From doing errands around town to embarking on that long road trip…
From meeting up with friends at the park to hauling home a big load of groceries…
From that quick run to the post office to that 2-hour drive for a special event…
No matter whether you like long road trips or prefer to stick close to home…
No matter if you drive a sedan or a minivan or an SUV…
Vehicles have become an essential part of life these days, haven’t they? Think about it for a minute, what would you do without yours? How would you get from your house to the grocery store with all the kids, then home again adding in all the groceries that you just purchased?
There are days when it feels like you could do without your vehicle, then there are days and seasons where you feel like you flat-out live in your vehicle because you’re so busy!
So, what does the inside of your vehicle look like? Oh, I’m not talking about the seats, carseats, seating wheel, and seatbelts (although, I certainly hope that your vehicle has all of these essentials!). I’m talking about the items that are inside your vehicle…
All those lost drawings floating around from who-knows-how-long ago…
All those Cheerio and snack crumbs…
All those lost colored pencils…
That water bottle that got wedged under the seat and has been hiding out for a month…
All those bits and pieces of trash…
All those toys that came to your vehicle from the house never to return…
What on earth do you do with all of it? How do you even start to bring order to the chaos? To make this space work for you instead of just feeling cramped and cooped up inside it all the time?
My Friend, I’ve got you covered! Let’s get to it and work through how you can turn your vehicle from a cramped and confining space where you can’t seem to find anything to a rolling, organized space that works for you.
If you follow these steps and the timeline that I suggest throughout, this whole process should take you approximately 90 minutes depending on your starting point and how much help you have.
Phase One :: Clean Out!
Let’s face it: If your goal is to create an organized space where you can find the things that you need, you’re going to need some space to put things, right? This step may seem super simple, but it really is so essential!
So, here’s what you need:
- A trash bag
- A box or some sort of holding container
- A vacuum cleaner or shop vac
- A rag and cleaning spray for those plastic or hard surfaces (optional)
The big goal in this phase is simply to get all everything out of your vehicle, whether it be dirt tracked in from countless pairs of shoes, crumbs that were created by that “crumb-free” snack that was enjoyed in the back, bits of paper from heaven-knows-where, or that long-lost book that has been hiding under the seat for an undetermined length of time.
Let’s start by pulling everything that can come out of your vehicle out of your vehicle. Don’t forget those “hidden” compartments and the glove box! As you pull things out, place them where they belong in the 2 containers that you have right next to you: If it is trash, it goes right into the trash bag. If it is an item that will go back in your vehicle to live, place it in your holding container.
Once you get everything out, break out that vacuum cleaner! Get all those crumbs and all that dirt out of there! Pull up those floor mats and rediscover what color carpet your vehicle has. (Wait, maybe that’s just me…) Don’t forget to use the hose attachment and get the crumbs out of the cupholders! (Please tell me that I’m not the only one who gets amazed at how many crumbs those things hold!)
If you’re really wanting that extra clean look, grab your rag and cleaning spray and wipe down those hard surfaces to collect all the dust and stickiness that accumulates there. Don’t have time for this part? No worries! Do what you can with the time you have for this project.
Keeping It Real
Does cleaning out your entire vehicle seem like too huge of a task for you? Then break it down even further into sections. Start by taking on the driver/passenger seat row first, then take on the back seat section, then the trunk space. Remember, this is your project! Break it down in a way that will work for you in the time blocks that you have available! You can do this all at once or you can break it up into multiple days or time blocks. Remember, find the way that works best for you!
As an added bonus, you could also get your child involved in this process. I am always amazed at the things that my children find when they help clean out our van – not to mention the fact that their hands are smaller and they can clean out those tinier spaces easier than I can!
This phase is not supposed to take forever! True, with all the small spaces in a vehicle, the vacuuming will take a little more time than it would to simply vacuum a flat carpet, but I don’t want you to get stuck in this phase. Set a timer for 15 minutes to empty everything out of your vehicle, then try to beat that timer! The whole step should take between 30-45 minutes depending on the size of your vehicle.
