Is your car a hot mess? Here’s how to organize your car, including tips to keep it decluttered and clean going forward.
Is your car a hot mess? If you have kids, chances are your car gets a little (or a lot) messy. With car seats, treats, boosters, bags, shoes, backpacks, and everything else in tow, knowing how to organize your car is challenging!
Plus, organizing the car always seems like the last thing on the list. When we were moving to Arizona, I remember stashing clutter from the living room in a bin in the back of the car every time we had a showing. You do what you’ve got to do, especially when life gets busy.
But of course, it’s also nice to drive around in a well-organized, clean car! It’s easier to find what you need in an organized car, and should you ever have an emergency or urgent situation, you won’t have to worry about the state of your vehicle.
So if you’re ready to clear the clutter in your vehicle, here’s how to organize your car and keep it clean for good!
Organizing Your Car Starts with Decluttering
Whether it’s the kitchen, the mudroom, or the car, organizing begins with decluttering. When there’s too much stuff, it’s hard to get a handle on what you have and to separate the items you need from the junk you don’t.
To organize your car, set aside some time so you can really dig in and work on it. It likely won’t take more than an hour to clean your car from top to bottom, but it’s best if you schedule a specific time to really buckle down and get it done. Otherwise, it can become one of those tasks that end up on the back burner.
When you’re ready to organize your car, take a bin, bag, or another container out with you to the car. I like to bring along a trash bag, a container for recycling, and something to haul stuff back into the mudroom to get put away.
For the initial step, take everything out of your car. Scoop up the loose change that rolled under the seat and that empty soda bottle that got tossed on the floor. Take out the car seats and the booster seats. Check the holders on the backs of your car seats to make sure there are no wadded-up napkins or papers that found their way in there.
You’ll also want to be sure to clean out the side compartments in the door and any other nooks and crannies where items get stuffed. Even if you plan to put certain things back in the car, take it all out while you organize.
Organize the Glove Compartment
Next, it’s time to go through the glove compartment and the center console storage. For many of us, these storage areas are where we keep practical items like tissues, baby wipes, hand sanitizer, an extra charger, and your car’s manual. These are all useful items to have on hand, but somehow, other things make their way into the storage areas.
Take out anything unnecessary—like the extra ketchup packets, straws, or napkins. If you toss the receipt from your last oil change in the glove box, take it out and file it away. (Wondering what to keep? Don’t miss the Working Mom Command Center to create the ultimate home binder!) Get rid of the iffy charging cord, the broken ice scraper, and the single glove you’ve stored away and replace them with new, working items.
You should have your essential paperwork such as your registration, emissions certificate, and proof of insurance in your car for emergencies. If you have AAA or roadside assistance, you may want to keep that information in your car too. The title, however, should not be stored in your vehicle.
It’s also nice to keep a pen and paper in the glove compartment. A little notebook can come in handy if you must leave someone a message, need to jot down a reminder, or need to entertain your kids with an impromptu tick-tack-toe game while you wait at the bank.
Wipe Down Surfaces Top to Bottom
Once you’ve cleaned out your car completely, wipe down the interior of the car thoroughly, working from top to bottom. Depending on your car’s interior material, you may want to use Armor All protectant, glass cleaner, a leather cleaning spray, or upholstery cleaner. Check the manufacturer’s recommendations before spraying.
Use a soft chamois cloth to wipe and shine the surfaces of your car, including the insides of the windows, and mirrors. Keep in mind that most sprays aren’t made for all the surfaces in the car, so using the upholstery cleaner to wipe off the dashboard, for example, could leave behind a residue that could cloud the view.
I like to wrap a cloth around a butter knife or a flathead screwdriver to clean out the little cracks and crevices of the car. This can help you get out the gunk that’s stuck around the knobs and handles of your car. Be sure to wipe out the cupholders and the area where you stash spare change—they can get particularly grimy.
Empty Your Trunk
When you organize your car, don’t stop at just the cab or the vehicle’s interior. It’s essential to take a look at the trunk too. I know that sometimes items can end up “forgotten” in the trunk of your car for a very long time.
Even if you drive an SUV and don’t have a traditional trunk, stuff gets tossed in the back of the vehicle that’s not always necessary. For example, do you have old blankets, rags, or shopping bags in there? What about items you need to return or drop off at Goodwill?
It’s not a bad idea to keep an emergency blanket in the trunk of your car, as well as a towel, a small shovel, an ice scraper, and a few other essentials (like a flashlight). But keep in mind that these items can be exposed to extreme temperatures. You may take them out to use once in the winter and put them away, only to find they’re still dirty, cracked, or the batteries have died.
