I'm JoAnne. Welcome! You'll find me here keeping it real on the domestic front for all those looking to make their experience at home easier, fulfilling AND purposeful. 

Get Your Car Under Control

Get Your Car Under Control

There's a phenomenon that happens, to the best of us (excluding my neat freak husband), once children arrive in our lives. Our car goes from being a basic mode of transportation to a catch-all trash receptacle/mobile storage unit. Extra pairs of shoes pile up, cheerios or goldfish get smashed into every crevice and scattered across the floor. Sippy cups, baby wipes, extra diapers, boxes of tissues, school worksheets, dirty socks, Sunday school crafts, food wrappers, lollipop sticks, and maybe even the pet lizard that got brought into the car, forgotten and then died under a seat only to be discovered by the smell weeks later...

This is a common phrase I hear from mothers in particular, "My car is a disaster." It is always said with a frustrated sigh and a defeated countenance. None of us want it to be like this. My husband once (or twice, or a hundred times) remarked, "I don't know why you like driving around in a trashed vehicle." Uh huh. 'Cause I like it. That's why I do it. Mmmmm, riiiiiiiight...I think he forgot to notice that I don't eat goldfish, wear baby shoes, and typically don't drink out of a bottle with pink and purple butterflies. 

Anyway, with the gazillion other things that end up on our to-do lists, the state of our vehicles tends to drop way, way down on the priority list. Like, near the bottom, next to find all the missing socks, organize the garage storage cabinet, drop all the dead batteries off at an appropriate recycling facility and figure out what that random screw is for. 

I have always had a hard time managing the contents of my car, especially after my kids were born. Before they arrived, I used to have several books, an extra sweater or two, a pair of flip flops, an empty coffee cup and new and/or used napkins scattered across the passenger seat and floor. After kids, it was/is a version of the items listed in the first paragraph. Particularly in the baby years, when you are juggling a baby and/or toddler, a diaper bag and your own personal belongings, it can be tough to actually attack the stuff that just accumulates in the car. One day, I realized that one of the reasons I had actual trash in my car was because the closest, most convenient trash can to my parked car was clear across the house on the opposite side from the garage, in the kitchen. Once I was inside with tiny, it was highly unlikely I would head back out to the car to collect the randomness that was in it. It just wasn't a habit, and I didn't want to do it. I had too many other urgent things on my plate once I walked through the door. You know how this goes.

But at some point, after having more kids, and more trash and more stuff, and being married to a neat freak, I knew I had to figure out how to problem solve so this was no longer an issue. I made three, very easy, very small changes, and it has been amazing how much neater my car has been the last several years. Try them out and see if they also work in your life!

Get Your Car Under Control

1. Put a trash receptacle in the closest possible spot to your car that is reasonable. At my house, I have a small waste basket on BOTH SIDES of my vehicle, within three feet of the front fender. I literally cannot get into my house without walking by either one of them. I literally have not excuse for not emptying any trash that is in my car.

2. Take care of car contents FIRST before unloading the highest maintenance child. By this, I mean if you have a baby or toddler, let them be for a few minutes (unless they are screaming their heads off, of course). Grab any trash you see in the car, and immediately toss it. Grab your diaper bag, purse, extra shoes, the three sweatshirts on the floor, the empty sippy cups, etc. and bring those inside right after clearing out the trash. Then grab your baby. 

3. This only applies if you have older children (ages 3 or 4 and up): Make your kids bring in their own stuff. EVERY. TIME. This is how it looks in my house, "Eight year old, grab your backpack, the Legos, those flip flops and your water bottle, bring them inside and put them away. Five year old, grab your sweatshirt, that granola bar wrapper, your three pairs of shoes and those dirty socks, bring them inside and put them all away." Yes, I literally have to give them verbal instructions by naming every single item that I want them to empty my car of because children have this uncanny blindness to absolutely everything unless it contains sugar or is a new toy. If i just say, "Bring your stuff in," they will glance around at eye level (which, obviously, unless it is floating, they will not see it) and then head out of the car empty handed. 

