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.
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.
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!
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.)
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.
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.
Yes, those are unicorn plasters. 😛
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.
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.
Shoeboxes would also work wonders for this if you have some spare ones lying around. (They’re great for all sorts of organising projects.)
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.
Other things worth noting
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?