How to Banish Bathroom Clutter

Even the nicest, spalike bathroom can be defeated by a common enemy: the clutter created by bottles, soaps, washcloths, toothbrushes, cosmetics, and other toiletries being left lying on every available surface.

“The bathroom is a space that can set you up for the day’s success or failure,” said Marissa Hagmeyer, a founder of home organization company Neat Method. “When it’s a disaster, it’s difficult to prepare for the day and you automatically walk out the door in a bad mood.”

But when your bathroom is clean and tidy — and every item has its place — “you can quickly find what you need, do what you need to do, and focus on more important things,” Ms Hagmeyer said. And at the end of the day “you can come in, take a deep breath and relax.”

We asked professional organizers and designers how they banish bathroom clutter.

If your makeup drawers and medicine cabinet aren’t organized properly and you just throw in everything you buy at the drugstore, you might be surprised at how much space you already have. The best way to start a bathroom cleaning, according to Ms. Hagmeyer, is to take everything out and get rid of anything you know you’ll never use.

“When we organize, people are really surprised by the number of samples and travel-size things that they accumulate,” she said, in addition to the expired bottles of lotion, sunscreen and medication. Only keep the few products you actually use, she advised, and discard everything else.

After the clean is complete, take a look at how much disk space you have and see if the remaining items fit in reasonably neatly.

If you come to the conclusion that you don’t have enough storage space in the bathroom to accommodate everything, you can create more.

During a renovation, one option is to recess one or more cabinets into the wall cavity between the studs. “They capture little corners to create extra storage space,” says Monica Fried, an interior designer in New York.

Many medicine cabinets are designed to be recessed into the wall above a vanity, but that’s not the only option. Ms. Fried sometimes builds shallow cabinets into other bathroom walls, with mirrored or lacquered doors. “Sometimes it’s a flat screen, so it just looks like part of the wall,” she says, but opens up like a tiny closet to reveal toiletries.

Jessica Davis, the founder of Atelier Davis, a design studio with offices in Atlanta and South Orange, NJ, has installed closet-sized built-ins in some bathrooms and semi-built-in closets just a few inches deep in others.

“Shampoo and hair products don’t take up a lot of space,” she said. “It’s not like storing books on a shelf where you need 12 inches deep.” In the bathroom, three or four inches is usually enough.

If you’d rather avoid cutting holes and wall-mounting cabinets, it’s easier to add a freestanding piece of furniture. In larger bathrooms, some designers install dressers that look like they’ve been pulled from a bedroom.

In smaller bathrooms, you might consider buying a tiered trolley that can be tucked under a vanity or in an unused corner, said Wendy Silberstein, the founder of Aesthetic Organizer in New York, who likes models from The Container Store. A trolley is “freestanding, and you can put a set of towels on the floor and everyday items on it,” she said.

For a really tiny bathroom with no available wall or floor space, Ms. Silberstein recommended an Elfa door shelf with baskets.

When you’re ready to move your toiletries back into drawers and closets, grouping similar objects together will help you organize things.

“You want to categorize everything – but think in broad categories,” Ms Hagmeyer said. “Face, everyday things, lotion, hair, teeth, travel, vitamins, medicines. The wider you go, the more likely you’ll actually be able to keep up.”

Then use drawer dividers or small containers to keep each category separate. Ms. Silberstein likes to use clear plastic containers, which make it easy to see things in drawers and medicine cabinets. And she often removes products like cotton swabs, dental floss, bandages and razor blades from their packaging and stuffs them in trash cans to minimize the footprint.

“It saves money because you can see everything you own,” she said. “Not only is it easier to manage, but you don’t have to keep refilling when you don’t need it,” she added, simply because the box of cotton swabs has disappeared under the washcloths.

Larger items such as hair dryers, brushes, toiletry bags and cleaning supplies can be stored in baskets that fit in a large drawer, cupboard or cupboard, or tucked under the sink.

It’s impractical to always keep the last bottle in a drawer. Products you use every day — hand soap, shampoo, conditioner — should stay where you need them: by the sink, in the shower or bath.

If you’re planning on storing soap, a mug, a few toiletries, and maybe a bottle of perfume on the vanity, you can make them look well-organized on an attractive tray. “It’s a way that everything is housed in one nice little tray,” said Barbara Sallick, founder and senior vice president of design at Waterworks, whose latest book, The Ultimate Bath, is due out in September.

Some trays are sold specifically for bathroom use, but Mrs. Sallick likes to look for vintage trays and containers that would work in any room.

There are a few functional advantages to using a tray: “First, it makes cleaning easier because you can lift the whole thing up,” said Ms. Davis. “But also from a water distribution perspective, when my kids and husband wash their hands and water runs over the counter, a tray keeps it from getting into the produce.”

Next to the bathtub, a caddy, stool, or small side table can serve a similar purpose, so you don’t have to balance bottles on the edge of the tub or place them on the floor.

Look at the bottles themselves to get one step closer to aesthetic bliss: leaving out a hodgepodge of bottles of different shapes, sizes and colors creates a visual clutter.

“The containers are very important,” Ms. Sallick said. Try to keep only a substantial selection of bottles away and consider giving preference to products in attractive packaging. (There’s a reason Aesop bottles pop up in so many professionally photographed bathrooms.)

Or do what Ms. Sallick did. “Years ago I found some really nice, clear, rectangular containers at Muji and bought a boatload of them,” she said. Now she pours all her soaps and shampoos into it.

If you prefer a different style of container, you can find a wide range of attractive refillable bottles on Etsy.

To keep your bathroom looking serene, think about where you put your towels and washcloths. A stack of clean, fluffy towels can be a beautiful thing, so when they’re freshly laundered, fold them up nicely and stack them in a closet or on a shelf. “They all need to be sorted, whether you sort them by colour, size or cut,” Ms Sallick said.

Once these bed linens are in use, you’ll need enough hanging space for each wet towel and washcloth – which isn’t always the case in busy households – to avoid leaving them on a doorknob or tossing them on the floor.

“It’s important to buy hooks and towel rails, sometimes in multiple sizes, so you have a place for everything and every towel has its place,” Ms Sallick said.

If you think you don’t have enough wall space, there are many options that can help. Wall mounted towel rails can hold multiple towels. Freestanding shelves can be placed on the floor. You may be able to add short towel rails to the sides of your vanity. You can attach hooks to short walls or to the back of a door. And when all else fails, you can add a stool or side table.

“Sometimes when it’s a more modern aesthetic and there aren’t as many spots for towel racks, we incorporate a stool with folded towels on top,” Ms. Fried said. “It’s a piece of furniture that expands where people can keep a towel handy or drop one.”

By making sure everything has its own place, your bathroom will not only look better – it will feel better too.

“Your bathroom should be a sanctuary,” Ms. Silberstein said. “You deserve a tidy bathroom to be productive, to get ready for the day and to look in the mirror and feel good.”

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