I Cleaned Out My Bathroom Today (Yes, That’s Really What This Post Is About)

Athena ScalziI’ve mentioned on here a few times that I have a bit of a hoarding problem, and I really do mean that genuinely. My life is seriously impacted by it, and every once in a while I get a super strong urge to fix it. That feeling struck today, so, I took a big step and cleaned out my bathroom, which contained years worth of stuff.

Tons of expired skincare in the back of drawers, bobby pins from freshman homecoming, perfumes I hate the smell of, thirteen packs of that floss the dentist gives you at your checkups, and more. So much stuff I thought that maybe one day I’d have a use for. But I realized that this “maybe” mentality is ruining my life.

Maybe I’ll need that extra nail file some day, I think as it sits there for four years, untouched. Maybe I need to keep this product in the box, and keep the original packaging, as it expires two years later and was never even removed from the box. Maybe I’ll use this moisturizer again, even though I bought a new one specifically because I didn’t like this one. Maybe I need this backup comb in case I misplace my three hairbrushes.

It was just… so much. And so tiring. My bathroom looked like a tornado went through it, with tiny tubes of toothpaste scattered around, four different facial cleansers on the counter, a pretty jar for Q-tips that sat empty because I never remembered to fill it with Q-tips.

But, today, I cleaned off every shelf and cleaned out every drawer, and threw away two trash bags worth of stuff. And it hurt me. It genuinely hurt my soul to throw away makeup I wore in college, unopened things I’d gotten in subscription boxes, products I’d received as Christmas gifts I never really touched because I didn’t want to use them up since someone I cared about gave it to me.

My shelves were so dusty, and all the products that sat on those shelves were just as dusty, proving that I never touched them or used them. They had to go. It was time, y’know?

I’m happy I did it, and it honestly only took me a little over an hour. I’m not sure why it took me so long to get around to doing it, but I did. And that progress is honestly substantial for me, because for some reason, there’s a mental toll that comes with throwing it all away.

It was hard in the moment, but I feel so much better now. And I’m actually proud of myself, which is a really, really good feeling.


42 Comments on “I Cleaned Out My Bathroom Today (Yes, That’s Really What This Post Is About)”

  1. Congrats! That really isn’t easy, once you’ve gotten mired in those habits of thinking. But being glad you did it, rather than panicky, is a really good sign. I hope you’re able to keep it up and shift your thinking over time so these kinds of Herculean clean-out efforts aren’t necessary anymore.

    (I spent my Christmas vacation filling a 15-cubic-yard dumpster with items belonging to my in-laws and only making a dent in one of the several basement rooms piled to the ceiling with stuff, so . . . yeah, I use the term “Herculean” without any exaggeration.)

  2. And now every time you use the bathroom you can admire it; How sparkly clean and organized it is, and the cute little jar full of useful Q-tips. You rock!

  3. Boy this struck home. The few times I’ve done this I had the same feeling as you:

    …it honestly only took me a little over an hour. I’m not sure why it took me so long to get around to doing it…

    Yep, it’s not the huge project you think it will be and why didn’t I do this earlier? Of course there are many areas of my house that I have still to get to, but I will, really I will, …someday soon. ;-)

  4. Every time I do something like this (clean out the bathroom, basement, the freezer!), I go back in and look at it several times per day just to marvel at how well I did. Lol. 😂

  5. Decluttering for me is hard because of sentiment — that old eyeliner, I have no problem giving away but the eyeshadow palette someone gave me as a gift? Oof. I do find it easier to declutter items rather than photos and memorabilia, so it’s good to exercise your “throwing away muscles” by going through stuff with less emotional impact. Don’t forget to check expiration dates, most makeup has a two year life span after opening whereas skin care and mascara is 6 months!

  6. I totally get this, Athena! In fact, it runs in my family. When my mother moved to Ireland and decided to sell her house in America, we had the task of emptying it to sell – sending furniture and useful stuff to a storage unit, and disposing of, uh…. “extra” stuff.

    I kid you not, we opened closets that were packed to the DOORFRAME with boxes, plastic bins, bags, stacks of stuff. And when we removed that layer, there was another layer behind that. And another one… clean, used underthings from forty years ago in plastic bins, carefully folded and sorted by color. Box after box of old subscription receipts for record clubs and book clubs that had gone out of business decades ago.

