Published on August 11, 2019

If we actually used the medicine cabinet for what its name suggests, our bathrooms would be a whole lot tidier. But the reality is, most of us take advantage of this prime real estate to store everything from makeup to mouthwash. When our shelves inevitably reach max capacity, going in for a simple cotton swab can feel like opening Pandora’s box. Luckily, the answer to medicine cabinet chaos is a quick one. 

“The medicine cabinet is one of my favorite spaces to edit and organize, because the majority of what lurks there should be tossed or relocated,” says professional organizer Shira Gill (@shiragill). So we asked Gill to help us remedy our overflowing bathroom stashes. Set 10 minutes aside (yes, that’s really all you need!) and follow her guidelines for what to keep, what to toss, and how to make your cabinet look fresh down the road.

Step 1: Scrap Any Items Past Their Prime

Fun fact: Sunscreen, mascara, vitamins—they all have expiration dates. Start by completely unpacking your cabinet and taking inventory of what’s there. As you pull bottles off each shelf, set any old medications or products off to the side for disposal. “Anything that’s goopy should also hit the road,” says Gill. “Make sure to look up proper medicine disposal techniques or drop-offs in your area.”

Step 2: Make the Shelves Sparkle

Don’t start putting things back just yet: Wipe down the interior shelves and sides of the cupboard first. Gill suggests using a nontoxic household cleaner; powerful fumes can be overwhelming in small spaces. 

Step 3: Relocate Backup and Travel Products

Any unopened or infrequently used items you’ve been stockpiling for a rainy day can go somewhere else, like a bathroom drawer or in labeled bins in the closet. As for those teeny, TSA-approved products: “Travel toiletries and samples can be corralled in a pouch and stored in your suitcase or travel kit, so you’re ready to jet,” says Gill. 

Step 4: Organize by Type

While your products are still laid out in front of you, group them into like categories. “Vitamins and medicines can go together, face wash and skin care together, dental care together, contact solution and lenses together, etc.,” says Gill. If you do actually use your medicine cabinet for medicine, as well as first-aid staples, streamline those to the essentials so you can find them on the fly.

Step 5: Corral Things in Shelf-Friendly Holders

Create a clear visual map of where things are supposed to go by placing all your items in narrow containers. They’ll also prevent the small stuff from tipping over. Another trick: “A pretty tumbler can keep makeup pencils and brushes upright and tidy,” says Gill. 

Step 6: Go Vertical

Is your toothbrush or shaving cream bottle too tall? Don’t be afraid to grab a screwdriver and readjust the shelving to meet your needs. Make the most of each ledge’s height by getting rid of excess packaging.

Step 7: Buy One Thing at a Time

To keep your medicine cabinet in top shape going forward, follow what Gill calls the “rule of one.” “Since many expired or half-used items cannot be donated or even recycled, the most sustainable choice is to start investing in one high-quality product at a time,” shares Gill. “It will not only create less waste, but it will keep your home streamlined and ensure you purchase nicer products.”

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