Never find a months-old food wrapper in a seat pocket again.

By Lauren Phillips
Updated July 12, 2019
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If you have a car, you’ve probably dealt with car clutter: That accumulation of straws, napkins, extra shoes, clothes, bags, and more that fill up your car’s pockets and crevices that even the best car organizer can’t contain. Some people keep entire wardrobes worth of extra gear in their cars, while others try to keep it sparse, with just some extra napkins (in case of spills) or a pen in the door compartment.

However clean you try to keep your car, though, when times get hectic, extra stuff tends to build up inside it. And it’s hard to filter out what you need from what you don’t and keep it all organized—you probably do need to keep a phone charger in there, and an extra pair of shoes could come in handy someday. Add in a weekend road trip or long-haul shopping trip, and you’re sure to have a good bit of build-up inside your vehicle.

Even the best declutterers can struggle with cars; many of the standard rules of decluttering a home don’t apply here, especially if you’re leasing your car or have a small backseat or limited trunk space. It’s time to come up with a different set of organizing rules that apply directly to cars—car organization hacks, if you will—and interior designer Elizabeth Mayhew has you covered. Read on for her car organization hacks, then set aside a few hours to get started; your less-cluttered car rides will be all the reward you need.

1. Less is more

It’s obvious, but keep things that don’t belong in the car out of the car. This includes everything from trash to extra shoes. The clutter is unpleasant and obvious, as there aren’t a ton of places to hide it. Plus, Mayhew says, items rolling around or spilling in your car can cause excessive wear and tear.

2. Know your car

“Explore all of the different spaces and storage compartments to understand where you can place your items,” Mayhew says. There may be an extra compartment between seats in the back row or in your trunk, and knowing all of them can give you extra storage space.

3. Split your car into sections

Understanding how you use different parts of the vehicle can help you ensure you’re keeping only the things you actually need there. According to Mayhew, the front row is the command center, where everything needs to be within reach—but organized. The back seat is for passengers and kids, and as such there should be a clear path into and out of the car (so it’s not a place for your extra shoes) with tablets and toys kept in the car and within reach for distractions for the kids. The trunk or cargo space is for things, so think about how to keep the items there—sports gear, safety tools, ice scrapers, and the like—corralled. Any underfloor space is great for infrequently used essentials, like an emergency kit.

4. Sort by use

Sort car essentials into the things you use often (even while driving) and those used less often and when you’re parked. The former group might include charging cords, spare change, and an extra pair of sunglasses; the latter could be napkins, cleaning supplies, or sunscreen. Keep the first group in a spot the driver can reach easily, while the second group can go somewhere out of reach.

5. Store by shape

Store like with like—the kids’ coloring books shouldn’t be rolled up and stuffed in the car door, for example. Try to keep flat items in seat pockets and water bottles, pencils, and the like in door compartments.

6. Reuse

Keep a handful of shopping bags in the car to collect trash. When you stop for gas, you can easily toss your trash bag out—no scrounging for wrappers and drink cups while your tank fills up. You can also use them to store items, such as a wet pool towel or sweaty workout shoes, until you get home.

7. Be persistent

You likely use your car every day, so clutter is going to accumulate quickly. Get into a monthly car interior cleaning groove to clear out the excess—you can give your ride a car wash at home at the same time so it’s clean through-and-through.