My bathroom is my retreat, so why have I been neglecting it? Things look OK on the surface, but if guests have peeked in the cabinet under the sink, I'm surprised they haven't turned to stone on the spot considering the Medusa-like tangle of stuff inside: half-used shampoo bottles, a jumble of hair accessories, a curling iron, foam curlers I'm not sure I've ever used, three cans of my husband's shaving cream (and not one with a lid), and the list goes on. How can I write about organizing a bathroom when mine's such a mess, I thought. I'll just have to fix my bathroom, I decided.
The amount of stuff we store in our bathrooms isn't in proportion to the size of these mostly small spaces. A wall-hung medicine cabinet and a small vanity are all the storage space that many of us have. But here's the really good news: “In most cases, bathroom clutter can be dealt with in a single two- to four-hour clutter-cleaning session,” according to Michelle Passoff in Lighten Up! Free Yourself from Clutter (Harper Perennial, 1998). With help from the experts, and fresh from my own bathroom cleanup, I've put together this five-step process.
1 Tackle one area at a time, starting with the area under the sink or the medicine cabinet -- major bathroom-clutter hot spots. Remove everything and sort into groups of similar items: shampoo with shampoo, cosmetics with cosmetics and so on.
2 Decide whether to keep or throw away each item. Continue doing this for every area of the bathroom until everything has been sorted and edited.
3 Now comes the tricky part. Don't put away stuff without a new organizational system or for evermore you'll be repeating steps one to three. Michelle's advice: store small, similar items together in labelled, stackable clear plastic containers. A good idea for someone who's neat by nature, but unfortunately, that's not me. If you're more disciplined, go to Step 5; otherwise, proceed to Step 4 -- what I call Dodging the Big Black Hole.
4 I don't like undersink storage: it's dark, there are no shelves and pipes get in the way. It's just a big black hole. No wonder I neglect it. I had to make this area organized and reasonably attractive (or at least not an eyesore) without spending a lot of money. First, I needed a better attitude (to see the possibilities, not the limitations). Then I had to find the right containers, so it would be easy for me to put things away. I started with a plastic caddy and put cleaning products on one side, hair stuff on the other. I then sorted seldom-used cosmetics (which I wasn't ready to toss due to complex emotional issues!) into zip-lock bags from the kitchen -- an idea I picked up from Regina Leeds' The Zen of Organizing (Alpha Books, 2002). I stowed the bags in one drawer of a three-drawer storage unit that miraculously fits in the vanity. The other two drawers hold more essentials. A basket for toilet paper sits under one edge of the claw-foot tub (this moved rolls out of the under-sink cabinet and used previously wasted space). The remaining cabinet is lined with nonslip drawer liners (from hardware stores) and stores miscellaneous items like extra soap, contact lens solution and feminine hygiene products. The system works for me, but when I told Regina, she said, “I'd rather see your hair-care products in a square plastic container with a handle on it than sharing space in the cleaning products caddy.” Her point is that each container should hold only related items, so you can deal with one category at a time. “It's not just about saving space, it's about convenience,” says Regina. I still have so much to learn!
5 If you've weeded judiciously, sorted meticulously and put away items neatly but still have an overflow, increase your storage capacity by using vertical wall space for shelves, hooks and towel bars. Just remember to hang shelves close to where you'll be using the items that are stored on them. To ensure that your bathroom looks neat and organized, try not to crowd things.