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Get a Handle on Your Makeup Collection

You don’t have to find lipsticks all over your apartment.

Close-up of cosmetic products. Photo: The Coveteur/Trunk Archive

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Out, Damned Spot has long provided general tips to keep your fashions looking amazing, but now, twice a month, I'll also be answering questions about the very specific problems your new (or old!) purchases may present. Do you have questions for me? Ask away!

A New Year’s Resolution of mine is to get organized, and my makeup collection needs some serious help! As a beauty blogger, I have a lot of products and I don’t know what to do with any of them. My roommates are getting tired of finding lipsticks and mascaras all over the apartment, and my current organizational system isn’t working.

Everything is stacked on top of each other in a drawer cart I keep in my bedroom, which I inherited from my family in the 90s (and covered in stickers), or small makeup bags — it’s an eyesore, not stable, and I still can’t find anything. Help! — Kailey Flyte

When we decided to devote a month of posts in January to various organizing projects, I was most excited to get to this one: the streamlining and beautifying of your collection of makeup, brushes, serums, lotions, and potions. Partly because this is the kind of organizing project that's super fun and not terribly fraught in the way that cleaning out a closet can be, what with the feelings and bad memories clothes can evoke, and partly because it's a thing I did in 2016 and it's made a huge difference in my daily life.

It was also fantastic to have Kailey's question to work off of, because as a beauty blogger her collection will be far more vast than most of ours, and I love a big project. Based on her question, I had some follow-up questions for her — these are things that you should ask yourself before you start your own beauty product organization project.

1. Where do you store your makeup? In your bedroom or bathroom (or other place)?

2. Do you apply your makeup in the same place where you store it? Tell me a little more about that — do you sit at a vanity? Stand in front of a mirror? How much surface space do you use/need when applying makeup?

3. How much of a budget are you able to set aside to buy new storage and organizers?

4. What is your dream set-up? Like, do you ever look at photos of someone else's vanity and think "I want THAT!"

The answers to those questions will help to inform the choices you make down the line about new furniture or storage solution purchases. But before you can get to that, you need to do a few things first.

You Can't Organize Things If You Don't Know You Have Them

First, start by organizing and assessing your collection. If that sounds familiar, it's because it's the same first step I prescribed for doing a clothing and shoe organization project. The reasoning is exactly the same, too: You can't determine the best way to organize and store items until you know what needs organizing and storing! Plus, when it comes to a makeup collection, it's fun to see everything together — you'll probably find a few forgotten lipsticks in shades you love, or an eyeshadow palette that you bought and totally forgot you even had.

Seeing everything together will also make it very easy to group the makeup by type, which will help you down the line when it comes time to organize items into a storage and display system that works for you.

So! All your lipsticks go in one pile, eye makeup in another, foundation and powder in another, and so on down the line. Tools like brushes, tweezers, eyelash curlers, and cotton swabs should also be grouped together. The grouping of like items is also helpful if you have a vast collection that needs to be pared down to eliminate duplicate items, unused products, or expired makeup. For help determining if makeup should be tossed due to old age, check out our guide to makeup expiration dates. Do your brushes and other tools need to be cleaned? We can help with that, too.

Next, Invest in Quality Storage

Kailey's biggest problem — which was also my problem until I finally got fed up enough to put some serious work into solving it — is that her storage system is janky, which means it's time for her to throw a little money at the problem and invest in a sturdier and larger piece of furniture. But Kailey doesn't want to break the bank, and has set an overall budget of $100 for this project. Enter the IKEA Helmer, which is much beloved by the beauty set for its slim size, abundant drawers, and low price point of $40. In Kailey's case, I would suggest she buy two Helmers; her collection is so vast that she needs the space, and buying two will allow her, down the line, to buy a tabletop and convert the Helmers into a vanity if she so chooses. While the purchase of the two Helmers will eat up most of Kailey's $100 budget, it's a foundational investment that she can continue to build on over the years.

Speaking of vanities! Kailey mentioned to me that she quite likes the look of a vanity and would eventually like to have such a setup, so here are a few tips for selecting a style that is as functional as it is lovely: First, pick a design that has storage built in. If a vanity only has one or two slim drawers, you'll wind up needing auxiliary storage. Similarly, opt for a style with a fairly wide and deep surface, which will allow room to display pretty and/or frequently used products while leaving actual workspace for you to lay out your paints and brushes when it's time to use them.

Then, Organize!

See that exclamation point? That's because this part is where the fun really starts. You've sifted and sorted and invested and here you are at the payoff: You've got a blank slate to work with, and all of your makeup is already clustered by type, so it will be fairly painless to put things away. Plus, the payoff is so satisfying when you start to see an entire drawer of lipsticks all stashed by color.

A few suggestions to help you make decisions about where things will go:

  • Make frequently used products easy to get to by storing them within reach, either displayed or toward the front of drawers.
  • A label maker is your best friend! Label drawers and other storage so that you have a visual reminder of what lurks behind closed doors.
  • Use small boxes like the ones that jewelry or fancy candles or small accessories like socks and scarves come packaged in to corral items together in drawers.
  • Be sparing in your use of makeup bags as storage. Items become easily buried, mixed up, and hidden from the eye in a makeup bag, resulting in a jumble that makes accessing your makeup a tedious chore. Instead, stash all your makeup bags together inside the largest of the bunch. If you do opt to use bags to store makeup, put like with like (i.e. all lipsticks together in one bag) to make it easier to find a product when you want it, and consider sticking a label on bags so you don't need to open them up to figure out what's in them.
  • Don't be afraid to move things around as you start using your new setup and discover that something isn't working for you!

Get Creative With Display Options

Some people prefer to have everything put away, and some people like the look of a display of products, and both are perfectly fine choices to make in life. If you're a person who enjoys a pretty display, use some of your surface space to house frequently used and/or particularly attractive items. This is, essentially, a styling project more than an organization endeavor, so get in touch with your inner decorator and have a little fun.

Acrylic makeup organizers are one obvious choice for displaying beauty products, but they can be spendy. If you're working on a limited budget, here are some ideas for inexpensive or free ways to stash and display items like makeup brushes, perfumes, lipsticks, etc.

  • Scour thrift shops, yard sales, dollar stores, and your cabinets for jars, trays, drinkware, ashtrays, cake stands, and so on that can be used to corral your makeup.
  • Save decorative candles that have been burned down and use the jars to hold brushes, eyeliners, mascara tubes, and other tall, skinny things.
  • Decorative boxes are perfect for holding a collection of eyeshadow palettes or for stashing cotton for easy access.
  • Stores like TJ Maxx, Marshalls, and HomeGoods are great places for sourcing acrylic makeup organizers at a discount.

Do you have creative makeup storage solutions that you're particularly proud of? Email photos, tweet at me, or tag me on Instagram, and we may include them in a roundup of clever reader ideas!