KonMari in the Bathroom: Paring Down Cosmetics and Toiletries

Last year, I used Marie Kondo’s “KonMari Method” (from her best-selling book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”) to downsize my book and compact disc collections, as well as my closet.  Then last month, I applied this simple but effective process to my jewelry box.   There’s really something magical about gathering all our like items together, handling them one by one, and asking ourselves whether or not each item “sparks joy.”   The beauty of Kondo’s method is that it places the focus on what to keep rather than what to get rid of.

Clutter word cloud - KonMari

The “KonMari Method” can help you get rid of your clutter.

The Next KonMari Project

I plan to “KonMari” my closet again soon, as almost a year has gone by, but I was inspired to tackle my bathroom first.  Although I’ve done quite a bit of downsizing with my cosmetics, hair care products, and toiletries over the years, I still felt there was too much clutter and I experienced a sinking feeling every time I saw my cluttered shelves and cabinets.  It just looked like a big mess and it drained me of energy that I could be applying to the things I want to accomplish in my day-to-day life.  So last Saturday afternoon, I dug in and got the job done.

We have two bathrooms in our apartment, but this post will mostly focus on our master bath, which is where I spend the most time and had accumulated the most clutter.  My husband and I “KonMari’ed” the second bath on Sunday and it probably took a third of the time as the main job.  He resisted doing it at first, but is as happy as I am to have clear and visually pleasing bathrooms in which we know what we have and where to find it.

The “Before”

As our master bath is fairly small, the bulk of our items are stored on an over-the-toilet shelving unit which includes three shelves.  These shelves accumulate a lot of dust and were difficult to clean with the sheer volume of toiletry items I was housing there.   Here’s what that shelving unit looked like before KonMari:

Bathroom shelves before

There was no rhyme or reason to the placement of items on the shelves.   Everything was just thrown on there and most of it was rarely or never used. The items that I did use were difficult to find because there was just so much there.

The Process

To go through my bathroom items, I did exactly as Marie Kondo recommends. I took everything down and placed it all on the floor.  In addition to the items on the shelves pictured above, I also stored cosmetics and toiletries in two cabinets, a small drawer, and a small medicine cabinet.  It all came out, dust and all, and was stacked on the floor. I wish I would have thought to take a photo of this scary sight, but you’ll just have to take my word for it now.

Because the “sparks joy” question doesn’t always produce a clear read for me, especially with more utilitarian items, I instead posed the question recommended by The Minimalists:

Does this add value to my life?”

What I Found

In more cases than not, my answer to that question was no.  I was ashamed to see how many hair brushes I owned, as well as probably hundreds of hair ties, clips, and accessories.   I had also stockpiled many hair products that I’d used only once or twice before setting them aside.  I had fallen for clever marketing ploys that promised smooth, silky, Jennifer Aniston-like hair, but was dismayed to find that my hair continued to be frizzy, dry, and temperamental.  While I do think some products are better than others, there is no “holy grail” that will restore my middle-aged hair to the enviable, lustrous mane that I possessed back in my twenties and thirties. For that, I would need a fairy godmother – or a wig!

Likewise, I came across countless lipsticks, make-up brushes, skin care products, and cosmetic samples, many of which had long passed their sell-by dates.  While I didn’t use these products, someone could have, but they didn’t get that chance because of my pack-rat nature and tendency to hold onto things “just in case.”   Now, I had to throw many of these things in the garbage can rather than passing them on to someone who would have been thrilled to receive them.

Yes, there are places to which we can donate our partially used hair-care products and cosmetics.  I learned about one such place years ago from a former client.   It’s a battered women’s and homeless shelter in Downtown San Diego.  In addition to accepting my myriad toiletry discards, they also happily take bras, underwear, and socks that would otherwise end up in a landfill.   I’m sure there are similar charities in many large cities around the United States and in other countries. It’s an option worth exploring for those who buy a lot of cosmetic items that don’t work out but cannot be returned.

The Aftermath

I ended up with three bags of items to pass along for donation. If I would have taken the time to “KonMari” my bathroom a year or two earlier, I’m sure it would have been five bags or more, but a lot of items ended up in the trash can instead.   Maybe my waste can be a wake-up call for some of you to keep on top of your bathroom clutter. As for me, I intend to do better in the future and keep things under control.

