Beautify Your Bathrooms

This week, you can
• Create order in all the bathrooms in the home
• Purchase a few organizing tools
• Become conscious of the simple chores that keep these rooms in tip-top shape
• Clean out and organize the linen closet

PITY THE POOR BATHROOM. It helps you get clean but in most homes it’s left in habitual disarray. Towels start life on a bar and end up in a damp heap on the floor. Cabinets and drawers are stuffed with products that are used and those that serve as monuments to past beauty and cleanliness experiments. The trash can is usually decorative but woefully inadequate. The medicine chest houses prescriptions from years ago. And multiple bathrobes are piled on top of one hook on the back of the door.

In taking care of the general debris, you’ll need to consider the size and function of your bathroom. I’ve been in postage stamp-sized bathrooms and one so large the couple had a small refrigerator for late-night snacks. No matter the size or the number of bathrooms in your home, you don’t want to scatter your energy and run from one to another in a wild organizing frenzy that yields poor results. I’ll divide the process into steps over the course of three days.

You most likely have one bathroom in your bedroom and with any luck, Baby has his own as well. Very often the guest room has a bathroom nearby, although it’s likely your guests and Baby may have to share. Many homes and some apartments also have a guest powder room near the entry. This is a lifesaver on many levels. You’ll want to tackle them all, but one at a time. I would work in the order I mention them here so the most difficult is taken care of first.

While organizing the bathroom, we’re also going to take a look at your linen closet. The linen closet is meant to serve the bathroom and the bedrooms. If yours is large and the bathroom is small, we might be able to sneak in some organizing totes and make the linen closet more useful. Are you ready to begin? Depending on your physical size and energy level, you may want to call in the organizing sidekick you’ve been using throughout the past few months. Don’t forget about the possibility of hiring a professional organizer. A week of physical activity is a nice balance to the weeks of research, phone calls, and e-mails you’ve been handling.


Yes, it’s true. You knew in your heart it was coming. I want you to grab a few sturdy trash bags. We’re going to fearlessly whittle down the debris that collects in this room. There is nothing as useful as a speed elimination in a situation like this. Let’s go into the master bath with your trusty timer. Set it for twenty minutes.

Now a word to the wise: Moving quickly is essential. Women get stopped in their organizing tracks by two things: emotional items, like photos and old love letters (think boyfriends prior to your hubby), and purchases they made for the bathroom. There is something in our estrogen that makes us feel tremendously guilty if we use a mascara, shampoo, or moisturizer once or twice and decide we don’t like it. We want to toss it but we hear a voice in our head saying something along these lines: “You are so wasteful!” “Keep it. You never know when you’ll need it.” “Maybe you’ll feel differently later on.” You know the drill. There is a certain reality you have to face. There is a shelf life to beauty products. They don’t sit there for years hoping you’ll give them a second chance. Check every product for an expiration date. If you’re past it, toss it. If it’s still viable but you know you don’t like it, set it aside for a friend who might like to try it. You can ask your girlfriends to do the same and have a swap party. One final caveat: If you used a product one or twice and the container looks clean and inviting, put it in a bag or small box for a swap party or to give it to a friend. Maybe your helper today would like these lotions ’n’ potions? But if you used half and the item looks extremely uninviting, please toss it. Not even your best friend wants your sloppy seconds!

Here is a list of items you might want to eject from your bathroom:

• Get rid of threadbare towels and washcloths. (Donate them to your local animal shelter or vet.)
• Toss expired cosmetics, lotions, oils, etc.
• Remove items you know you won’t use; give them away as discussed above.
• Toss brushes, combs, hair clips, etc. that are no longer used.
• Do you have any broken small electronics like hair dryers, curling irons, or electric toothbrushes? Toss ’em. You need the space.
• Eighty-six the shower curtain if it’s old and coated in mildew.
• Go through the drawers looking for worn-out toothbrushes (I’ve seen spare change in the same drawer as a toothbrush: Toss it!) and other small items you no longer use.


