Declutter First, Organize Next.
Declutter the Medicine Cabinet
- Prepare a nearby tabletop surface on which to place things when removing them from the cabinet. Avoid bending down and putting items on the floor whenever possible (saves the back).
- Gather one or more paper grocery bags for discards. Label one “Hazardous Waste” and another “Donate” (for items still in good condition that you plan to give away.)
- Prep a bottle of all-purpose cleaner or mild soap, and a clean sponge or rag.
- Grab a pen and pad of paper for notes, or use the notepad on your cell phone in case you come up with a thing or two for your “To Do” list.
- Open the medicine cabinet and take a few “Before” photos.
IMPORTANT REMINDER: Old and expired medicine AND vitamins is hazardous waste, and can turn into something potentially dangerous. You can’t just flush them down the toilet or toss them in the trash. Take the following steps and avoid putting anyone or anything – people, kids, pets, fish in the ocean – in danger.
Drop them off…
One of the safest ways to dispose of old medicine and vitamins is to take advantage of drug drop-off days your city or local community organizations host throughout the year. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends drop-off events as the first choice of disposal for over and under the counter drugs, including vitamins. Do an internet search for ones near you or go to Earth911.com for independent drop-off locations. When dropping off anything with your personal information on it, be sure to black out your name and address with a marker. DO NOT black out the drug name, since hazardous waste facilitators need to know what it is. And DO NOT mix a lot of different drugs into one small unmarked bag, for the same reason.
Take them back…
Take unwanted and expired drugs or vitamins back to the store where you bought them if your city or town doesn’t hold drop-off events or if there is not a household hazardous waste collection center near you. If the store has an on-site pharmacy, the employees may be able to properly dispose of them. Speak to your local pharmacist about it.
Do not ever, ever, EVER…
Do not flush old or expired medicine or vitamins down the toilet, cautions the EPA and FDA. While this is a high concern with prescription medications, vitamins can also leach into the water supply and cause safety risks. Don’t dispose of them down drain pipes nor empty them into a garbage or compost bin. Children and animals can get into and eat them.
Lots of other things are stored in medicine cabinets, and many do not have expiration dates. These can include hairspray, hair gel, toothpaste, lotion, face toner, contact lens solution, sunscreen, deodorant…all of which should be considered for disposal, too. How old are they? Do you ever use it? Do you even like it? If it does not have an expiration date and you’ve owned it for more than two years, consider it old. If it’s not face or body soap, nor earth-friendly cleaning fluids meant to go down the drain, it should not go down the drain. Play it safe and place anything else old and unwanted into the hazardous waste bag. Personally, I consider anything made with scientifically named chemicals hazardous waste, and always include it in my next visit to the household hazardous waste center. If anyone’s going to dispose of these things the safest way possible, it’s them.
Now that you know how to handle the discards…
- Pick up each item in the medicine cabinet and find the expiration date. If it’s expired, it goes into the “hazardous waste” bag. Don’t take chances with old vitamins, medicine, or anything you put in or on the body.
- Place anything you are keeping on a nearby surface for later.
- Inside and out, wipe the empty medicine cabinet with a wet and warm, soapy cloth. Regular cleaning will keep it in good shape. Allow surface to dry completely before putting things away.
Put Things Back and Organize
- Return what you keep back to the cabinet, place like items near each other, labels facing forward: medicine, vitamins, hair products, face products, etc.
- Take an “After” photo of your freshly organized medicine cabinet.
Isabella Guajardo, founder and owner of Bella Organizing, is a San Francisco Bay Area professional organizer offering home organizing, interior redesign, and residential move management services throughout the Greater San Francisco Bay Area. Call (510) 229-7321 or email email@example.com for more information. Gift certificates are available.