How to Organize the Family Medicine Cabinet

As sick as we were in December and the first week of January (Mikey is still coughing and feeling tired), it’s no surprise I decided to make the medicine cabinet my first official victim of The William Morris Project. (The picture wall was my unofficial start.) What is surprising is that I let it go for as along as I did. This was a project I wanted to tackle in October. I didn’t because I let my perfectionism get in the way.

Most people use the medicine cabinet in the bathroom, but I grew up in a paranoid physician’s household. Instead of a box of band-aids and aspirin in a dark bathroom, we had an entire cabinet stocked with medicine, vitamins, rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, 4×4 gauze pads, bandages of all sizes, ointments, cold medication, emetics and anti-emetics, over-the-counter pain medication, heating pads, and rubber ice bags. We never did use more than 2% of the contents, but it was organized and waiting like an operating room.

I never got over the habit of checking the kitchen for medical supplies (not for lack of trying) so the kitchen O.R. lives to see another generation in our home.

Our medicine cabinet, and the counter beneath it, was a mess after a month of heavy and continuous use.

It wasn’t terrible, but if the bottles weren’t even upright I can’t claim was very good, either. I found the solution in an unlikely place: photo memory boxes.

I went for plain and simple from Michael’s. They were on sale, so I was able to buy all three for $6.00. I spent an obscene amount of time looking for the right containers for the job and admit to settling, slightly, with these boxes. They aren’t the perfect fit, but after months of searching I had to concede I was hung up on an issue of negligible importance. I bought them. They make the area much more organized and efficient. They are useful.

I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with step one.

Empty out the medicine cabinet, lay everything out, and check for expiration dates. I disposed of everything that expired or we didn’t need according to federal guidelines. You can visit the FDA website to learn how to dispose of unused or expired medication. I called the pharmacy to see how I could dispose of Nico’s old epi-pens since I don’t have a Sharps container. Turns out, I can drop them off at a fire station!

I don’t know if you can see the tupperware containers in that dogpile of medications a couple of pictures up, but I used to have our medicine organized by symptom, like G.I. Upset, Cold/Flu, Pain, etc. Dumb. Now I have it organized by patient. I have one box for kids and another for adults. The third box is first aid.

Take the children’s box, for example. Inside I have everything I need for cold and flu, tummy bugs, and other childhood illnesses. I have all the medication dispensers in there, and a sheet from their pediatrician on foods to eat during the stomach flu. I also have several thermometers, replacement batteries, and a penny (our thermometer backs unlock with a coin) so if I need to, I can change the batteries on the fly in the middle of the night. It is a universal truth of parenthood that thermometer batteries never run out during the day.

Now, whenever we need something, we pull down the entire box. This works especially well at 1:00am with a sick child. You grab the whole box and head back to their room for the long night ahead. No more back and forth getting supplies. I can’t tell you how many times this December I grabbed the cough medication only to come back to the kitchen an hour later for ibuprofin. Now all I have to worry about is tripping over a box in the middle of the night as I crawl back to my bed.

This is how the medicine cabinet looks now. The bottoms shelf is for daily medications and heating pads. I figured anyone who needs a heating pad doesn’t want to grab a step ladder to reach them. The next shelf holds the kids box. High enough so they can’t reach it, but low enough to be within easy reach. The next shelf is for adults and the top shelf is first aid.

You can see here the fit isn’t perfect. I suppose a few of you will think I’m being persnickety. I am, I admit it. This is how I am. Did you not see my project list broken down by room? Are you new here? I spent far too long searching for the right box (months), and this is as close as I got to finding what I had in mind. The perfect box would be tin (so I could wipe down any medication drips), a tiny bit smaller, and come with hinged lids that open and close easily. Oh well. The boxes extend past the shelf a bit, but not so much that we can’t shut the door firmly. The lids are not impossible to deal with; we’ll see how they hold up to regular use.

Ah, but even with those small nuisances I am happier than a pig in slop with the end result. The only thing that would please me more would be to never again see the inside of this cabinet. Not likely, but fingers crossed its use will go down significantly the rest of this winter season.


Now it’s your turn! We’re going to try a link up today and see how it goes. I’m a little nervous about it! Feel free to share how you have lived according to the William Morris quote, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” Made a plan? Cleaned a drawer? Bought a sofa? Let’s hear it.

