Bathroom bail out

In Beauty, Cosmetics, De-cluttering, Grooming, Make up on July 6, 2014 at 4:41 pm


My kitchen cupboard asset stripping continues. Meanwhile I’ve started a similar assault on another area: the bathroom cupboards. So I was delighted to read the comments from Anne Louise who is doing exactly the same thing.

It made me feel better that I’m not the only one with outrageous amounts of toiletries stashed away.

One of the great advantages of working on magazines as I did, back in the day, was all the amazing beauty samples that were sent in. When I was sharing a flat in Elizabeth Bay with my adored make up artist pal Christian McCulloch we had so much product between us it had its own dedicated floor-to-ceiling cupboard outside the bathroom which we called ‘Chemist Shop’.

I still have a Chemist Shop, although I haven’t worked in the offices of a magazine or newspapers for over 12 years. A lot of it comes from my best friend, eminent beauty writer Josephine Fairly of Beauty Bible fame (see here *

Jo’s always giving me gorgeous products to try – particularly rosacea treatments – and sometimes I get to be one of her official testers when they are collecting the data for a product-rating update, which is great fun and free samples-tastic.


Then there’s judging the Procter & Gamble Beauty Awards, which I’ve done three times now, and always brings in loads more goodies (including supplies of my favourite Aussie Mega Shampoo Three Minute Miracle conditioner, hurrah).

Add to that gifts-with-purchase and my compulsion to take all the hotel toiletries home with me (I reckon I’ve paid for them, even if I don’t use them in situ…) and that’s a lot of beauty supplies.

The thing is that I’ve always thought an oversupply of these is lot harder to use up or pass on than food, clothes, books, kitchenware etc. Can you give away a beauty product that’s been opened, unless it’s to a family member or very close friend?

I’ve always thought not, so I was thrilled when a @KateTallant responded to my first version of this post on Twitter and told me about this brilliant initiative donating unwanted beauty products to women in need via the charities Refuge and Women’s Aid. They will happily take items that have been ‘lightly used’.

I did find a similarly useful way to strip down my vast hotel mini toiletries collection. I had a whole drawer stuffed with them, squirrelled away for use on short trips, or to put out for overnight guests. But they were so crammed in and jumbled up, it would take me ages to find what I needed.

So when I took a stall to sell stuff at a vintage fair thingo and I went through the entire stash, keeping only the ones I really like and will take away for short trips. I then filed all those in zip lock bags under ‘hair’ ‘cleaner’ ‘skin’ ‘teeth’ etc. It was very anal – and took a whole Sunday afternoon – but it left me with a very satisfyingly need drawer which has made getting ready to go on a trip so much quicker.

The rest I sorted into small ziplock bags, about five products in each, put them all in a nice basket and sold them on the stall for £1 each in aid of the women’s domestic abuse charity Refuge. I made over £20 and gave the ones that were left to a friend who works with women artisans in Morocco.

So that was a feel-good way of clearing some of the bathroom clutter, but a lot remains. The only thing to do will be to spend another afternoon going through the lot.


I think I’ll sort it first into Opened and Unopened. Then I’ll have to make the tough decision to bin the Opened stuff that is too old, or too used to give away. The unopened will divide into own future use and give away.

Then I won’t buy any more until I’ve used what I’ve got. If it’s anything like the kitchen experience, that will be quite a while…

Does anyone know if there are any initiatives to Give and Make Up in Australia? I’d like to put the word out.

*Have a look at Jo’s amazing new venture The Perfume Society. Australian readers can’t subscribe (yet…), but you can still look at a lot of the site. If you’re a fragrance hound, it’s an amazing resource.

A note about the pictures: These shots were taken from the My Beauty Stash section on the brilliant website Get The Gloss. The top one is Glamour magazine’s beauty director Alessandra Steinherr; the middle is make up artist Ruby Hammer and the bottom one is UK Grazia’s beauty director Liz Hambleton with her major stash. It’s a great feature on this terrific beauty site.