Phase Two :: The Oft-Forgotten Essentials
Now that you have a clean vehicle to work with, let’s start by putting the most essential things back first. Don’t get me wrong, when the weather changes, Kleenex can be an essential item to have around, but I’m talking about those essential things that we typically forget about:
- The vehicle registration paperwork
- The car manual (if you still have a paper copy!)
- Your most current insurance card
- Maps (again, if you have these in paper form)
- The snow and ice scraper (if you live in cold weather)
These are really simple things that don’t take up that much room, but they need to live in your vehicle in a readily-available spot where you could get them if you ever needed them. My best spot to store these small but necessary items? The glove box! It is the perfect spot to house everything on this list- well, all except the snow and ice scraper!
Keeping It Real
Hopefully these items are already in your holding box and you can simply pick them up and place them back into your vehicle. But what if these items weren’t in your vehicle in the first place? What if they are not in your holding box? First of all, don’t get distracted from finishing the project of organizing your vehicle! Remember, you have a bunch of stuff that needs to live inside your vehicle outside of it right now, so we do need to finish this process! However, make yourself a note of some sort to track these items down and then put them in your vehicle within the next 5 days. Again, these pieces of paper are rarely thought of until you need them, but if you need them, you need them immediately.
This phase is super quick! This one should take you 5 minutes or less! You are flying through this process – on to the next phase!
Phase Three :: The Technology Spot
Life seems to be organized and tracked on smart phones these days, don’t it? Calendars. Contacts. Emails. Maps. Music. Cell phones have gone from a simple device to make and receive a call to a hand-held computer that can get information at the click of a button or tap of a finger…depending on the speed of the service where you are, that is.
If you’re anything like me, I need to keep my phone close when I’m in the car. Oh, I start the music before pulling out of the driveway, but – true confession – I stink when it comes to directions! I can get turned around so fast it’s rather ridiculous. So, I rely on the maps on my phone a lot! But, the maps do like to eat my phone’s battery…
My solution? Having an extra power cord that lives in my van right next to the driver’s seat!
The first step in getting the technology back into your vehicle is to figure out where your phone charger should go. Where is the spot in your car where you can plug in that extra cable? Where can you put the other end so that it’s easy to grab and plug in your phone when you get in your vehicle? Do you have a removable phone holder that you need to place in a convenient spot in your vehicle? As crazy as this sounds, sit in the driver’s seat and figure it out while your car is parked in the driveway!
The next step is to start getting those CDs or DVDs into their permanent spot in your vehicle. I know, I know, you’re laughing at me for having CDs in my van. I tell you what, though, a lot of the audio books that my children like to listen to I only have on CD! (Translation: I’m not stuck living in the ’90’s!)
How are your CDs or DVDs currently housed? Are they in individual cases? Are they sliding around on the floorboards? Are they stacked up like coasters for you to shuffle through whenever you need to pick one out? Are they in a box or crate that slides around in the backseat? Are they in some sort of cloth flip book case? My absolutely favorite solution for keeping CDs and DVDs organized while having them take up the least amount of space is one of those flip books that zip up. (Why did I just get an image of Trapper Keepers in my head? I need to get out of the ’90’s!) No matter your method for keeping the CDs and DVDs contained, in this step you need to get those round digital disks into their holder.
Now that the CDs and DVDs are contained into a smaller spot, it’s time to determine their home in your vehicle. Where is that spot where they are accessible when you need them, but they won’t slide around and you won’t have round disks flying across the floorboards?
For me, that spot is under the front of the passenger seat. I only change the CD when I’m stopped, so I want to keep it close, but I don’t need it to be within easy reach while I’m driving (unlike the Kleenex box!). Additionally, when we go on long car trips, the passenger is the one who is in charge of changing the music so it only makes sense to keep them where they are most easily accessible to the passenger.