A few guidelines:

  1. Please link to a specific post, not a general blog address.
  2. No links to giveaways, please.
  3. A link back to this site is always appreciated. There are buttons to add to your post or sidebar, too, if you like…but not this week. I’m working on it!
  4. Let’s use this weekly link up as an opportunity to gather inspiration and motivation. Click links. Discover new people. Say hi and good job. I know I will.

Join the List


  1. Eeeee, I did it. Can’t even tell you how long I stared at that Add you link button. I am looking forward to reading all of the posts linked up. Thanks for this Jules!
    Love how your medicine cabinet turned out. The separate boxes by patient is such a great idea. I think I might do a first aid box to keep in the kitchen.

    • Yay! And you had a good one, too. I didn’t know those tags could be hooks. Towels rarely come like that here in the states. I guess because most people fold them, which I don’t like, as I mentioned in my comment.

  2. Aww…I grew up in a well-prepared physician’s family as well. Not only that, but my parents were children of physicians, so I’m going on with two generations of preparedness backing me up. Although I skipped going to medical school, I DO work in a pharmacy and our medicine cabinets are stocked for almost anything. When we lived overseas, I always took a “you-never-know-when-you’ll-need-it” medical kit, and let me tell you, luck favors the prepared! 😉 I love the end result of the photo boxes and storing based on kids, adults, and first aid. Great idea!

  3. Huh. Would you believe, I have “an entire cabinet stocked with medicine, vitamins, rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, 44 gauze pads, bandages of all sizes, ointments, cold medication, emetics and anti-emetics, over-the-counter pain medication, heating pads, and rubber ice bags.”

    And lots more, in fact.

    I never realized that not everyone has all of that! 😀

    • No, we are in the minority! I have an ice bag (uh, I just have to find it), and I think I’m going to create another box (there’s room on the top shelf) for more incidentals. I’m all addicted to medical supplies now. 😉

  4. I love this. We also have an entire “kitchen O.R.” and it is a mess right now. My husband is a doctor’s child and we could practically treat a gunshot wound from what we have in our kitchen. He is out of town right now, so today may be my day to purge/organize. Love the photo box suggestion – thank you!
    Also, I have been enjoying this William Morris series. I do not have a post ready to link up today, but thanks to you I did motivate to order photos from our family vacation (in October) and our family photo session (also in October), put them in special albums and in some frames. Getting this crossed off my list was a major accomplishment, and it added something beautiful to our home.

    • Yay! Good for you. I’m still steadfastly avoiding my photo drawer from October. I simply don’t know what on earth I’m going to do with all those pictures.

      p.s. You can link up on this post for 5 or 6 more days. Then, of course, there will be another one on Thursday.

      • Okay, I did my medicine cabinet last night and it is awesome now! Thanks for the inspiration. It will have to become a blog post soon. Also, I have the same dreaded photo drawer and I am avoiding it like the plague.

  5. I can tell I’m going to LOVE this! I couldn’t get enough of you and WM during the 31 Days project, now I’m going to get to go all over the place seeing what other people are doing! I just couldn’t pull anything together for a post today, though. I did do a major clean out of the doors in my refrigerator a few days ago. Let me tell you, I threw out a lot of salad dressing that day. I think I’ll probably link up next week. I’m thinking my music collection needs some major culling. I grew up during the 8-track days, so I have everything from records to cassettes to CD’s. This should be really interesting.

    Thanks for hosting!

    • We don’t have much music around here, so it’s everywhere because we haven’t been forced by limited space or mass quantities to do anything about it. I need to put that on my list. I keep adding things to it!

      I’m pretty excited about visiting everyone’s sites, too.

      • Okay, I changed my mind. I posted a home goals list for the Nester’s linky party yesterday and I’m thinking it would count. I keep separating my cleaning and purging goals from my ‘making my house look like me’ goals. I guess they’re all moving in the direction of having a place that is functional and beautiful without all the extra stuff. Here I go…

        • That absolutely counts! I said as much in my post a couple of days ago when I posted my own list. We have to start somewhere, and I always start with a plan. 🙂

  6. I’m so happy you’re doing this. I couldn’t get enough of it during the thirty-one days, and now I can get my fix once a week. 🙂 Wahooo!

    I’d be doing this with you if I didn’t currently live in a dorm … oh how I miss my apartment. (Only 2 1/2 more months!)

      • Oh that’s soo true! I’m kind of excited about it actually. I got rid of a lot of my previous “I’m a broke student” stuff and I’m going to purchase nice long-lasting things! I’ve already starting pinning to a pinboard called “Apartment Here I Come”.