  1. Maggie, I used to hoard hotel toiletries as well, and after a few years of intensive work travel, I took a year off for maternity leave. I used that year to use up all the soap and body wash. The soaps were lovely (I seemed to have lots of little bars of Aesop from the prince in Melbourne) and it meant we didn’t buy any soap for the shower or besides the basin for just over twelve months! I don’t travel for work anymore (after that year off I pretty much chucked the job in) so no more, but if I stay in a hotel I am less likely to take the toiletries, unless they are the really, really nice ones. I keep remembering all those tiny bottles…

  2. Great post, we have just emptied out the bathroom ready for a Reno. But I didn’t do anything more than shove most of it in boxes because I have realised that I’m a bit of a horder (I did throw some in the bin). I’m now going to hunt down a shelter and do some sorting!

  3. I live by myself, despite this my bathroom cabinet is chocka’s! I regularly have a clean out and donate the hotel shampoos to my travel buddy (one of his secret pleasures is pinching hotel soaps, shampoos etc!)

    Just to switch subjects – I have just purchased the River Cottage Vege cookbook and you’ll be pleased to learn that Hugh has the same ethos as yourself about pantry hoarding – he says you should make sure your pantry is well stocked but make sure you use what you put in.

    I adore Hugh and his lifestyle. I’m totally on board with his ethical views about food.

  4. Maggie, my niece and her workmates started a great campaign last Christmas in Australia called New Day Box. This involved particants filling a box, total value about $60, of toiletries, chocolate and other treats for women in refuges. The response surpassed all expectations, in fact they had more than they could give away. I don’t have contact details but if you Google ‘New Day Box’ they will be on there. Sorry but I’m using my iPad and don’t know how to copy URLs etc.

  5. In Sydney, the Beauty Bank collects toiletries and makes packs to distribute at women’s shelters and to other people that “need the little luxuries”. She’s based in the Sutherland Shire – check out

  6. As a teacher [female], I am frequently given cosmetics of various types, most of which I don’t use – especially not bath products. It is not easy working out how to recycle them out of the area where I teach/live. Now, if I received those interesting bottles of wine that the male teachers receive…………

  7. Great post Maggie (as always!). In a decluttering effort I have adopted the “one cupboard at a time” plan so I don’t look at the mammoth task and run away screaming. The ensuite cupboard was rather like the Tardis, I couldn’t believe the amount of stuff tucked away in there. Any unopened bath products, little soaps, cute bits & pieces that were surplus to needs, I wrapped then up with a pretty ribbon and a nice face washer (unearthed in a linen cupboard clean out) and donated them to the school fair for their White Elephant stall. Donating to a shelter is an excellent idea, I’ll do that next time.

  8. One of Sydney’s worthiest charities, The Wayside Chapel, is often after hotel / travel sized toiletries to support those that come in to have a shower. See here for background on the Wayside –

    • Dear Caroline, of course, what a brilliant idea – all those little tubes and bottles – perfect I should of thought of that earlier.

  9. You could give things that are still ‘nice’ to Assista Sista

  10. I have donated toiletries to the occupational therapy team at my local mental health unit. At a time of great turmoil and distress in a woman’s life, having the opportunity to make some small choices about shampoo, conditioner etc from a selection at the local public hospital can be a boost, they tell me. People often arrive with nothing but what they’re wearing and there’s not much in the public health system budget for these extras.

    • That’s really good to know. One of my best friends is on the board of a charity which helps homeless young women. The beauty industry donates loads of product and they give the women a complete makeover to boost their self esteem and help them have the courage to apply for jobs. It has some amazing results.

  11. I travel for work and also receive the toiletries bags in business class on each flight. Often I return from a trip with 4 of these designer bags. I keep them in the sealed plastic bag so everyone knows they are BNWT, then spread the loot out between my family members and every so often I donate a heap to Dress for Success or the local women’ refuge.

  12. I did an almighty toiletries clean out when we moved here a couple of years ago: St Vinnie’s and the Sally Army were given a rather large stash of hotel toiletries! I had a weakness for the Swiss ‘otel (Sydney) bodywash and moisturiser, but decided enough was enough.

    When I was packing up after Mum passed away, I found quite a few of my presents that she still treasured, even though they were long defunct: a tin of powder from the mid ’60s ( still smelling rather lovely); a dolly-topped bottle of scent from the same era. She even had a glorious bottle of Chypre perfume that Dad had given her back in the 50s. Needless to say, I kept that one. Actually, I still have my first bottle of Chanel No.19, courtesy of Dad’s travels, from when I turned 19! Empty, of course, but still redolent of then.

