Old sneakers. Festering forgotten coffee cups. Three pairs of wonky just-in-case sunnies. Cars can quickly become a dumping ground for crap you’d never dream of leaving piled up on the dining room table, and yet they stoically take us from A to B, quietly copping the literal trash we throw their way.
“I think it's because you can shut the doors and it's gone,” says Sally Flower, a Melbourne-based professional organiser trained in the Japanese art of KonMari tidying.
Last month we asked Flower – whose business Home Sanctuary is built on the idea that small changes to our environment mean big benefits for our wellbeing – how to spring clean our homes.
Her advice was to mindfully remove things that don’t make you happy, give the things that do a proper place to live, and that way create a spotless sanctuary to rejuvenate you at the end of each day. The same ethos can be applied in the place a lot of us start our days: the car.
“I think the reason that cars get so messy is because you can close the doors, park it in the garage and it's like a room you don't have to go into,” Flower says.
“You're often taking things in and out of the car and you probably don't have extra hands to take out the stuff that's junk or clutter.”
She suggests making time to do take out the rubbish and treating the car like a “mini sanctuary” in its own right, one that keeps you zen on the bumper-to-bumper commute to work.
“The reality is if you do get into a really cluttered car you feel claustrophobic; it's not very fun,” she says.
Step one: ready … yourself for your day
Flower says it’s important to remember a car isn’t like any other space, such as a house or an office, because it’s mobile and not temperature controlled.
“[If] you've got things like old sneakers or if you have food in there it's probably more likely to rot or smell than it would in a house. So in my view it's almost more important to declutter that because it's not a normal space,” she says.
“And often with a car you can't get out for long periods; you can't just walk into another room.”
Flower says your car should be an enjoyable space that sets you up for a “clear, calm, happy” day, and that’s easier to achieve if you show it a little love.
“[It's working really hard for you every day; it's driving you around and supporting you through traffic. Be respectful of the car. My grandmother used to put plastic sheets over her couches in her lounge room – she was so respectful of her furniture … it's important for us to respect the value of a car and not treat it like a place to collect junk and dead toys.”
Step two: get set … up
Steady yourself – it’s time to face the abyss under your passenger seat, and the horrors that lurk there.
Unlike the home, the car won’t need to be decluttered by category, but it’s worth setting yourself up with four groups in mind: for the bin, to be recycled, to go back in the house, and to return to the car.
“Open all the doors if you can,” Flower says, then empty out the whole car – the glove box, side pockets, boot and back-seat compartments. All of it. Place everything in its corresponding group.
Step three: go … back to basics
Now, look at what you have and ask yourself, “Do you really need it there [in the car], or do you just want it out of the house?” says Flower.
Put back the things you do want, but think carefully about why. “You want them to be spark-joy items,” she says. “[Remove] the just-in-case-I-need-four-pairs-of-sunglasses sunglasses."
Flower suggests putting “in-reach” items in the glove box, making use of your car’s built-in storage spaces, and putting what’s leftover in a box or a bag in the boot.
“In my car, I have a drink bottle, a pen, some paper, a hairclip and lip balm,” she says. Other things you might need include coins for parking, a keepcup and cutlery, reusable shopping bags, a dog lead and bags, a picnic set, a blanket or towel to go under bikes or other grubby items, maps, a shammy for cleaning and maybe some non-perishable snacks for long drives (such as a jar of almonds).
“Less is always more. Less items in the car will give you more space to breathe, relax and enjoy the ride,” Flower says.
Want more tips? Read the rest of the spring-cleaning series here, including “How to Spring Clean Your Garden” and how to get more mindfulness in everyday life.