    Every cupboard, closet and drawer in the house was jammed. Anything that wasn’t ‘public’ space, like bedrooms and upstairs bath, was crammed with ‘organizer’ pieces of furniture packed with stuff, just enough room to walk between them all.

    The study was awash in plastic drawer units, shelving, etc. Jammed with magazine bins full of old periodicals, boxes and boxes of clippings and handouts from professional conferences. Bankers boxes piled on the lower shelves, smaller file organizers cramming the upper shelves and top. Boxes and trunks of every piece of art work or school papers with “As” all the kids ever did. Boxes and tins and bins and albums of photos.

    It scared me a bit, and woke me up. Did I want to live my life as a custodian of stuff? If my mother lived to be a hundred and six and spent every waking moment looking at and “appreciating” all the stuff she saved she’d STILL die with a large chunk of it gathering dust, undisturbed since the 1960s.

    I’ve never gone all Marie Kondo or anything, but since then I’ve periodically made efforts to clear away all the stuff I unthinkingly keep “because I might have a use for it someday.”

    At first it was a hell of a chore and exhausted me and gave me lots of stress and anxiety, especially worrying about throwing away “good” things rather than finding some person, place or institution that could USE them. I did manage to come up with a few options for some of that stuff, but at some point, if it’s not ‘easy enough’ to offload it to someone else who will value/use it, it goes on the tip pile and I don’t kick myself about not trying hard enough to recycle. My mental health matters more.

    Now I manage kind of the way you just did. I think “I’ve got some energy today. What can I cull?” And I pick ONE spot that’s accumulated stuff – the closet shelf in the office, maybe. Or the lower cupboard on the kitchen island. Or just a drawer in the bathroom. And I do THAT.

    And then reward myself with something I like – a ginger cream, or a sitdown with a favorite DVD, whatever.

    And over the years I’ve managed to make my life a lot less cluttered and less stressful.

    I can count the number of times I thought “Oh, I wish I hadn’t gotten rid of that” on one hand and have some unused fingers.

    So yay, YOU! Keep ‘taming the hoarding demon’ on your wish list and you can pull it off. It can be done.

  7. The little dental flosses you get from your dentist, if sealed, are good to donate to shelters (along with unopened hotel toiletries).

  8. There’s a point where you don’t own stuff anymore, and it owns you.

    Very courageous of you to fight back.

    Score: Athena 1, stuff 0.

  9. Good for you!!! I don’t know if I would consider myself having hoarder tendencies but I am definitely a pack rat. I really try not to buy “things” anymore. Collect different things and it is so easy to get overwhelmed. I have found it is easier to get rid of things through my local buy nothing group. Giving away things that are still useful instead of throwing it away makes it easier. I too find myself throwing away expired face products because i never used them.

  10. Firstly, I am really proud of you! Well done! I wish you luck in trying to alter your habits so that you don’t have to do a huge clean up again in the future.

    I’m currently working on a whole house declutter, and I’m doing really well with it so far. There’s some websites that have been helping me both with tips and with a better-for-me process. But also I’ve had a mental shift that’s put me in action instead of my usual lazy inaction. It’s not an attitude change but rather feels like some change in brain chemistry that’s improved my executive functioning without actually taking medication to help it. I sincerely hope it lasts (it’s happened before, but not for extended periods).

    I’m going to share some of the things that are really working for me, in hopes they might help someone else!

    Firstly, for several years I’ve followed and worked (partway) through Taylor Flanery’s Declutter 365 project: https://www.home-storage-solutions-101.com/declutter.html
    It breaks down working to declutter your entire household into 15 min daily assignments. At this point I’m pretty much beyond needing to follow the specific assignments in the order she has them, but instead stick to the idea of small discreet clean up tasks. It makes everything seem more manageable and not some gargantuan project I’m afraid to start.

    Newer to me are the methods of Dana K White of A Slob Comes Clean: https://www.aslobcomesclean.com/
    Her methodology is pretty much the opposite of Marie Kondo, and works so much better for me. She keeps you from making a bigger mess while you declutter. And her container concept helped reframe things in my brain so I make better decisions on what items I keep.

    External validation is very helpful for me – I want that gold star for a task well done and I want as many of them as I can get. So I love habitica.com where I can set up habits and To Dos and then click them for credit when I do things.

