Reader suggestion: Use it up!

Reader Elena sent us a terrific tip on our contact page that I wanted to share with you:

I sometimes impose on myself a “Use it Up” challenge where I find a stockpile of something (e.g. body wash) and do not allow myself to buy more of that type of item until I use it up. That way, I don’t end up with a huge supply of stuff I don’t need.

Elena’s advice is a great way to get started on the one-in-one-out rule. I find this especially helpful with bathroom items, like she mentioned. Shampoo, body wash, perfume, and lotion have a way of multiplying with very little effort.

Although it usually isn’t the best bargain, I’ve found that buying smaller bottles of these items works best for me. Yes, a gallon jug of shampoo may be the most cost effective option, but after six months of using the exact same shampoo I get bored, buy alternatives, and then have three bottles of shampoo in my shower. If I buy smaller bottles instead, I will use up all of the product before I tire of it. And, with items like lotion, I need an extra strength one in the winter and a light one in the summer. Instead of storing two bottles, I buy the smaller size and use it up during its appropriate season.


This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

45 Comments for “Reader suggestion: Use it up!”

  1. posted by Brian on

    I completely agree when it comes to nearly any bathroom item. Not only do I get bored, but some would say that your hair/skin gets bored as well and using the same products for months on end is no longer as effective.

    Some friends and I will do a “bottle trade” where we’ll find products that haven’t expired, but we’re tired of using and trade them with others for similar ones. It’s a good way to try something new without feeling the guilt of throwing something out.

    I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when I was out shopping and said to myself, “I don’t need that, I’m still finishing off ___ at home!” But it was a good feeling and I have a lot less redundant/unused products around because of it.

  2. posted by Leigh Ann on

    I found this out the hard way, when I went to put on my favorite scented lotion and found that it had gone bad. It stank. I found several other bottles that had also went bad. Use it or lose it!

  3. posted by allen on

    … Bored? Of shampoo?

    I’m sorry, i don’t get it. I mean, i may not be normal in the sense that i just use Dr. Bronner’s Tea-Tree oil soap for my hair (mine is .5 inch, so it works just fine), but…

    BORED? I really don’t get it.

  4. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Allen — Really? You don’t get bored with things like shampoo? Huh. That’s cool. For me, though, using certain products get tiresome after a while and make me feel like I’m in a rut. It’s the same reason why I can’t eat the exact same thing for every meal or wear the exact same clothes every day.

  5. posted by kirsty on

    Same goes in the kitchen: the super-jumbo-enormous catering size pack isn’t such good value when it’s just taking up space in your cupboard waiting for the _use by_ date to pass…

    @allen: My hair is measured in feet rather than inches but I’ve been using the same shampoo for ten years without getting bored too, I think it’s just a personal thing!

  6. posted by Misty on

    This works well in the kitchen as well. Before making your meal plan for the week, open all the kitchen cabinets. Pull out the stuff you’re sick of looking past, and commit to meals using those ingredients for the week. Works great for me.

  7. posted by Celeste on

    Buying the smaller size is nicer for traveling, too. If you can time it so you have just enough product left to last the trip, you can toss the container and have that much more space in your luggage for a souvenir of your vacation.

  8. posted by Shannon on

    This is good advice for me. I tend to stockpile cosmetics because I don’t want to run out. I don’t know why either. It’s not like there aren’t a bunch of stores just down the road that carry everything I ever need.

  9. posted by Joe on

    I am often left with several choices provided by my wife’s leftovers; conditioner, lotion, etc.

    I agree with Brian; I also find myself “getting bored” with one bottle before it’s finished. I will sometimes pick up an alternative, but will definitely finish both.

  10. posted by Melanie on

    I “use up” bath products every chance I get. If I get presents consisting of shower gels or body washes that I wouldn’t typically use, I use them to shave with. Much more economical than shaving cream and plus I use up the gifted item. Same with shampoo, I bore easily of it as well and buy small bottles so I can switch it up every now a then.

