Decluttering For Dummies
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Your bathroom shopping habits have a lot to do with how cluttered your bathroom is. Your habits and hobbies have a lot to do with the amount of clutter you accumulate. You may not think of skincare and makeup as a hobby, but tell that to the countless makeup YouTubers making seven figures on their delightful monthly favorites and product reviews.

As you may have already realized, bathroom decluttering goes deep into your bathroom cabinets as well as your habits around grooming and lifestyle. Yes, it is sometimes a sensitive subject. From pill poppers to makeup junkies like my former self, this decluttering subject may make you deal with some of your inner bad habits.

The dreaded bathroom cabinets will soon emit a clutter-free, Zen-like serenity that the entire bathroom should reflect.

Zenlike bathroom © Rene Asmussen / Pexels

Here are a few strategies to help get you started:

  • Avoid storing multiples. I think being prepared for anything is important, from earthquakes to having spare toothpaste so you don’t have to run to the store at midnight. However, I don’t agree with storing multiples of all your bathroom products and certainly not more than one extra of each. If you’re at Costco and you see your exact moisturizer on sale in a set of 20, think twice. Will they expire before you’re even ready to use them? Will you switch moisturizers next month? Will your skin type change? Are you willing to give up your precious real estate in the bathroom for these to sit for possibly years?
  • Let your bathroom real estate guide you. Often, I caution against space — just because you have a 1,000-square-foot attic doesn’t mean you have to fill it! The bathroom is usually the only room in the house where I say that space should help you determine how much stuff you can physically keep. And more often than not, especially with newer modern bathrooms, there is actually less storage space. So, let this be the first sign to declutter.
  • Your bathroom is not Sephora. You don’t need endless numbers of products that essentially do the same job or are the newest trends. You can have a spare of your essentials, but that is it. Do an inventory of how much you have and how much it cost you, and you will soon realize how much money you are wasting on bathroom products! The bathroom can be a serious money pit!
  • Let go of the past. You don’t need to keep the prescribed throat spray for that strep throat you had five years ago. That special shade of eyeshadow you wore at your wedding ten years ago and haven’t worn since? You likely won’t wear it again, and neither will your daughter. Ditto the overpriced beard oil you bought two years ago but always forget to use. Bathroom decluttering applies to both genders. Even dogs somehow have more shampoo selections than I did when I was a kid.

Determine your essentials

Remember that bathroom items are easy to replace, find, and source. The pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries are two of the largest industries in North America; therefore, you can replace anything. Plus, they continue to innovate. This is one area of decluttering that you can freely declutter knowing that tomorrow you could buy ten more easily if needed.

The medicine cabinet is a good place to start.

Medicine cabinet

Now, chances are you have lots of items — not only medicine — in this cabinet, and I challenge you when you’re doing this exercise to focus only on medicine.

Go through all your cold remedies, prescriptions, pain relievers, and whatever else you have stored and check expiration dates, first and foremost. Then, toss what you have not used in the last year. Yes, even the NyQuil. You may say, “But I could get a cold this year.” Yes, you could, but you also could not. And chances are your local pharmacy will have an updated cold medication if you need it.

When it comes to medications, I even get a bit scientific. According to a study at the University of California, many staples that you have in your medicine cabinet, such as nasal sprays, eye drops, and even some lotions, have ingredients that can inhibit mitochondria, which is a bad thing. This can lead to many diseases and even affect fertility. Therefore, you really don’t want to keep more products than you need.

It’s hard to determine which products are harmful from ingredient lists, but any ingredient that ends in “ammonium chloride” is best to stay away from if possible.

When medication is prescribed, it’s usually for seven to 14 days and should be completed, so in theory you shouldn’t have any left over to declutter. If you don’t finish it and think you can use it the next time you get sick, remember this is very dangerous. Using medication without talking to your doctor first, even if you have taken it before, can lead to misuse, development of antibiotic resistance, and susceptibility to other diseases, plus you may not be getting the right treatment for what you actually have.

So, what is the best way to quickly declutter your medications? Taking them back to the pharmacy is the best advice, as pharmacies professionally dispose of them. Don’t flush them down the toilet as this can contaminate our waterways.

After you have decluttered your medications, determine whether your medicine cabinet is actually the best place to store the medications that you are going to keep.

Most medicine should be stored at room temperature — 68 to 77 degrees — and kept away from moisture. My bathroom does see moisture, especially when I shower, and most bathrooms are prone to higher temperatures and humidity, making them poor places to keep drugs.

So, after you declutter, consider moving your medication out of the medicine cabinet or your bathroom in general. And whatever you do, keep the label. You want to avoid the cluttered mess of unidentifiable pills.

cluttered medication © Pexels / Pixabay

Without labels, medication becomes cluttered and hard to identify.