    Other things helping me in my current decluttering kick… Firstly making a physical To Do list every day. It won’t just be of things I want/need to do that day, but also some future tasks I want to not forget about. I generally make the list a little too long for accomplishing in one day because that keeps me in motion better, but not so long that it’s overwhelming and I do nothing instead. I then tackle the list in random order. Then I have the joy of crossing things off the list and once most things are crossed off and/or the page is full, then I start a new one with the undone things and new stuff as needed.

    Final thing helping me right now is a Do It Now mentality. There are all sorts of things I put aside to do later because I don’t want to do them now (and/or executive functioning wasn’t working). Those dishes I need to handwash, that I usually let pile up for a week or so until I have no clean pots and pans for cooking — it turns out if I clean them daily it takes me five whole minutes a day, and now my kitchen looks nice all the time. That gift bag that needs to be put away downstairs? It takes less than a minute to do it, instead of leaving it on the counter where it might sit for days/weeks/months/years until I notice it.

    Before I was all about being physically lazy about putting things where they belong in the name of doing them in some magically more efficient way that meant less trips up and down stairs. And you know what? “Efficiency” meant I didn’t get things done in any reasonable timeframe. And the extra trips I’m making around the house are good for me. I have the time, I need the movement, and the satisfaction I currently have for every single little task accomplished is giving me the momentum to keep going.

    In the past 3 weeks I’ve put twice as much trash out for pickup than usual, for all the stuff I’ve realized should be trashed. I’ve given numerous things away to neighbors (that wanted them!), made a couple runs to donate a car load, and made several trips to the recycling center. It feels good and is making a real impact on my home.

  11. Well done, you! I hope you took a picture of your clean and useful bathroom to look at now and again. If an activity has emotional weight for you, it doesn’t matter if it took an hour or a week, it is important and I’m glad you acknowledge that.

  12. That’s great but nothing compared to my husbands shit. OMG the food, supplies, screws, nails, SILVER INGOTS for the pending apocalypse which it ever happens I am set.

  13. I wouldn’t say I’m a hoarder per se but my bathroom definitely needs the same treatment. Well done.

  14. Congratulations! You put in a lot of real hard work to get that done (yes, it only took you a little over an hour, but that was a massive amount of emotional labor), and you should be very proud of what you accomplished!

  15. Oh, congratulations, Athena! I am super, SUPER proud of you, because I know just how hard that is. You rock!

    My late parents and my late in-laws were all Depression-era babies who never, ever, EVER threw anything away. My late father-in-law would take apart a dead toaster or radio in order to remove and save all the screws it contained “just in case” he ever needed a screw exactly that size. My late mother-in-law still had garments she had bought in the 1940s when she died in 1988. My late mother had an entire fabric store’s worth of fabric and notions (all bought on sale) stored away – she literally could have sewed enough clothing for a regiment. And my late father kept Every Single Box he ever received in the mail – his basement was a sea of hundreds and hundreds of empty cardboard boxes when he died.

    Both my spouse and I definitely inherited the same tendency to save everything just in case we ever need it, but clearing out our parents’ homes after their deaths was a real eye-opener. So we have tried to embrace something that I have heard called “Swedish Death Cleaning,” which is basically to do our own cleaning out while we’re still alive, rather than leaving it for our offspring to deal with.

    It’s not easy or fun, but I try to tackle a different small area in the house at least once a month, pull everything out, and determine if I have touched, thought about or needed each item even once in the past year. If the answer is “Nope,” it either goes to Goodwill or in the trash. And after an hour or so, I have a lovely tiny bit of order amidst the chaos in my house, and it makes me so happy.

    It never lasts forever, of course. Entropy always creeps back in, and I have to revisit the same little corners every 12 to 18 months to go through the same process. But each time I catch myself thinking “oh, I could just leave it, it won’t hurt anything,” I think of my adult offspring rolling their eyes as they drag out and dispose of all that crap after I kick the bucket, and I force myself to tackle the closet or the cabinet once more.

    Just know that you are not alone, Athena, and know, too, that you are a good person to talk about your challenges in a public forum like this. It’s all too easy to feel isolated, to convince ourselves that everyone else in the world has everything in perfect order at all times, and to kick ourselves even harder for not meeting that imagined perfection, so I am enormously proud of you for talking so frankly about it here.

