Buckle Up, Tidy Up: Stay Organized While Living on the Go

Each spring, we get to go to a convention for my spouse’s job. It’s always held at an elegant hotel, a few hours’ drive away. Upon our approach, we have the obligatory manners talk with the kids. Then, as we roll to a stop under the covered portico by the guest registration desk, a uniformed bellman extends a helpful gloved hand to assist us with the car door and welcome us to the resort.

Inevitably, a soda can (or some other kind of backseat shrapnel) bounces out and rolls underneath the car. Yup. The Spencers have arrived, y’all!

Whether you’re a carpooling suburbanite or a traveling salesperson whose “office” is in the backseat, keeping your car clutter-free and organized can help your daily commute from feeling chaotic (not to mention save you from the embarrassment of having the unruly contents of your car exposed for all to see!).

After all, your car is really an extension of your home, isn’t it? The approach for setting up an organization system for your car is similar to setting up one for your home—but with one additional and unique challenge. In the car, your organizing will be affected by constant motion, acceleration and deceleration. Ever had everything slide off the passenger seat into a jumble on the floor because you slammed on the brakes? Yeah, that.

So, are you ready to get rolling?

Clean Machine
It all starts with a good cleaning and purging. Take everything out of the car (even the baby’s car seat!) and analyze it. Don’t forget the random places like the cup holders and door pockets. Sort through everything; decide what to toss and what to keep. What things do you use all the time, and what do you use only occasionally? Decide where they really go and put them there (especially if it’s in the house, or the trash). Some things belong up front, while others belong in the back or trunk.

One of the best habits you can adopt is to gather the day’s wrappers and trash each time you arrive home. Do a quick seats-and-floorboard check and carry out that clutter! Additionally, any time you fuel up, do another spot check since you’ll be parked next to a trash barrel for a few minutes while connected to the pump.

Integrating this daily trash-clearing habit into your routine will go a long way toward the goal of keeping an organized car.

Many cars come with built-in hooks, perfect for holding an old grocery sack—just the thing to help gather the garbage. Not that automated? Pick up a package of adhesive hooks (like 3M™ Command Hooks) and stick one in each row of your vehicle, positioned where a buckled-in passenger can easily reach it. Store extra sacks in the glove compartment and your car’s trash problem could be solved.

Corralling for Convenience
Sometimes, it feels like we live in our cars, so think about how you use your car (I mean besides “for transportation”). Are you a salesperson with a trunk full of manufacturer’s samples, a parent of sports stars, or a realtor who ferries prospective homebuyers from property to property? For many of us, our cars have to serve all those purposes on some level. There’s a fine line between being prepared for anything and using your car as a mobile storage unit. Only you can decide where that line is.

When you shuttle kids all over town, with the backseat serving as a snack café between lessons and practices, and the front seat being the mobile office where you do work in your car between appointments—sometimes it just makes sense to keep certain things in your car fulltime (or at least throughout the season). Give these things an official home, because if they don’t have “a spot,” they’ll cause a mess.

Though some manufacturers make organizing systems specifically designed for vehicles, they can be pricey and hard to find. With a little engineering, you can develop your own off-label uses on more-common organizing gizmos. Just remember that anything loose can become dangerous in the event of a sudden stop or a crash—causing damage your car or, worse, injury to your occupants. That’s why so many of the special-made car organizers include straps, to keep things safely lassoed down.

As with any organizational system, the trick to making a good supply kit is finding the right container and keeping it in the right spot. Convenience items are only convenient if you can reach them when you need them! Open-top containers are the best containers for things that anyone might need in a hurry. Keep them where they
can be easily reached.

Front Seat Command Center: the items you’ll want in reach at all times.
■  Notepad/pen
■  Sunglasses
■  Tissues
■  Lip balm
■  Hand sanitizer
■  Spare change, extra cash
■  Hair ties/hairbrush

Clean-Up Brigade: items you’ll never regret having in the car at all times, whether in your front seat command center or in a less-easy-to-reach spot like your backseat floorboard or trunk.
■  Paper towels/wet wipes
■  Stain-remover pads/pen
■  Trash bags

In Case of Emergency
There are also items worthy of their own organizational systems, that you should keep in your car at all times, but not necessarily at your fingertips. It’s more important to keep them together, and know where they are.

First Aid Kit: Keep this must-have in an opaque, lidded box to keep bandages and ointments at the ready for the next monkey bar mishap. Stashing this in your trunk area, center console or glove box is probably an even better choice than up front in plain view, removing temptation from youngsters to who like to perform medical procedures on their dolls and other backseat buddies.

Glove compartment docs: Consider a sturdy laminate envelope that’s easy to find and grab.
■  Auto club membership info
■  Owner’s manual/service record
■  Proof of insurance/vehicle registration

Roadside emergencies: A plastic lidded box works well for these items.
■  Aerosol tire inflator
■  Jack/tools/flashlight
■  Jumper cables/towing strap
■  Roadside flares
■  Blanket or extra coat/sweatshirt (this will come in handy watching sporting events, too!)

Finding a Niche for Those Oddball Items
But what about all those other “convenience items” we keep in our cars—you know, that stuff that’s “more convenient” to keep in the car than to run back home to grab or carry in-and-out every day? Closet organizers like soft-sided over-door shoe organizers, or even hanging toiletry bags, that install under your headrest to keep the backseat organized work well for these groups of items.

Backseat nanny
■  Changing pad
■  Diapers/wipes/ointments
■  Spare change of clothes
Entertainment essentials
■  A clipboard and doodle supplies
(paper, crayons)
■  DVDs/headphones
■  Small books/games/toys

Mobile office
■  Clipboard (clamp it to the underside
of the shoe organizer)
■  Extra wall charger for your
electronic devices
■  Office supplies (stapler, hole punch, paperclips, scissors, tape)

Snack attack
■  Bottled water
■  Napkins
■  Non-perishable snack foods
(energy bars, nuts, plus a box of baggies for leftovers)

Summer skincare
■  Sunscreen
■  Hats/visors
■  Bug spray
Soft-sided/expandable containers like mesh laundry hampers and “string bags” help control things that have odd shapes. These can sit nicely in your trunk or back floorboard.

Sports gear
■  Cleats/uniforms/socks
■  Helmets/rackets/sticks/bats
■  Swimming gear (goggles, towels,
pool noodles)

Just don’t fall into the trap of permanently storing your sports equipment in your car. Fluctuating temperatures aren’t good for them and they can put your vehicle at risk for burglary. When the season’s over, reclaim your trunk space!

Remember, a huge part of “being prepared for anything” includes giving folks a ride to the airport with their luggage or making a weekly trip to the grocery store—so, try to keep as much clear space in your car as possible so you can readily transport people and their things from Point A to Point B.

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