Clearing Out Your Medicine Cabinet: Top Tips… & What To Avoid!

Hello, March! This month I’ll be focusing on decluttering and spring cleaning. I want to kick things off with a really practical post – something that’s quick and easy to implement, but will have huge health benefits for you and your family. I’m talking about clearing out your medicine cabinet. 

Follow along as I clear out mine too, and share my top tips for decluttering, organising, and safely storing your medication, making future clear-outs much faster, and some things you should avoid if you don’t want to endanger yourself and others.

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Clearing Out Your Medicine Cabinet - How to declutter, organise, and safely store your medication, including some top tips as well as some things to avoid

Before starting, grab yourself a pen and paper or open the app where you keep your shopping lists. This way, as you’re going through your medicine cabinet and first aid kit, you can quickly make a note of anything that’s missing or needs replacing.

Ready?

Step 1 of clearing out your medicine cabinet: Gather everything together

Pull out all your medications and first aid supplies. (If you want to, you can include vitamins, supplements, sun protection, and travel items like insect repellant here too.) If they’re spread throughout your home, go ahead and collect them all up, and then set them down on a clear surface.

Ours were literally all just loose in a high cupboard so they weren’t exactly organised or easily accessible. I often had to dig through things to find the product I wanted. That’s about to change!

Clearing Out Your Medicine Cabinet - Step One: Pull Everything Out

Step 2 of clearing out your medicine cabinet: Check expiration dates

Next, go through each and every item and look at the expiration dates. Anything that’s expired should be set aside. Not only is expired medication usually ineffective, it can be very harmful to your health.

You wouldn’t eat meat or eggs that were past their prime, so don’t mess with medicines that have started to break down.

Even though we have a very small selection of stuff, I was still surprised when I removed 3 expired items. (I also got rid of 2 empty boxes.)

Clearing Out Your Medicine Cabinet - Step Two: Check expiration dates & remove expired items
  • TOP TIP: Expiration dates can often be hard to see so, to make your life easier in future, use a marker to highlight them or write them in an easy-to-see spot. If you stash all your boxes upright, for example, write the date on the top so that you won’t have to take everything out to check. 
Clearing Out Your Medicine Cabinet - Step Three: Highlight or clearly write expiration dates

Some items won’t have a specific date on them but, rather, will have a limited shelf life once opened. If a product doesn’t have a specific expiration date but you can’t remember when you opened it, get rid of it. Certain chemical compounds will start to break down once exposed to air or light, and items will no longer be sterile once the hygiene seal is broken.

Eye drops are a good example of this. Those little vials will start to fill with bacteria from the moment they’re opened and, after a certain amount of time, the last thing you’ll want is to introduce that mix to your eyes. Usually the limit on eye drops is 4 weeks once opened, but be sure to check with your doctor or pharmacist.

It’s also why you should always replace your sun creams every year, even if the bottle is still half full. Whatever’s inside won’t be as fresh or effective as when you first opened it so you run the risk of an adverse reaction to the cream, or to serious sun damage to yourself and your family.

Creams with no specific expiration date will indicate when they should be discarded by showing an image of a small, open tub with a number and the letter M. This will tell you the maximum number of months you should keep a product after opening.

Clearing Out Your Medicine Cabinet - Step 4: Check items with no specific expiration date using the tub symbol
  • TOP TIP: When you open one of these products, count forward according to the tub symbol or the information leaflet to calculate the expiration date and then, as per the previous tip, write it in marker in a conspicuous place. No more guesswork!

For items that don’t have expiration dates, inspect them to ensure they’re still in good condition. If something is broken, torn, or otherwise not in good, safe working order, remove it.

  • TOP TIP: For easy access, you can remove the tops of certain boxes, as long as they don’t contain any important information like batch numbers and expiration dates. I do this for packets of plasters and it makes things a lot less fiddly when I need a bandage in a hurry.
Clearing Out Your Medicine Cabinet - Remove box tops for easy access, as long as they don't contain important information

Yes, those are unicorn plasters. 😛

  • TOP TIP: Note the item with the nearest expiration date, and then mark that date in your planner or on a calendar so you’ll know to go back and remove it. Or, at the very least, make a note to do another quick sweep of your medicine cabinet in 3 - 6 months’ time. With the expiration dates now being much more visible, this should be a very quick process.