  13. Great post & good to learn about the charities that take unused things.does anyone else end out with too many paper shopping bags that seem too lovely to throw out from beautiful shops?

  14. Ohhh I am going to sound like a Luddite trog here… I can’t bear all that stuff because I just thing of all the plastic, all the packaging plus all the shampoos, hair products and liquid soap that just end up down the drain and into the environment and all the packaging ending up in landfill. So many cosmetic products are full of chemicals and we have no idea what is in them. I have one bottle of shampoo and one toothpaste on the go at any one time, plus a bar of soap. That’s it. Luckily I live in the tropics, so the humid air combined with plenty of water is all the skin hydration I need. And my bathroom has no clutter.

    • Dear Jane, I am totally with you re all that plastic and packaging etc for the delivery of such tiny amounts of product. Personally I never take home the hotel products for just that reason – the little tubes and bottles drive me mad. Also I need to use about three of those tiny bottles of hair conditioner to get through my sea and sun scorched coloured hair – too infuriating to bother and the conditioner never rich enough for my mop. B

  15. I’ve been doing the same thing to the bathroom cupboard – using up my nice stuff instead of saving it for going out occasions. Very cathartic!
    In a non-stalking way, Maggie, I thought of you at the gym the other morning when they played ‘Nothing Else Matters’. And then I came home and cleaned out my herbal tea cupboard. Gave a particularly flavourless lot of teabags that expired in 2008 to my worm farm. Yay! (I hope they don’t die).

  16. Dear Maggie – such great ideas and comments re ‘good homes’ for unwanted bathroom product. As I mentioned above I never take home the hotel little bottles etc – I find them infuriating to handle and there is never enough/rich enough hair conditioner in them for me. Having said all that I am profoundly jealous that you get product from your magazine friends. What a lovely way to try what is new on the market in proper size bottles and jars. No doubt you have plenty of friends who wouldn’t mind a hand along of something you have tried that didn’t suit you (if you offered me a face cream or sim. you had tried a couple of times and didn’t love I wouldn’t think twice about accepting it from you). Best to pass it along than let it go off slowly in the back of the loaded bathroom cupboard. Wish I was in your neighbourhood – would happily collect the unwanteds. BX

  17. The Victorian Spinners and Weavers Guild members one year made up little bags of assorted toiletries for Mary’s House of Welcome in Brunswick Street – they hand them out to homeless women.

  18. Hi Maggie,
    There is a great organisation in Melbourne giving cosmetics to women in domestic violence crisis care.
    Check out

  19. Hi Maggie (and followers)
    Sorry not to be completely on topic here, but couldn’t find a better place on your blog…. and comments could equally apply to a clogged up bathroom cabinet as to a white handbag….

    But I write because I really want to understand the white handbag column in some paper on 31st Aug. I was just throwing it in the fire as starter when I read it prior.

    Maggie, I could be wrong but I thought I could remember a time when you had an Emperor’s new clothes moment about the fashion world ? Didn’t you wonder for a moment about the distraction of presentation that limits the role of women in our society to glamour and accessory. Maybe I was dreaming, probably, oh well, no worries, sorry, And of course the colour and OMG brand of a handbag is important at all times, especially for those women who are denied education, voting rights, who are trafficked in to sexual slavery. Who would want to show up with the “wrong choice” at such a time eeeeekkk

    I would have sent you an email or contact directly but the mechanism to do this was not apparent, didn’t you also have an email a while ago???

    Shaking my head at this world……

    • Don’t know how to reply to this Sue. I write that column every week – analysing why a particular celebrity’s outfit works, suggesting ideas and tips ‘real’ women (and men sometimes) can take from it. I never suggest buying a particular brand. I am sickened by the ‘luxury’ ethos which is ruling fashion at the moment, with £300 real fur handbag danglers is promoted as a rational idea in magazines. I do believe that consumerism is taking over the western world to a point of collective insanity – but this doesn’t mean I no longer find monitoring new trends fascinating for how they reflect larger socio economic trends (I’ve been studying them since I was about 16) and getting dressed loads of fun. I don’t find anything wrong with people enjoying the process of making themselves look and feel good. Of course I’m appalled by the issues you reference, but you can’t stop enjoying the small things in life because of the big bad things.

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