Check out what you’re storing in your car and make sure it’s in good working order. Consider what you really need and what items might simply be taking up space.
Vacuum Seats, Floors, and Trunk
Now, it’s time to clean out your car. You’ve removed most of the items from your vehicle but be sure to remove the mats from your car and shake them out thoroughly. If you use weather-friendly vinyl or rubber floor mats, you can often hose them off to get them even cleaner.
Using a handheld vacuum gives everything in your car a thorough cleaning. Be sure to vacuum the hard-to-reach areas, like the carpet between the seat and the door. This is an excellent time to make sure the seatbelts are in good working order, not twisted or jammed. Vacuum out the trunk as well.
If your young kids use car seats or booster seats, be sure to clean them out as part of the process. When you’re ready to put them back in, follow all instructions to install them properly. If you have any questions, there is a free, helpful service at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that will help you find a car seat inspection near you. Car seats are one of those items you want to be 100% confident in.
Finally, if you’d rather forgo the vacuuming and detailing part of the process, take your cleaned-out car to the nearest detail shop. If it’s been a long winter, or your vehicle needs some extra TLC, it’s a worthy investment. Your car will come back feeling BRAND NEW.
Organize Needed Items in Bags or Bin
Once you’ve cleaned your car, it’s time to put it all back together in an orderly fashion. If you want to organize your car and keep it clutter-free in the future, you need a strategy for success.
I find that snap-top “shoebox” bins help keep kid’s items organized for car trips. You can keep a snack, a few small toys or books in the containers, an extra packet of hand wipes, and any other essentials. It’s helpful to split them up by child, so each passenger has their own bin.
If you need more room, a sturdy canvas tote is a nice option. Zippered pouches can provide a spot to stash chargers, headphones, and electronic items you need in the car. If you organize the pouches by type of content (electronics, toiletries, first aid, kids’ stuff), then it’s easy to grab the pouch you need and put it back after.
Even adults can benefit from a car-kit. Keep sunglasses, a few quarters, Band-Aids, and maybe a to-go pack of Ibuprofen handy for on-the-go emergencies. It’s important to remember that in most places you go, you can usually find a gas station nearby, so unless you’re going for a very rural road trip, you don’t need to plan for every contingency. Just keep the basics handy to save you from stress.
Finally, be sure to keep some tissues, wipes, or napkins in your car. I find that these are the most useful items to have on hand. You never know when you’ll need to wipe up a quick spill, a runny nose, or a sticky shopping cart handle. Whether you choose to organize your car with bins or with tote bags, be sure that you put in some tissues, wipes, or napkins.
Add a Trash Bin
If you really want to keep your car organized, put a little trash bin in your vehicle and empty it regularly. Having a small bag or even a little bin helps prevent you (and passengers) from stashing their trash in the door, on the floor, or in the console.
You don’t need anything fancy—a simple plastic bag works fine. Of course, if you prefer, you can get a cute reusable plastic bin or a nice little trash container. The most crucial part is that you commit to emptying it regularly.
Make it a habit that whenever you stop for gas, you empty the trash bin. Gas stations always have garbage cans available, and it only takes a moment to organize your car and toss the trash.
Commit to a Regular Organizing Schedule
To keep your car clean in the future, set up a regular cleaning routine. It may help clean out your car each time you get gas, and then once a month, do a deeper cleaning. If you commute daily, you may want to clean out your car each week on Friday. Find a time that works best for you.
Whenever you’re coming inside, make a habit of checking around your car and make sure you aren’t leaving anything behind. After longer trips, look under the seat, and make sure that nothing accidentally got stuck.
One of the best ways to keep your car clean and organized is to avoid eating in the car (I realize that’s easier said than done). Food crumbs and spills can be some of the toughest to get out and avoid. When you have to eat on the road, try to select less messy foods and be sure to remove all wrappers and garbage when you step out of the car.
If you frequently travel with pets, consider putting down a blanket or car seat protector and keeping them in a crate or safety harness. Not only is it better for their safety and yours (pets can be very distracting), but it will also help you keep your car cleaner too.
I find that when I have to spend time on the road commuting and running errands, a clean car feels more calming and restful. I don’t feel frazzled because I’m looking for something, like my phone charger. I know exactly where everything is.
If you’d like to make your life a little more organized and a little less stressful, the car is a great place to start. For other ways to organize your house, don’t miss my 13 Secrets to Keep Your House Clean Every Day.
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Share us your ultimate tip to keep your car organized! I’d love to hear in the comments below!