Minimalist Beauty: A Story about How I Broke up with my Makeup Addiction

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When I was abut 15 or 16, my mom brought me with her to a Shiseido counter. She was buying her usual Benefiance face cleanser that came in a pretty, pearly nude squeeze bottle with a matching cap. The lady at the counter wore a thick layer of powdery foundation and super-red lipstick. As she rang up my mom’s purchase, she asked her if I needed anything.

“You need to learn how to start taking care of your skin,” she told me. My mother nodded in agreement. Apparently, I was at that age.

More accurately, I was at an age where I was eager to prove to my mother that I was able to take care of myself. In my naive adolescent mind, doing my own makeup was like showing the world that I could do adult stuff. How exciting. The saleslady, happy to have a new customer, explained to me that I had “oily” skin, so I would need a foundation that was specially formulated for oily skin, and that it was so very important for me to protect my skin with SPF and moisturize it every day (and night…for the uninformed, they do make “night cream”) to prevent wrinkles. She sold me my very first bottle of (read: expensive) foundation, and it marked the beginning of me starting to care about how I looked.

Beautiful people tend to be more successful in just about every area of life and are even perceived that way even if they are not (self-fulfilling prophecy, of course). In South Korea, plastic surgery is given as gifts to girls on their birthdays, and is even celebrated as part of the culture. Luckily, as someone who is not a natural showstopping model (read: average), I grew up surrounded by family and friends who prize authenticity and was never told that I had to change my face to be accepted by society or even wear makeup to look pretty (thanks Mom, for always telling me that I am beautiful whenever I question myself). I was lucky that my first boyfriend was also never enthusiastic about me wearing makeup. Still, like so many other teenage girls, I grew to see my face as forever flawed and that it needed a daily dose of meticulously-applied beauty products for me to be pretty.

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Minimalist Challenges: Fitting in and Dealing with Criticism

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Minimalism is a lifestyle that inherently, or even deliberately, challenges and resists societal norms. For that reason, it can be an isolating way of living, especially because support systems are just starting to emerge. People do not become minimalists to fit in with society. As with any cultural deviation, people tend to respond to minimalism first with disbelief. “You’re doing that?! You’re getting rid of what?!” In a society where “bigger is better” and pursuing a higher social status is a common goal, adopting minimalism is going to elicit criticism no matter what (this is especially so in countries where the social divide is more apparent).

In my own experience, friends and family question my life choices out of concern and worry, so I find myself constantly reassuring them that I am happy with what I have. Over time, minimalists hope that these kinds of reactions will gradually turn into a sort of respectful curiosity as our loved ones witness us reap the benefits of a minimalist lifestyle. I have to admit – while I try to be cautious about giving others the impression that I am preaching minimalism to them or criticizing their lifestyles, it is hard to avoid coming off that way when I am so passionate and excited about it. I remind myself that gently introducing the idea with a humble attitude and acknowledging the mixed consequences is probably more conducive to a smooth reception than a brash, “everything you’re doing is wrong!” approach.

I attended a wedding recently, and while I won’t go off on a rant on the wastefulness of the average American wedding, I had several occasions where my minimalist decisions managed to offend loved ones. The day of the wedding, it was raining and about 60-70 degrees. I wore a simple machine-washable dress, raincoat, ballet flats, and a pair of stainless steel studs. Before heading to the venue, my dear mother insisted that I wear one of three necklaces she had brought, despite me telling her I purposely did not wear or bring a necklace to avoid the possibility of losing it. In the parking lot of the venue, I encountered some family friends. The mother insisted that I was too cold (without asking me), and gave me a huge purple shawl to drape over myself. Mind you, the wedding was inside, and we probably spent about 30 seconds walking from the parking lot to the wedding venue. I repeatedly thanked her for her concern and told her I was fine and did not need the shawl. Later on, I was even told that I “needed” to wear something more colorful because my outfit was not “interesting” enough. Somehow, my choice to appear simple was a source of distress for someone else.

Minimalists, and indeed people in general, are often told that they don’t have “enough” – especially from parental figures who may not have been blessed with abundance in their childhoods. Minimalists need much less materially to feel satisfied, but they have the same desires as everyone else – to be loved, to contribute to society, and to live a meaningful life. We should not be afraid of refusing what we do not need, but we just may need to try harder to show others that we appreciate them and their concerns. What better way to do that than to give them our time and attention in return?

My Flirtation with Luxury High-End Designer Handbags

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Designer handbags, and indeed luxury goods in general, are “investment” pieces, hold a lot of “history,” are “well-made”, support “timeless design,” are “dream bags…”

Believe me, and I’m ashamed to admit, I’ve justified my purchases using those exact reasons. No matter how much we try to run from it, though, they are still seen as class symbols, especially in China. When I refer to luxury designer brands, I am talking about Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Chanel, Marc Jacobs, Christian Louboutin, Hermes, Prada, and the like. Bags, accessories, clothes, and shoes. And for the even more ostentatious, luxury cars.

There was a brief year of my early 20’s in which I coveted and was able to purchase obscenely expensive (>$1000) leather bags. It all started with ExtraPetite’s Chanel bag review video. My reasoning was something like, if I was going to only own one bag for the rest of my life, why not splurge on the “best of the best” instead of buying 20 “just okay” bags? Why was there any reason to buy a bag, get tired of it, buy another bag, get tired of it, and continue the cycle forever? If I had the “best of the best,” there would be no reason to buy another bag.

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Where the Journey Began

Three and a half years ago, when I was 23, I lived alone in an old, 1-bedroom apartment in Buffalo, New York.

Buffalo is an old city that once had its glorious decades when the industrial revolution turned Buffalo into a major manufacturing city. The Erie Canal and train routes through the city were the bloodstream for its factories, and the city prospered from the abundance of jobs. Buffalo’s nickname, “The City of Good Neighbors,” comes from deep-rooted families who’ve resided in the Buffalo area for generations. Buffalo’s inhabitants are known for their generosity and willingness to help fellow Buffalonians.

Nowadays, Buffalo is a classic rust belt example. Downtown Buffalo is empty after rush hour as most of its inhabitants reside in its suburbs. Young people who move to Buffalo seem to disappear not long after arriving. Unless you are a native with family in the area, assimilating can be a challenging exercise.

I spent much of my free time scouring estate sales and yard sales. Buffalo is a treasure trove of gorgeous antique furniture and knickknacks. Intricate wood detailing and tufted couches were well stocked at the sprinkling of little antique shops in the area, and estate sales popped up every weekend. I constantly collected stuff, in a sort of frenzy, to fill the void that was my dissatisfied life in Buffalo. Before long, my old apartment was chock full of stuff, and I spent more time cleaning and organizing than ever before.

I moved after a year and a half.

To say the move was a major affair is an understatement. I had not one, not two, but three couches (and none of them even matched!), two twin beds, piles of antique dinnerware…enough to fill a small U-Haul trailer and two SUV trunks. It wasn’t until I took a good look at everything piled up together that I realized how badly I was drowning in my stuff. I was lucky that I had generous friends who volunteered their time to carry it all out to the trailer and parents – bless their hearts – who were kind enough to help me haul it all back to Chicago.

All the stuff was an attempt to fill the void that was my life satisfaction – a symptom of a deeper issue at hand.

Now, years later, I’ve cleaned house – my decluttering has slowed and my time has been freed from the obsession with stuff. With so much stuff gone, my true self has begun to reveal itself to me. Thus, it is that moment, when authenticity surfaces, that my journey as a minimalist begins.