Every apartment I move into seems to have a smaller bathroom than the last. I’m certain that’s not what’s supposed to happen as you grow up, but a year ago I found myself living in an apartment fitted with the smallest bathroom of my life. I wish I could say that my nine years of moving to increasingly tiny spaces has resulted in my being an expert organizer—but in fact the opposite is true. Sadly I’m an objectively messy person who loves skincare and makeup (and hoarding both), and this tends to be adequately represented in my bathrooms.
The other day, when I found myself sitting on the floor of my bathroom, surrounded by products I’d dug out of a New Yorker tote bag I’d stuffed under my sink—all to find a retainer cleaning tablet, I realized I needed to make a change. So in the name of Renovations Month, I reached out to professional organizer Tidy Tova, who has previously worked magic on Harling’s bedroom and Amelia’s closet, for help.
Before Tova arrived at my apartment, I spent an entire night sorting through my products. This means my before photos aren’t true befores, but I didn’t want to waste any of my allocated tidying time staring at a blush I hadn’t worn in two years, wondering if this weekend might be the weekend it makes a reappearance on my face. So I recycled or threw away all empty or expired products and put everything I could bear to part with into a separate bag to be rehomed. Finally, I stuffed everything back under the sink and began counting down to Tova’s arrival.
Here’s everything I learned about bathroom organization when she did. May it help you as much as it helped me.
1. Keep the Products You Use the Most in a Prime Position
Before Tova touched anything in my bathroom, she asked me to pull out the products I use every single day. I obliged, and after a totally warranted moment of disbelief at the sheer quantity (unsurprisingly, Tova is a big proponent of less-is-more beauty routines), she moved each of these products to the easiest-to-access position on the shelves above my sink.
“My thought process, in bathrooms particularly,” she said, “is that what you use the most should go front and center. I really believe in streamlining your life and routine so that in the mornings, all you need to do is open your cupboard, look to the bottom right, and systematically work through those products without searching for anything else,” she said. As obvious as this seems, it made me realize how many products I had in my typical line of sight that I was barely using. Why were they ever there in the first place?
2. Add Containers to Shallow Shelves to Keep Products From Falling Out
Things falling out of the vanity and into the bathroom sink is a pet peeve Tova and I share. However, unlike Tova, I had no plans to do anything about it. She added these plastic organizers that would normally be used in drawers to my shelves to keep everything in place. Each container also had a category: My boyfriend got his own container for his handful of products, my essential oils got their own space, as did my serums and medicines.
3. Make Use of Vertical Space
While my solution for making use of the empty space in my cupboard involved stuffing everything into a tote bag, Tova’s version was slightly different. Before coming over, I sent her some photos of my bathroom and she asked that I buy a couple of things to help her organize my mess, including two sets of these removable drawers—one in large and one in medium.
“I immediately saw an opportunity to take advantage of the vertical space under your sink,” she said. “I really believe in cheap, good purchases that go a long way in helping you get organized.” While only one of the drawers fit under my cupboard, the smaller of the two sat on top as a basket with dividers. I never would have thought of investing in the vertical space under my cabinet, but once I did, it seemed ridiculous that I hadn’t.
4. Make Everything as Visible and Accessible as Possible
Unlike the tote-bag method, putting everything in drawers means I can now see and access everything I have stored. Tova also sorted everything into separate product categories (hair, body, and face), so it’s now just a matter of knowing what I want (dry shampoo) and looking to that area under my sink (far right). As someone who is constantly one misplaced product away from running late, this has been a game-changer.
5. Avoid Product Samples and Doubling Up on Products
During the organizing process, Tova and I spoke a lot about how so many of us end up filling our bathroom cabinets with more than we need—especially when it comes travel-size products and free samples. “Samples are a big issue for me,” she said. “They come into your life so easily, and I find that people rarely use them. But they get into every crack and corner and are hard for people to throw away. I think they should literally be outlawed,” she joked (I think). “Duplicates are also a problem. You can’t find your deodorant, so you think you don’t have any and buy a new one. You start using that one, then find the old one, then neither get actually get used up and you end up wasting money.” As she spoke, I saw a lifetime of replacing—then finding—lost deodorant, sunscreen, and bars of soap flash before my eyes.
6. Reorganize Your Bathroom Quarterly
Organization functions best when it’s in a constant state of progress. As you finish and dispose of products, bring more into your life, and shuffle things in shelves and drawers, your tidiness will slowly start to fall apart. This is why Tova recommends a quarterly bathroom organizing session. (If she had her way we’d all be organizing once a month, but we both agreed quarterly felt more reasonable.) So, mark your calendars or just aim to do a clean-out at the beginning or end of each season.
7. Aim for “Real-Life Tidy” Not “Perfect Tidy”
Of all the tips Tova shared with me, this one was my favorite: “I call what I aim for ‘real-life tidy.’ It’s my rebellion against this current culture of perfection where people want everything to line up, match, and look a certain way. I’m trying to retrain people’s brains to know that for something to be organized, it doesn’t have to look beautiful—it just has to be functional,” she said.
Real-life tidy is very much how my new bathroom feels. Since Tova’s visit I’ve saved time during my morning routine and have already saved myself from buying seconds of products I already had. It doesn’t look particularly Pinterest- or Instagram-worthy, but everything has a place and that feels uniquely good.
Photos by Franey Miller.