In recent years, there has been considerable interest in mapping the protein content of isolated organelles using mass spectrometry. However, many subcellular compartments are highly dynamic with diverse and intricate architectures that are not always preserved during membrane isolation procedures. Furthermore, lateral heterogeneities in intra-membrane lipid and protein concentrations underlie the formation of membrane microdomains, trafficking vesicles and inter-membrane contacts. These complexities in membrane organisation have important consequences for the design of membrane preparation strategies and test the very concept of organelle purity. We illustrate how some of these biological considerations are relevant to membrane preparation and assess the numerous potential pitfalls in attempting to purify organelles from mammalian cells.