It's 3 a.m. Do you know where your NyQuil is?
It's a familiar routine this time of year: searching bleary-eyed for cold or flu relief in the middle of the night. Only then does one realize how much clutter can accumulate on shelves of a medicine cabinet -- and how little upkeep this part of the house sometimes receives.
"Personally, I'd wipe down the shelves every week with an antibacterial cleaner, just as you'd wipe down the countertop and toilets," says Pam Hix, consultant for Everything's Together Organizing Services in Minnetonka, Minn. "People store everything from hairbrushes to ointments in there, and these can carry germs."
During wet winter months, medicine cabinets can become especially disorganized and difficult to navigate. Hix suggests organizing like items together and putting anything that's sharp, such as razor blades and tweezers, in containers for safety.
"I like to have one shelf for first-aid supplies, one for makeup and another for colds and flu," says Hix. "If you have one family member who takes certain medicines, put all of those together. Recognize how much space you have, and if there are things you use less frequently, think about storing them elsewhere."
She suggests setting up a Lazy Susan in a linen closet for medicines that aren't used daily, and shelves underneath the sink for bottles that won't fit in the medicine chest.
The most important thing to remember, she says, is to take all the medications out of your cabinet and check for expiration dates at least twice a year. Children's medicines should be stored high enough so little fingers can't reach them.
Maximizing space also is key. Rearranging cabinets can help. "Most cabinets give you all those slits in the sides but only three glass shelves," says Linda Koopersmith, the organizer on the Style Network's "Clean House" series. "Go to the hardware store and purchase two more glass shelves. Put everything you want on the bottom first, then insert the shelf, so that you're utilizing every inch of space."
Donna Smallin, author of "Organizing Plain & Simple," urges caution when disposing of medicines, vitamins, cosmetics and any other potentially hazardous materials. Leaving them in open bathroom trash cans poses risks to children and pets.
If all else fails, a new cabinet might help. Contemporary, inexpensive styles include Foremost Industries' Diplomat Tri-View medicine cabinets, which start at $87.99 at Ace Hardware stores. For a traditional look, there's the Hampton Medicine Cabinet at Brookstone for $129.95.
Bellacor styles, from frameless mirrored cabinets ($249) to traditional wall-mounted styles with overhead lights ($1,167), are online at www.bellacor.com.