    Thank you, and congratulations!!!

  16. Omg it has taken me forever to figure out I had to come to the site because I can’t comment from WordPress reader. (Lol I feel dumb. Well anyway here I am)

    Anyway … I love you, your whole family and Whatever – long time reader, first time poster.

    Good on you for doing this really hard thing. You’ve reminded me to let go of things in my bathroom and related storage that I don’t love anymore or maybe never did, to give away the things I won’t use but someone could, and to start using the things I love but was not using because it’s “too good” or “I don’t want to use it up” (but if it’s perishable it’s better to be “used up” than “use-less”).

  17. Great job Athena!

    Thank you for sharing. And thanks to everyone for the stories and tips. Swedish Death Cleaning. Huh!

    I think I’ll join you in some decluttering!

  18. Congratulations on getting it DONE! You have proved you can do it!

    I really gotta wrangle my 1. craft supplies and 2. personal correspondence (do I actually want all the just-a-name-signed-inside cards I have ever received? No. Do I maybe want one per person, esp. for treasured but deceased relatives? Yes.). Basically everything else has been very limited in intake, but those… whew. They grow. And when you don’t know what you have where, then the things [in my case, some of the craft supplies] are functionally useless to you [my parents, at one point, did not know where their hummingbird feeder was, so they bought another at an estate sale. Turns out they had at least three already in the garage, maybe four?]; and when you’re never going through the cards, etc., they’re not giving you the boost you sometimes get when you go through them to sort them.

    With a lot of more-emotional/no-functional-necessity stuff, on the first pass I go fast and do a y/n/maybe pile; it allows going with the gut response and skipping a lot of waffly/uncertain/guilty-feeling decisions at that time. Then when I know what my “yes!” items are for this particular box or category or whatever, it’s significantly emotionally easier for me to rapidly sort (and ditch more of) the maybes, since I know what a yes feels like and I also know that I have a box with those things in it. And if I’m wiped out when I get a set of things sorted into y/n/maybe, then the “nope!” things go straight to the thrift store bag or the garbage, and the “yes!” and the “maybe” boxes get labeled and I tackle the “maybe” box next sorting session.

    But: I have a weird brain, this might not work for anyone else. But for me, it’s really the absolute fastest and emotionally easiest way of plowing through a bunch of things without getting swirled down the drain emotionally. (the other trick is that I photograph items I want to remember but don’t want to actually have)

    I hope you find good ways of shaping habits (Atomic Habits was helpful to me for some things) and training your brain and learning that you can declutter successfully and how to declutter – it takes a while to figure out what works for you, and that is okay – just keep trying things out (and just keep trying!) and be okay with it if the method that turns out to work for you is “weird” or “inefficient” or whatever – if it’s what works, it’s what works!

    And luxuriate in that bathroom with wide open spaces! Hooray!

  19. I also have hoarder tendencies but something that really helped me is discovering my local “Buy Nothing” group on Facebook. It operates sort of on the “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” philosophy. This is people in your city, or section of a city, that are giving things away that they don’t want or need anymore whether that be some moisturizer they tried and didn’t like to old furniture. You can also ask for stuff, like if you need only 1 white envelope and don’t want to buy a whole pack. It’s definitely a YMMV type of thing, as how good your group is is dependent on where you live. But it’s been super helpful for me to think that I’m giving things away to someone who might use it as opposed to holding on to something because its too good to throw in the trash. Though this is probably more helpful for other commenters than you, Athena, since I’m thinking this system probably works better in an urban or suburban environment. But let me know if you have one around you guys!

  20. Um… have you thought about the possibility that you might have ADHD?

    I was diagnosed recently, at a ripe old age, and having a diagnosis and relevant treatment has gone some way to making me function more like I should have for the rest of my life.

  21. Well done you! The best stop-being-a-hoarder tip I have came from an otherwise forgettable book: it involves shifting your mindset from “might I need this some day?” to “if this is gone, will it matter?” If it would be a mild inconvenience at most, trash it with a cheerful heart.

    (Now, convincing the rest of my family of this attitude, that’s another story.)

  22. Wow, this hits so close to home (boxes and drawers and such filled with random sentimental stuff) but not the”can’t see the floor or access the windows level of some people in my life.

