“Why can’t people with kids keep their cars clean?” These are famous words from a snobby former D.I.N.K. who clearly thinks she is better than the rest of us. Wait,… I said that…before I had kids. I used to cringe if I had to ride with someone in a vehicle that regularly shuttled carseat-aged children. It didn’t matter if the kids were actually in it when I was, and it wasn’t really even the kids that I disliked. It was the mess. The mess that somehow creeped beyond the backseat to the front. Specifically, the stale fries, the unidentifiable crusts and crumbs, the milk splatter, the mystery sticky and the Cheerios. My god the Cheerios.
Fast forward to me now, 2 carseats filled with a 2 and a 3 year old and a never ending fountain of small beige roundish snacks that my kids trail behind them like Hansel and Gretel to find their way home. While you can certainly catch me on a bad day when my car resembles one of the vehicles described above, I have some rules for myself that help keep it a little more manageable.
1. Organization – There are lots of car organization items on the market, but the ones I find to be the most useful are the organizers that hang on the back of the front seats so they are facing your kids sitting in the back seats. We have 2 (one for each kid) and I use them mostly for the toys and kid entertainment that otherwise gets strung around the car. Specifically, I use it for magnetic drawing boards, books, stray toys, diapers/wipes and sippy cups. We got really nice ones with our car as a spiff the dealer was doing the month we bought our car (and if you are buying a new car, just ask your dealer to throw them in – I am guessing they might), but there are less expensive ones on the market as well that probably do the trick just fine. Munchkin Backseat Organizer on Amazon.com is an affordable one similar to what I have now.
2. Food And Beverage Police – I used to pretty much let the kids eat and drink whatever they wanted in the car figuring I would just clean up the messes as needed. This was until what I like to simply refer to as: The Great Cracker Barrel Biscuit Incident of 2012. Suffice it to say, I now stick to items that are not crumbly and deep fried in lard. You would think that milk would be harmless in a spill proof sippy cup. Not so much. My son makes it his mission to gnaw through any spout leaving it shredded as if it had been borrowed by a yeti child. My daughter is not a shredder, but still has skills allowing her to shoot milk from a spill proof sippy a distance equal to at least a middle school high jumping record with a simple flick of her wrist. I accepted that, as hard as I try, liquids are going to come out of sippies. Since I was certainly not going to enter into the ‘no drinks in the car’ territory for fear of them ganging up on me in protest, I settled for water only in the car. Be strong with your food and drink rules. Don’t waver and you will find that a simple vacuum now and then will be enough.
3. What Happens In The Car DOESN’T Stay In The Car – This is probably the hardest one for me. Anyone with kids knows that loading and unloading kids from the car is a task equal to playing Jenga. With your feet. Blindfolded. And winning. Therefore, once I have returned from an errand and unloaded the kids, the last thing I want to do is go gather up whatever crap we took into the car or gathered on our trip and bring it inside to put it away or dispose of it properly. I still make myself do it 90% of the time or else take care of it the next time I load them into the car, and it keeps the car clutter down.
4. Clean – Using Actual Cleaning Products – I know this is the one no one wants to hear – me included. Every once in a while, you have to clean using things like vacuums and elixers. My husband has an arsenal of cleaning products for the car and enjoys tackling milk stains and crevice cleaning on a regular basis. For this I am truly blessed and I’m sorry if you don’t have such services at your disposal. One thing I still do on my own once a year (and I should do it every 3 months at a minimum) is to take the covers off of the carseats and clean the covers as well as — gulp — what I find underneath of them. This includes the melted yogurt raisins that I allowed in a moment of weakness, the pretzels the marshmallows and the Cheerios — My god the Cheerios. I actually believe that if you never buy your kids Cheerios, you will STILL find them in the bowels of their carseats. Perhaps they spontaneously generate from diaper fumes and gluten dust. Masters thesis anyone?
In summary, all of this keeps the clutter down and the crud build-up to a minimum, making the stale Cheerios more easily accessible for kids to pick up and eat 6 days from now when they are combing for snacks on your next trip. And the clean up has come full circle.