If you’ve ever felt a shudder of shame as you pull up at carpool and a someone sneaks a peek into your window, just know you’re not alone. But a car in chaos is not a parenting flaw! In fact, a car filled with wardrobing options, remnants of snacks past, and first aid staples just shows how much you care about your kids. It shows that you want their bellies satisfied. It shows that you would sooner stay home forever than let them roll out of that car with a nose that hasn’t been wiped, a boo-boo that hasn’t been covered, or eyes unshielded from the sun.

A disorganized car also probably means you’re a little overwhelmed, and if you’re wondering if you’re alone in that either, the answer is a vehement no! But there comes a point in every messy-car parent’s life when enough is enough. You want your vehicle to be a peaceful place that carries you from work to school to practices to playdates and—eventually—home. These easy car organizing hacks are going to help you with that, and once your system is in place, you’ll be doling them out to every other overwhelmed parent you know. 

Set the Stage for Car Organization

Before you can set up your car for success, you’ll need a fresh slate. Pick an afternoon or weekend morning when you can carve out 30 to 60 minutes to declutter the car. Starting with garbage, remove everything that does not need to be there. If jackets, bags, etc. will be going back in, you can just set those to the side. This is also a great time to get a car wash if you can; otherwise use a handheld vacuum cleaner to suck out all those crumbs and wipe down your seats and the kids’ car seats with a damp, soapy rag.  

Now, here are the top ten hacks for getting your car in order—and all our favorite products that help…

Car Organizing Hack #1: Electro-go!

These days, we need to be tapped in, even when we’re in motion. Keep your phone handy for answering urgent calls or glancing at directions, and keep all your devices juiced-up with these tips:

  • A car phone mount keeps your phone close, and safe from scratching or moisture hazards, while displaying the screen in view. Just please don’t use it as an excuse to text and drive!
  • Between everyone’s phones and tablets plus Baby’s portable white noise or stroller fan, a multi-port car charger is a streamlined and efficient way to charge up anytime.

Car Organizing Hack #2: Get “centered.”

 Center console car organizer  

Photo: Instagram/ourlifeinrosegold

The center console is your space. Key to this step is to remove anything that your kids left in there and put it aside to be relocated in the home, put elsewhere in the car, or better yet—trashed. 

  • If you have two cupholders up front and only use one, put the other to work as a touch-up station. Place a cup inside containing lip gloss or chapstick, concealer, a small hair brush, and elastics for grooming on-the-go. 
  • If the items you need within reach can’t be contained to one cupholder, consider a console organizer to assemble these items neatly in one spot.
  • If you’ve got a paper problem (loose receipts, school slips to be signed), use the console to store them in an expanding file folder. Go through it every few days or week to weed out what’s no longer needed or handle what needs action. 

Car Organizing Hack #3: Implement a no-food rule.

Kids are not the neatest eaters, and allowing them to nosh in the car can quickly leave you with crumb-covered cushions and carpets. So creating a rule that there is nothing consumed in your car except water is a great way to keep messes at bay and will become second nature soon enough. 

If you absolutely must squeeze in a car-meal or snack, stick to less-mess snacks (nothing creamy or crumbly), and make sure to clear out all wrappers and trash right after they’re done (consider a car wastebasket they can reach from their car seat). Do your vacuum and wipe-down routine as immediately as you can after any eating occurs in the car. 

 

Car Organizing Hack #4: A bag station.

Bag car organizer

Photo: Amazon

When you feel like you’re living out of your car, your purse plus the kids’ backpacks and other satchels are probably littering the floor and passenger seat. Get them up off the floor to maximize seating and legroom, and create a less stressful and more streamlined system:

  • Mesh hammock-style bags can hang between two seats for a perfect catch-all.
  • Car hooks can be hung on either side of the seat to create a place to hang your bag.

Car Organizing Hack #5: Use behind-the-seat space. 

Minimalism is great and all, but if you’re carting kiddos around town, you’ll probably have more than a handful of items to contend with. The key here is to maximize the space you do have. Since the existing behind-the-seat storage pockets are pretty much useless, try these fixes:

  • Pick up a kick-mat organizer that gives kiddos somewhere to rest their feet and keep the dirt off your seat back while also storing snacks, sunglasses, and more.
  • Or, try a handy car organizer that has all the elastic and zip pouches you need for storage, plus a space to place a tablet for watching their favorite shows.

  • Use a cheap closet door organizer to create a similar effect if these items are not in the budget.

Car Organizing Hack #6: Do a glove box overhaul.

 Glove compartment car organizing case

Photo: Practical Perfection

The glove box is prime real estate…and yet it still somehow ends up filled with receipts and the like. Take control of the glove box and designate it as a parents-only zone for important items that you want to keep out of little hands, such as an epi-pen for allergy kids, medication for urgent situations, an extra phone charger, etc. 