    Good for you, this will only get harder if you don’t make these occasional purges when the mood strikes

  23. My skin decided it was no longer my friend a few years ago. To appease it I have been trying to remove all of the phalates, parabens, and sulfates from my life.

    It amazed me how many I had been using when I cleaned all of the old crud out of my bathroom.

    Now it is easy because there are only a very limited supply of organic skin and hair products out there. I also gave up on fragrances, because almost all of them are chemical compounds that accidentally smell good.

  24. I know what you mean about the pain of getting rid of stuff. I felt it vicariously when I read that!

    I want to declutter my house but we have such pressure in our society to not add to what goes to landfill that it feels wrong to fill trash bags with stuff we haven’t touched in years.

    The notion that somehow everything might be recycled is not only unrealistic (how/where might opened skin products, or their containers be recycled?) but it’s brain boggling and overwhelming.

    Definitely you should feel good that you tackled the job and got through it. Now, of course, the trick is to not go down the path of accumulation again.

    Words I try to but fail to live up to.

  25. I always have a reason why the hoard should be dealt with LATER. Right now, I’m thinking if I wait till my ferrets have died, I can put that rug they love into the dumpster I can hire to fill with all that stuff I should clean out.
    I congratulate you on cleaning out some stuff. :)

  26. Yeah, the bathroom does not get the Marie Kondo experience. It’s just every few months “Have I used this in the last year?” and if the answer is no, into the trash it goes.

  27. A few years ago a friend’s husband died and she was going to go to her son’s place (“We’re sending her to a farm, in the country, where she’ll be happy.”) her son and I cleaned out all the Stuff she couldn’t take with her. We filled the bed of an f150 full of stuff. Every Saturday. For three months.

    After that I’ve made damned sure that I won’t be leaving a job like that for someone else someday.

  28. I lived with a hoarder for 2 1/2 decades, and am still finding stuff. I find for me it’s helpful to acknowledge that in the purge I WILL toss something I will later need, but things, for the most part, are fungible. Donating stuff also helps. So do 30 yard dumpsters. Did you know that tiles explode beautifully when banked off the side of a dumpster?

    Kudos to you on the clean up. You did more in an hour than many ever manage!

  29. KC: “I really gotta wrangle my 1. craft supplies and 2. personal correspondence (do I actually want all the just-a-name-signed-inside cards I have ever received? No. Do I maybe want one per person, esp. for treasured but deceased relatives? Yes.)”

    KC, one thing I discovered sort of by accident about saved personal correspondence–oddly enough, I find it easier to manage when I use a paper shredder. Somehow it’s less like “discarding” and more like a ceremony? I don’t know quite why, but it did seem to make the process easier for me.

    Now, for craft supplies, you are on your own! Good luck!

  30. @Mary Frances: Thank you! Ceremony for nostalgia (or when we get slightly animistic about objects) is often helpful! I do sometimes give nostalgia items a one-sentence obituary, which tells my brain the things that are true: it was useful/pleasing to me once, it is no longer serving me well, it is better for it to move on. Something about saying it out loud decreases the distress in my brain?

    (but I haaaate the sound of paper shredders. But if I find myself needing a ceremony – I usually haven’t, with cards, it’s just that I need to in fact go through the piles – I can probably come up with something – maybe a box with a slit in the top to put each card through?)

  31. I understand and sympathize. Both my spouse and I have the same issues. We’re going to be moving in a year or so, and I shudder to think about what lies in front of us…

  32. Athena, thanks for posting this, and congrats to you! You are an inspiration, and ALSO you touched off a whole slew of wonderful suggestions. Thanks everyone on the list, I am noting your advice and success stories to act on myself. For me, attacking clutter regularly but a little at a time seems to work best. Fingers crossed for a less-cluttered future!

  33. Inspired by this, I’m determined to tackle a similar project in my place this weekend. Thank you!

  34. there is a wonderful podcast – “A slob comes clean” by Dana K. White.
    have listened to her for awhile and it is a really great way to think about how to get rid of stuff etc.
    Plus she’s from Texas and I love listening to her accent. (native texan know living in california.)

  35. Good for you! My goal is to clear out our storage. I have a feeling that much of it will be trash or donations…..

  36. Thanks to autism I tend to space things, so things pile up. I’d say more, but this tablet is user who’s tile.

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