Toothbrush and essentials

I strongly advise that you only keep products you use daily in your bathroom. Separate the stuff that you use each and every day — toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, and so on — from the stuff you don’t use daily, such as antibiotic cream and first-aid supplies unless you’re sterilizing cuts and icing bruises daily, in which case you may have bigger problems than a cluttered bathroom.

And consider keeping your toothbrushes away from anything that splashes or sprays. Instead, put them in a see-through holder that can be easily cleaned (as pictured in the following figure) and set them in a safe place to avoid dirt and buildup.

toothbrush holder © Superkitina / Unsplash

Use a clear container to keep your toothbrush protected and your countertop clean.

Set strict timelines for product lifetimes

After you go through your dangerous medicine cabinet and determine what is truly essential, set timelines for all your products. Coming up are the guidelines I try to follow. These are just my guidelines — you might disagree completely, which is fine. Some expiration dates are actually set by the FDA, hopefully for safety reasons and not to sell more products. If nothing else, seeing these expiration dates may make you think twice before you buy and store too many multiples. The bottom line is that if you don’t use something in your bathroom, it is clutter and it should go.

Another thing to keep in mind is that any products that have been compromised by heat or light can actually expire even faster! The more you focus on only essentials, the less you need to worry about extensive expiration lists!


Following, are my recommendations for how long to keep makeup:
  • Mascara: Three months — yes, that is right. Otherwise, you can be at risk of an eye infection, and I have one friend to whom this has actually happened!
  • Liquid eye liner: One year; again, due to the risk of eye infection.
  • Eyeshadow: Powder forms can last up to three years depending on the quality. Liquid eyeshadow has a shelf life of one year, after which it starts to separate.
  • Lipstick: Up to three years. Lip gloss may start to separate after one year, especially the thin cones. Lip balms can actually last up to five years.
  • Blush: Powders can last up to three years; creams usually one year.
  • Bronzer: Up to three years.
  • Foundation: This is a tough one as it depends on the type. Oil-free foundations usually last only a year, while ones with oil can last up to two years. Follow the supplier’s recommendations.
  • Concealer: Liquid forms last up to one year; powder up to two years.
  • Other powders: Up to two years.

Everything else

We often forget how long we’ve had miscellaneous bathroom products. Create a system to help you keep track of when your items are expired. Here are some guidelines to follow:
  • Moisturizers: Up to two years; however, check the expiration dates because sometimes products in jars are pretty but not properly packaged, so they expire faster than they should. How manufacturers package moisturizers can make a huge difference in how long they can last. You now see many lotions in darker glass bottles for this very reason.
  • Sunscreen: One year (this is actually federally regulated).
  • Acne products: Any products containing benzoyl peroxide will only work for three months.
  • Anti-aging products: It depends on the ingredients, but anything with vitamin C, retinol, or glycolic acid tends to break down pretty quickly. It’s best to stick with six months.
  • Shampoo: Unopened shampoo should last for three years; however, remember you don’t need to buy a bunch of extras. Once opened, shampoo is good for two years. The same rules apply to conditioners.
  • Deodorant/anti-perspirant: Up to three years, but check expiration dates.
  • Toothpaste: Check the expiration date, since most toothpastes contain fluoride and this ingredient expires.
  • Soap: Usually up to three years; the same applies to body washes.
  • Shaving products: Up to two years. It’s important to note that depilatory and bleaching creams usually only last for up to six months because of their harsh ingredients.
  • Nail polish and remover: Some say that nail polish remover actually never expires, which may be a good thing as it’s one of those things we don’t usually use daily; however, nail polish usually goes bad in under two years.

Organic or all-natural products, which I totally recommend if you have the option, actually expire much sooner than conventional products. You really need to watch them, as their ingredients expire very quickly due to the use of less chemicals in their recipes. Even more reason to keep a clutter-free bathroom if you are into organic products.

Minimize unwanted products

It may seem repetitive to determine your essentials, but now I want you to go a step further, and I am going to help you with four quick questions to help make your bathroom product decluttering easier.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I use this? This should be a quick yes or no answer. I did not ask you if you will possibly, maybe use it one day.
  • Is this a duplicate or extra? Of course, you can have a spare for your most-needed supplies, emphasis on most needed. But how many extra lotions do you need? Do you really need to keep that sparkling lip gloss? Remember the timeline of beauty products from the previous sections and think hard about whether you need to keep that extra. Perhaps you can donate it or pass it along to a friend who would love it!
  • Would I buy this right now? Chances are you’re keeping some things because you feel bad about the money you spent on them. Toiletries and beauty supplies can be very expensive. But this question can help you analyze without considering cost. Think hard about your products, the color, the way it works or doesn’t work for your skin type, and whether it’s as effective as you thought it would be. If you wouldn’t buy it again right now, then it is clutter and it’s time for it to go.
  • Is the space worth it? Are the products taking up precious space? Can you transfer them to a different container or make them smaller, remove the packaging? Or declutter extras? The bathroom is often the smallest space, and therefore real estate is very precious.
The following sections provide some more simple tips.