  • Small plastic containers serve as handy holders for corralling smaller items. Since the glove box can be locked, you don’t need to worry about the kiddos rifling around in there.
  • Another idea is to buy glove box dividers that let you fit in the different sized items you need efficiently with great visibility.

Car Organizing Hack #7: Reduce the “ick” factor.

It’s inevitable…stuff will come into the car and threaten its cleanliness (and your peace of mind). This is where these easy-to-implement ideas come in to keep crumbs, spills, and other messes away, and handle them quickly when they crop up:

  • Line the cup holders with silicone cupcake wrappers to keep them from getting dirty (unlike cup holders, the cupcake wraps can go in the dishwasher for easy clean-up!).
  • Use less-mess snack holders if bringing food along for little ones (tiny fingers can get in easily, but it’s harder for food to fall out and end up on the car floor).
  • Keep a jar of cleaning gel in the car to catch dust, crumbs, and dry dirt as needed.
  • Put a garbage system in place, whether that’s with a small plastic bag hanging behind your seat or an actual car garbage and sanitizing station.
  • Purchase a car vacuum and keep it in the trunk or under your seat at all times. 

Car Organizing Hack #8: Plan for mess-free fun.

Organized car activities 

Photo: Amazon

For long car rides, or for younger siblings who spend a chunk of the afternoon accompanying older kids to practice, you’ll want some activities on hand in the car. But letting them bring tons of toys and coloring supplies is going to cause stress. Instead, try these genius hacks for fun on-the-go:

  • Use an old DVD case to create miniature coloring packs with a built-in desk function.
  • Pick up lap trays for under $10 and store them (stacked) in the trunk.

And check out our favorite toddler toys for traveling, many of which can be stored easily in the seat-back pockets of your car for everyday use as well as long trips.

Car Organizing Hack #9: Diaper Changing & Potty Station

Baby and toddler parents know that sinking feeling very well: You’re in public, and someone has a potty emergency or diaper blowout. Why not make your car work for you in these tough moments? Public bathrooms are not always the best option for changing a baby or taking a training toddler or young child to the toilet. Implement a system in your trunk to handle all of the above with aplomb—and without anxiety:

  • A portable potty has a small footprint and lets your little one relieve themselves anywhere you can pull over safely. Keep wipes and waste baggies nearby.
  • Buy a bougie diaper changing station that folds down and provides a clean space to change Baby on-the-go, or mimic it by keeping a tote in the car with diapers, wipes, cream, and a blanket to use when your bub needs a clean diaper.
  • Remember that a well-stocked diaper bag can make all the difference; keep yours in a set place in the car where you will have it when you need it and the contents do not risk falling out as you drive.

Car Organizing Hack #10: Keep less junk in the trunk.

If your trunk is where donation bags, extra jackets, and towels go to die, it’s time to get this space together. Parents of little ones will want to leave enough trunk space for a stroller or at least a baby carrier, plus a diaper bag if it’s too large to store in the front of the car.

No matter how many kiddos you have and what their ages are, chances are you need to maximize this valuable space, and still leave room for daily or weekly essential hauls like grocery runs (and that baby changing station described above). 

There are several ways to get the trunk in order and the easiest and most obvious is to clean it out at the end of each day. Aside from that, here are some handy items to put to use in your trunk, making the space less for junk and more for gems

  • Put a small laundry basket in the trunk so that you can toss soiled or used clothing in one place throughout the week and empty to launder on the weekends.
  • If you have a large, structured bag, like a Bogg Bag, create sensible storage that corrals your items. These can be rinsed down with a hose and used to easily transport items from the trunk to your destination.
  • Lidded cargo boxes are great for large or bulky items you don’t need on a daily-touch basis but like to have in the car. Examples include a tool or emergency roadside kit, extra jackets, beach towels, dog or cat carrier, etc.
  • A behind-the-seat mesh trunk organizer keeps items large and small stored and ready for use any time, and is an alternative to the large cargo boxes that may not fit in smaller cars.
  • Look into expandable canvas car organizers as a trunk (and anywhere) car solution for toting items you’ll need today or most days. This will flatten when not in use, and open accordion-style to be stuffed with hats, shoes, small blankets, or whatever this week’s activities dictate.

More Organizing Solutions:

About Jenny Studenroth Gerson

Jenny Studenroth Gerson is an Atlanta-based lifestyle journalist and novelist (Let Me Let You Go, 2020). Her work can be seen in publications including HuffPost, Cosmo, and WSJ, among many others. Jenny has researched thousands of baby names, combed through hundreds of nursery designs, and curated dozens of baby shower guides, making her absolutely the mom—and writer—you want to talk to when planning for Baby. When not meeting deadlines, she is chasing toddlers or chugging coffee—or both! Find her on Instagram @ourlifeinrosegold for mom hacks and more.

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.