Feature Article: How to Keep Your Car Organized and Clean and Keep it From Being a Two-Ton Trashcan on Wheels 

I never pictured myself driving a minivan. As a kid, I thought I’d rather die than drive one of those ridiculous-looking station wagons. They definitely weren’t cool. But, alas, I’m a minivan Mom. Granted, it’s a cool minivan (Honda Odyssey), because it has so much storage space and the doors open automatically. With three kids, often their friends, and all their junk, I’ve decided a minivan is an essential piece of organizing equipment. 

Because our van is so big and roomy, the three kids have managed to trash it by the time a trip to the zoo is over. Food wrappers and used Kleenex litter the floors, and empty juice boxes and toys cover the seats. When the car pulls into the garage, the kids know to grab as much as they can; no one is allowed out of the car empty-handed. If the car still has junk in it, additional trips are required until it’s once again clear. If you let the mess go, it soon becomes overwhelming and requires a much bigger effort to clean. Don’t allow yourself to settle into your home until your car is clear of clutter. Even when babies are infants, you can grab the carrier in one hand, throw the diaper bag over your shoulder, and grab and whatever you can manage in the other hand. Then one extra trip out to the car (before your child starts to protest) goes a long way. Get your kiddo settled then run out to grab any last remnants. Systematically clearing one area at a time will give you a sense of completion and feel calmer.

Believe it or not, you can actually organize the clutter! Especially on longer trips, you need lots of “stuff,” so having the right organizing tools makes clean up so much better. The latest car models have many neat organizing gadgets built right into them: center consoles for sodas; under-seat drawers for CDs; large glove boxes for maps, tire gauges, and car care books; remote-control holders or pre-programmed buttons. Still, many things that are “homeless” in your car just end up getting tossed about. The solution is to create a “home” for every type of item you need in the car. Over the years, I’ve discovered great accessories that will keep your car from looking like a hurricane went through it. 

Check these out!

Backseat organizers. Kids want to bring coloring books and markers, hand-held games, water bottles, and superheroes or dolls with a million tiny pieces, etc. They either end up all over the seat or strewn about the floor. The simple solution is an awesome back-of-seat organizer by Case Logic (www.stacksandstacks.com). Put it on the back of the seat in front of your child’s seat. You’ll be amazed as little fingers take their things in and out of the pockets. Adults can use them to stash the umbrella, ice scraper, camera, maps, and so on. If you’d rather have a cooler hanging over the seat, try the Lewis N. Clark insulated Seat Back cooler (www.ebags.com). If your little ones like to draw, get the Axius Backseat Travel Tray (www.axius.com) with a fold-down tray, just like on airlines, for activities requiring a sturdy work surface. That way, your budding artists won’t lose their markers under the seat when you have to slam on your brakes.

Center consoles. If your front seat has one long seat or doesn’t have a new-fangled organizing console between the seats, buy one! Center consoles come in handy in the backseat between two warring children who typically fight over the extra seat space between them. We love the canvas High Road Kids Backseat Organizer (www.ajprindle.com). It straps into the backseat between the kids and has different sizes of pockets, outside drink holders, and a top that can be flipped over for playing travel games. In the front seat, it can be used for extra sodas—the garage door opener, sunglasses, cell phone, or anything you use frequently and don’t want to search for as you drive.

Passenger seat organizer. This is my favorite. When I’m loading up for a trip, the front passenger seat is usually the catchall for my directions, apple, protein bar, the CD I want to hear, and my extra water bottle. When I hit the brakes, my apple used to roll under the seat, and my water bottle went flying. Enter the handy Lewis N. Clark Front Seat Organizer (www.ebags.com), which straps into the front passenger seat and keeps everything you need in a pinch readily accessible and organized.

Trunk organization. The trunk is typically “clutters last stand” and serves as a catchall for homeless items. We realized we had a problem when soccer balls were on the loose; a milk jug toppled and spilled milk everywhere; and my new potted plant overturned and created a milky mud mess. So I went on a search for a way to systemize that vast trunk. Although having the big space is great (thanks, Honda), it’s difficult to secure loose items. My solution is two-fold. The Axius Easy Access Trunk Organizer (www.axius.com) neatly corrals the jumper cables, flashlight, first aid kit, and coolant. In front of that, the Highland Three Pocket Storage Net (www.cargogear.com) restrains sports equipment, groceries, and plants without fear. It’s big enough for a small cooler as well. If you’d rather have an organizer that’s portable, the Creekside Cargo Mini (www.drivewerks.com) might do the trick. With its firm sides and adjustable section dividers, it keeps groceries firmly upright.

Dry cleaning. If you pick your dry cleaning up rather than having it delivered, install your own clothes rack. The adjustable LoadMaster Car Bar (www.containerstore.com) mounts quickly between any two outside walls to create a hanging bar and stores when not in use.

Dog divider. If you want to keep your pooch out of the front seats, use the Bauer Doggon’ Pet Barrier (www.stacksandstacks.com) to keep him in the back of your minivan, SUV, or wagon. It is safer for him and your family.

CDs and tapes. I like using my CD carrying case I picked up at Best Buy. My friend swears by her visor CD holder by Case Logic (www.casedirect.com). It quickly converts your sun visor into a handy, quickly accessible storage space for 12 CDs. There’s also a mesh pocket for receipts or toll money. Or if you own a mounted DVD or VCR, you need a full-blown organizer with more space. Try a backseat model like the High Road Entertainment Organizer (www.thebusywoman.com) with pockets for videos, CDs, and tissues.

Trash. I used to simply use the side pocket on my door for trash, but it was so small, filled up too quickly, and looked bad. Now I use High Road’s bottom-weighted collapsible wastebasket (www.thebusywoman.com). I keep it on the floor in the middle between the front seats. It doesn’t tip over and has a Velcro top that prevents spills. For backseat drivers (e.g., children) who have larger garbage needs, the High Road Trash-Stash may be perfect (www.containerstore.com). With its three-gallon capacity, it won’t run out of room quickly. Whenever I’m stopped for gas and hanging around waiting for it to fill, I dump the trash. Find an automatic car wash in your area that has vacuums available, so you can keep it neat, inside and out.

I hope you love these tips and got one new idea on what you can do to keep your car from becoming a two-ton trashcan on wheels!

Make it a productive day! ™

(C) Copyright 2006 Laura Stack. All rights reserved. 

This article may be reprinted provided the following credit line is present: “© 2006 Laura Stack. Laura is the president of The Productivity Pro®, Inc. and the bestselling author of Leave the Office Earlier and Find More Time. She presents keynotes and seminars on time management, information overload, and personal productivity. Contact her at 303-471-7401 or www.TheProductivityPro.com.”