Are you tired of being the mom whose minivan vomits fast food cups and matchbox cars whenever a kid bangs open his door?? Desperate for car organization ideas and hacks to keep your car organized? Read on for a list of…um, well, I have no idea how many (but it’s a lot!)… car organizing ideas I’ve collected over the past 15 years of taming my own Clutter Wagon.
Car Organization Ideas for the Hoarder-On-the-Go
As a highly forgetful and impulsive person, I tend to overcompensate. I load my car with everything I might need so I’m (mostly) prepared for the weather, headaches, errands, and the occasional bout of kid barf.
Not to mention the important stuff like when my value meal is missing the straw.
Back in my flakier days before I began hunting for car organization hacks and ideas, this meant my “backpack on wheels” was basically a “dumpster on wheels.”
Even though the most dumpster-ish parts were the trash, empty soda cans, and wadded up school papers, that detritus was much harder to clear out when it covered my disorganized base layer of “you-never-know-I-might-need-this- whatchamacallit-if-I-find-a-free-[fill in thing I don’t need and will never actually repurpose]-on-the-side-of-the-road.”
It’s way easier to tidy and clean an organized MomMobile.
~~Organizing your car is the first step to having a car you can actually keep neat (and possibly even clean) all the time.~~
I don’t want this post to just rehash all the other car organization hacks you likely found when Googling car organization ideas.
You know – all those lists brimming with car organizers you can buy, make, or hack into existence? Sure, there are a lot of good posts about car organization ideas out there, and they’re a swell start.
But I also plan to show you how to make organizers work best for your car.
Most of the organizers on the list below are ones I’ve tried. I’ll share what worked and what didn’t in my quest to get my car organized once and for all.
To keep this post from taking forever-and-a-day to load a bazillion images, some of the car organization ideas are linked so you can click to see what I’m talking about. Just look for the bold purple link text to check out the ideas.
For the product pictures I did include, you can tap them to get to their page on Amazon.
Psst! Once you’re done learning how to organize your car, check out this post on deep cleaning your disgracefully dirty car. And/or this one on keeping your car interior clean!
This post may contain affiliate links. For my full disclosure policy, click here. As an Amazon Associate (and from other affiliates) I earn from qualifying purchases. This doesn’t cost you anything extra and means this blog may break even someday. Who knows? It could happen…
Car Organization Ideas for the Front Seat Area
To begin organizing the driver’s area of the car, think about what you might want to grab quickly. In other words, anything you don’t want to leave the front seat for.
Then start clearing space for those things you actually need close at hand.
Clean Out the Glove Compartment – Make Way for Ketchup Packets!
Clear out rarely used clutter in the glove compartment and center console, like the owner’s manual/warranty booklets.
Okay, so those aren’t really “clutter,” but they’re in the wrong place. Put them in the trunk in a waterproof box or plastic bag.
Why take valuable glove box space with something you’ll only need in your own garage or at the mechanic’s?
Limit up-front papers to registration and insurance cards in a Ziploc or a plastic sleeve/envelope.
Voila! Now you have a place to put the stuff you actually need quick access to while the car’s in motion. Or when you’re on the side of a busy highway and don’t want to get out.
Bonus Car Organization Tip #1
Papers Belong Elsewhere
Your car isn’t a filing cabinet, so remove repair and maintenance paperwork/receipts from your car altogether. Keep them at home in your files, not shoved into or even nicely filed in the glove compartment.
Decide On Your Up Front Necessities
Now that your glove compartment and center console are clear, what do you need within easy reach?
- The aforementioned insurance and registration
- Cash for produce stands and emergencies (and by emergency, I mean when Burger King’s credit card machine is down)
- Coins for meters (don’t forget your Aldi quarter)
- Pens and a small notebook or Post-it pad
- Toiletries like:
- Nail clippers
- Hair bands
- Hand sanitizer
- Disposable Wisp toothbrushes (for when little man forgets to brush before school)
- Extra face masks
- Chargers and aux cords
- Emergency phone battery bank
- Backup snacks that can withstand being left in the car for a long time, like almonds
- Extra straws, plastic forks, ketchup packets
- First aid items like:
- Alcohol wipes
- OTC meds (if you’re not worried about them deteriorating in heat)
- Sunglasses / reading glasses and cleaning cloth
- Your store cards and/or coupons if you don’t keep them in your purse
- Possibly school excuse cards for when you forget to write one at home
- An empty gallon bag or plastic file folder to transport important papers. Because they don’t look as official covered in apple juice or stamped with a boot print.