What about in your vehicle? Who is the one who changes the music the most? Which seat do they typically sit in? Where would be a good spot to keep the CDs accessible to them and yet accessible to others, too?
This Technology Phase takes a longer time to read than it does to execute. This step should take you between 5 and 15 minutes. Now, I know that is a bigger window, but the variation is going to come in how your CDs and DVDs are currently contained. If you walked into this phase with your CDs already contained and you only have 2 random ones to put away, this phase should take you about 5 minutes. If you need to take some extra time to organize those CDs, it will take you closer to 15.
Phase Four :: Create A Command Center
Now we get to the fun part! It’s time to find a permanent home in your vehicle for those items that just make your life easier when you have them available.
The first thing to determine is where you will put this ‘Command Center.’ For some vehicles, the perfect place will be the glove box. For some vehicles, the center console might be the idea spot. For still others, you may choose to get a sturdy box that will live on the floor. (If you do this, try to find a spot where the box won’t slide around. There’s nothing more annoying than a box that slides every time you turn a corner!) Whatever spot you find, you want to make sure that it’s convenient to get to and that it won’t interfere with the driver as they are driving.
A Command Center doesn’t work very well until it has the items that you need in it, now does it? It’s time to gather those items that you need and want to have close. But what are those items? Here are my suggestions:
- Pens or Pencils (3-4 should be more than sufficient)
- A pad of post-it notes or a small notebook
- Mints (You might need to hide these in the glove box even if your Command Center isn’t in the glove box! I know I have to hide the mints otherwise my kids would eat all of them every opportunity they got!)
- Maps (if you have paper ones)
- Hand sanitizer
- Baby wipes (Even if you’re out of the diaper stage, I find that having these handy is a life saver! They can take care of everything from sticky fingers to that pen that decided to leak all over your hand to cleaning up coffee splashes before the stickiness sets in and so much more!)
- Hand lotion (optional)
As you begin to create this Command Center in your vehicle, start with the items that you placed in your holding box. (Remember all the way back in Phase One?) This has three major benefits: One, you don’t have to hunt down the item because it’s already sitting next to you. Two, you don’t have to worry about putting the item away somewhere else because it still has a home in your vehicle. And, three, you save time because you don’t have to track down where an item is!
Keeping It Real
The Command Center for your vehicle is going to look different than the Command Center that I have built in my vehicle. Actually, the Command Center in my husband’s car looks different than the Command Center in my van! The items that are in this space, the items that you will use on a consistent basis will be unique to you, to your family, and to the main purpose for your vehicle (commuting, family transport, etc.). Remember, the list above is simply a suggested list to get you going. Don’t think that you need to have every item on the list or that you cannot add any more items to the list. This is your Command Center! Build it so that it serves you!
This phase, while big in concept is pretty quick in execution. This step should only take you about 15-20 minutes to accomplish. (Hopefully you have most of these items in your holding box. If not, you might want to add 5-10 minutes to this estimate to track down the items that you need and want.)
Step Five :: The Extras
The extras. Those simple little things that make life so much easier, but we are so prone to forget about until we need them. Let’s try to remember them from the beginning, shall we?
- Trash bags :: Two simple words that make a world of difference in your vehicle! Do you have a designated spot to put a trash bag? You need a spot for all those mint wrappers, those random pieces of paper that need to be thrown away, and all those Kleenexes that have been used. My best solution? Plastic grocery bags! It has handles so you can loop one handle onto something stationary in your vehicle. That way, the bag stays partially open and it doesn’t move around. If your vehicle doesn’t have a hook where you want your trash bag to be, consider putting a small Command Hook in the spot of your choice.
- Extra Trash Bags :: I don’t know about you, but when I take a full trash bag out of my van to throw the whole thing away and I don’t have a replacement right there, it takes me more time than I care to admit to get a new trash bag in there! By that time, there is typically a pile of trash on the floor of the van that I now have to pick up. Yuck! And I just created more work for myself. Not fun! My simple solution? Have a couple extra plastic grocery bags stashed in the glove box! That way, whenever a trash bag is taken out and thrown away, your replacement is right there ready and waiting!