Here’s a look at the items I let go of in my bathroom last weekend:

bathroom donations

While I found a lot of things that didn’t spark joy or add value to my life, I also unearthed items that I’d forgotten I owned but can use moving forward.  In some cases, I discovered many like items that I kept buying because I didn’t realize I already had a stockpile going.   I found four bottles of Frizz-Ease serum and seven shower “puffs” (I don’t know what they’re actually called!) in various colors and sizes.   I guess I won’t need to buy any of these for a while!

shower puffs

They are now stored in a plastic bin for easy access and so I’ll know when it’s time to replenish my supply (probably not for a year or two at this point!).

What It Looks Like Now

After I decided what I wanted to keep, it was then time to organize it all in the cabinets and drawer and on the shelves.  I opted to store hair products on the top shelf of the over-the-toilet unit (with some additional items being kept in a plastic bin in one of the cabinets), skin care items and cosmetics on the middle shelf (and some in the drawer and in front of the mirror), and miscellaneous items on the bottom shelf and in the under the sink cabinet.

Here’s what the bathroom shelving unit looks like now:

bathroom shelves after

It’s now much easier to find things and I’ve even used some products that I had completely neglected previously. There are a few hair products that I wasn’t sure whether or not to keep, but I’ve placed those front and center so I can try them as soon as possible and make a decision on them.  I will likely head over to the donation location in the next week or two (the bags are already in the trunk of my car), so I can add any additional cast-offs prior to that time.

Conclusion

The entire process took less than two hours to complete and it was well worth it.  I now smile and feel light and happy when I look at my bathroom. The heavy and anxious feelings are gone and have been replaced by… joy and lightness of being.   I know it may sound silly, but having a cleaner bathroom has resulted in my having a clearer mind.  It motivates me to continue using the KonMari Method in the rest of my home, as I still feel very stagnant and stuck in my life.   The answers to some big life questions evade me, but I feel that if I can free up some energy by decluttering my surroundings (as well as doing journaling, which I recently resumed doing most days), I will gain clarity in time.

I feel like downsizing our homes – and our wardrobes – is like peeling an onion.  We may think we’ve done it all, but there is often more to be done.   I’ve already started to “KonMari” my closet, but I got a bit derailed this week due to some feelings that came up for me during the process.   I plan to finish that process this month, as well as start to tackle my office, files, storage boxes, and online data.  It may take months until I’m done, but I feel motivated to complete the job, at least for now. Although Marie Kondo says that her clients have only had to use her process once, I suspect that I will at least need a “booster shot” of KonMari from time to time.   That’s okay, as I have seen the benefits and they are worth it!

Your Thoughts?

Now it’s time for you to offer your input.  If you’ve used the KonMari Method (or another type of decluttering process) for your bathroom, closet, or any other part of your home and would like to share your experience, I welcome your doing so.   I’m also open to any questions or comments you have for me.

Thank you and have a wonderful weekend!  I’ll be back soon with more posts on wardrobe management, shopping, personal style, and other topics, including some thoughts on my balance goal for the year and my upcoming milestone birthday (just three months away now…).  In the meantime, I invite you to check out my post archive, where you can browse past articles by month or topic or search for keywords.  I have written more than 350 posts now, so there’s a good chance I have shared thoughts on subjects of interest for you.

26 thoughts on “KonMari in the Bathroom: Paring Down Cosmetics and Toiletries

  1. Hi there!
    Great job on the bathroom declutter. Have you considered replacing your bathroom shelving with a closed wall cabinet? I did this, and it helped me in two ways. First, it limited the space I could fill up with product, and secondly, it calmed down the busy, messy appearance of the bathroom.
    A calmer, cleaner look in the bathroom is a pleasure!

    • I did the same thing as Lori and it really creates an amazingly clearer visual when you enter the bathroom. It’s an easy “home improvement”, too, even for a fairly unskilled DIY-er.

    • I actually really like this idea, Lori and Sonya. My husband and I have looked around a bit for another storage option for our bathroom, but we haven’t found anything suitable yet. The over-the-toilet unit we have is quite old and is rusting a bit at the bottom from moisture in the bathroom. I think I would rather have something wood and I agree that it would look “cleaner” to have something closed. Will keep looking… I was hoping Bed, Bath & Beyond would have better options, but they didn’t have much at all!

