Are there multiple shampoos in your shower caddy? Old face creams gathering dust in your cabinet? Have you been accused of having a bathroom that looks like a Sephora store?
Most important, does any of this make you a “cosmoholic”? Yes, there is such a thing as “too much,” and it’s a fine line between the mildly messy makeup lover and someone psychologically addicted to beauty products.
Organizing pro Linda Koopersmith, author of “The Beverly Hills Organizer’s Home Organizing Bible: A Pro’s Answers to Your Organizing Prayers,” has tackled bathroom and cosmetic organizing projects for more than 20 years and run into some serious hoarders. “I had a client who was a self-professed ‘cosmoholic,’” Koopersmith says. “She filled over 40 tubs with cosmetics and stored them even though their shelf life has long passed. I actually moved her cosmetics out of a storage unit that she paid $260 a month for over five years and put them in garage cabinets. She refused to let any of it go. … She literally spent herself out of her fortune. Literally bankrupted herself.”
Hoarding is the acquisition of and inability to discard items even if they’re worthless, hazardous or unsanitary. Dr. Renae Reinardy, who founded the Lakeside Center for Behavioral Change in Minnesota, says that hoarding beauty products can be fed by several different disorders and that people with this issue usually hoard all beauty products — make-up, shampoos, creams — regardless of type.
“The million-dollar question is ‘What is the function of the hoarding behavior?’ because that’s going to determine what kind of help people need,” Reinardy says. “I would look to see what’s fueling the fire to buy those cosmetics.” Psychological conditions such as body dysmorphic disorder, compulsive acquisition/spending, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety or depression can all be part of the problem, she says. A therapist has to do a full diagnostic interview to determine the root of the dysfunction.
But Reinardy does list indicators. “If it’s something that’s, ‘Oh, I’m not going to be pretty unless I have these things,’ and it’s really a firmly held belief that causes a lot of anxiety, then I would definitely look more into body dysmorphic disorder,” she says. In women, this condition has two very common symptoms, she says: obsession with the nose or pore size.
“I had a client who spent $10,000 on face cream trying to minimize her pores,” Reinardy says. “When we’re so desperate to look a certain way, and when we rely on that for our well being, people will do whatever they need to do, especially if there’s body dysmorphic disorder. Finances and space issues go out of the window if we put all of our happiness on whatever feature that we’re trying to chase after.”
When it comes to compulsive acquisition and spending, Reinardy says that what constitutes crossing the line is different for each individual. In essence, it’s about spending beyond your means. “It can be about a $10,000 purchase or a $150 purchase of perfume,” she says. “If you’re saying, ‘I was just out shopping and I love Macy’s and this was on sale so I bought it,’ that’s going to look more like compulsive acquisition.”
If cosmetics hoarding is related to obsessive-compulsive disorder or depression, there is likely to be hoarding in other areas of the person’s life too. “I look at my cosmetic drawer, and do I have more cosmetics than I use? Creams that I can’t let go of? Absolutely,” Reinardy says. “The difference is when you’re not able to use the space in your home that it was meant for. So if my entire bathroom is full of cosmetic products so that I can’t use the shower, sink or toilet anymore, it’s a sign that it’s out of hand.”
Dorothy Breininger, founder of Delphi Center for Organization and a producer of the A&E television show “Hoarders,” says that most people who handle cosmetics responsibly will clean them out once a year for sanitary reasons. “Cleansers and moisturizers tend to have fatty acids in them so they go rancid in about six months, so that’s the reason we want to change those out, and mascara is just a breeding ground for bacteria, so that’s usually a three-month turnaround,” Breininger says.
But in her line of work, she frequently sees cosmetics hoarders who ignore all that. Sometimes the cosmetics represent a time of life the woman doesn’t want to let go of. “We all turn to cosmetics to change our appearance and give us the feeling of being more beautiful .…Young gals who are 16, 17 buy a lot of makeup because they’re experimenting,” she says. “But a lot of these women that I’m working with have loads and loads of makeup from when they once were in the theater or leaving the house for work and doing a particular job and now they’re not, for example. So they’re kind of holding on to cosmetics thinking that they can go back to that life or re-create it again.”
Reinardy says that hiring a professional organizer might help but warns: “It may clean the house, but it won’t change the behavior. Cleaning alone does not fix the problem; you have to get to the underlying issue.”
Friends and loved ones need to be cautious in offering help, Breininger says. “Never, ever, ever say that ‘you’ve got to throw this away’ because all that you do is raise their defenses, and they’ll want to hang on to their beauty products even more so. What you want to be asking is ‘Look, you have a lot of stuff here, and it looks important to you or you wouldn’t have it, so can I help you decide what is the most important to you?’ You are on their side.”
When Breininger works with clients, the first thing she does is sort like with like, “so all shampoo with shampoo, mascara goes with mascara, lipstick with lipstick. Before we go any further we ask criteria for what can be thrown away. ‘Do you want to keep what’s discolored, half-full, in broken containers, is no longer in style or throw them away?’ Let them set the criteria. Once they’ve decided three or four criteria then that’s how you go through, say, 119 lipsticks.”
There can be a dark side to being a beauty junkie, and if getting your fix is no longer pretty but rather pretty out of hand, find a therapist to help. Resources include the International OCD Foundation at https://www.ocfoundation.org, Debtors Anonymous (which has meetings for compulsive shoppers) at https://www.debtorsanonymous.org and https://www.mayoclinic.com, which has more information about body dysmorphic disorder.