Did you know that American drivers spent an average of over 17,600 minutes driving each year? (source) I spend about 50 minutes in my car per day and came to realize that the state of my car matters. This is why you need to clean and organize your car.

clean and organize your car

Why Clean and Organize Your Car

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A couple of years ago I read this article that a mom wrote about why she won’t clean her minivan. She describes the kinds of gross things you might find in her car and compares it to driving a garbage can on wheels.

She has decided to embrace the mess as she homeschools three active young boys. And while I get it, I also don’t. I understand the feeling that your car represents your life stage and embracing that messiness can be a part of that.

What I don’t understand is choosing not to put in the effort to clean because you know your efforts will be undone. If I used that reasoning then my home would be a mess too.

That doesn’t mean that I aim for some unrealistic ideal. Life is meant to be lived and perfection isn’t the goal. But I also don’t give up on trying and valuing my surroundings.

“Outer order contributes to inner calm.” -Gretchen Rubin

This is why you should clean and organize your car. When Americans spend an average of 18 days per year in their car (source) we should work on creating an environment that we are comfortable in.

clean and organize your car

How to Clean and Organize Your Car

Cleaning and organizing your car isn’t complicated or difficult. It mostly requires you to set aside the time and prioritize it.

I generally don’t enjoy cleaning, but there are some ways to make it more fun. Put on some music or an audiobook as you clean.

Remove trash

First, remove all trash. This is the biggest part of the job. Taking out all the papers, wrappers, receipts, and random items that belong in the garbage.

Take out things that don’t belong

Next, take out any items that were left behind that do not belong in the car. If you have young children there can be quite an assortment of things.

If you have donations that have been sitting in your trunk for an extended period of time, now is the time to take them to a donation center.

Clean and vacuum

Then wipe down the dashboard, console, and inside the doors. Dust what can be dusted. When you are finished with that, vacuum.


To organize, you first need to decide what things do belong in your car. This is a list of possible options you could consider. Of course, don’t add more than you need but it’s helpful to have many of these items available should you need them.

  • Towel
  • Trash bags
  • Diapers and toys (if applicable)
  • Snacks
  • Blanket
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Sunscreen
  • Hair ties
  • Spare sunglasses
  • Tissues
  • Paper towels
  • Baby wipes
  • Baby powder (for sandy feet)
  • Emergency kit
  • First Aid kit
  • Extra Band-Aids
  • Change of clothes and shoes
  • Large Ziplock bags
  • Window scraper
  • Jumper cables
  • Umbrella

It’s great to have these items easily accessible and available in your car, but it’s important to have them contained in order to keep your car organized.To keep these items organized in your trunk, an organizer like the one below is helpful. I love that it is collapsable, customizable, and easy to carry.

If you have young children, this organizer is helpful for keeping the kids’ items organized in the car while also making it easy to carry it all back into the house.

clean and organize your car

How to keep it clean & organized

Now that you’ve gotten your car clean and organized, how are you going to keep it that way? For one, don’t let your kids back in it. Just kidding that would never work.

To help keep the car clean we keep large trash bags stashed in the back to lay down in case of muddy shoes. We keep hand wipes and paper towels easily accessible for messes that arise. The Ziplock bags we store can be used for messy clothes or in case someone gets sick in the car.


We also have some general rules for the car that help to keep it stay clean and organized. We’re careful about what food is eaten in the car. I am ok with dry cereal or crackers, but we try to avoid messier foods being eaten in the car.

Our kids know that what they bring into the car, they need to take back out of the car. It takes effort and diligence, but they are getting to be where they mostly remember to be responsible and put their things back.

Keeping the car clean and organized takes some work, but driving in a car that doesn’t feel like a dump is worth it to me. When we as a family all work together to maintain it, it doesn’t feel like a big undertaking to routinely clean it.


My husband is no stranger to commuting. When we lived in Southern California he bought a home near his work only to switch jobs shortly after which meant driving back and forth across Los Angeles each day.

After we moved out of state, he found a job that is 40 miles away, which equates to about a two hour drive each way. While spending four to five hours in your car each day is far less than ideal, there are a couple of things you can do to make your drive more enjoyable.


Use your commute time to catch up on audiobooks. Use the resources through your local library to request books you want to listen to.

Be aware that for more popular titles, you could be waiting a while. If your local library gives you access to Hoopla that’s a great way to not have to wait for titles although you only get 10 checkouts per month.

Of course, if using your library doesn’t work for you, there’s always an option of getting an Audible membership.


Since I don’t drive long distances like my husband does, I’ve found that podcast episodes are perfect for when I am driving. There are so many great podcast options out there.

Since I have an older cell phone, I don’t have space on it to download audiobooks or podcast episodes. I use my kindle fire and have added an extra sd card so I am able to download whatever I want to.

How do you want to feel next time you get into your car? I’ve found that it feels a lot better to get into a car that’s clean and organized. I also don’t overthink offering to give friends a ride. Decluttering your car is a great first step in decluttering your home and your life.

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  1. So it seems to me that keeping a home and car neater and cleaner is a lesson that can be taught along with other lessons. Homeschool is outside a box learning so aren’t those lessons a valuable part of life? And I am pretty sure if you involve the young people they invest on how it looks too.

  2. I love your article and pointers. I drove load of teenagers 1/2 way across the country 10 years ago and quickly realized they were raised with relaxed car standards. πŸ˜€ It took some convincing but at every stop we emptied trash, filled the tank, cleaned windshield & headlights and straightened up the car. By the time we arrived at our vacation rental we worked like a team & everybody pitched in. We continued that team work during our beach house stay and it was the best vacation ever.

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