  2. 18 months ago I rounded up all cosmetics in my home, those left behind by 3 daughters who have left home, my own, gifts, samples and hotel bottles. Once the out of date and unsuitable items were discarded the rest were categorised and stored as stock and only one of each type of item put out for use at a time. I am finally getting to a point where things are running out. My aim is to only have one of each type of product. Less clutter and less chance of products going out of date. I find that grouping products into attractive boxes or baskets neatly arranged on your shelves looks much neater than randomly putting them on the shelves. It also makes it easier to find what you want.

    • Good job on the bathroom decluttering, Lynn! I like the idea of only having one of each type of item. I never intended to have SO much, but when our bathrooms are cluttered, we can forget what we have (of course, the same thing can happen in our closets!). The boxes and baskets help, too. I have some of them on the shelving unit and in my cabinets, but I could probably use more, at least while I still have as much stuff as I do. Like you, I’m hoping to use all of the stock items and then just have the essentials around.

  3. Bravo, Debbie! I am wondering if you even slightly enjoyed the process, (I know you enjoy the results.) I am missing decluttering because it feels so cathartic, but I am so on top of things since my blitz 9 years ago, that there is little to work on. I guess that’s good, but I miss the feeling. You are probably going to tell me to find a substitute feel-good activity. Maybe I can also help a friend or relative declutter, but asking is almost an insult: “Could you use some help clearing out your messy closet?’–not a w ay to win friends. I loved this post; keep them coming, and keep on working on freedom from junk, Debbie.

    • I actually really DO enjoy the decluttering process, Helen. It feels freeing to pare things down, even though I do sometimes feel guilty about the waste of having so much in the first place. I can understand how you would miss having decluttering activities to do. Helping a friend or relative to pare down their things could be fun for you, but yes it could be hard to put it out there. You could mention it generically to people and see if anyone “bites,” something like, “I really enjoyed decluttering my home and I miss doing it. I would love to help anyone else who might want to pare things down a bit.” If you don’t mention that THEY have a messy closet, they probably won’t take offense and some might have an “aha moment” and take advantage of your free help!

      • Great approach.You are so kind to reply to every poster. Uniquely sweet and considerate as well.

  4. Visible clutter makes me anxious, so if it were my house I would have to either put the items in decorative bins/baskets or preferably install a cabinet with doors. Even tidied up, loose items look cluttery to me. Fortunately my bathroom has plentiful cabinet space to store my (excessive) cosmetics and skin/hair care items. I keep the items I am currently using in the cabinets, and in my linen closet I keep any back stocks in a plastic bin and bring items out as replenishment is needed. I just arrived at my Montreal home for the season and plan to go through the bathroom this weekend and weed out anything that is expired or just needs to go out. We have also gotten onto our schedule where we will not plan to be here for winter any more, so we are going to pack up and put into storage all the heavy winter items, which will free up space in the condo so it looks less cluttery. I can’t wait, the mess is weighing on me.

    • I do still think it looks somewhat cluttered, Tara, plus I know it will be difficult to keep the shelves looking tidy. I am relishing the fact that it looks a lot better than before, though. Lori suggested a closed cabinet above and I like that idea. Sounds like you have a lot more storage space than I do. Space is really at a minimum in my apartment, which is part of what has motivated me to pare down. Good luck with decluttering your bathroom this weekend! I hope you will experience the same type of relief I did. It can be very satisfying to let go of things!

  5. Great job. I’m sure it will be fun to look back at these times when you conquered all these mountains and there’s nothing else to clean up. I hope you’re still doing your blog at that point so we can experience the joy of nostalgia with you.

    We went through a similar process. I dumped everything out of the bathroom cabinets onto the floor and then sorted through. I got rid of stuff I didn’t even recognize. When all the junk was cleared from under the bathroom sink I able to see that the sink had been steadily leaking for some time, so I got that fixed. I had to clean rust off everything. I felt shame and disgust at allowing this to happen. My siblings wouldn’t have let it get to that point. Yet, it was fun and satisfying at the same time. I felt light and happy, like you.

    If you have an under-sink vanity, this is one instance where I personally think an organizer unit with a pull-out drawer could help. Even though I know Marie Kondo frowns on organizing solutions, people still need to store bulky items like toilet paper and maxipads somewhere. I got a wire one made specifically for the bathroom sink vanity for $20 from I think Bed Bath and Beyond and it almost doubled my under sink storage space.