  11. posted by Leslie on

    I have been guilty of stockpiling in the past for “someday” when it comes to toiletries. I just applied my new-found uncluttering bug to these items a month or so ago. I am determined not to buy more soap until all of the bath gels are used up! My ultimate goal is to have only two sets of my daily routine items. One in use, and one stored in a plastic tote for the “oops! I ran out!” moments.

  12. posted by Anna N. on

    I get bored using the same shampoo more than once or twice a week – or not so much bored as “which smell can I tolerate today?” since even the least-scented shampoo smells pretty annoying to me. So I always have multiple kinds in my shower.

    Currently I have three different shampoo/conditioner pairs, two kinds of bodywash, and way too many kinds of facewash, since I’m trying to find a new one to replace the apricot scrub that I used for years and years but is suddenly unavailable due to a formula change (the new version STINKS, oh lord) *sigh*

  13. posted by boardmadd on

    I’ve found it helpful to keep a “personal inventory” so that I know what I have on hand and what I want to actually use. Currently, I’m working my way through a few items that I’ve had for a while but either never used or forgotten about. Now, with the personal inventory, I take a look at it from time to time and see what I have actually used.

    With this system, if there’s something I am not using and it goes over 30 days, it’s probably not something I will use anyway. At that point, I either find a creative way to use it (conditioner makes an awesome pre-shave if you are a guy and wehn used with a sha ving brush) or I get rid of it (sometimes another family member will want to use it, but most often at that point it just gets tossed).

  14. posted by Little Miss Moneybags on

    I’m so glad I’m not the only one who does this! I don’t tend to get bored so much as over-prepared: I’ll buy a bottle of shampoo or something when I have maybe two or three more uses in the old bottle so I won’t run out entirely, but I start using the new one right away–and never quite get around to finishing the old one. Or if I have something I really like–especially Victoria’s Secret lotions or something–I don’t want to use the last bit, because then I won’t have it anymore. I somehow manage to completely disregard the fact that, you know, I could go GET more, or that by not using it, I might as well NOT have it.

    Samples are another problem. I love free samples and always sign up for things to get free samples of hair products, food products, or whatever. Then I collect them to use when I’m travelling or something, only I never do.

    Before I moved the last time, I went on a Use It Up rampage and really enjoyed using the last of something and pitching the package (and not having to move it all!). Now the samples are starting to pile up again, so it might soon be time to do that again.

  15. posted by Kimberly on

    I am definitely enjoying the freedom this practice gives me to “just say no” when I see some shiny new product I just “have to have!” whether it be toiletries or some other consumable. A young friend of mine looked in my refridgerator during a Thanksgiving potluck last fall and exclaimed, “You guys have a lot of food!” (Some might have been offended, but I knew she in no way meant to be offensive…plus it was true!) She and her husband and me and mine are still pretty new to married life and keeping house and generally having a space that isn’t a dorm room, so the amount of food in the fridge is still a bit of a novelty. We had so much food in the fridge and the pantry and anywhere else I could stuff it, that once the holiday rush was over I resolved to buy only the bare minimum (meat and produce) so we could whittle down our stores. How freeing to have only 2 boxes of cereal in the cupboard rather than 11 (I couldn’t resist cereal on sale! Now I do!). Jam: down to 3 small jars in the pantry instead of 5 or 6…and I’ve resolved not to buy another jar until we have ZERO jam in the pantry. Slowly but surely we are whittling down the reserves to have what we can eat in a week along with some pantry staples. We are not hoarders afraid to be caught in a hungry time without food; our problem was that we couldn’t resist new and interesting foods we’d never had and before we knew it we had way more on hand than we knew what to do with. We are still whittling away, and man is it nice to see some empty space here and there.

  16. posted by Kim on

    I am usually really, really good about the one in one out theory. I just ignore jumbo bottles, buy what I like, and use it.

    BUT! I can’t stand when people gift me lotions and such…I mean, the holidays come, followed by my birthday, and the next thing you know, I have tons of bottles and things of perfume I don’t even LIKE! My bathroom becomes a Bath and Body Works factory. ugh.

    How do you handle this? I have such incredible guilt throwing all these products out…and regifting is an option, but I feel like I am simply contributing to cluttering other people’s medicine cabinets by doing so.