- Plastic grocery bags
See, I told you I have a lot of stuff in my car!
P.S. In another list of car organization ideas, I saw a tip to store plastic bags in a Kleenex box for easier grabbing. I keep mine in a plastic zipper bag but I’m definitely going to try the Kleenex box thing.
Where Should All This Stuff Go?
Now that you know what you need access to up front, figure out where to put it.
Don’t worry, I’ll help you.
There are lots of ways to organize the front of your car, depending on your car’s configuration.
Read on for some of the car organization ideas I’ve tried.
Organize Car Compartments with Cosmetic Bags
Larger Makeup Bags
I currently use large train-case-style makeup bags like the one below in my glove box. They’re too big for some of my previous glove boxes, but fit well in my current car.
One contains extra straws, plastic forks and spoons, ketchup packets, Splenda, and individual packages of almonds & peanuts.
When my youngest was still in school, it also held a bag of Capn’ Crunch for extreme sugar cereal breakfast emergencies.
The other bag stores wipes, extra hand sanitizer, a mini-Lysol, disposable face masks, and a microfiber for quick car line dashboard-wipe-downs.
Here’s a photo of my glove compartment right now.
My bags came from the Dollar Tree. Walmart also usually has them.
This is another type of bag on Amazon that would work really well.
Smaller Makeup Bags
My teeny tiny center console calls for smaller bags.
Smaller cosmetic bags are perfect for:
- Small toiletries
- Extra phone chargers/phone bank
- Office supplies:
- Gas card
- An extra check or two
Tampon cases or lipstick cases are also useful to stow emergency BK cash tucked into the bottom of the glove compartment.
Look for makeup bags that hold what you need and fit well in your space. The small ones stack well.
Whatever you decide on, make sure it can be opened easily with one hand. I keep my bags half-unzipped so they still contain the items within, but I can unzip them with one hand.
If you don’t like the idea of half-unzipped bags, find something with snaps or an elastic loop fastener.
Large coin purses like the one below also work for this. This set also comes with a lipstick case for that french-fry-emergency cash stash we talked about.
The Dollar Tree usually has small coin purses you can buy to hold parking meter coins, chapstick, aux cords, nail clippers, etc..
Quarters also fit nicely in a compartment of my OTC pillbox (heat deterioration be damned, I need my Excedrin).
Bonus Car Organizing Tips #2
Coordinating Car Organizers
Matching organizers may seem visually appealing, but they force you to read a label or look inside for the contents – not a great idea when you need to grab a napkin going 50 mph.
The two in my glove compartment are identical, and it took forever before I remembered which one held which.
Especially when Capn’ Crunch boy would switch them when he put them back in.
So go for coordinating instead, like this super cute set on Amazon. Or you can buy an assortment from Walmart, Target, or even the Dollar Tree.
Visors are for permanent storage of things like your insurance card or sunglasses. Or CDs.
Don’t use them for stuff you’re just transporting, like the gas bill you need to mail.
Trust me, you’ll forget where you put it and never think to look at the visor.
Front Seat Organizers
I’ve had several office-type front seat car organizers through the years, depending on my car and my needs. They’re the best! Assuming your kids are small and you rarely have anyone in the front seat with you.
My favorite ones are the ones that sit directly on the seat, like the one below.
Side Note: I actually invented these.
I searched and searched and searched for exactly what I wanted about 20+ years ago and couldn’t find anything that was right. Fast forward 5 years – boom, they were everywhere.
They’re watching. That’s all I can say.
When my kids got old enough to fight over the front seat, I found the next best thing – a car organizer that hung on the seat but could be swiveled around when there was a passenger.
Bonus Car Organization Tip #3
Make Sure Organizers Are Child-Safe
If you use a swing-around car organizer, remember that when you swivel it, the contents might be in reach of a toddler in the back seat.
