Many Americans spend more time in their cars than in most rooms of their homes, yet they neglect their wheels when it comes to regular "housekeeping." When it gets really messy, organizing your car can seem as daunting as keeping a closet in order. So we asked California Closet's organizational expert Ginny Snook Scott how to sort out, size up, store and contain your car cargo in five easy steps. Then we added some ideas for finding the necessary gear to clear out the clutter.
Step one: Sort and clean up
Take everything out of the car, including car seats, music and miscellaneous items stored in the glovebox and door pockets. Don't forget the trunk and cargo area! Chances are you'll find all kinds of trash to toss. Organize the rest of the items into three piles: stuff you use all the time, things you use occasionally and items you might need in an emergency. Whatever doesn't fall into these categories should be stored in your home or garage.
Step two: Analyze
Ask yourself, "How do I use my car?" Are you a salesperson who travels with a trunk load of samples, a parent with two toddlers in car seats or a realtor squiring prospective clients from property to property? Do you make a lot of short trips or are long journeys the norm? What are you always struggling to find? (Pen and paper? Change for the toll? Tissues? Your cell phone?) The answers to these questions should determine your priorities.
Step three: Prioritize
Depending upon your needs, go through your three piles and prioritize the most important items in each group. What do you need to keep close at hand and what can be relegated to the second row or back of the car? Pay attention to duplicates. For example, it's a good idea to keep drinking water in the car, but not a bunch of half-empty bottles. When you bring three new CDs into the car, take three that you're tired of back to your house. And just like seasonal clothes in a closet, many items such as ice scrapers and tire chains can be packed away in summer.
Step four: Contain your needs
Loose objects in the car lead to disorganization and mess. In the event of a sudden stop or a crash, they can also damage your car or, worse, injure your occupants. Automotive accessory shops offer a variety of cargo containers and organizers for every part of the car, from leakproof litter bags, CD storage and trunk organizers to drink coolers, folding hangers and kids' entertainment centers. For the businessperson, the Lewis N Clark "Business Center" holds folders and has a writing surface and detachable portfolio. Talus makes a great line of car organizers, including the CarGanizer and the Kids Car Travel Organizer, which can make a world of difference. Sites for such storage products include AJ Prindle, The Busy Woman, Family on Board, The Container Store and Amazon.com.
Step five: Store
Store items you use regularly in places where you can reach them. Can't find a place to store that big box of facial tissue? Try a "tissue cup," a paper cup that fits into a cupholder and dispenses tissues one at a time. Of course, keep insurance information, maps, directions and other documents together in the glovebox. And be creative about storing lesser-used and seasonal items — there are often nooks and crannies around the spare tire or in the rear walls of the car that can hold a small first-aid kit, roadside flares or jumper cables. Your owner's manual (now that you can find it) can be helpful in pointing out hooks and cubbies that might have been overlooked.
Finally, don't put anything on the floor — even trash — unless it's designed to sit there. Once you start messing up the floor, you'll find it too easy to keep adding to it, and soon your car will be cluttered again!
Want your next car to be more organized from the moment you buy it? See "Vehicle Features That Keep You Organized" for the latest in innovative storage solutions.