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How To Keep Your Car Organized, Even With Kids

In many ways, our cars become an extension of our homes. We spend a lot of time in them and clutter can become an issue. Today’s vehicles often come with what appears to be plenty of storage. This becomes an invitation to put more in the car, however, rather than to stay organized. Here are some ideas that can help you keep your vehicle clutter-free, even with kids.

Start With the Basics

Most of us have basic essentials we carry in our cars. These range from an extra blanket or two in the winter to a first aid kit and perhaps a 72-hour emergency kit. Roadside assistance items like jumper cables, a tow strap, flares, emergency triangles and other items also often float around in the trunk.

You can begin your quest to organize by putting all of those items in their place. Things like emergency triangles, first aid kits, and the like can fit in the compartment with the spare tire, the jack or another ready-made cubby in the trunk. Or you can use shower caddies or small plastic tubs to put them all in one container (or two) and keep them out of the way.

Inside your car, you likely have a few items like a cell phone charger, cords, or even a few flash storage cards of media. These are often just thrown into a center console or bin, making them difficult to find. A couple of small fishing tackle containers with three or four compartments under a latching plastic lid are ideal for those items to store without fuss. They’ll fit in most center armrest consoles as well.

Some of the more obvious solutions are CD/DVD sleeve books, a “pocket protector” style pen holder for pens and tire gauges (a simple grade school pencil box can also work) and map sleeves to fit in your door pockets. These options are available at most grocery stores and auto parts stores.

Organizing Kids’ Snacks

It never fails. You load your kids into the car, get everyone’s seat belts and safety seats buckled down, and are just merging onto the interstate when someone yells, “Mom! I’m hungry!” A difficult to reach bag of snacks or a passenger’s seat onto which several granola bars or grapes have been tossed doesn’t cut it. You need organization that both keeps the food clean and makes it easily accessible by someone who should be paying attention to the road.

Here the flat fishing tackle box once again comes into play. The smaller ones can be handed to your son or daughter without the need to take your hands off the wheel to open containers or serve up portions. Larger ones can be used by a front passenger to dole out snacks that are already prepared (and hopefully healthy) without fuss. The flat, square tackle boxes with little compartments and flat lids are perfect. They stack on one another, can be organized by snack type or child preferences, and can be left in the car if the snacks aren’t the type that spoil. What’s better is that they’re easy to clean and when they’re done, the kids can just drop them on the floor (which they’ll probably do anyway) and you don’t have to worry about carpets.

For older kids that have more arm reach from their seats, you can make snack caddies that rest on the seatback or between children on the rear seat. These are self-serve and can be made from nothing more than tackle boxes or anything else that can be securely put in that space to hold food. As kids, my mom had an egg crate with Tupperware and bags of granola in it that did the job.

Busybody Organization

Entertainment is the other thing kids want while on a drive. Perhaps staring out the window and making faces at passerby was enough for kids in the 1970s, but now kids expect full, immersive and immediate entertainment. We can blame the demise of the backward-facing rear seat for this. Or iPods. That still leaves the problem of keeping the kids busy without them getting into mischief back there as you drive.

Again, we turn to caddies and storage options. Several stores sell “remote control holders” that velcro on or otherwise attach to an easy chair or couch’s arm. These also fit well beside child booster seats or can be set into seat back pockets like a horse’s saddle bag.

Another option is a full-on seat back organizer. These are usually found in auto parts stores and truck stops. They are multi-pocket drapes that attach to the headrest or otherwise hang down the back of the front seats. They can be found in a variety of styles and types or you can make your own.

You can try hanging a backpack from the front seat’s headrest (remove the headrest, loop the shoulder straps around the prongs, and re-insert them to put it back). This works well for older kids and can be quickly removed upon arrival if need be.

Take Out the Trash

Last but not least, we come to the inevitable garbage. Kids or not, we create refuse while driving our cars. Empty drink containers, food wrappers, unneeded receipts and all the rest. Often it ends up being tossed into an “out of sight, out of mind” spot and forgotten. There is a better way.

One option is to put plastic grocery bags into an empty facial tissue box for easy access and dispensing. Just pull one out and put your garbage in and leave it on the floor or door side pocket. The next time you stop to fill the gas tank or run into the store, grab the bag and throw it away.

Dedicated garbage containers are also a good option. Small garbage cans behind the passenger’s seat, a hanging garbage bag from the 12-volt outlet cover, or a garbage container in the glove box can work. How much garbage you generate in a few days’ driving should determine your solution.

With a little thought and creativity, organizing your car is easy. Even with kids. Yet it goes a long way toward keeping things clean and avoiding embarrassment when the unexpected guest gets into the car.