    Sigh. Just my 2 cents.

  17. posted by Michele on

    I read an idea on somebody’s blog about using every February to clear your pantry. I did this and it was such a relief to get rid of all that old stuff either by using it or throwing it away. Now that I’ve started fresh and do regular meal planning, I suspect next February will be a much smaller clearing.

  18. posted by Michelle on

    Kim — are there any womens’ shelters in your area, or other organizations that provide hygiene & pampering supplies? If your objects are in good condition, you can see if they are interested in accepting your donation.

  19. posted by Louisa on

    As for getting gifts from people like lotions and baths salts, I just don’t even open them and post them on Craigslist! It’s so easy, I make a little money, and get a little less cluttered!

    Also, there is a local women’s shelter and a local women’s prison, and they’re ALWAYS looking for things like this, so I often donate.

  20. posted by Katie on

    I’m a former shampoo junkie, but lately I’ve narrowed it down to one shampoo bottle and one conditioner, and I haven’t felt tempted to stray.

    Lotions and things are the worst. I went through a period of trying to use them up, and I was very well-moisturized, but it takes forever and I can’t get my dog to stop licking my legs if I put lotion on them. I’m starting to think dumping the lotions (some of which aren’t even any good!) and recycling the bottles isn’t really any worse than just keeping stuff around forever out of guilt. For some reason, everything I have has been opened and used, so I can’t heed the excellent advisement to take them to a shelter or prison.

    But it’s ridiculous! And old hair products, too.

  21. posted by skyearth on

    One thing to remember about lotions and some perfumes is that they don’t keep. So if you have a stash of old lotions it’s best to just chuck them.

  22. posted by Michelle on

    “it takes forever and I can’t get my dog to stop licking my legs if I put lotion on them.”

    haha! why do they do this? my dogs do the same thing and I end up with lots of unused lotion.

  23. posted by Meg on

    Getting rid of lotions/perfumes. . .

    Some of my friends have a clothing swap once in a while. . .what about a lotion/perfume swap? Everyone brings those that they don’t want, and maybe someone else’s “unwanted scent” will be your favorite?

  24. posted by Beth Z. on

    I do the same thing!! Additionally, for me, I’ve found the “use it up” before buying more is super helpful with stationary. Because I do have my own business, this has proved to work wonders. I’m not allowed to buy more until I use it all up, therefore I’m very efficient with my correspondence (I adore stationary–probably results from being raised in the south). Secondly, I don’t have to sort and decide, which card is the perfect one to send because there’s only one choice.

  25. posted by Dream Mom DBA Dream Organizers on

    I must confess I don’t get bored either but I can understand people enjoying some variety (I do enjoy more variety in food though.)

    As a Professional Organizer, I am pretty good about the one in/one out rule. What makes it easier, is that I keep a grocery list that I created in Excel that has my food and health and beauty aids listed on it. I keep it posted on my refrigerator and when I run out, I highlight what I need and then go to the store once a week. That way, I don’t have to worry about running out and I also don’t need to buy more than one of something to replace it. I also live in a small space. Having a list like this saves time as well in the grocery store or mass merchandising store. I keep a similar sheet stapled to my Basic Weekly Plan (To Do list) for my office supplies.

    As for holidays, when I get all of these “extras”, I give them to Goodwill in their original packaging.

  26. posted by tazistanjen on

    I don’t use anything with scent if I can help it, so all of those lotions and bath gels and soaps I get for gifts go into the give away box unopened.

  27. posted by Gypsie on

    I also love samples and they do tend to collect. I keep them in a basket in the guest room for my guest’s use or I take them when I travel (I LOVE to travel overseas!).

    I recently cleaned out the hall closet and found 4 brand new bottle of body wash and about 1/2 dozen deoderants for DH! We will not be purchasing any more until those are gone.

  28. posted by Simple Zack on


    I think your idea has too much common sense for people these days. I don’t think they’d understand. Great tip!

