What to keep in the car so you can handle whatever life throws your way
Having a well-stocked trunk can be the difference between a minor hiccup in plans and a complete catastrophe. Episode of car sickness? Always gross and unwelcome, but if you have supplies you can handle it and be on your way. No cleaning supplies or extra clothes? That's a whole different story. So pack a few things now and be prepared for the unforeseen.
Unless your car comes with amazing built-in storage, I recommend getting a trunk organizer to prevent things from sliding around and taking up more space than necessary. This also allows you to easily remove everything at once if you need the trunk space. You can spend a lot or a little—just be wary of ones that are too lightweight to support the weight of its contents. It shouldn't collapse if you move it! I have this one and it's just what I need in terms of size. You can also collapse it halfway to make it smaller or connect another one to make it larger—so versatile. These zipper pouches are inexpensive, versatile, and water-resistant so if they get messy you can just wipe them off.
If you have kids, you should have extra clothes in the car. My kids are beyond the potty-training years, but I still keep extras in the car because you just never know. One of mine gets car sick (more on that later), but anyone can spill a drink on themselves, or fall into a stream while on a walk in the woods, or end up with wet socks. (Don't forget to change them occasionally so they are seasonally appropriate and still fit!) Packing an extra set of clothes (underwear and socks included) so they can change is ALWAYS better than listening to complaints. And it's not a bad idea for adults, either. ;)
I'd said there'd be more on the car sickness, so here it is: if you have a kid who gets carsick even occasionally, you have to make yourself a supply kit (I learned this the hard way). Here's what I recommend: first, see above about the change of clothes. Next, you'll want Ziploc bags to seal up messy clothes, and paper towels and some kind of cleaner or alcohol wipes. It's also a good idea to have some kind of way to minimize the smell, whether it be Febreeze, Lysol, or whatever kind of scent you like. The plastic wrap? It's a versatile way to wrap things, and if your kid is in a car seat you can use it to wrap up messy straps. And lastly, lollipops or mints—brushing the poor kid's teeth may not be an option, so this is the next best thing. At the height of our car sickness problems, we'd even pop on this giant bib after strapping in; it will keep those car seat straps clean. (This is a bit of a tangent, but—we have learned NEVER to travel on an empty stomach; make sure the sun isn't beating through the window (cue portable stick-on sunshade); and be sure to look out of the window frequently.)
Other things in my trunk organizer: old-school paper maps; extra phone charging cable; first aid kit; bottled water; a couple snacks that won't melt; a basic road safety kit; a few garbage bags (to keep the trunk clean if I buy something messy, like plants); and easy-to-grab activity pouches for the kids in case we're faced with an unexpected wait.
In the summer I add a picnic blanket, sunscreen and bug spray (change these frequently so they doesn't lose effectiveness sitting in a hot car), and—if there's any chance we'll need it—my well-stocked, always-ready-for-fun beach bag. In the winter I swap the picnic blanket for a warm blanket and add a snow brush and ice scraper. My hands are always freezing, so I also keep those little hand warming pouches and extra gloves, just in case.
As for the front of the car: I keep an umbrella in the door, a canister of Wet Ones in a cupholder, napkins and hair elastics in my glove box, and spare change and a box of tissues in the center console.
In the backseat, each of my girls has their own back-of-seat organizer with markers, paper, activity books, sunglasses, etc. I love these because the girls can see and reach their things and everything is contained and off the floor...with the occasional reminder. ;) The exact item I have is no longer available, but there are similar options here and here.
Have a place to put trash—I can't recommend this enough. My mom made the trash bag you can see in this picture, but search for "car trash can on Amazon and you'll get a bunch of options. This one thing will make a HUGE difference in how clean your car is—especially if your kids can reach it.
So there you have it—a few easy ways to keep your car neat and well-stocked. And if you're wondering if my car is always this clean? Sadly, no. It was just serviced and they vacuumed the whole interior. Love that!
What are your favorite ways to keep your car organized?