Purse / Bag Holder
And check out this neato-mosquito purse / bag holder clip I found while I was looking for a good swing-away car organizer to show you
Mini Mail Sorters
I had one car with no center console storage whatsoever.
Unfortunately, that was a time when I usually had front seat passengers so I couldn’t use a car organizer that sat on the seat.
For that car, we relied on mini mail sorters and acrylic makeup organizers to hold coins, aux cords, chapstick, etc.
Mini mail sorters are a car organization idea if you need a place for your phone and don’t want to put it anywhere on the dash. You can also use them for:
- Grocery store cards and coupons
- Notepad and pen
- Aux cords
Acrylic Makeup Organizers
I’ve previously used acrylic makeup organizers in the car that had very little up front storage. My husband still uses one in his center console because his console is large with a flat bottom.
I’d consider it for my own center console, but my own is narrow and deep. Cosmetic bags work better for me, since they can be stacked on top of each other.
Here’s an acrylic makeup organizer that works if you prefer fewer but larger “pockets.”
For a bigger organizer with more sorting action, try this one.
This one’s smaller and more like what my husband uses.
Car Vent Organizers
Car vent organizers aren’t just for phones..
I do use a magnetic phone holder like this one that clips to the vent for my phone and absolutely love it. It comes with a small sheet of metal you slip between the back of your phone and its phone case. I got mine from 5 Below.
But you can also buy car vent organizers that look like small bags. This type is handy if you don’t have an ashtray or coin tray area. It can hold cables, chapstick, coins, and hand sanitizer.
This is the one I’ve used.
You can also buy just the clips to hang whatever you want from the vents – masks, sunglasses, gloves, or anything with a loop or an opening that can slip over the hook and isn’t too heavy for the vents.
I didn’t think this one up and I haven’t tried it, but it looks genius.
Those clear plastic molds that make 6 large popsicles (you know, like the ones your mom made out of Kool-aid when you were little that tasted nothing like a real popsicle?) are a nifty idea for chapstick, hand sanitizer, and extra cords.
Command Hooks for Car Organizing
Clear command hooks attached under the dashboard in the front of your car keep cables out of the way.
I’ve also used them to hang a plastic folder like this one on the side of that hump thingie between the front seats (I know nothing about cars) so I’d have a place for papers I was transporting. I punched holes in the back and hung it on the hooks.
Once again, I got mine at the dollar store. Dollar Tree for the win!
Having it right there in front of me helped me remember to put receipts and prescriptions in it to keep them from getting trampled. Hanging it kept the folder itself from getting sat on.
If you clip a binder clip onto gloves and other light objects, you can hang an endless supply of car crap on command hooks.
Organize Using Your Cup Holders
Those lidded cups that gum comes in can hold Kleenex or coins and other small things in one of your cup holders.
However, if your car is like mine with only two cup holders up front, space in the cup holder is primo.
One of mine is always reserved for Diet Pepsi.
The other one is reserved for backup Diet Pepsi.
If your cup holders aren’t sized correctly for the type of beverage container you usually use, you can fix it using this cup holder adapter. I used one like this in an older car not sized for today’s beverage containers.
Between-the-Seats Car Organizer
If you’re really short on space, this between-the-seat gap filler will hold a few things and keep them right next to you. My husband used this in one of his cars where he needed extra space.
Bonus Car Organization Tip #5
Silicone Cupcake Liners?
I’ve seen the “silicone cupcake liner” car organizing hacks a million times but I don’t think it would work very well. Most cups are larger at the bottom than a cupcake liner.
If you want to try that hack to line your cupholder for quicker cleanup, maybe start with a paper cupcake holder. That should show you if a silicone one will be big enough before you spend the money.
If you try it and it works, let me know.
They also make car cup holder coasters that might work better.
For “Clean” Trash
For the tiny, dry, paper-type trash you generate (think straw papers, gum wrappers, and fast food receipts) that usually ends up all over the seats and on the floor, I found these little trash cans that work SO WELL.
They fit perfectly in the doors of all of our cars and they’re so convenient to use that everyone actually uses them.
