My bathroom is covered in makeup.
Eye shadow compacts litter the sink edge, daring to be knocked off and shatter on the floor. The closed toilet seat cover is a staging area for foundation and blush. Brushes peek from a coffee mug that barely fits on the counter. Lipsticks and lip balms live on the ledge and sometimes die in the dog’s mouth. In my defense, my bathroom is so small, three things out of place make it look like a disaster zone.
But I never have only three things out of place.
When someone is coming over, or when the chaos gets to me, I feverishly sweep my scattered items into various overstuffed gift-with-purchase cosmetics bags.
The bags have a ranking system: the denim one is for the current-rotation makeup items. I could probably throw out all but this one and not notice. The black bag is meant to only hold brushes, but instead it’s stuffed with former favorite lipsticks, lesser-used eyeliners, and free samples.
The dog-hair-magnet Vera Bradley bag lives under my sink, I rarely open it, and I don’t remember what’s in it, but sometimes I stuff something else into it when I’m desperate.
All contain at least one dried-out, rancid mascara.
They say you’re supposed to throw out mascara every three months. My mascara gets thrown out only when it smells like rotten eggs or gives me pinkeye, whichever comes first.
Until then, I rake those crusty bristles through my lashes like they owe me money.
Because they do. I don’t even want to know the profit margin on a tube of Great Lash. Too often, I will impulse-buy a new mascara without throwing the old one away, so it’s a surprise which one gets opened each morning, the fresh or the stinky.
Which brings me to my recent epiphany. I was on Sephora.com, searching for the perfect bright-berry lipstick, scouring reviews with an intensity that ought to be reserved for reading medical charts, when I was overcome with déjà vu.
Hadn’t I already hunted down the perfect bright-berry lipstick?
I performed an archeological dig in my bathroom to find the Bite Beauty lipstick I vaguely remembered buying. I took off the cap in triumph and was hit with the sour scent of all-natural ingredients past their sell-by date.
And I wore it only twice!
I felt sick, and not from the putrid beeswax. I was sick of the mess, of wasting money losing things, of wasting time looking for them. I was sick of my own excuses. I was going to get organized.
But my bathroom has less than 25 square feet of floor space. The only storage is a medicine chest, already full, and three recessed wall shelves, seventeen inches wide and three inches deep. With storage this limited, I would need the help of the one store every messy person loves and fears:
The Container Store.
The Container Store lures you in with a cheap high of false promises. Take a hit, and all your slob-problems will disappear.
Then the buzz wears off, and you’re lost in the wilderness of a thousand boxes as empty as your soul.
If I found the Container Store overwhelming in person, I quickly learned that online, it’s worse. I clicked through pages upon pages of, well, containers with no sense of scale, making finding suitable options painstaking and tedious. I searched 240 “makeup organization” products before finding a line of stackable, acrylic items that could fit my tiny shelves.
I dusted off my high school geometry skills to maximize my 153 square inches of space. I diagrammed my shelves on a legal pad, mapping out different combinations of the miniature modular containers like Tetris pieces.
I should’ve drawn my calculations on the windows like in A Beautiful Mind. Sure, John Nash advanced the study of differential equations, but did he understand contouring?
Geometry was never my strongest subject. When my purchases arrived, they didn’t fit the way I’d planned, but I didn’t give up. For the first time, organization was within reach.
I purged my makeup stash. Everything got retested to see if it deserved a spot in this glittering, acrylic-crystal utopia. I threw away cosmetics I’d been holding on to since my days as a college-theater makeup artist. My waste bin became a mass grave of mascara.
Maybelline they rest in peace.
Hours later, I’d done it: a place for everything and everything in its place. I took a photo to text to my mom, because she’s suffered my makeup-strewn bathrooms since middle school, when I would do a full face of makeup before bed to practice techniques (I still do this sometimes). I needed proof I’d made it so tidy, or she’d never believe me.
When I lowered my iPhone, I noticed two empty spots in my brand-new, tiered lipstick organizer.
Hmph, I thought, I could actually buy a couple new.
Good thing I took that picture.
Because God knows how long it will stay this way.