty regime quite amazingly! I always enjoy reading your blog and the posts you create as you’ve got a knack for writing about all things fashion/beauty related. You’re inspiring! Thanks for sharing the products you have in your collection!

  • Georgie

    Hey, I’m a bit late here but I also feel that Leandra should have been transparent with her readership about her financial interest in Drunken Elephant. I had absolutely no idea and have been trying to find their jelly cleanser since it was recommended by Leandra’s husband some months ago in another MR beauty article. Not sure that knowing would have influenced my decision to buy but I don’t want to feel like a fool and I think this comes down to respecting your readership, rather then making them feel like you’re trying to doop them.

    • CM

      It also comes down to FTC laws.