  7. I never thought I would string the following words into a sentence, but…your medicine cabinet looks beautiful! I’m kind of in awe to be honest. Mine is in a cabinet above the pantry in my kitchen – I can barely reach it, so I just chuck stuff up there. It’s a disaster. Right now I’m using empty baby wipes containers to “contain” (hah) everything, but they’re too small and don’t stack. Your idea is perfect (stacking boxes! labels!) and I’m going to give it a try! Thank you!! 🙂

    • Oh, yes! If your storing stuff over a pantry shelf, you probably have room to use something big, like tupperware with those nifty locking lids. My parents set up is more like that. I just have this dinky shelf, so I had limited options when it came to storage boxes.

      • I had to comment again, because I just went through all my medicines to organize them into boxes (using what I have on hand, clear shoe boxes from the container store) – and probably 85% of what I have is expired!! So I really wanted to thank you, because I would have been totally panicking the next time my kids get sick (which always seems to happen late at night when stores are closed)! Now I’ll be prepared!

  8. My parents were not physicians. But my mother is the most organized person I have ever know and having 4 kids and a husband who owned a construction company; somebody was always getting hurt. I grew up with a medicine cabinet in the kitchen also. I would be horrified when I went to friends houses and they not only did not have an entire cabinet dedicated to medicines and first aid in their kitchen, but they also did not group ‘like’ medicines. Because after all….polysporin doesn’t go with anything other than bandages…right? I recently moved and the first thing my mother did was help unpack the kitchen and even went and bought me a rolling drawer cabinet for my pantry because there was no cabinet space to make one.

    • My parents always keep the polysporin IN the band-aid box. Speaking of which, I need to go buy some and replenish our box. It got low during the summer and soccer season.

      side note–I am so glad to hear I’m not the only one who stores medical supplies in the kitchen!

  9. it looks beautiful! i have been avoiding the little linen closet/med cabinet in my bathroom for a while. i like the boxes! i have an idea for my desk that i’ll have to link to when i get my act together. btw – the links have introduced me to a few new, great blogs. thanks!

  10. First of all, you make me feel woefully unprepared for any sort of medical calamity in our household. We barely have enough BandAids! We have two bottles of Tums but no Hydrogen Peroxide!! I don’t even own a hot water bottle! WHO LIVES LIKE THIS?!?!?!?!

    Secondly, if you’re worried about medicine drips, line the inside of the box with tinfoil or plastic wrap, or even waxed contact paper. Leave the sides long enough that you can fold them just over the top of the box (so that it doesn’t get all crumpled down when you’re putting items away), but not so long that they peek out under the lid when the box is closed (unless you have like how it looks). When we listed our old house to sell, all the miscellaneous bathroom counter stuff- electric toothbrushes, hair dryers, mouthwash, etc- was shoved in a pretty-looking file box and stashed in the closet, and this is how I prevented the bottom of the box from turning to mush over the course of 6 weeks. I used two pieces of tinfoil- one running “north-south”, and one running “east-west” to make sure everything was covered. Worked for me!

    I know that Ikea sometimes has small tin boxes, but I’m not sure about the size.

  11. Okay already I’ll go through that medicine cabinet because although I have it divided into Kids, Adults, First Aid and Topical Ointments I must have things in there from the last century. Good project.

    • You’ll be surprised! I was stressing out wondering how I was going to fit everything…until I realized 75% of what I had was expired or unnecessary.

  12. Wowsers! What a lovely medicine cabinet. We keep ours in the kitchen too, although it is definitely not as well supplied – it is organized with plastic boxes, which is definitely not as lovely. We also have a small medical bag with emergency supplies in the cupboard, and a separate medical bag that we keep in the car – which is actually fairly large and contains everything that I could possibly think of (including sutures & 4L of water – it is earthquake country after all).
    Thanks for doing this Jules, I’ll be here following along and trying to bring the Morris tenets into our lives.

  13. I love it – ours is very similar. I have plastic bins with the same purposes – kids, adults, & first aid – only ours live in the linen closet. Works great, and now you’ve reminded me that they need to be sorted out soon, too. Nice work!