    I’ve actually KonMari’d the bathroom twice now, but the second time wasn’t as fun and cathartic. It did go by faster though and I did streamline my space even further.

    • I just wanted to also note that it is a real struggle to keep the number of beauty products down because there are so damn many of them and results vary depending on how your body reacts to the product. Therefore, even with the best or expensive products, they may end up in the trash can because your skin rejected them.

      One thing that has helped me to reduce the stuff coming in are reading online reviews for every single product I am thinking of buying. I force myself to do this before I buy anything now, even a simple face wash, because people will highlight problems with the product in their reviews that the sales pitch will never tell me. I look for reviews by people who appear to have issues similar to what I have. This has not only driven down the products I will try, but driven up the joy I get from the products that do make it into my bathroom. It’s still not 100% success though, especially because Amazon reviews, for instance, are pumped with fake reviews. I always have to filter for only “Verified Purchase” reviews, but even then there are some fake ones.

      • I research beauty products the same way, usually by reading beautypedia reviews. I really dislike the scent of many products – way too floral for me – and that is one thing they always cover since they consider most scents irritants.

        over the counter medications is a toughplace for me to declutter. An example: I don’t use calamine lotion that often but when I need it, I need it! It’s silly to buy it every time I need it [and wasteful], but the months or year in between needs it feels like clutter.

    • Hard to imagine the time when I will have decluttered EVERYTHING, Jane. It’s an ongoing process and I will probably need to revisit certain areas from time to time. Good job on paring down your bathroom items and getting your sink fixed! The organizer unit you mentioned sounds good. I don’t have anything like that currently, but I do use baskets and bins and find them helpful.

      I like the suggestions that you and Mary gave about researching beauty products. I do read Amazon reviews but didn’t realize that some of them are fake! Perhaps we would be better off consulting Beautypedia like Mary mentioned. I also don’t like the scent of many products, so it’s good to know in advance if that might be a problem.

      I feel your pain, Mary, about those medications we only need to use occasionally. I had to throw away a few such items because they were expired. There are no easy answers except perhaps to buy the smallest size available and hope we will be able to mostly use it up before it goes bad. Yes, no fun to have to run out and buy calamine lotion when we are itching like crazy!

      • I love beautypedia, Amazon, makeupalley and believe it or not, Walmart and CVS reviews for beauty products. I used to rely solely on beautypedia because of the excellent skincare articles, but then I got tired of it for a number of reasons. The review section only reviews a very limited number of products, and maybe I’m being cynical but the Paula Begoun (creator of the site) products always seem to get 5 stars. Also, the editorial dictates of that site doesn’t necessarily reflect your own particular skin issues.

        Once I branched out to various other sites, I started to realize there’s a vast world out there. I have slowly created what I think is my long term skincare regimen by reading hundreds upon hundreds of reviews and buying the smallest size of a product to try and keeping what seemed to improve my skin.

      • How great that you have honed your skincare regimen, Jane! It can be a challenging thing to do. I think I need to make some modifications to my long-term routine because of my aging skin and new requirements. I appreciate the recommendations for sites where good reviews may be found. Good point about the beautypedia site favoring the Paula Begoun products. I have never used them and they may be really good, but it IS a bit fishy that those products ALWAYS get 5 stars on the site.

  6. Congratulations for digging in there and getting the job done! So much of feeling that we live a balanced life has to do with getting rid of clutter and feeling relaxed. I can accomplish a great deal, but if my surroundings are cluttered I end up feeling as if I got nothing done.

    Last year I applied the KonMari method to every room, closet, nook and cranny of my home and the good news is that Marie Kondo is right! If we follow her method the clutter does not return. Like others here have mentioned visual clutter bogs me down, even if it is things I use daily. My solution is having beautiful baskets sitting on my open shelving filled with the items I use frequently.

    • Good to hear that Marie Kondo was right about her process, Terra! Perhaps my issue is that I have never completed the job. Now I am even more motivated to do so! I totally agree with you that having cluttered surroundings can get in the way of our feeling (and even being) productive. I can’t feel relaxed with too much stuff around, but I didn’t realize this until recently. It seemed kind of like I was avoiding my issues last weekend by decluttering my bathrooms, but it really did help me to feel better. Now what am I going to focus on THIS weekend?

