Why we collect all those adorable little samples, and what to do with them when the pile grows unwieldy.
They tell you to write what you know, and I know this: I am being overwhelmed in a physical, emotional and spiritual way by Sephora samples.
I’m not alone in this. Everyone — EVERYONE! ALL OF THE PEOPLE! — is in grave danger of being buried alive under the pile of Sephora samples they’ve been hoarding.
I posted on Twitter, “This is my solemn promise to you in 2019: I will help you establish control over your Sephora samples,” and got the following responses:
“Every time I open a shoe box or zippy pouch anywhere in my house 1000 samples fall out HELP ME” — Kerri Warbanski, 34.
“P l e a s e !!! I’ve been a birchbox subscriber for HALF A DECADE and the situation under my sink is OUT OF CONTROL” — Kylie Lacusky, 25.
“I legit want to get more, but I know I can’t go through them without a system or something so I’m all ears!” — Louise Rothschild, 39.
Of course, it’s not just Sephora samples under which you will find our listless but beautifully made-up corpses. Birchbox, Kiehl’s, those tiny little soaps that are pressed into your hand if you so much as breathe in the direction of a Sabon storefront, Ipsy, and in the case of one work friend who promised to maim me if I revealed his identity, enough Sisley fragrance samples to fill a pool.
The scams are rife: ordering big-ticket items and returning them just to keep the samples; befriending department-store employees to get extra bottles of goop; walking into Aesop to look at products and ask for samples, carefully scanned one by one. The tiny bottle of Eucerin grabbed from a dermatologist’s office. The “travel-size” mascaras for trips we’ll never take. We don’t even wear mascara.
And we haven’t even gotten to the part where we confront the stockpile of hotel shampoos and body washes and disposable shower caps cluttering bathrooms the world ’round. I’m scared, and I’m cold, and I’m absolutely never going to use that bottle of Ferragamo body wash I snatched from a hotel sometime back in 2014.
But in 2019, I’m determined to change. In saving myself, I will also save you.
Admit you have a problem
Tempting though it may be to blame Sephora, Birchbox, and hotel groups Hilton and Marriott for saddling us with darling samples we didn’t ask for and certainly don’t need and also are constitutionally unable to part with, the reality is that we are the problem. Cheryl Wischhover, a reporter who covers the beauty and retail industries for The Goods by Vox, explained the allure of samples, “They are tiny and tiny things are cute! Everyone knows cute things are irresistible, whether they are puppies or teeny tubes of Good Genes.”
Jennifer Truesdale, a professional organizer based in Charleston, South Carolina, thinks there’s a more practical reason. “Many people don’t like to buy higher-end products without knowledge of them or their worth, so they feel excited to be able to try something new and different from what they typically might buy.” (Hence the rise of subscription boxes stuffed with small sizes.)
Our intentions are good. We grab travel-size toiletries from hotels because we can think of all the ways we’ll use them but, Truesdale said, “the follow-through is usually where the problem lies.”
But why aren’t we using these precious items that we’re all so lovingly collecting? Wischhover blames our tendency toward fantasy and wishful thinking, “Samples represent possibility. We pin our hopes on them — it’s fun to imagine that maybe finally you’ve found The One, so you delay trying it to prolong the experience.”
One day, I’ll take that vacation and need 76 mini bottles of body wash.
Donate unwanted samples
Beauty samples are ripe for donation, which is great news for those of us staring down an angry mob of foundation samples in every shade but the one of our actual skin. But! Endeavor in all things to be responsible, especially when it comes to donations. (This is a polite way of saying that you shouldn’t dump all your unwanted junk on charitable organizations. Please stop doing that.)
Emergency shelters are more likely to want sample-size products, whereas long-term stay organizations will generally prefer full-sized product donations. The best way to determine this, duh, is to call or email organizations before making donations. Mindy Godding, a decluttering expert from Richmond, Virginia, also suggests thinking about how the new user will experience the product; does someone in an emergency shelter especially need an Urban Decay lip gloss sampler? Probably not.
Truesdale said toiletries like shampoo, body wash and lotion are generally welcomed at shelters (homeless and cold-weather shelters in particular), orphanages, Ronald McDonald House and children’s hospitals, where volunteer groups often put together comfort kits. Makeup can be donated to playhouses and school drama clubs, teen and youth development centers; makeup and perfume samples are also welcome at many Dress For Success chapters.
Host a sample swap
Feel like combining altruism with socializing? Gather your friends or book group or running club, pool spare samples, let everyone have at it and send anything that’s unclaimed to national organizations like Project Beauty Share or Beauty Bus Foundation.
Just throw them out
No, you will not be condemned to hell for eternity after putting those tiny Kat von D Sinner + Saint perfume vials in trash. (You’ve done plenty of worse things.) Of course, if anything comes in plastic bottles the right thing to do would be to spill out the product and recycle the bottles.
Actually use the samples
If charity or outright wastefulness doesn’t appeal, you could become a person who actually uses their samples.
The first step is to store your collection in one place. Godding commended my strategy of using a Tiffany sunglasses box to keep me honest. “I want to give you a pat on the back for your technique of keeping them all in a box! It is useful because you have a quick inventory at a glance.”
Wischhover believes in frequent sort-throughs. “I save my samples for traveling, and I very carefully go through my stash of tiny tubes before I pack to determine which one will get me through four days or whatever,” she said. Truesdale suggests setting a limit on samples. “Don’t bring anymore home until what you already have has been used up or expired,” she said. “It’s simply a mind shift; don’t bring home what you won’t be able to use.”
Of course, we’ve established that samples are irresistible and so instead of denying yourself a new tiny packet filled with cleansing mud, maybe just use the tiny packet filled with cleansing mud you already have, so that you may make space for that new tiny packet filled with cleansing mud.
When put like that, doesn’t it sound so easy?