  14. I’m soooo not ready to link up, especially since I’ve been on an inadvertent blogging break since AUGUST. This week I’m pondering expanding the focus of my blog, so I hope to join you soon. BUT, yesterday I created my list (and keep thinking of little things to add to it), and this week I’ve tackled a few sorting projects. Emptied all the toy bins, sorted everything (a past reorganization made this surprisingly quick), removed 2 bags of unloved toys for donation, and made a home for the new Christmas toys. I also reorganized all the DVDs and Wii games, bought new containers (the old Ikea ones had disintegrated), and labeled it all. Finally, I emptied my desk drawer of approximately 500 items (how they were crammed in that shallow drawer, I’ll never understand), sorted, recycled, trashed, and put away, and now I have a beautifully functional drawer where I can find my tape, stapler, note pad, Sharpie collection, external hard drive and USB mouse, checkbook and calculator.

    I am playing single parent this week, there is a snow storm in progress, and two out of three kids are sick. A good time to corral our medicine cabinet contents, which are spread out in three different locations. I recently cleared out all the expired medicine, but the broken Ziploc bag stashed above the fridge isn’t cutting it for storage. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Huh. That reminds me…I need to add to my list to finish organizing all the movies. Aside from that mental note: wow! You’ve been busy! Good luck with the medicine cabinet! 🙂

  15. AWESOME! That’s how I organize most of my life with those boxes. I have some black one’s I’m not using if you would like them for a future project, that way I too am working the project by not having anything I don’t find beautiful or useful in my home;) The ‘after’ made my heart sing, LOVE!

  16. I can feel your pain on the boxes not being the absolute perfect fit. Those little things drive me batty, but I’ve been trying to acknowledge the “the perfect is the enemy of the good” school of thought and just get stuff done sometimes.

    Our medicine cabinet is mediocre, at best – bottles shoved haphazardly in a cabinet and I have no real idea what we have. My mom’s, on the other hand, is a miracle. A huge tool chest of narrow drawers filed with hospital grade first aid supplies. Stored in the woodshop, naturally.

    • They still bother me, I’ll be honest. I’m hoping the perfect box will cross my path (I’m not allowed to look for them anymore) and then I’ll use the photo boxes for the picture drawer, which is becoming increasingly hard to close.

  17. My father won international first aid competitions and instructs police officers in first aid, my mother is a nurse. I’m trained as a nurse and am married to a man responsible for first aid in his police department; our first aid cupboard is fairly comprehensive! If you are ever in a car crash you want my dad with our vehicle first aid kit behind you. 🙂
    I do quite well keeping everything in date, but I now realise this is completely inadequate and I must do something to make it easier to find what I need in the middle of the night.
    The trouble is, some is in the main bathroom, some is in our bathroom and some is in the kitchen. Will add ‘rationalise first aid supplies’ to the list.

    Meanwhile I’ve been tackling our utility room and now have a clean drawer full of (too many) tupperware containers with the right lids! I do still have lots, but my defence is that DH and DS often mislay/break them, so I don’t want to throw some away, only to run out in a couple of months. The other 2 drawers in there are sorted out too.

    • I love that I’m not the only one who can treat a bear attack with their family first aid kits. 🙂 And an international first aid competition winner? Be still, my heart.

      • I was 11 before I realised it wasn’t normal to have coffee jars of fake blood in the kitchen, or to find your father making ‘skin’ out of sliced bread and food colouring to make wounds for these competitions.

  18. Such good info…this made me realize that I have meds all over my house. Some in the kitchen, some in both bathrooms..why is that? I like the idea of one central location with labels…and I’m sure I have some expired stuff as well..better get at it!
    Thanks for the post~

    • If you are anything like me, it’s because the last time you used that bottle of X, you were in the kitchen. Or in the bathroom. Or…and so on, and so on.

  19. Jules, this is a great idea, I love it! We just made some first aid kits recently and I still need to add a few things. Thanks for sharing this great idea and sharing your William Morris Project; it sure is inspiring.

  20. Gasp, I did it! Just posted my link up above. I’m such a nut, my hands are shaking. Thanks Jules, I’m looking forward to really getting my home goals in line this year…they’re usually just floating around in my head, and I fritter money away on the wrong items. Also, I’m really looking forward to checking out the other links.

  21. First, this is in no way meant to sound condescending – I am really proud of you for doing a link party! That’s a big step outside your former comfort zone, right? I think people will really appreciate it and have a lot of fun. Second, as a geocacher, the first thing I thought was, “Jules needs ammo cans!!!” They’re metal and have a hinged lid, but they’re ugly as a homemade fence. Finally, my husband has two full medical kits, one for his CERT activities and one for the Search & Rescue rig. However, much like the cobbler’s children, I can’t even find a Band-Aid in the house when I need one.