      • Debbie, you were not avoiding anything, you were addressing and dealing with your clutter. And that is a great accomplishment! Once all of your clutter is cleared out that’s when great big wide open door looms before you, begging to be explored. That’s the part I didn’t understand. We can hide behind our clutter and when it is gone all that is left is what’s real. It’s both frightening and wonderful.

      • You’re right, Terra. Dealing with my clutter IS important! I feel like I’ve been peeling away layers for the past 5 or 6 years, but I have escalated the process more recently. I look forward to finishing my decluttering so I can have the great big wide open door in front of me, even if it’s scary. Perhaps that should be my goal as I approach the big 5-0 less than three months from now…

  7. Well done- a good job . However I do think you may have kept a few things due to the just in case,or the – I’ll keep it because I’ve spent money on it scenario (I do this all the time )

    Your bath puffs for example- are they all really sparking joy or are you keeping hold of them because you have already bought them. Also they are a good few years worth (hoarding ). Likewise those bottles of products that you didn’t use because they didn’t do the job you got them for. They still won’t – you going to keep them unused and on the shelve – let them go (your keeping them because you have spent money on them )

    • I’m sure I could have gotten rid of more things, Angela, and I’m probably still prone to keep things for “just in case.” In the instance of the bath puffs, however, I know they will all be used because it’s something we’ve been using for years (I just didn’t know how much of a stockpile I had). I read that they should be switched out every month or two, so they really won’t last all that long. The hair products likely won’t work for me, but I wanted to try them one more time before passing them on. I have very temperamental hair and am always trying to find good products, so I’m being extra careful here. But I am committed to trying each one only ONCE before making my decision.

  8. Oh Debbie, I am so sorry that you feel stagnant in your life right now. Do you know why this might be? I think you are not at all really, rather I think you are doing it just right as it is, since you are taking your time to re-discover yourself, to get to the core, as you say. But in your own terms. As for me, this sounds great, the best of what we can do: Taking all the time we need to ask ourselves from time to time: Who am I? Have I changed? What is it that I do I truly want of my life? And then accept those changes and go for the real wishes… I am trying to do that for a long time now, so I think I know what those times of ‘stagnation’ feel like, but in the retrospect there was no stagnation :), only highly valuable times for me to learn and grow. For example, it took ages for me to ‘admit to myself’ that I am a creative person and allow that creativity to develop. But my being a compulsive shopper has also been a means to express that repressed creativity. So it seems that I have no other choice than to address the real issue and stop running away from myself :). And, of course, I have no idea if I am ever going to ‘make it’, whatever that might be, but it feels wonderful to know again, a bit more, who I am. All the good luck in the world to you, whatever you may find out!

    • Why I feel stagnant is the $64,000 question, CristiLu! I have some idea, but it’s too long to go into in a blog comment. I will likely write about at least some of the issues at some point soon. I need to answer the questions you mentioned in your comment and more. Turning 50 (3 months now) is throwing me for a bit of a loop, but that’s not the only issue. Your point about it not really being stagnation is a good one. As long as we are growing, there is really no “wasted time.” I resonated with what you wrote about shopping being a way to run away from yourself. It definitely has been for me, too. Not always, but at least some of the time. Thank you for the good wishes. I wish you all the best, too!

  9. Debbie: first of all, congratulations on the cleanup. It’s always harder for me to get rid of cosmetics and skincare, because you *could* conceivably use them!

    Re: your temperamental hair, I might suggest taking a look at the Science-y Hair Blog: science-yhairblog.blogspot.com . She’s got a lot of methodical, in-depth posts on troubleshooting various finicky hair things, and I’ve found more than one of her posts valuable for fixing my own hair. The blogger also offers an unusual service where you mail your hair to her and she does a scientific analysis on it that can help you figure out what does and doesn’t work for your particular hair. I haven’t done it yet, but that is primarily because I haven’t figured out a consistent way to gather 30 strands of hair outside of the shower.

    • Thanks for your congrats and hair tip, Lishan! I will definitely check out that blog. I just skimmed it a bit but didn’t see the service about the scientific hair analysis. I will delve deeper and hopefully find it, as that is something I would like to pursue (as long as it’s not crazy expensive). I think I could gather the 30 strands fairly easily, as I lose quite a bit of hair. I’m very intrigued about what I might learn!

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