That's it. The first two steps are really quite simple, it's that last one that will take some diligence and effort to make into a habit. As a parent, it can feel like all we do is constantly nag the kids to pick up their stuff and put it away, because seriously kids are constantly making messes at every turn. It gets exhausting, and sometimes it's easier to just give up. But your kids will not make a habit of keeping your car clean unless you make them do it. And if YOU don't make a habit of keeping your car clean, they most definitely will not lift a single finger toward that end, either. You've gotta take the lead, girl. 

Now, if you live in a condo or apartment where your vehicle is not parked anywhere near your front door, then leaving kids in the car is clearly not an option. My best suggestion for this scenario is to grab a reusable bag (which I am hoping you keep in your car for grocery shopping trips), and load it up with the randomness and sling it over your shoulder. Stick it back in your purse after you unload it inside so it makes it back into your car next time you go somewhere. 

Here's what my over-the-top neat freak husband does: Whenever we stop somewhere away from home, if there is any trash in the car, at all (usually it's an empty coffee cup), he will grab it and toss it at the nearest trash can he can find. I almost never do this, simply because it is not on my radar and I am not in "unload the contents of my car" mode. But, again, if you park nowhere near your front door, this might be a good option if you can't stick a waste basket near your car. Obviously, the major hitch here is you have to remember to do this. 

Lastly, if your car is a complete disaster, as in these tips wouldn't even scratch the surface to get it back to neat status, then I suggest two things:

1. Schedule a time when you have at least 30 uninterrupted minutes, maybe an hour (two hours?!) to devote to a major overhaul of your vehicle. If you don't have that much time, do it in 15 minute increments. As Dana K. White of A Slob Comes Clean would say, start with the easy stuff first. Just get the trash out. 

Go to your vehicle with two things: A trash bag and a doesn't-belong-in-my-car box or bag. Just focus on getting all the trash first, and you will probably notice a huge difference. Next, anything that shouldn't be in your car on a regular basis for any reason, put that in the box. Immediately dispose of the trash, and bring the box back to your home.

2. Once you've emptied your car of all that does not belong in it, take it to the car wash. If you're feeling frisky, you can even remove the car seats for some serious deep cleaning! But if not, at the very least just have a professional vacuum out the entire inside and give it a good washing. It will be much easier to start a new habit of maintaining order in your vehicle if you start fresh.

If the extra expense of a professional wash isn't in the budget, then take 10 minutes to vacuum out the most visible and disgusting parts of your vehicle. This will most definitely be the area(s) where your kids sit. You can do a quick two minute pass over the footbeds in the front, and then spend the other eight minutes in the back seat, getting the floor and visible parts of the car seats that have a smorgasbord of snack crumbs in every crevice. I once found a half-eaten what-I-think-was a granola bar that was wet in the yonder reaches beneath my daughter's car seat cushions. Just thinking about it now makes me shudder. 

Lastly don't lose heart if it takes you an hour to get your car cleaned out! The first time is always the hardest and longest! If you seriously struggle in this area, I highly, highly recommend Dana K. White's book How To Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind. Her principles apply directly to maintaining control of your vehicle, even though she never mentions her car in it. Once you've got it cleaned out, your waste baskets at the ready and a new attitude, it shouldn't take more than two or three extra minutes of regular maintenance (and sometimes NO maintenance at all!) every time you come home. I promise. 

A Side Note About Eating In The Car

Since snack remnants make a car extra disgusting and even harder to keep clean, I have seriously reduced the amount of eating I allow in my vehicle. I got sick of being covered in an avalanche of crumbs and nastiness every time I took a car seat out of my car that I banned all eating in my vehicle (for the most part). Unless we're on a long drive, or in a rush to get somewhere and need to eat on the fly, they have to wait to get to wherever we're going to eat any snacks that I have along. 

The other problem with regular snacking in the car is that it just becomes a habit, rather than a necessity. Kids really don't need to eat every 30 minutes. When I regularly allowed snacks in the car, my kids would immediately ask for them whenever we went somewhere, regardless if we had all just eaten before walking out the door. Overeating and habitual snacking really aren't great habits for any of us, and I realized I was pretty much programming my kids into this habit. So, consider restricting the food consumption in the car, maybe limiting it to longer trips and the ride to soccer practice.  

Let me know if you gave this a try and found it helpful!

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