I got mine at the dollar store and see them there every fall when school supplies are on sale.
And something similar that’s nicer.
Or you can use one of those cups babies use to eat cheerios if you have one – the ones that have the flaps to make it hard for the cereal to spill out. They look like this:
Honestly, for most garbage or larger trash, I don’t recommend hanging trash bags made specifically for cars (I’ll tell you why they don’t work for me in a second).
I’ve found that the best way to deal with it is to hand out plastic grocery bags* if you make a fast food run or if the kids are eating in the car.
*Obviously, if your kids are young, supervise them when they have a bag or gather the trash yourself.
Try to take the bags in when you get home, but I know that can be tough when you’re carting in little kids. Otherwise, make it a habit of throwing them away every time you get gas.
That’s still way better than having a moldy old trash bag nobody wants to touch.
Getting gas acts as a trigger so you’ll remember to check for trash.
Bonus Car Organization Tip #6
Check the Trash Bag!
I cannot emphasize this enough though – check the contents every single time. Never, ever assume a bag is full of trash without looking.
Even though I don’t recommend them, you can buy those small, hanging trash bags that hook to your headrest. The better ones are simple to empty.
However, I’ve never had any luck with those types of trash bags.
Maybe if they have a liner, like this one, they’re better, but if they don’t, they get pretty smelly.
And they don’t hold much at all.
Or you can use a plastic cereal container lined with a grocery bag.
I tried this but am not a fan. It took up foot space and was perpetually kicked over onto its side. I supposed you could velcro it to the car somehow, but it wasn’t really big enough, either, so I didn’t even try to make it work.
Bonus Car Organization Tip #7
Why a Car Garbage Bag Can Be a Bad Idea
If it sounds odd that I’m advocating against car trash bags, this is why:
For a mom who isn’t naturally organized, car trash bags give everyone in the car an excuse to not actually get rid of stinky, nasty food trash right away.
You view them like the trashcan in the house, which, of course, you don’t empty every time you walk by it. Usually you empty it nightly.
The problem is, unlike the kitchen trash can, many of us do not clean our cars out and empty the trash regularly. So that trash just stays in there indefinitely, out of sight and out of mind, Until it reeks and/or is overflowing and needs to be dealt with. By then it’s goo and nobody wants to touch that!
Car Organization Ideas for the Back Seat (and the Kid Areas)
Moving on to car organization ideas for the back passenger area, with or without kids.
Over-the-Seat Car Organizer
Over-the-door shoe holders can be adapted for the car, or you can buy an over-the-seat car organizer:
Non-kid-related things to keep in a back of the seat holder are:
- Ice scrapers
- Extras of anything you keep up front (hand sanitizer, napkins)
- More plastic bags (which I recommend having in front and back – but out of reach of younger ones)
- CDs or DVDs
- Maps (remember them?)
- Napkins for back seat passengers
If you’re looking for storage for kid stuff, make sure you get an organizer that’s easy-to-clean and easy-to-remove. They tend to get food items and restaurant crayons (neither is hot-car-friendly) stuffed into them.
The one shown above is inexpensive, and I like that it has see-through pockets. There are much fancier ones available on Amazon and elsewhere also, some that hold devices and even have USB ports, like the one below.
Bonus Car Organization Tip #8
Avoid Car Acrobatics
If you use a seat back holder to hold anything you’d like to grab before leaving the car, put it on the passenger seat back so you don’t have to play Twister to retrieve your umbrella.
Under-the-Car-Seat Organizer (and Protector)
For a tiny bit of added storage with the extra benefit of protecting your upholstery from your disgusting little monsters, this car seat protector will keep your car seats from getting “grody to the max.”
These types of seat organizers can be hard to remove to clean, though. A towel or blanket across the back seat may work better (making sure you’re not interfering with the safety of the car seat, of course).
When my sons’ action figures weren’t battling to the death, they lived in a lidded plastic storage bin in the middle of the back seat. It also worked for other small, less violent toys.
If you’re worried about safety (your kids’ safety, not Wolverine’s), you can cut holes in it (the bin, not the kid) and strap it in. .