Remember to make a note of anything you need to replace.

Step 3 of clearing out your medicine cabinet: Categorise & contain

Once you’ve set aside anything that’s not staying, categorise what’s left. Using a container (or containers) to corral everything, put all the children’s medication together, all the cold & flu remedies together, all the first aid items together, etc. If you’re unsure what category an item belongs to or, technically, it could belong to more than one, just think about how you normally use it and go with your best judgement.

Clearing Out Your Medicine Cabinet – Categorise like with like

Or, if you have a small collection, feel free to put everything back in together.

I don’t keep very many medications in the house so I salvaged a small box from the recycling and used it to corral most of ours. I chopped off the top and flaps, and cut up pieces to use as basic dividers. Worked a treat.

Clearing Out Your Medicine Cabinet - Corral the categories into storage containers

Shoeboxes would also work wonders for this if you have some spare ones lying around. (They’re great for all sorts of organising projects.)

  • TOP TIP: If you have several of the same item, use a rotation system. Store them so that the ones with the closest expiration date are at the front and will get used up quickest.

What to do with expired or unwanted medication

Laws in relation to safe disposal of medications will differ from region to region, so call your local pharmacy or health service to find out what you need to do.

In Ireland, most medications can be returned to a pharmacy (even if it’s not your local pharmacy) for safe disposal.

In the United States, there are medicine take-back programs. To learn more, read this article from the FDA. (Personally, though, I would never recommend disposing of medication with household trash, by pouring them down the sink, or by flushing them down the toilet. Doing so can cause serious damage to the environment, contaminating our soil and water, and potentially poisoning plant and animal life.)

When returning items, either to a pharmacy or to a take-back service, always separate out anything sharp first and inform staff of same when handing them over.

Where to store your medication

I know a lot of people store their medication in the bathroom but, really, hot and damp environments aren’t the best. Read the label carefully to find out the ideal storage conditions for your specific medications, but most will require a cool, dry, shaded place.

And it goes without saying that medication should always be kept out of reach of children.

Clearing Out Your Medicine Cabinet - Store everything in a cool, dry, shaded place, out of reach of children

Other things worth noting

  • I know it’s tempting to remove things from their bulky boxes but, if possible, don’t. Important usage, dosage, and safety information is usually contained on or in the box, as well as the expiration date and batch number.
  • It can also be tempting to condense two boxes of the same medication into one. Please don’t do this unless the expiration date AND the batch number are identical, and you are absolutely positive the medication is identical (same strength, etc.). If you have a reaction to a medication, you’ll want to be able to give the pharmacy and manufacturer the batch number so they can best advise you, as well as immediately recall all others in that batch. By doing so, you may save someone else some distress, inconvenience, or worse.
  • Never use medication that was prescribed for someone else, even if you have the same or similar symptoms. There are a lot of factors that go into prescribing the perfect medicine for each individual. What works for someone else and their specific illness and medical history may not work for you and could even be very harmful.

As always, when it comes to medication and your health in general, it’s safety first. Always read any leaflets or literature provided, even if the medication has been prescribed by a doctor, and always ask questions if you’re unsure about anything.

Clearing out your medicine cabinet is not only a great way to free up some space and keep things organised, it also removes potentially harmful products from your home, thus improving the health and wellbeing of your family, and reducing any risks to them.

It’s also a quick task you can tackle whenever you have a few spare minutes. Hurray for projects that don’t require an entire afternoon!

And believe me, the next time you get so much as a sniffle, you’ll be glad you have a fully stocked, organised medicine cabinet close at hand.

What do you think, are you up for clearing out your medicine cabinet today?

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4 Comments

  1. Was just making a Spring cleaning list and this was definitely on it. I actually went thru our meds on Saturday as I ran out of some and was in our meds box anyway. We will do the rest on our vacation next week. Glad to have a follow-along for this so I can be reminded and stay accountable. 🙂

  2. I keep mine in the closet at height that children cannot reach.

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