Go through all of them, keeping in mind the product expiration noted earlier. Then go through the remaining non-expired items and determine whether you actually use them. I know that you have some beautiful colors that look better in the case than they do on you. Keep only what you use and give the rest away to someone it might look great on!

Makeup brushes

I know that when I buy a complete set, I end up using only one or two brushes. If this is the case for you, discard the remaining ones you don’t use. This is also a great time to clean your makeup brushes, as this often isn’t done consistently. The less you have, the easier it will be to keep to a regular cleaning schedule.

Hair accessories

Go through these with a fine-tooth comb (don’t mind the pun). Toss hair accessories you don’t use, as giving these away can be tough sometimes (many people can be fussy about hair germs).

Skin care

Be brutal with skin-care products. Many of you will pick up a product and think, “Oh I wish I used that more” or “If only I used this every day, I wouldn’t have these fine lines." If you haven’t used it consistently, chances are you won’t start. Again, check expiration dates and test products to make sure they still smell right.


Sort through your hairdryers, straighteners (do you have two?), shavers, face massagers, nose clippers, or whatever other bathroom gadgets you may have. These are usually items that you hold onto for “someday,” but if you haven’t used something in the last year, what are the chances that you will? I suggest even treating yourself to a treatment instead of buying the equipment. For example, instead of buying a foot bath you use twice a year, why not get a pedicure for the same price?

Hair brushes/combs

I have a pet peeve about hair and dirt buildup in combs. Sometimes when I see combs that are full of hair or other debris, I get a bit sad. I suggest the less you have, the easier it is to keep these clean. Go through the ones you use and toss the rest, as old hairbrushes are often also not welcome at donation places.


Decorative items sometimes make their way into your bathroom, but I suggest taking a hard look at these items and determining whether they are taking up valuable space. Could you replace a purely decorative item with something more functional instead?

Trial sizes

Be honest about what you use. Often you can donate these if they’re unopened or give them to friends who run an Airbnb, as they love to have travel sizes for their guests!


Perfumes and colognes are other items that may be better stored outside the bathroom due to temperature fluctuations. I have heard various recommendations on how long you can keep perfume, ranging from one to five years. Review all your bottles and what you actually apply. If you have more than you can use, this is a great item to donate to a friend because everyone loves getting a new scent. Pass along the scent love!

Bath accessories/toys

Often large bathtubs can be real estate for fancy bath mittens, loofahs, bath bombs, and fancy bath bubbles we rarely, if ever, use. Plus, if you have kids, how many bath toys do they have that line the bathtub walls? Check these items for mold, which can easily happen to things that sit on damp surfaces, and then of course discard what you don’t use.

First-aid supplies

I don’t actually recommend storing these supplies in the bathroom unless you’re super accident prone and use them daily. Go through your supplies and see what you actually need to restock and what you never use. Chances are you have no Band-Aids but enough alcohol swabs to swab the neighborhood clean. When an emergency does happen, you want a well-stocked first-aid kit. And one you can find, not lingering behind other clutter!

Other personal stuff

We all have other products we use or think we might use. Go through your entire bathroom and discard as needed, keeping in mind all the tips thus far.

It’s easy to re-buy cosmetics, toiletries, and medications. They are readily available and better to re-buy than hold onto because these products can expire or their chemistry can easily be altered. Why risk it? Declutter now and if you do happen to need a similar item one day, trust me, you can get it.

What you need versus what you think you 'might' need

Getting the right products in your bathroom can take trial and error. Just when you think you have a routine, your favorite product is discontinued, or you need to change based on your skin’s changing needs. It is a balance to find out what works best and what to keep. This figure shows a few simple products, which is what most of us could live with, but we have more.

decluttered products © deanna alys / Unsplash

Decluttered products

The image above shows coconut oil, which, personally, I find works wonders as a multiple bath product, hair mask, face cream, foot cream, body lotion, and so on. Coconut oil is one of those super products that we have had all along!

There is no specific formula or timeframe that can be prescribed to help find the actual products you might need, as our bodies and lives are always changing. So, to help you at least find what you need at this current moment and break free from your current clutter, here are some general tips:
  • Enlist support. Get a friend or even a professional to help you choose the right products for your skin type. Check in twice a year like you do with the dentist, as your skin can change, resulting in the need for different products.
  • Buy smaller sizes. The smaller the bottle, the less chance of expiration and the higher your chance of finishing it.
  • Research. You may spend time researching what you eat because food goes into your body. What you put on your skin also enters into your body, and you should know what is in your products. Trust me, the more you research and find out about the hundreds of chemicals in bathroom products, the more likely you’ll be to make your list of products much smaller.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Jane Stoller is a compulsive organizer who turned her passion into a profitable business, Organized Jane. She travels the world helping individual clients revamp a single space or guiding corporations in overhauling entire businesses. A speaker as well as an author, she also lectures on management skills at Canada's Vancouver Island University.

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