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Whole House Detox: Clean and Organize Your Car, Truck, or Van

Posted Apr 25 2012 1:21am

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I like to have a clean, tidy car.  I don’t always have a clean car, but it’s an on-going goal.  My car is never grimy or full of trash, but it can get messy.  Any day of the week I’d like to be able to say “hey, I’ll take you, hop in” and never be embarrassed by trash in my car.

Pontiac Vibe The condition of our vehicles says a lot about how we travel through life.  Mine says “she works at it and usually succeeds.”  My goal is for my vehicle to say, “it’s a done deal, a non-issue.”

What does the inside of your car look like?  What does it say about you?

I’ve never owned a new car.  I prefer to buy a used car in good condition.  I’m frugal and a utilitarian.  Even though my car is a 2003, it looks good, well taken care of.  We live in such a throw-away society, some people never learn how to take care of things.  They “stomp” all over their cars so they look worn out and broken down well before they should.

If you’d like to take better care of your car, van, or truck, I have a three step solution:

  1. Clear out the junk
  2. Contain and organize it
  3. Clean it

Step 1:  Clear out the junk

Most people have some kind of junk in their car.  It’s inevitable because we spend so much time in our cars and use them for so many purposes.  Here are some kinds of junk we have in our cars:

  • Stuff from errands we didn’t finish (e.g., bags that need to go to Goodwill, recycling, returns for the hardware store,  paint chips we need to match at Pier1 or World Market)
  • Fast food wrappers and associated trash (e.g., coffee cups, plastic silverware, napkins, straws and lids)
  • Chock full compartments (e.g., glove box, console, side pockets, behind seat pockets
  • Paper trash (e.g., bills, mail, invoices, books and magazines, homework assignments, class notes, kids’ creative projects, directions, etc.)

Clear out all the trash and throw it away or recycle it.  Complete the errands (recycling, returns, donations).  If there’s anything left that doesn’t belong in your car, put it where it belongs.

Step 2:  Contain and organize it

Our cars help us transport a lot of stuff.  And because we’re in them while we’re in transition from place to place, it’s easy to see a mess and think “I’ll deal with that later” and then forget about it until we get in the car the next day and the cycle starts again.  My experience tells me that the longer a mess stays around, the easier it gets to ignore because we stop seeing it.  It becomes a part of the background.

The main challenge we face is that most things don’t have a place in our cars.  If they did, we’d probably put them where they belong.  So here’s how I’ve found places for things in my car. 

  • Maps go in the passenger side door pocket – how handy, there they are!
  • Trash goes in the driver’s side door pocket – emptied when I get gas
  • The glove box contains the owner’s manual, proof of registration and insurance, directions to places I can’t seem to remember how to get to, $20 underneath everything in case I get stuck somewhere and need cash.  (I just need to remember TJMaxx Bag to put it back after I’ve spend it)
  • Because I don’t have a trunk, I keep a TJMaxx bag with handles behind my seat that contains grocery sacks, a freezer bag if it’s hot and I want to keep frozen foods cold, basic car cleaning supplies, a windbreaker, umbrella, and ball cap in case the levee is cold and I’m underdressed for my walk.  If I need to carry passengers in the back seat, I can easily grab the bag and in one motion put it in the back in Toby’s area without having to scrambling to gather up random things messing up the back seat.  This “container” system really works for me.
  • Car maintenance and repair– I never seem able to keep repair and gas receipts in an organized fashion, so I bought a small spiral lined notepad to keep behind the passenger side visor.  I reserve a page for each month and write the date, # of gallons of gas purchased, cost per gallon, and total sale.  At a glance I can see how much I’m spending on gas every month.  I also make notes of any car maintenance or repairs that month.  This is great info to plug into my budget (when I get around to creating one!)
  • I walk the dogs every day so my car needs to be “stocked” with everything I need because I’m all about efficiency.  In Toby’s area there’s a Toy Story comforter, leash, water bowl with a nonslip base, water container that I fill every couple of days, and a treat bag that I stash in one of the rear compartments.  Toby used to keep romping and digging when it was time to go home so I got smart and reward him a treat when he comes dutifully to the car.  He’ll do anything for food.  It’s the little things….

I keep working on my systems and they get better over time.  Life is easier with systems.  If you don’t have any systems, borrow some of mine and make revisions when you get a bright idea.

Step 3:  Clean it

Toby's Domain Things just get dirty and dusty….and streaked.  That’s life.

I used to struggle with dog hair and dog smeared dirty windows—it’s the only thing about my dogs that isn’t cute.  I got tired of vacuuming the back seat so I bought a Pontiac Vibe – Toby gets the entire back hatch area.   Sophie gets a wee dog bed on the floor of the passenger side which is safer in case I need to stop quickly.

I don’t like to climb in the back seat to vacuum and clean windows so I take it to a full service car wash and pay them $13 plus a tip to clean the windows inside and out, wipe the dash and console and vacuum everything out.  There’s nothing more pleasant that driving out of the car wash with a clean car, clean windows, and no dog hair on the floor.  It’s satisfying in a special way.  I visit this car wash at least quarterly and more often if it needs it.  I also visit the do-it-yourself carwash whenever it needs it and am on that side of town.  I keep several dollars worth of quarters in one of the little drawers on the dash.

After cleaning out my glove box and freeing up space, there was room for a microfiber dust cloth.  Now I can easily wipe off the dash and console when I get stopped by a train or red light.  I drive in the country a lot and the dash gets really dusty.

Lots of people eat in their cars so caked on food can become a problem.  To clean my upholstery I use a spray bottle of my own cleaning mixture and a rag.  I lightly scrub the upholstery when it needs it.  This just takes a second if you do it before it’s totally trashed.

My systems have evolved over time.  When I experience a problem or something that doesn’t work, I think of ways to solve the problem and then tweak my systems.

I’ve shared some of the ones that are working well for me to keep my car clean and organized.  What solutions and systems do you use to keep your car, truck, or van clean and organized?  If you’ve got challenges, what are they?  Maybe we can help.  Please comment at the link below.

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