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Whether you are going on school breaks, carpooling home from school, or just transporting the groceries, family life involves a lot of time in the car.
Unfortunately, when you have kids that have to eat every 14.5 seconds, is also ends up making your car a car a crumbtastic place.
I didn't fully understand what made family car is so disgusting before I had kids. I was one of those people that judge thought I would keep a spotless vehicle with no effort, no matter how many tiny humans were riding around in the back.
To say I had no idea how hard it would be would be a magnanimous understatement.
Despite the fact that it is incredibly challenging to keep a clean car when you have kids, it is actually possible. What follows are my hard-earned tips and tricks for keeping your vehicle from looking like the bottom of a cage at the zoo.
If you have three kids, each of them with a different extracurricular activity, plus you and your spouse, you are never going to fit all your crap into a Toyota Corolla. It's just not going to happen.
SUVs like the Honda Odyssey, Chevy Tahoe, or Buick Enclave are really popular among parents, and there's very good reason for this. When it comes to these practicalities, space is one of those essential things. I don't try to squeeze your family into a car too small, because the junk will really start to encroach on your lifestyle. On the other hand, don't drive a tank just because you have kids.
Find whatever makes sense for you and don’t do it just because anyone says so.
Similar to the way it takes a lot more money to fix something in your house after it is already broken, waiting until something in your car breaks to do maintenance is a recipe for heavy repair bills.
Make sure you put money in your budget and room in your schedule for two things: upkeep and maintenance.
Upkeep is all the little things you can do yourself, like changing the oil, checking fluid levels, and making sure you always have enough gas. Yes, these things do take money and time, but they really aren’t negotiable for car owners. (If you’re driving a gas-guzzler, you can actually drive more economically to offset the gas consumption levels of your car, which is really cool.)
However much of a pain in the neck vehicle upkeep is, it’s going to save you time and money down the road by preventing things from breaking and making your car stay new longer.
Maintenance is your car’s equivalent of a yearly checkup. Every X miles (you should have gotten a schedule from the dealership when you bought your car), you need to bring it in for regular maintenance. Again, this can be annoyingly pricy, but it’s way less expensive than waiting for something to break.
Consider it preventative medicine, work it into your budget, and move on.
One child comes with a lot of mess. Then double it (or triple it, if you’re masochistic like that) and add in a confined space? Your car is, by nature, going to attract a great deal of mess.
The best tactics I’ve found for dealing with issues of cleanliness (which is different from organization...we talk about that next section) are regular cleaning and carrying key supplies in your vehicle.
If you’re extremely worried about the condition of your car (like if you’re driving a lease) you can get something like TrueTimber seat covers, which are camouflage seat covers that literally prevent your seats from any wear and tear whatsoever.
However, this doesn’t do anything for your floor, doors, and ceiling. Yes, kids can and will get your car ceiling dirty. Welcome to motherhood.
We already know you’re carrying more loot than the average drug store inside your vehicle. Moms do that. It’s just a thing we do. I can’t explain why pregnancy makes you start storing a stapler, a roll of duct tape, and a roll of extra garbage bags in your glove box, it just does.
Try adding the following items to your vehicle’s stash:
A roll of heavy-duty paper towels
A pack of baby wipes (which are too gentle for actual mess)
A pack of lysol wipes (which you shouldn’t use on the baby)
A roll of small garbage bags
Optional: A pack of car leather renewal wipes
With these bad boys in your arsenal, any kind of mess can be cleaned up immediately with the appropriate chemical (or not chemical), you can dispose of your trash in a handy trash bag, and then even give your seats or dashboard some extra love with the leather renewal wipes, which clean and keep it looking new for years.
It’s important to clean messes up right away (as opposed to having to wait until you get home to clean up the spilled orange juice that has now worked its way into the carpet) because in a car, the longer it stays dirty the harder it is to clean. Spilled liquid spreads, dries to an unmanageable sticky gunk, and things work themselves into the seats.
Having an immediate clean up procedure set in place has saved my neck numerous times, and is largely why my car doesn’t look like the bottom of a third grader’s backpack on snack day.
There’s no magic way to keep kids from getting your car crummy.
Kids suck at eating. If they eat in your car, they’re going to drop stuff. End of story.
If you make one day a week where you head by the neighborhood gas station with a pocket full of quarters, it really only takes five minutes to vacuum your car in its entirety. Chances are you have to get gas anyway, so maybe just work it into your existing gas routine.
This keeps the crumbs at a manageable level. If you let it go past a certain point, you really have to exert a Draconian amount of effort to get it back to “clean”, but if you keep up with it it’s much more maneagable.
Now, we talked about keeping your car clean, but now we have to talk about organization.
(For those of you without my organizational obsession, clean is an absence of dirt while organization is an absence of mess.)
There are lots of great, low-effort ways you can keep your car organized.
Starting out, we have one of these life-saving guys behind the driver’s seat and the passenger seat of our family car. This way each of our kids (we only have two...thank goodness) has an area in which they can store their toys, supplies, and whatever else is necessary. It also has an iPad holder, if they want to watch TV in the car.
My other favorite is just a fancy (read: Target) storage box on the back seat floorboards (in the foot area of the middle seat where no one sits) for blankets, jackets, and other discarded items. This keeps my floorboards clean and eliminates places crumbs could hide.
Keeping a family car clean is not for the faint of heart.
My biggest advice is to put tiny cleaning, organization, and maintenance tasks into your regular schedule so that it never gets to the point where it’s hard to put the genie back in the bottle. If you vacuum every time you get gas, regularly check your oil and fluid levels, and throw stuff back in its proper container every time you’re unbuckling the kids from their car seats, it is actually possible to have a clean, crumb-free car...even as a mom!
Founder | Contributor
Liz is a wife, mom, blogger, coder (and unabashed digital nerd), PhD student (and huge psychology geek), workout masochist, and occasional human being. She founded The Stay Sane Mom after marrying into the role of stepmom to a preteen girl (and Instagram addict) and shortly thereafter having her first bio kid (now a toddlernado supreme). Her goal is to provide tools and support to help other capable, sleep-deprived, soul-hungry moms master their domains so they have the time and energy to be more than just 'mom'.
Stay Sane Mom gives support to the over-worked, under-slept, marker-stained, soul-hungry moms of the world, so they can be more than just "mom".
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