This phase is super quick! You only need to plan 5 minutes or less for this one.
Phase Six :: All That Remains
As we’ve worked through this process of organizing your vehicle and putting items back in your vehicle, I truly hope that you’ve been going through your holding box. Most of the items that you need accessible to you in your vehicle are there already, it’s just really hard when you don’t know where they are floating around in the vehicle!
Now that you’ve reached the last phase, it’s time to take a good long look at what is left in your box. Where do those things belong? Do they belong in your house? Do they belong in your vehicle? Do they belong in the trash? Before you automatically put everything back in your vehicle (which will start un-doing all the work you’ve just done), take an honest look at the items and ask yourself these questions:
- Have I used this item in my vehicle?
- How often do I need this item when we are away from the house?
- Does this item have a home somewhere else? (For example, in the living room, in the garage, in your child’s room, in the bathroom)
- Will I regret it if I do not have this item available to me all the time in my vehicle?
If you determine that this item does not belong in your vehicle, set it aside to put it where it belongs.
If you determine that this item does belong in your vehicle, find a permanent spot for it to live within your vehicle.
You’re almost done! It’s time to put the final things away in your vehicle, close the doors and take a deep breath! Hooray!
Before you start putting things back in your vehicle at random, take an extra 20 seconds per item and make sure that you place the item in what will be its permanent spot in your vehicle. Here are some suggestions:
- The books that live in the car have their home in the mesh pockets that are built into the back of the seats.
- That bag of extra clothes “just in case” for your toddler can have a home just under a seat (driver’s seat or the seat where that child sits). That way, it is there, easily accessible if it is needed, but out of the way.
- All those car seats that came out in Phase One while you were vacuuming (if they came out, that is) have their permanent home sitting on the seat where your child rides.
- Those colored pencils that live in your vehicle for drawing can live in a side compartment next to your child’s seat or can live in a ziplock baggie in your Command Center or in the mesh pocket behind the seat.
Keeping It Real
Once you go through your holding box and put all the items back in your vehicle, don’t forget to put away any items left in that holding box! Granted, they won’t have a home in your vehicle, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have a home – even if their new permanent home is the trash can!
The amount of time that this will take is determined by how many items are still in your holding box. If there are only 2 items left in your box, this phase could take you 5 minutes or less. If your box is still overflowing, it will take you a bit longer. Take a look at your box and plan how much time you need according to the amount of items that you see. Ideally, this phase should take no more than 20-30 minutes.
The Conclusion of the Matter
Congratulations! You have just tacked and conquered a HUGE organizing task in about 90 minutes! I know, reading it all spelled out like this makes it seem a long longer, doesn’t it? But, I promise, when you actually dig in and get going on this task, it will start to move a lot quicker – especially if you employ the help of your child or your spouse!
And there you have it, my Friend! A step by step guide to take your vehicle from feeling crazy, chaotic, and claustrophobic to feeling settled, serene, and organized!
- 5 Simple Steps to Take Your From Scattered to Organized
- Using Bins, Baskets, and Buckets to Contain the Toy Explosion
- How to Plan A Family Road Trip Without Losing Your Mind, Part 1 :: Create Your Packing List
- How to Plan A Family Road Trip Without Losing Your Mind, Part 2 :: Vacation Meal Planning Made Easy
- How to Plan A Family Road Trip Without Losing Your Mind, Part 3 :: Pack It Up!
Elizabeth Tatham, founder of Inspiration in the Everyday, is a homeschooling momma of 5 who loves helping other homeschooling mommas create a unique homeschooling adventure your kids will love…without the overwhelm! Join in on the journey with 7 simple steps to make your homeschooling day go faster, easier, and with less tears here.