How To Organize Small Bathroom Vanity
Hard to believe, but indoor plumbing wasn’t common in homes prior to World War II. As late as the 1940s, more than a third of U.S. homes still didn’t have flush toilets. Even more lacked a bathtub or shower. These days, that same percentage of homes has at least 2.5 bathrooms. They’re bigger, too. Still, with all that we ask them to house, it’s little wonder why so many bathrooms are teeming with toiletries, towels, and Tylenol. (The Tylenol is for the headache you get trying to make your way through the clutter.)
The smallest room in the house is standing storage for the stuff that pretties us up and restores us to health. But how much is too much? Do you have shampoos, conditioners, and soaps multiplying in the corners of your tub like wild mushrooms? Is your medicine cabinet jammed with old prescriptions for illnesses you don’t even remember suffering? Does your hamper double as a tabletop for cosmetics and toiletries? Something’s gotta give.
Buying too much before using up what we’ve got is the curse we bring upon ourselves. We love trying out new products, even if the old favorites still do the job. That’s why there’s a shelf displaying a dozen half-empty jars of hair gels and facial masks. You know that twelve-roll pack of toilet paper you just bought on sale this week? Well, just stack it on top of the twelve-roll of T.P. you bought last week. Call it the “just in case” mindset. It’s one of the habits that prevents us from gaining control of our environment.
Keep items to a minimum, and you’ll know exactly what you’ve got. What’s more, you won’t wind up buying products unnecessarily. That’s especially good advice for one retired couple, empty nesters, who insist on doing their weekly grocery shopping at a discount warehouse. Their purchases are so disproportionate to their needs that they’ve had to carve out a section of their basement for storage, a section they’ve nicknamed “the pharmacy.”
According to the National Kitchen & Bath Association trade organization, some 8 million bathrooms were remodeled in the United States in 2018, and there were about 4.5 million new bathroom constructions. Remodeling totaled more than $23 billion, with about half of those jobs coming in under $1,000.
When you see an item on sale, remind yourself you don’t have to buy it. There are only so many boxes of cold medication you actually need to have on hand. One backup is fine; two are overkill. An item can very well expire before you have a chance to use it. There’s the story of one man who cleaned out the drawers in his bathroom vanity to discover not one or two hairdryers but four. Maybe it was wishful thinking on his part, considering the extent of his male-pattern baldness.
Be sure to use childproof containers and keep drugs on high shelves out of children’s reach. When you dispose of drugs, don’t throw them in a trashcan where youngsters might be able to get their hands on them. Increasingly, pharmacies are taking back medications to ensure proper disposal. Contact the Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222 to find out the best way to discard expired medicines in your area.
Getting a Grip | The Medicine Chest
In theory, bathrooms should be relatively easy to tame because the basic items they house are very specific. So what is the big-picture approach to getting clutter under control in the bathroom? How do you get down to the business of determining how much you really need to keep in order to reclaim your bathroom from the mighty grips of drugstore central?
You’ll need to clear things out first in order to clear things up. Grab a beach blanket or old bed-sheet to put down on the floor. That’ll be your temporary staging area. The guck from medicine cabinet and bathroom closet potions is laden with oils and syrupy goos you don’t want to have to scrub up from your floors after your purging is done.
Starting with one section at a time, clear out your medicine chest, drawers, bathtub area, shelves, and so on. Inspect each item carefully. Have a supply of giant trash bags on hand for refuse, not the little supermarket bags. Think big.
Look for expiration dates on medications and discard any drugs beyond their dates. You may be tempted to eke out another dose, but expired medicines can lose their potency or, worse, make you ill. Add to your discard pile leftover antibiotics and medicines that aren’t clearly labeled. This is one area where you don’t want to take chances.
Open up any opaque containers to see exactly how much product is left inside. There’s no reason to hog up a lot of shelf space if a jar or bottle has only trace amounts left. Transfer remainders to smaller containers or consolidate half-empties of like products together. Along the same lines, if you’re a warehouse club shopper, transfer titanic-size products into more practical slim-down sizes that don’t take up so much space. A mega bottle of mouth-wash, for instance, can unnecessarily dominate a valuable chunk of your vanity’s countertop.
Throw out any items you’ve tried and nixed—colognes, hair gels, makeup. You’re not going to recoup your investment by having these things sit around collecting dust. Face it: The money’s already gone.
Trash any products that are impractical for your lifestyle or just more trouble than they’re worth—to wit, that face mask that promises fountain-of-youth results if you wear it an hour a day, three times a week. It ain’t gonna happen.
Discard old makeup that’s been junking up your cosmetic bag forever. Its purity may be compromised. Liquid makeup stays good for about a year, but figure on six months for eyeliner and three months for mascara. Otherwise, you run the very real risk of serious eye infections.
Get rid of that collection of makeup bags that come “free with purchase” at the cosmetic counter.
Two-in-one and even three-in-one personal care products can free up space in your medicine cabinet. You can pick up razors with built-in shaving cream dispensers. Shampoo and conditioner combos have been around a while, but now you can add in body gel to the mix for a one-size-washes-all cleansing solution. A multipurpose body moisturizer can also be used for baby bottoms, cuticles, and calloused feet.
Be realistic about how many different products you need lining the tub. Are all those shampoos, conditioners, hair masks, and body shampoos really necessary? Wouldn’t one of each suffice? Back brushes, pumice stones, loofahs, nail brushes—use ‘em or lose ‘em. One woman came face to face with a little compulsion only after seeing the stockpile of moisturizers in her collection. Apparently, she never met a lotion she didn’t like.
What can you do about an overabundance of products that might someday, in the distant future (when you have more time), improve your life? If you have more than you can realistically use, consider making a donation to others who can use the product right now. Homeless shelters can use shampoos and toiletries all the time, so bag up all that extra stuff and drop it off at your local shelter!
The Freecycle Network is an online grassroots organization made up of communities around the globe that allow individuals to recycle their no-longer-wanted goods by offering them free to other members. The Web site was started in 2003 to promote waste reduction. Post details on the items you want to get rid of, and chances are you'll have an enthusiastic taker before you know it.