I loved that it had a lid so at least if they put gross stuff in it, it wasn’t visible to the world and any last-minute adult passengers. And being plastic made it a cinch to rinse out.
Bonus Car Organization Tip #9
Divide and Conquer
These also work to limit the aggravation of “Mom, he’s touching me.” While I would have preferred one of those limousine barricades (you know, the ones that slide up so the rich guy can wheel-and-deal?) between my constantly-fighting boys, the toy box also slightly separated them. Hands still touched hands, but legs were kept a little further apart.
If you have a car with seats higher off the floor, under-seat storage is an option.
Just make sure you’re not storing something that can be easily crushed if your seat moves.
A great way to organize that space is to reuse those small plastic zipper bags that sheets come in to hold extra jackets, plastic bags, etc.
I found the ones above on Amazon but you probably already own a few in your linen closet.
And if you’re a sadist who uses free time while stuck near or in the car to clean said car, you can keep a bag of cleaning supplies under the seat, as well.
I actually do this (even though I’m only slightly sadistic), but mostly because I figure if I have to clean my car anyway, I’d rather kill boring time in a car line doing it and get it over with.
Car Organization Ideas for the Trunk
Storage Bin for Large Items and Cargo
If you have a lot of trunk space (I currently do not in my Kia Soul), a large, collapsible, divided bin is almost mandatory.
Use it to hold:
- Extra sweat jackets (to save your chilly butt at soccer games and cold restaurants)
- Rain gear
- A blanket for the ground or to spread out in your car if you’re hauling something dirty or something that needs protection
- Extra water bottles (for kids in sports – mine almost always forgot their water bottles)
- A cooler bag full of other reusable shopping bags.
You can reserve one slot for cargo (stuff that’s going in and out of the car, like groceries) or, if your trunk is big enough (showoff), you can get a separate one just for that.
Since my trunk is tiny, I use a structured tote, similar to the ones at thirty-one. I got it from Walmart for $10 and use it to hold the small amount of stuff I can keep in my baby-sized trunk:
- A jacket
- A sheet to protect the interior if (when) I’m scavenging junk off the side of the road
“Yes, I’m going to repurpose that three-legged table I shoved into my back seat, honey, I swear”
- My cooler bag full of other bags
- My “movie-popcorn-eatin’-apron” (yes, that’s a thing – well, my thing anyway)
- Whatever cargo is coming or going
If you can’t find it at Walmart (they come and go) here’s a similar one on Amazon.
A cargo net helps keep cans (and watermelons) from rolling all over the trunk.
If you don’t have one, I found a car organization hack where you use a bungee cord to secure bag handles.
I’ve never tried this car organization idea but it looks like a cheap alternative to a cargo net.
You string it up from side-to-side and thread it through the grocery bag handles so they all hang like on a clothesline without getting smushed. Check out this post by One Crazy House for an example (it’s about halfway down the article).
Bonus Car Organization TiP #10
We live in a snowy climate, so every fall we put a backpack in each car with:
- A few water bottles
- Protein bars
- Extra knit gloves
- A tiny ice scraper
- A small bag of non-clumping kitty litter (no, not for unforeseen cat poop emergencies – for traction in snow).
We also move the larger broom-style ice scrapers into the trunks at the same time.
You can do the same with camp chairs, playground stuff, and anything other seasonal stuff that you need to have handy for when you forget to pack a chair or impulsively want to stop and play
More Over-the-Seat Car Organization Hacks
If you have an SUV or minivan, try the over-the-seat car organizers or shoe holders I mentioned above in the trunk or cargo hatch to organize essentials like sunscreen, extra diapers, umbrellas, etc.
I also found these on Amazon that are made to stretch across the longer back seats (yay, Pepsi!).
I wish I’d had a chance to try one of these, but since I only owned a minivan once for 6 months before totaling it, I never got to.
I’m not sure if it would have worked for me or not. I tend to forget about things stuffed in pockets!
A Different Way to Think About Car Organization
The list of car organization ideas above is a start, but I also want to mention a mind shift that made a big difference for me in organizing my car.
When you’re trying to organize your car, it helps to think of everything in it as either permanent or cargo.
Permanent stuff gets stored.
Cargo does not.
