The organiser

This was a modest little idea, but it was easy and it worked well. I recently needed to take a medication four times a day. I wanted a way to remind myself which doses I had already taken, and which was the next to take. Using only an empty toilet paper roll and a marker, I improvised an organiser that met the need. This is what I made, and how I used it. Maybe you will find the idea useful.

The need

I had a medication to take for a couple of weeks. I needed to take a dose four times a day, with food. Four times a day is just often enough that I would likely lose track sometimes of whether I had taken the dose for that meal or not. I wanted a physical token that would show me which doses I had taken, and which came next. There exist purpose-made pill organisers, with a little cubbyhole for each dose, and a file of cubbyholes for each day — but I’m too cheap to buy one of those. I wanted something inexpensive, but still effective.

How I made it

End view

I cut an empty toilet paper roll down to about 5cm in length. My pill bottle was narrow enough to fit inside the roll, and tall enough that it poked out the top.

Side view, of rotated digits

Using a thick marker, I wrote a large digit “1” on the side of the roll, its top near the edge. I rotated the roll a half circle, and wrote a large “3” there. I rotated the roll back to “1”, and a quarter circle more, and flipped the roll over. I wrote a large digit “2”, its top near the (other) edge. I rotated the roll a half circle, and wrote a large “4”.

Finally, I wrote a small word “next” under each digit.

How I used it

Organiser in use, showing “2”

I took the medication with food, so I kept the bottle at my place at the dining table. I put the roll on its end, and stood the bottle inside it. At the start of the day I rotated the roll so that the “1” faced me.

Each time I took my medication, I removed the bottle from the roll, and served a dose from the bottle. Then I rotated the roll a quarter-turn, and flipped it over. This meant that the next digit was facing me. Then I put the bottle back in the roll.

After the fourth dose of the day, I rotated the roll so that “1” faced me. The bottle was organised for the following day.

The alternating number inversions were a form of error correction. The bottle and roll got nudged or disturbed from time to time. The roll would rotate a little, around the bottle. But as long as the roll rotated less than a quarter turn, it was clear how to restore it. I only had to turn it so that the nearest upright digit faced me again. The upside-down digits on either side could not be correct. And it seems that, as long as I was not careless, the roll would be unlikely to rotate more than a quarter turn.

Design thoughts

Part of what made this organiser work was how the pills fit into my daily tempo. I would take dose 1 with breakfast, dose 2 with lunch, dose 3 with supper, and dose 4 at bedtime. So if the organiser said “2”, and it was before lunch, I knew it was not yet time. But if it said “2”, and it was the middle of the afternoon, it was a sign that I had missed my lunchtime dose.

The little word “next” had a purpose. It made clear that the digit referred to the next dose I would take, not to the past dose I had already taken. Without the word “next”, that would be a little more ambiguous.

Creativity and design are fun, even if the creation is simple.

Toilet paper rolls are a useful medium for all sorts of household improvisations. The city of Portland has a few suggestions for useful toilet roll hacks. I was already using them to organise phone and computer cables, to space out tumblers and containers so they don’t get jammed in one another when stacked, to prop up a leaky container so that the contents stay below the leak point — and now I have one in my medical supplies drawer, waiting for my next 4-a-day regimen.

Maybe this idea is one you can re-use. Or maybe it will inspire you to make a toilet paper roll improvisation of your own. Enjoy!