Even the most beautiful, spa-like bathroom can be defeated by a common foe: the clutter created by bottles, soaps, washcloths, toothbrushes, cosmetics and other toiletries left out on every available surface.
“The bathroom is a space that can set you up for success or failure in the day,” said Marissa Hagmeyer, co-founder of the home-organizing company Neat Method. “If it’s a disaster, it’s hard to get ready for the day, and you’re automatically heading out the door in a rough mood.”
But if your bathroom is neat and tidy — and every object has its place — “you can quickly locate what you need, do what you need to do, and get on with more important things,” 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.
Take stock of existing storage space
If your vanity drawers and medicine cabinet aren’t neatly organized — and you simply dump in whatever you buy from the drugstore — you may be surprised at how much space you already have. The best way to begin a bathroom cleanup, Hagmeyer said, is to take everything out and get rid of anything you know you’ll never use.
“When we’re organizing, people are really surprised by the number of samples and travel-size things they accumulate,” she said, in addition to expired bottles of lotion, sunscreen and medication. Keep only the few products you actually use, she advised, and dispose of everything else.
Once the purge is complete, look at how much storage space you have and consider whether the remaining items will fit in a reasonably uncluttered way.
Make more room
If you conclude that you don’t have enough storage space in the bathroom to hold everything, it’s possible to create more.
During a renovation, one option is to recess one or a couple of cabinets into the wall cavity, between studs. “You’re capturing little nooks to create additional storage,” said Monica Fried, an interior designer in New York.
Many medicine cabinets are designed to be recessed into the wall above a vanity, but that is not the only option. Fried sometimes recesses shallow cabinets into other bathroom walls, with mirrored or painted doors. “Sometimes it’s a flat panel, so it just looks like part of the wall,” she said, but opens like a tiny closet to reveal toiletries.
Jessica Davis, founder of Atelier Davis, a design studio with offices in Atlanta and South Orange, New Jersey, has added armoire-size built-ins to some bathrooms and semi-recessed cabinets just a few inches deep to others.
“Shampoo and hair products don’t require a ton of space,” she said. “It’s not like storing books on a shelf, where you need 12 inches of depth.” In the bathroom, 3 or 4 inches will usually suffice.
If you would rather avoid cutting holes and mounting cabinets to the wall, an easier option is to add a freestanding piece of furniture. In larger bathrooms, some designers install chests that look as if they were pulled out of a bedroom.
In smaller bathrooms, you could buy a multitier rolling cart that can be tucked under a washstand or in an unused corner, said Wendy Silberstein, founder of the Aesthetic Organizer in New York, who likes models from the Container Store. A rolling cart is “freestanding, and you can put a set of towels on the bottom and everyday items on top,” she said.
For a truly tiny bathroom with no available wall or floor space, Silberstein recommended an Elfa over-the-door rack with baskets.
Design the inside of drawers and cabinets
When you’re ready to put your toiletries back into drawers and cabinets, grouping similar objects will help you keep things organized.
“You want to categorize everything — but think in broad categories,” Hagmeyer said. “Face, everyday things, lotion, hair, teeth, travel, vitamins, medicine. The broader you go, the more likely you’re actually going to be able to keep up with it.”
Then use drawer dividers or small bins to keep each category separate. Silberstein likes using clear plastic bins, which makes it easy to see things stored in drawers and medicine cabinets. And she often removes products like cotton swabs, floss, bandages and razor blades from the packaging and stuffs them into bins, to minimize the amount of space they take up.
“It’s a money saver, because you can see everything that you own,” she said. “Not only is it easier to use, but you don’t keep restocking when you don’t need to,” she added, just because the box of cotton swabs has disappeared under the washcloths.
Larger items like hair dryers, brushes, toiletry bags and cleaning products can be stored in baskets that fit into a big drawer, cabinet or closet, or stowed under the sink.
Put daily items on display
It’s impractical to store every last bottle in a drawer all of the time. Products you use every day — hand soap, shampoo, conditioner — should stay where you need them: by the sink, shower or bathtub.
If you plan to keep soap, a cup, a few cosmetics and perhaps a bottle of perfume on the vanity top, an easy way to make them look organized is to put them on an attractive tray. “That way, it’s all corralled into a single, beautiful small tray,” said Barbara Sallick, co-founder and senior vice president of design at Waterworks, whose latest book, “The Ultimate Bath,” will be published in September. Some trays are sold specifically for bathroom use, but Sallick likes hunting for vintage trays and containers that would work in any room.
There are a couple of functional advantages to using a tray: “One, it makes it easier to clean, because you can pick the whole thing up,” Davis said. “But also from a water-spreading standpoint, when my kids and husband wash their hands and get water all over the counter, a tray keeps it from getting into the products.”
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 put them on the floor. For a step closer to aesthetic bliss, consider the bottles themselves: Leaving out a hodgepodge of bottles in various shapes, sizes and colors creates visual clutter.
“The containers matter a lot,” Sallick said. Try to keep only an essential selection of bottles out, and consider giving priority to products in attractive packaging. (There’s a reason Aesop bottles appear in so many professionally photographed bathrooms.)
Or do what Sallick did. “Years ago, I found really nice, clear, rectangular containers at Muji and bought a boatload of them,” she said. Now she pours all of her soaps and shampoos into them.
If you prefer a different style of container, a wide range of attractive, refillable bottles can be found on Etsy.
Develop a plan for linens
To keep your bathroom looking serene, figure out where you’ll put your towels and washcloths. A stack of clean, fluffy towels can be a beautiful thing, so when they’re freshly laundered, fold them nicely and pile them up in a closet or on a shelf. “They all need to get lined up, whether you sort them by color, by size or by trim,” Sallick said.
Once those linens are in use, you’ll need enough hanging space for every wet towel and washcloth — which isn’t always the case in busy households — to avoid having them left on a doorknob or tossed on the floor.
“It’s essential to buy hooks and towel bars, sometimes in multiple sizes, so you have a place for everything, and everybody’s towel lives in a certain place,” Sallick said.
If you think you don’t have enough wall space, there are many options that can help. Wall-mounted towel racks can hold multiple towels. Freestanding racks can be placed on the floor. You may be able to mount short towel bars on the sides of your vanity. You could add hooks on short walls, or on the back of a door. And if all else fails, you can drag in a stool or side table.
“Sometimes, when it’s a more modern aesthetic and there aren’t so many places for towel bars, we incorporate a stool with folded towels on top,” Fried said. “It’s a furniture piece that expands where people can keep a towel handy, or drop one.” By making sure there’s a dedicated place for everything, your bathroom won’t just look better — it will also feel better to use.
“Your bathroom should be a haven,” Silberstein said. “You deserve to have an uncluttered bathroom to be productive, to get yourself ready for the day and to look in the mirror and feel good.”