Parenting Hacks

Get That Car Clutter Under Control

You know you have a problem with trying to tame the car clutter when you yell at your kids to not open more than one van door at a time so the Oklahoma wind won't blow all the trash out of the car. Or you might have a problem when you drop the kids and the van off at their grandparents' house for the weekend, only to come back to find that the grandparents have had the kids scrub and vacuum every last inch of the van because it was so messy. Yeah I wouldn't know anything about those problems. I just totally made them up. Okay maybe I didn't make them up.

I'm keeping it super real in this post today, y'all.

When Curtis and I got married, I drove a Ford Explorer that had all the bells and whistles in it. I loved driving that car. And we kept that car through our first baby.

But when we adopted our sibling group of three and literally went from a family of three to a family of six overnight, that Explorer no longer served our purposes. So we upgraded to a minivan. If my Explorer had all the bells and whistles, then the minivan was nothing short of miraculous. The main attraction was the built in DVD player system. We wore that thing out while waiting in the car at appointments, dance class, karate get the picture. The kids would get on a movie kick and watch the same movie over and over for weeks on end. To this day, we can all quote every part of White Christmas verbatim, thanks to a Christmas season when my two girls were obsessed with being "sisters, sisters, there were never such devoted sisters..."

But then we started fostering. This pushed us past the tipping point with our minivan. We traded in our beloved minivan for a giant white beast of a van. It was a 15 passenger Chevy van. No bells. No whistles. It didn't even have a DVD player until we got the dealership to add one. But what it did have was enough seats. So we were grateful nonetheless. I'm guessing you might very well have walked this same path.

But that's when the clutter monster first started to show his ugly face. I'm guessing maybe the little clutter monster came with the van and hid behind the rows and rows of benches and carseats? Who knows....I can't see that far back there anyway.

Whether it was because I now have older kids capable of bringing all their own stuff with them without my supervision, or because the massive expanse of seats makes it super hard to check for piling up junk (probably a little of both!), it's been necessary for my sanity to come up with some solutions to get rid of the clutter monster. Oh by the way, last year we bought a new van. It's a Ford Transit Wagon. LOVE it, even though it does look like a space shuttle! But, somehow the sneaky clutter monster managed to escape from the old van and jump into the new one while we weren't looking.

Here are some things we've been working on to keep ourselves from being embarrassed every time we open the door:

First, Recognize That It's Not Going To Be Perfect

Yeah, that's a hard pill to swallow. I remember the days of detailing my car. Now my money is spent on other things like feeding and clothing all my little humans. Those same little humans that can junk my car out in ten seconds flat. I honestly don't care anymore if there are french fries or crumbs on the floor. I'm just wanting to tame the spilled milk cups, piles of books, toys and trash galore! Seriously, some days I feel like the interior of our van could be mistaken for a trash dump.

I've had it suggested to me that maybe I shouldn't allow the kids to eat in the car anymore. Maybe that's a completely viable solution for you. But it isn't for me. We spend a fair amount of time in the van because I'm parenting 8 kids that have various disabilities and need therapies and doctors appointments. Plus we have sports and church activities. We have to eat in there sometimes, although right now we are limiting the fast food stops to just once a week.

So I guess that's my first tip to reduce car clutter--relax just a bit. When you have that many people in any car, there are bound to be messes. Sure, go clean those french fries out periodically, but don't worry about them too much.

Get A Handle On the Trash

This is the one that really bugs me, y'all. It's so embarrassing to open the doors only to have food wrappers and crumpled school papers flying all over the place. Plus, I have this thing (I guess it's a disorder of sorts) where I cannot stand the sound of paper trash crumpling. It's like fingernails on a chalkboard to me.

So trash is the one item I will tackle most aggressively in the car. We've tried several different systems for collecting trash. Let me tell you what hasn't worked for us:

  • WalMart sacks hung on the back of seats. Inevitably, they rip and dump trash everywhere. Kids knock them over as they are climbing in, or the wind gets hold of them when we open the door. (Oklahoma tends to be windy.)
  • Fancy fabric trash receptacles that hang on seats or doors. Yeah, these don't rip or blow away, but kids don't really care about how they are throwing things away, so there tends to be spills and sticky, smelly stuff inside of them. My kids have had no issues shoving onions or diapers in these bags, only to be discovered the next day.
  • Plastic cereal containers/small dog food containers used as mini trash cans. These are definitely the nicest in theory. I love how you can push them under the seats and the trash doesn't leak or smell up the car. But it takes some effort to pull them out and unlid them, therefore, I find my kids for the most part don't use it. They are also bulky to pass around and hard to get access to if there are lots of other items in the car.

So what is working for us? Well, I wish I had a perfect solution. Still don't have one. But the best solution I've found is to keep brown paper sacks in the car. I just keep a stack in the trunk that we can use. I personally keep it up between the driver and passenger seats since we don't have a console in our big van. The sacks are lightweight so they are easy to pass around. And since it doesn't have a lid, my teens will actually use it. (I really do work on habits training with my kids, but in general the path of least resistance is what wins in the end.) It's rigid enough that it doesn't get kicked over or ripped up. And I can just have the kids toss their trash in it on their way out the side door. When we're done for the day, we can easily roll up the top and dump it in the trash can.

Again, though, I've made mention of habits training. My kids love to leave trash. I actually have one kid that loves to shred trash. It's something I have to stay on top of inspecting because they don't always throw the trash away even when I ask. And then I open the side door to the van and trash starts tumbleweeding down the street.

Turn Your Kids Into Car Clutter Monitors

Kids naturally love to boss each other around. So you can redirect that into something helpful. When we are traveling, especially, I will make one kid the monitor for each row of seats. Their job is to make sure everyone on that row did indeed throw their trash away and put their toys and possessions back in their bags when it was time to get out. This is very nice if they happen to be on a row where my one really messy older kid or my two youngest children sit. When clean up is done, the monitor has to report to us that their row is clean.

After the monitor reports, we can then inspect the job quickly. If they successfully monitored the cleaning of their row and it is nice and tidy, then they can have a reward. But if they let others pass with a halfway job, then the monitor has to go back and personally clean it themselves. Good motivation to get things done the first time.

Don't Micromanage Your Car

Okay this definitely a tendency for both Curtis and me, although I have mostly learned to chill out a bit.

What do I mean by micromanaging your car? Well, there was a day when I had hanging organizers on the back of seats and tubs for books under one bench, and a tub for toys under another. Clean up was tedious and therefore never got done. Like I said before, go for the path of least resistance if you want to get kids and teens to do anything.

Now if we are on a longer drive and my kids want to bring multiple items, they usually carry them all in a bag. But frequently my teens bring a book or two in the car even for a trip across town. And often they all get left in the car. Along with extra pull ups, wipes, water bottles, action figures.....

So rather than sort them and keep them in different containers like the old me used to do, about once a week, we take a laundry basket out to the van and gather everything up and bring it inside to sort. I no longer store anything in the car. And I'm much happier with that system.

These are the systems that have worked to give us some semblance of sanity in the car. I don't know if I am the only one that deals with clutter. Honestly, somedays it feels like my kids are so messy, and I get so frustrated. And I'll be completely transparent in saying that I am not always consistent with using these systems and our car gets super messy and embarrassing, and we end up with trash wrapper tumble weeds again. But overall, these systems do help to kick out the clutter monster most of the time.

Do you have a problem with clutter in your car? What system has worked well for you? Let me know!



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