How to Corral Car Clutter


No one likes to admit that their car’s interior looks a bit like a landfill, but with families spending more time in their cars than ever before, it happens. A lot. But families deserve a clean, Zen-like interior (after all, an organized environment leads to an organized mind — or so they say).

Related: How to Clean Up Spills in the Car

Now is the time to do something about that item in the back of your car that goes “skssssssssss, thunk” every time your turn or brake. Now is the time to stop losing your mind over the empty to-go cups piling up in your cupholders (that you “forget” to remove for days). Now is the time to stop obsessing about the ground-in crackers in your floormats and just clean them up already.

Between our staff members and our freelancing mamas, we have a grand total of 15 parents and more than 30 kids between us. And while families aren’t the only ones faced with car clutter, we do have a unique take on how to corral it that both the breeders and the non-breeders among us can implement.

Clean Out the Crap: Don’t be tempted to put a lot of crap in your car in the first place. It sounds so simple, and it is. Items that go into your car should be necessities. Ask yourself if your kid needs to bring his 1,000-piece puzzle, pull-toy and swim floatie with you on a trip to the grocery store. Implement the “one in, one out” rule. If your kids must bring a favorite toy in the car, limit them to oneitem each. If they bring one thing in the car, they must bring that one thing back out of the car at the end of the day. (If that one item happens to be a purse stuffed with 20 other small items? Good luck!) One parent of three on our staff recommends treating your car like a camping trip. If you pack it in, you must pack it back out and leave it better than when you arrived.

Group the Necessities: Keep a utility bag, like this one from, in the cargo area to house items like first-aid kits, sunscreen, wipes and diapers, plus anything else you like to keep in there. One mom on our staff swears by disposable zippered plastic bags of all sizes to help organize all the stuff she needs for her preschooler and newborn twins in her car, while a friend uses mesh pencil bags for this purpose. A “to-go” tote is also helpful. Load it up with your daily stuff — library books to return, dry cleaning to drop off, a protein shake to keep you going if a meal is still a while off — and at the end of the day, load the tote back up with everything that needs to come into the house from the car. (Don’t forget those dirty socks that have been under the backseat for months.)

Use Down Time (and Recycled Grocery Bags) to Gather Trash: No matter how diligent we are with the above techniques, trash inevitably ends up in the car. Use that extra minute or two while waiting in the carpool lane to grab a plastic grocery bag (keep a stash of them in the glove box) and gather up the wrappers and rogue pieces of Pirate’s Booty that have been under the seats for months. Tie up the bag, stash it inside your “to-go” tote and trash it the second your pull into your garage.

Stuff a Sock in It!: To keep small items like coins, french fries and Polly Pocket shoes from falling into the depths of despair between the seats and consoles, just stuff a sock in that gap to close it up. If the stuff in your car stays within easy reach, you’ll be more tempted to clean it out.

Wet Wipes are Your Friend: Wet wipes can do just about anything in a car, from cleaning up unmentionables on your kid’s child-safety seat and wiping sticky messes off faces and hands, to grabbing dust off the dashboard. Travel-size packs of baby wipes are perfect for keeping in cars, and the crunchier parents among us can pick up a package of these organic ones by Giovanni. They do double duty as aromatherapy for your car, and, because they’re individually wrapped, they won’t dry out after months in the glove box.

So, there you have it: some of our most adoptable tips to keep your vehicular life a little more enjoyable. You don’t need to change every habit, just adjust them ever so slightly and your daily adventures will be less cluttered and plain old gross. Let’s just not bring up the subject of our homes.

Editor’s note: Some of these tips came from our former sister site, Sara Lacey contributed to this article. illustration by Paul Dolan

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