Keeping anything clean when you have kids is a bit of a challenge. I once heard someone describe it perfectly – “trying to keep the house clean while the kids are still growing is like trying to shovel the driveway while it is still snowing”.
With 6 kids in our family, I’ve realized that the only way to keep things clean is to put the kids to work. I’m outnumbered around here and there’s just no way I can clean up the messes that 7 other people make on my own. Fortunately, I believe that kids get so much out of learning to work early so we take every opportunity we can to teach hard work and cleanliness.
That applies to keeping our van clean too. When you have kids, your car is like a magnet for stuff.
How do vans get so messy? I swear we have half of what we own hidden somewhere in our van. We have a few tricks that work wonders to keep our van clean though. If you have kids and a car and would like stuff to stop falling out of that car whenever you open the doors, these are for you.
1. Keep a trash bag in your car at all times. I used to find random wrappers and trash tucked into the cupholders in my car. Reuse your extra grocery bags and keep a stash in your car so you always have someplace to put trash. Get in the habit of tossing the bag whenever you get out of the car so trash doesn’t accumulate.
2. Take out more than you bring in. My arms are always loaded when we are climbing in the car to go someplace. When we get home, I try and get in the door with as few loads as possible so some of that stuff I put in the car when I left ends up staying put. It doesn’t take long before that equals a big giant mess. Get in the habit of taking out more stuff than you put in your car. My kids know when they go into the house they have to all be carrying at least one extra thing.
3. Keep storage containers for all the stuff. If you have kids, you are going to have stuff in your car. That’s just how it works. It actually drives me a bit nuts when my husband completely cleans out my van because then I don’t have the things I need when I go someplace. Water bottles, baby carrier, extra diapers . . . It all needs some place to go. Keep separate storage containers or bags (just make sure they can be closed so stuff doesn’t fall all over the place). for all that extra stuff. I keep a small plastic container filled with snacks under one seat and a zip-up bag filled with extra diapers and wipes in my car. It makes heading out the door so much easier knowing I have some of the basics already loaded and having a place to put those things keeps my car clean.
4. Set aside time for deep cleaning. I always push my family to clean as they go, but some messes just need a bit more attention. The longer my van goes between deep cleanings the more of a job it is when we finally have the time to do it. Make a date with your car once a week and clean out all the clutter. If you do this weekly, it shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes or so. I put my kids to work on this. They actually love climbing all through my van and trying to find as much clutter and trash as they can.
5. Keep basic cleaning supplies in your car. You already know how much I love 5 minute jobs. Why not take advantage of wasted moments while in the car too. I often have extra time while I’m waiting for a child to grab something in the house or buckle a seatbelt. That’s the perfect chance to clean up any dust or sticky messes in your car. Keep a package of cleaning wipes and some glass wipes in your car and clean small sections when you have some extra time. These will come in handy when you have a real mess. We were relieved to have these in my van when a soda got stuck under a seat and exploded while we were driving. That mess was much easier to clean up right away and I was glad to not have sticky feet the rest of the day.
6. Make each child responsible for their seat. My kids always sit in the same places so it makes it easy to figure out who left behind a drink in the cupholder or forgot to bring their backpack in. Let your kids know that their space in the car is their responsibility. Older kids may even be able to take on an extra task like keeping their row clean or helping keep the trunk free from clutter.
7. Develop a car cleaning routine. You probably have cleaning routines for your house, right? Why not make a cleaning routine for your car. I once saw my neighbor pull into the driveway, hop out of the car, and clean all the windows in her car. When I realized she did that every time she got out of the car I thought it was a bit funny at first but then I realized how practical it was. Why not clean as you go? Take 2 minutes to wipe off your dash every time you get in the car. Clean off your front windshield overtime you stop for gas. Every little bit you do along the way makes a big difference so those little habits could end up saving you a lot of time.
8. Limit what is allowed to come into your car. There was a period when I had half a dozen sticks in my van at any given time. Why? My kids found them at parks and wanted to bring them home. They never made it out of the car. Set rules about what is and isn’t allowed in your car. Are your kids allowed to bring blankets or toys with them when you run errands? If they are, set limits about how many things they can bring. Maybe you’ll allow one blankie to come into the car but only if it is taken out of the car when you get home. Do you allow snacks to be eaten in your car? Setting a no food rule not only limits the food mess inside your car but you won’t have to deal with wrappers tucked into weird places.
9. Don’t eat in the car. This is a hard one when you are on the go but it’s the single thing you can do that will make the biggest difference. Those crumbs and food bits get everywhere and allowing food in the car creates a bigger job for you. If you have kids in carseats it’s even harder to clean up after eating in the car because food bits get all through the carseat. I do keep snacks in the car but we eat them when we get out of the car. The only exception I make is when we are on a road trip but I know that I’m going to have to massively clean my van after our trip anyway and eating while we travel is a great way to keep my kids entertained during our road trip.