5 Pro Tips for Organizing Your Car

kdis packing up car trunk

Getty Images / Sally Anscombe

Ask any parent their thoughts about driving with children in tow, whether across town or across the state, and you will likely hear stories about bickering, loud voices or maybe a little whining. And you will definitely hear about the mess that can accumulate almost exponentially depending on the number of kids in the car. Organizing pros share a few of their tips that parents can use to get everyone road ready and reduce the clutter.

A Place for Everything

Shira Gill, author of “Minimalista” and next year’s “Organized,” is the mom of two girls, ages 11 and 13, whom she says are “quite messy in the car.” She says that giving kids a place to actually put their trash keeps them from just tossing it wherever it lands. 

“My No. 1 parent tip for driving with kids is to have a garbage bag that they velcro on the back of the adult seat so kids each have their own reusable garbage bag,” she says. “You tell them ‘remember to use your garbage bag.’ That has been a game-changer for us. They put in gum wrappers or whatever they need to throw away.”

Even though her kids are older now, some things work at any age, she says. “I have been using the same solutions since they were toddlers. Kids always make messes.” Gill says the key to going from chaos to clean is to make things easy for kids. “I say ‘Stash your trash’ before we get out of our car and then we never have a mess.”

Only the Essentials

Being mindful of what you are bringing into your car in the first place is another key to keeping things as clean as possible. It is difficult to be neat when you have gear falling all over you, no matter how far you are planning to travel. “Try looking for items that are designed to be space savers,” says Ina Darley of Immaculate Touch Inc., a Houston-based cleaning and organizing company. “For example, the beach blankets that can be folded and zipped up for better storage and organizers that hang on the back of seats to maximize organization without being so bulky.”

Bins for the Win

Both Gill and Darley agree that bins are great for containing loose items that might otherwise get lost or end up lying on the floor or between your car’s seats. “No matter what the road trip is for, I always recommend small bins or a fold-out trunk organizer. That way everything can have a place and anything can be broken down into categories.”

Gill uses a freestanding bin as a car organizer, one with different compartments. “I put it between my kids in the middle of the back seat,” she says. “You can put in water bottles, sunglasses, hand-sanitizing wipes and non-messy car activities. So instead of screaming ‘mom’ every five seconds, they have everything they need.”

organized car bins in trunk

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Think Ahead

We probably all have been on a road trip and realized we don’t have everything we need. That can mean either doing without or having to stop and pick up supplies for a price that is higher than we would like if it is something we truly need now. As the Scouts always say: Be prepared. Gill says her family makes little car kits of all the essentials. “We restock it maybe once a month, and it makes a world of difference,” she says. 

Stay Connected

It might not seem to be an “essential,” but if you are traveling with children over a certain age, you better have a way to charge those devices. Gill’s family recently went on a seven-hour road trip and she says she was thankful for that charger! What else does she make sure to keep in the car? “We always have hand sanitizer and face masks for when we stop at gas stations or other places,” she says.

Car preparation isn’t just for inside the car. Stocking your car’s trunk with emergency gear or everyday essentials also will help make your time on the road less stressful. Gill uses a trunk organizer to contain things needed for daily driving around town as well as longer journeys. She stocks that with kids’ first aid kit, emergency water and oil for the car and jumper cables. For quick cleanups, she also totes paper towels and grocery bags.