  29. posted by Carrie on

    This is something I have started doing as well. I am a product junkie! I have stopped buying new shampoo and conditioners until I have used up the ‘I just had to try it’ stockpile. I’m almost there. (Now for hair styling products…sigh…I’m afraid they remain in the drawer of shame. A full dresser drawer.)

    For those trying to use up those samples, or gifted shower gels: use them to fill up your handsoap dispensers in your bathroom/powder rooms. I have a toddler, and wash my hands about a hundred times a day, so I am using up product that would normally just sit there and collect dust.

  30. posted by Patricia on

    When I find I have too many half-used (or unopened) bottles of shampoo or handsoap, I use them up to wash whatever–toilet sink, underwear, floor. Soaps are soaps, and they’ll clean almost anything. They may be more expensive then your usual detergent, but it makes more sense in the end to use up what you have.

    Kim–last Christmas my family made an agreement to exchange “wish lists” of (mostly) consumables that we would each prefer to receive for Christmas (we published our lists on a family website). It was immensely satisfying to all of us to receive things we would actually use, and not end up with a ton of useless junk then ends up cluttering our homes or that eventually gets regifted. Easier too for the giver!

  31. posted by Jenny on

    @Kim: Bath & Body Works has a great return policy. You can take gifts you’ve received and exchange them for anything else of comparable price in the store, even without a receipt. Of course, this is only helpful if you can find something else that you need in the store. But they do carry lots of products besides their signature scented lotions and shower gels: e.g., facial products, shampoo, sunscreen, candles, hand soaps, etc.

  32. posted by angorian on

    Personal products go off after time too, so unless you have a lot of people sharing the gallon jug, it might not be the same quality you started with by the time you get down to the dregs.

  33. posted by Briana on

    Another option for getting rid of unused products is to give it away on Freecycle ( It’s made up of local communities where you can post items you don’t want anymore for someone else to take. I’ve seen just about everything on there, and I’m amazed at how quickly ordinary items are snatched up by other people.

  34. posted by Nikki on

    I keep one shelf each in my kitchen and bath for “extras”. When I think I’m running low on something, I only have to check the extras shelf instead of doing an entire inventory.

  35. posted by Lauren on

    As a teacher, I get tons of body wash kits for Christmas. *sigh* I donate the lotions to somebody who wants them, but I use the body wash to clean my toilets. Hey, soap is soap, and it smells nicer than the other stuff.

  36. posted by Michael H on

    I have the same issue with hair gel. Especially as I experimented to find what worked best with my hair and different styles. I ended up with about six different types at one time, all of them worked, and I just forced myself to use them up.

  37. posted by verily on

    I’ve never had a problem with using up my beauty products. I even add water to the shampoo & conditioner bottles to really get every last drop out.

    Make-up on the other hand…that tends to spoil before I’m halfway finished with it.

  38. posted by Sandra on

    I wish I had the luxury to get bored of shampoos and conditioners! Sadly I’ve only found one kind that works well for me of each, so I’m rather… stuck. Every once in a while I try a sample of something new, but it’s usually just… not good enough.

    I do subscribe heavily to the idea of giving unwanted products to women’s shelters, etc. I have also regifted lotions/soaps that are too scented for me, but that do smell nice (just too strong) in situations where I didn’t know someone was coming (i.e. extra family members at Christmas). Whenever that happens I look in my “I don’t love it, but somebody else will!” bag. 🙂

  39. posted by allen on


    No, i’ve never even considered that this would be a possibility. 😀 Like i said, i don’t get it, but if others do… *shakes head in a confused manner*

    However, there are 2 things i do to save space in my shower, depending on what i’m buying:

    Since i am not bored by these products:
    1) To save money, i have a small refillable/usable container for my soap that i refill from the the bulk container at the Co-op. Many other non-coop stores have these things too. This saves you money, AND space. And, if you DO get bored, each time, you can just try a new bulk soap!

    2) When that’s not an option, i buy the bigger bottle to save money, but keep that in the storage locker that’s part of my condo (yes, i know not all have this option, but it could be stashed in your linen closet, or something), and then just refil the smaller bottle as well.