  22. Photo boxes…what a brilliant idea! I already have our meds sorted the same way you do (adults/kids/first aid) but they’re jumbled into baskets that don’t really fit the shelf. Thank you!

    Also, FWIW, you’re not really supposed to keep meds in a bathroom. The heat and humidity in such a small space is bad for them! So the kitchen cupboard is a good alternative.

  23. Although we keep our meds in the giant bathroom linen closet, I recently did a clean & purge, too. Dollar store baskets made it clutter-free, as did dumping the 5 year old syrups. Now it’s great to open the door & know exactly which basket I need for whom, and it’s portable! Nicely done, Jules.

  24. Awesome, Jules! I don’t have a blog to link to, but did want to share that I’m out here Williaming the Morris out of my home! Sort of like the Biggest Loser play-at-home deal. Saturday I tackled my entire exercise room. Ok, it was a room with a weight bench buried in junk. I had a bunch of outdated computer stuff, an old bedspread, suitcases from our last trip, and just so much junk. One pile went to our haz waste center, another big pile of misc went in the trash and, knowing that my pile to donate never actually makes it to a thrift store, I just set the rest at the end of my driveway to bless whomever wanted to pick it up. Within the hour it was gone!

    Now what excuse do I have for not getting in there and exercising?

  25. I kind of organised our medicine ‘cabinet’, it’s a cubby hole in a shelving unit, in the area next to the kitchen. But it hasn’t quite been working for me. The adult/child/first aid idea is great, and I’m going to see if it works for me.
    I so know what you mean about perfectionism. My husband complains sometimes because I don’t get things done, and part of the reason is because I want to find the perfect solution, so nothing changes while I wait for that solution, it doesn’t seem to occur to me that I can improve the current situation and work towards a perfect solution.
    So I’m working on that trait.

  26. I too grew up with a medicine corner in the kitchen and will never kick the habit. I love your simplified organization. Well done!
    I don’t have a blog to link to, but we’ve been doing a surface level purge of our apartment for the past two weeks. I’ve been taking notes on where I need to come back and spend more time. We’re house hunting, so if we don’t use it or love it…I don’t want to move it!

  27. My mom had a pepto-bismo bottle in the basement fridge that she suggested I go look at while I was home one weekend during college (late 90’s) I was a little desperate for something so I went down and looked. I noticed it looked a little “vintage” and felt strangely familiar. The expiration date was 1984!!! I couldn’t believe it was still there. It even moved with them twice?? I called my sister right away and we laughed and laughed and were a little horrified. What’s even more horrifying is my parents are both nurses and my mom is in no way a hoarder or anything. Very strange.
    I am loving this project and it’s really inspired me to pay attention to what I have laying around so thanks!!

  28. What a great way to organize your medicines! It looks great and is functional. Do you have thoughts about how the heat and steam from your stove top will affect the medication in the cabinet? Would this be an issue, and would storage away from the stove be better (I know it is recommended for spices, etc.)?

  29. This is such a great Idea. That William Morris quote has been inspiring me for some time now. Your medicine cabinet looks great. My biggest problem is organizing the pets’ meds. One day I’ll get to it…

  30. Jules, I love this! That William Morris is basically one of my resolutions for 2012. I found this too late this week, but is it okay if I join in and link up with you guys next week?

  31. Is there a name for a person who is the opposite of a hypochondriac? That’s my mother. Growing up, we had one box of bandages with different sizes/shapes, hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol, acetaminophen, cough drops, Pepto Bismol, and Tums — that was it. Basically, if you needed anything more than that, you were faking/making it up or needed to suck it up and deal. This led to me almost dying from a burst appendix because she insisted I just had the stomach flu, and making my injury worse because she wouldn’t help me walk after I fell and broke my foot in four places [which ultimately required surgery and permanent screws]. I had undiagnosed conditions that explained all of my complaints, but since she only took me to the doctor when she *had* to, she assumed I was a hypochondriac [and still calls me one to this day, even though she now knows all of my conditions].

    My point is that my “medicine cabinet” is fully stocked now that I’m an adult and can care for myself. I use an entire shelf in my pantry — away from the heat of the bathroom and stove. I used those tiered wire shelves made for spice bottles to try to keep things organised and in sight, but my husband has mussed everything up. Every time I need something I sigh when I open the doors because the untidiness kills me. I go through everything once or twice a year when the local police stations have their drug drops [wherein they accept any expired/unneeded medications and dispose of them properly], so it never gets too full/out of hand.


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