Women tend to think of their beauty products as “evergreen,” when in fact most have a short shelf life. Keep that in mind the next time you want to pick up some makeup items you really don’t need in your kit. They will probably expire before you have a chance to get your money’s worth! Here are some guidelines direct from my client Sarah Garcia, the director of Product Development at Jouer Cosmetics. These first appeared in One Year to an Organized Life.
How to find out how old it is: It is FDA law that all manufactured makeup has a “batch code” or “lot code” on or under the label; for tubes this is crimped into the tube crimp. This code is usually three to five digits or letters and is a record of when the makeup was produced. Each brand and lab has a different system, but this code can easily be used to call up customer service of any brand and ask the age of the makeup. For example: F61 in Jouer language would stand for June 2006, first batch that month.
Anything SPF (powders, gloss, lipstick, foundation, etc.): Toss after two years! Most SPF chemicals are only good for two to three years in cosmetics and you don’t want to use anything that is expired. Most SPF-containing products in bottles or tubes have expiration dates; tubes usually have this date crimped into the end of the tube.
Powderseye shadow, blush, etc.: These last much longer then we’d think. Most are good for up to five years, but pigments can change over time or oils used in the powder can dry out, making them chalky and dry. They are not harmful if old. I say, test it on your skin. If it applies nicely, keep it; if not, toss it.
Wax-based products like lipstick and cream blushes: These tend to have a nice long shelf life, I’d say often up to three to five years. Same advice. Test it out . . . some formulas dry out and get clumpy.
Wet lip gloss and liquid foundations: These should be tossed after one to two years! The ingredients often start to separate. You don’t want to consume or allow your skin to absorb old ingredients.
Mascara: Older than six months—toss it. Unless it’s new and has never been opened. If it is still sealed, it can last a few years on the shelf.
• Toss the threadbare throw rugs.
• What about the walls? Are they bare and in need of some decoration? Or does it look like a crowded wing of a museum? Less is more.
• Are there too many items on the counter? Perhaps you have a decorative bottle perfume collection or you like every lotion and potion you use throughout the day to be on display. If your items are decorative, whittle them down to a precious few and then rotate them rather than recreating a cosmetics counter in your home. The items you use daily will be dealt with on day two.
• Do you like to stay well stocked on some items? It’s wonderful to have backup supplies but it’s cumbersome to have them all in your environment at once. Let’s set aside the extras and see if we can’t find a better storage solution for them.
• Did you buy two large economy-sized bottles of shampoo and put one in the shower while the other was left in the original packaging taking up space under the sink? Just as you did in the kitchen and pantry, eighty-six the packaging. Cardboard and plastic eat up space you need.
• Call your pharmacy and see if they have a drug-recycling program. If they don’t, try other pharmacies in your area.
• Expired prescription drugs are classified as hazardous waste. Call your local hazardous waste facility and follow their instructions. They may ask you to deliver the meds to them, do a pickup, or simply give you instructions for the safest at-home disposal.
• You can contact the drug manufacturer to see if they can connect you with an organization that donates expired medications to third-world countries. Each medication is different and you’ll have to rely on the experts if you select this option.
While your assistant is hauling the trash bags and the donation box to the next bathroom, take a look around and see if you need to do any of the following before the birth:
• Paint the bathroom. Can this be done before the baby’s arrival? Will you be able to leave the apartment or home until the paint is dry and the smell has vanished? If so, schedule a shopping trip for paint samples. Call a painter and put a date on your calendar. (Be sure you tell your spouse!)
• Purchase new throw rugs, shower curtains, towels, and/or washcloths.
• Do you have any grid totes, drawer liners, or small containers for the drawers left over from your kitchen-organizing project? Could you use some in this room? Add them to your list.
• Do you need any additional towel bars or hooks? There is a sturdy, plastic hook that goes over the door and offers several inches of hanging space. If you keep your bathrobes on hangers, several will hang here nicely. This hook is available in the closet or bathroom section of any home store.
• Did you install any items like an over-the-toilet tank organizer that actually eat more room than they supply? Remove them.
• Conversely, do you need any organizing tools of this nature? What about shelves on the wall for towels?
• What about the size of your trash can? Is it too big for the space or much too small?
• Is lighting in the room adequate? Did any overhead or vanity lights burn out months ago? Replace them today.

Let’s move to the baby’s bathroom. I realize that in many homes this will also be the guest bath, so we have our work cut out for us. Today our task is merely to eliminate. Follow the exact same guidelines you used for the master bathroom. If this is going to be your baby’s bathroom, you may want to paint or put up some decorative wallpaper. Just be sure it’s done well in advance of his arrival. You don’t want your baby wearing a HAZMAT onesie!

If you have a separate guest room with its own bath, you’re in the catbird seat because you have an area that’s ripe for storing the backup supplies everyone needs. You may also find that Dad decides to use this bathroom so he’s got a bit more room for his grooming items. Some couples do everything together, while others need a bit of breathing space. There is no right or wrong and I would bet the need for sharing or for space grows out of your individual childhood experiences. Meagan has five children. When they grow up, the rough-and-tumble sharing that goes on in a big household will be the norm for them. It will probably feel comfortable and familiar. I, on the other hand, am an only child; space and privacy are the norm for me. In other words, if Dad migrates down the hall to a different bathroom, don’t push the panic button. Rather, make this room as organized as possible. Use storage tools made of wood or dark colors so it feels more masculine. Get him some towels in his favorite color. Here is another example of the need for communication and an opportunity to nurture and love through the space itself and not just with words. You know the old saw: “actions speak louder than words.” And you thought the bathroom was a big bore, didn’t you?

If the good folks in your home can’t seem to keep the linens separated, try this trick: Put the sheets and the extra pillowcases inside one of the pillowcases. You’ll keep the entire set together. This is a great way to help toddlers. Try to purchase colors or patterns that identify the set for a specific bed size or room. All-white linens in every room will drive the best of us crazy.

Finally, it’s time to look at the linen closet. Your old, frayed, faded, torn, and stained sheets and towels will be welcome at the local animal hospital. If your linen closet is stuffed, remember that you need to make room for the baby’s linens. If you have an area with shelves, you can use shelf dividers to set apart the areas for different rooms. You can also label the shelves. Keep in mind that your home may be flooded with relatives and friends all eager to help after the baby arrives. You don’t want them trashing the order you create this week. It really saves time if the linens for a specific room reside next to each other on a designated shelf. It also saves you from opening folded sheets and asking yourself: “Is this for the king in the master or the queen in the guest room?”

If You Don’t Use a Linen Closet
Some people don’t have a separate area for linens and clear off space on a closet shelf in the room where those linens are used. Usually it’s one set on the bed and a spare in the closet. This works well and it certainly prevents any mix-ups. In the absence of a linen closet, some of my clients store all of the towels for a particular bathroom in that room. This only works well if you have cupboard space or if the room is large enough to put shelves up or perhaps bring in a small storage unit to house linens. In today’s world there are myriad tools in all manner of designs and materials. You can find wicker, rattan, and wood, just to name a few. There isn’t any reason the bathroom can’t have a touch of style.
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