Cargo’s just passing through.
Like Christmas tinsel through a cat’s heiney-hole.
In my car, I have designated “storage” areas for things that stay in the car – no cargo allowed.
Why Organize Your Car This Way?
First, categorizing this way keeps everything we’re transporting from getting lost in the glove compartment , console, or inner depths of the trunk.
And you can avoid fun times like:
- Purchasing a miniature souvenir figurine of a dachshund in May for a meaningful stocking stuffer and tucking it carefully away in the car console.
Only to find it three years later when preparing the car for sale.
- Or searching the entire house, all three cars, and the safe deposit box for your son’s ID documents he needs right now, only to find them nestled in with the car’s owner’s manual in the glove box.
Where your husband put them for “safekeeping.”
Second, this also keeps things that are supposed to be left in the car from being removed.
Like if your car is stuffed to the gills with everyone’s junk and you need to shovel it out really quick because OTHER PEOPLE will be in your vehicle. This way, you won’t accidentally remove the jumper cables or ice scraper that are mixed in with all the other junk.
Third, it keeps stuff that ABSOLUTELY DOES need to removed from being overlooked as easily, since it’s more obvious.
Like cartons full of chocolate milk.
Right before closing up the car for a weekend at Scout camp.
In case you weren’t aware, chocolate milk stored in a carton explodes in extreme heat.
Science AND organizing all in one post.
We are a full-service blog here at Life Unflaked.
Final Car Organizing Thought
Make sure if you use your car as a backpack on wheels that you have a way to remember to replenish things.
- Make calendar notes to replace the snacks and anything else that expires every few months.
If you’re not used to using a calendar or planner, this post about learning to use a planner will help you get started.
- If supplies start to run low, send yourself an email while still in the car (not while driving) so you remember to refill.
Because you start to depend on essentials being there, you’ll probably get sloppier when preparing for car rides. If you replenish anything that runs out, you won’t disappoint yourself or be left in a bind.
Here’s a post I wrote about using email as a reminder system that works (and no, just sending yourself an email isn’t enough if you don’t have a system to check email and move things to your to do list regularly, so check out the post right here).
Recap of Car Organization Ideas
- Organizing your car is the first step toward keeping it cleaner.
- Lists of car organization ideas, hacks, and tips are all fine and dandy for getting started and gathering ideas. But to really organize your MomMobile, you need to think about what you need in your car at all times, and how available it needs to be.
- Move anything that’s not important to the trunk or under the seats.
- Organize by category to avoid rummaging around in the glove compartment or console.
- Try to find containers that allow quick access so you can manage them with one hand.
- If you’re organizing kid stuff, get easy-to-clean containers for when they grub them up.
- Sometimes a DIY plastic tub organizer or Ziploc bags work just as well as store-bought organizers and are cheaper to replace if they get nasty.
- Vinyl trash bags are only a good idea if you’re the type of person who empties them regularly. If trash bags prompt your family to ignore trash until it turns into goo, then use disposable grocery bags. Try to make a habit of getting them out of your car each time you leave it or at least each time you get gas.
- Set up a system to remind yourself to replace supplies that are getting low.
- It helps to separate items in your car into permanent storage and cargo that’s just passing through.
Car Organization Ideas: Conclusion
My goal in this post was to do more than provide a numbered list of car organization ideas and hacks, or a list of products to buy.
Hopefully, I gave you some fresh ideas on how to get started organizing if you’re like me and want to load up your car with backup stuff but keep it all under control. Having everything I need with me at all times in my rolling backpack tamps down at least a little of my “wait, did I forget to pack the [insert just about anything here]?” anxiety.
But it’s not much use when I can’t find what I need.
If you’ve tried any of the car organizing hacks I mentioned but didn’t try myself, like the bungee cord hack or cupcake liner hack, comment below and let me know how it worked for you.
And if you have any other car organization ideas I didn’t mention here, please share!
Once your car is organized, if you want to get it clean and keep it clean, check out:
If you liked this list of car organization ideas and are also struggling with your house, check out:
How to Keep Track Of … Everything! (this is the post I mentioned in the article above to help you remember to replenish the supplies in your car)