How To Spring Clean Your Car

How To Spring Clean Your Car

Clutter isn’t just a problem in your house. Wander through any supermarket car park and you’ll see back seats filled with junk. As part of your spring cleaning frenzy, take time to sort out your car as well.

Picture by Travis Hornug

Note: this is about keeping your car orderly, not keeping it sparkling, detailed and polished to within an inch of its life. If you’re the kind of person who’s that fussy about your vehicle, chances are it will be organised as well. Ultimately, dust on the bumper won’t affect your car’s usefulness; trash all over every available surface will, especially if you decide to offer someone else a lift. That’s not to say you shouldn’t wash your car regularly — it’s good for the resale value if nothing else — but that’s a different issue to the random catalogues and small change and leftover food containers which are our concern today.

We’re going to use a perennial favourite, Julie Morgenstern’s SPACE method, to tackle in-car clutter. This divides the task of organising into five distinct sub-tasks, creating a system you can maintain so that you don’t backslide within a week. Here are the main stages: grab yourself a drink and a large garbage bag and attack!


Remove everything — and I mean everything — from your vehicle: rubbish, spare change, CDs and tapes, the operating manual, the tools and random plastic bags from the boot, the various charging cables. This will create some clutter on the footpath (presuming you don’t have your own garage), so don’t choose a windy or rainy day. Then divide everything into logical groups, based on how you actually use the vehicle. This will vary from person to person, but some obvious categories and examples would include:

  • Maintenance: tool kits, car manual, copies of insurance documents
  • Navigation: GPS and mount, printed maps
  • Electronics: charging cables, in-car devices, CDs or tapes
  • Shopping: cloth bags, notepads, dockets for discount petrol
  • Snacks: food, breath mints
  • Leisure activities: picnic blankets, umbrellas, sporting equipment
  • Work activities: diary, FBT logbook

Don’t worry yet about where all this stuff will go: just sort it into sensible groups.


Get rid of items that are broken, useless or pointless. The most obvious category here is rubbish (food wrappers, coffee cups, unwanted receipts). If this is a problem in your car, incorporate some sort of in-car bin into your planning. This can be anything from a simple plastic bag to a dedicated trash item; just make sure you can easily reach it. (If you’re the main user of your car, in the passenger foot well is the logical place.) If you regularly drink coffee in your car, consider using a permanent cup, which will create less rubbish and is more environmentally friendly.

It can make sense to keep items in your car if they only get used after you drive somewhere else, but be realistic. Keeping a picnic blanket in your vehicle is a waste of time if you haven’t been on a picnic in the last 12 months. Take it out. You don’t have a lot of space, so resist duplicates. Having a pen is useful, but you don’t need ten of them. Keeping change to pay for coffee can be handy, but chances are you won’t ever grab give cent pieces to do so.

If you can, grab the opportunity while the car is empty to vacuum and clean surfaces.


Once you’ve sorted what’s needed in the car to stuff that’s actually relevant to your life, you can assign space to it. In practice, you’ll only have a few areas to work with: the glove box, the centre console, and the boot. Keep the space nearest to you for stuff that’s actually useful. For instance, many people keep their car manual in the glove box, but how often do you actually refer to it? It might make more sense to keep it in the boot or a seat pocket, and save the glove box for items you want to secure (such as your GPS if it’s not built-in).


If you need extra in-car storage options — whether that’s a bin in the front seat, dividers or storage boxes in the boot, an envelope in the glove box to keep your receipts, or storage hanging over the seats so kids can access entertainment — that comes at the containerise stage. Hit your local chain store or auto supply centre to hunt down anything you need. Compared to spring cleaning a room in a house, this is a relatively simple stage.


In other words: maintenance. This is where many drivers fall down. Set a regular time to tidy the car. If you’re generally neat, once a week should be plenty: do it when you arrive home on a Friday night. If you find the car gets messy, make it a daily chore. Scoop up loose change, remove rubbish, and return items to their rightful place. Make a habit of it and it won’t be such a daunting activity.

Got your own preferred car-organising strategy? Let’s hear it in the comments.


  • If the “picnic blanket” is an actual blanket then leave it in. If the car breaks down at night, you get drunk and end up sleeping it off in the car, the motorway turns into a car park for 3 hours, you’re the first responder at an accident or whatever then having something to keep warm with the engine off is super useful. And always keep some sort of long-life food and drink in the car too.

  • OH. My. God. Thank. You. For. Telling. Me. How. To. Clean. My. Car.

    Now. Could. You. Please. Tell. Me. How. to. clothe. myself. I. Don’t. Think. I. Have. That. Worked. Out. Yet.

  • Wow Rowan, that was really needlessly aggressive. I loved this article. Because my car is atrocious and while I seem to have finally sorted out the rest of my life, I have yet to conquer the constant mess and disorder that is my car. Just because something isn’t useful to you, doesn’t mean it’s not useful to others.

    (I also kind of agree with Brett; no one will ever steal my car hahaha)

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