  40. posted by Christine on

    I just did this this past weekend–saw a “good deal” on a lotion I like at Marshalls, but said No to it because I already have at least 2 bottles of lotion (not to mention the hotel toiletries I can never pass by when I travel!) to use.

  41. posted by Meg from All About Appearances on

    I’ve recently been bit by the “use it up” bug, and it’s a big thing in the bathroom.

    I’m still kicking myself for buying a bottle of shampoo at Sams in a formula I hadn’t tried. I really don’t like how it leaves my hair feeling, but I still want to use it up. I ended up giving it to a roommate, but she finally moved out and left it behind.

    I bought another big bottle at Big Lots, but it’s a formula that actually works well for me. But I want to use up the other stuff, too, so I alternate when I use them.

    But right now I’m using up shampoo that I got at a hotel weeks ago.

    And I finally finished up all my free samples — for now.

    I keep telling myself to never buy shampoo — or conditioner — again.

    Don’t get me started on bar soap. My husband bought it in bulk years ago, then decided that he doesn’t like bar soap. Then we got some more as gifts. I finally bit the bullet and started using it in the shower. I don’t care if it dries out my skin; we have so much body lotion which we don’t even use, but people keep giving us.

  42. posted by Marie on

    I’ve found an alternate solution mostly for those items you’ve acquired and then don’t want to use for reasons like the shampoo doesn’t work with your hair type, the lotion doesn’t work with your skin type, etc. However, it tends to only work if you haven’t used much of the product. My work (a government contractor) does regular collections of toiletries, etc. to send over the the troops. I went through the cabinet under my sink and found at least half a dozen items that I doubted I’d ever use unless I forced myself to, but they were barely used. I tossed them all in a grocery bag (reused of course) and deposited them in the collection box. I even put in a baggie of a brand of tampon that I really don’t like. A few weeks later a letter was circulated from one of the soldiers that received items from our collection. The female soldier really appreciated the female-type products since so many people skip items like tampons, female deodorant, etc. As another option, most homeless shelters and food pantries have collections for personal items as well. The Red Cross will take the travel size items you can swipe from hotels. They give them out to people whose houses have been destroyed, etc. to use until they get back on their feet. Unclutter and do something good for other people!

  43. posted by Tess on

    I like to take my extra bottles of lotion to my work and leave it in the ladies restroom….another bottle goes to the ladies room at my church….and other bottles get dropped off at my child’s private school for the teacher’s restroom….

  44. posted by P on

    Tess, I do this too! I enjoy seeing the gifted lotion used in the workplace bathroom; I know someone is getting some use out of it!

    Also, I feel that uncluttering my life also encompasses buying simplified products. For instance, instead of falling prey to lots of chemicals, I use ONE simple all purpose cleaner: vinegar/water combo mixed with tea tree oil to disinfect, and lavendar oil for smell. I put this in a spray bottle that is unmarked and that’s it!

    Apparently, with the resistent-germs we have today, chemical disinfectants actually aren’t working anymore like they should, so natural tea tree oil is being researched as a powerful ‘new but old’ solution!

    Then, for personal cleaning, one bar or gel of soap without any chemicals. One shampoo without chemicals. A hemp washcloth (b/c the plastic scrubbies wear out quickly and then go to pollute). To find less toxic stuff, I go to skin deep’s database. (Google it; its really cool). Then, I put these products into clear glass pump bottles to simplify the overall look of my bathroom.

    I find that removing the ‘clutter’ of chemicals in my life coincides perfectly with my overall love of de-cluttering. A lot less goes into my body. And a lot less goes out of my wallet in most instances too!

  45. posted by WilliamB on

    I do a “use it up” for the foods that accumulate in the pantry and freezer. If I didn’t then I’d be knee deep. I do it the easy way: pick something to use up (frex, celephane noodles), find a recipe that uses it (ants on a tree, aka sauteed ground pork, spiced, over celephane noodles), buy any necessary ingredients (but only ingredients that won’t become pantry denizens!), and make the dish. Either I’m finished with the ingredient or I’ve found a new dish I like.

    @P – My plastic scrubbies last a year or more, as long as I disinfect them when they get dark in the middle. They’re a great way to get soap to last longer.

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