Published with Permission
Written by Malia Russell


One thing I have added to my list of “impossible dreams” is a beautiful, clean, perfect looking car. With five children in our family, there will always be stray items, occasional spills, and some level of dirt on the floor in our car. However, “organized” is not the same thing as “spotless.” When I think of “organized,” I think of what I need to have ready and available. Whether you are going on a trip across town or across country, there are some things that are helpful to have in the car. Making sure they are available in plentiful supply will be a blessing to your family.

For the Baby

When I had my fifth child, Daniel, one of the first things I did was set up an “emergency diaper bag” in the car. In there, I keep a few diapers, wipes, one outfit, a spare pacifier, a light blanket, and a baby bottle. I also keep a couple of feminine products and nursing pads. If I ever forgot the diaper bag or found myself missing a key component in there, I would be able to quickly grab a spare from the “emergency diaper bag.” As Daniel got older I added a toddler cup, bib, and simple dried snacks that could withstand the temperature extremes in the car. This bag sits on the floor in front of the baby’s (now toddler’s) seat. I can reach behind me from the driver’s seat and reach into it to get whatever might be needed at the moment.

For the Children

I have noticed that every time my car gets up to a speed of 25 miles an hour, someone always says, “I’m hungry.” This was particularly true of my son who has several food allergies. So now I keep a snack bag in the car filled with simple, nutritious snacks that are not messy and are highly nutritious. Dried fruit and nuts are good car snacks for older children. I also keep a couple of water bottles and a number of paper cups in the car. We always have wet wipes in the diaper bag, but in addition I try to keep a roll of paper towels handy too.

I also encourage the children to bring with them books that they enjoy, so that they can take advantage of car time or waiting time somewhere. The children usually want to bring along their gadgets: Game Boys, iPods, and such, but these are better in small doses, so bringing a book along can be a welcome relief for everyone.

First Aid

We also keep a first-aid kit in the car. You can make your own at home with some simple first-aid supplies, but we purchased a readymade one in the store. If you are making your own, here is a simple list of things to include: tweezers, Band-Aids in various sizes, antibiotic ointment, ACE bandage, an instant ice-pack, gauze, aspirin or Tylenol, and chewable antihistamine.

The first-aid kit is kept in the trunk area. If we have an emergency requiring things from the kit, you can bet I have already stopped the car, so getting the kit from the back is no big deal.

Car Emergency Essentials

I try to keep a $20 bill hidden somewhere in the car. This can come in handy if you forget your purse or need to buy gas where debit cards are not accepted. Jumper cables and a car jack are basic items that every car should have. Even if you have a roadside service subscription, it is so much faster to be able to get your car “jumped” and on the road than to wait an hour for help to come. Most car emergency kits come with flares or reflective lights, a flashlight, and some basic first aid or weather protection like a poncho or reflective blanket.

Navigational Helps

Keep a few navigational items in that handy little pocket next to the driver’s seat. Keep your GPS and phone chargers there. If you have some friends you visit regularly, go ahead and print out directions to these homes and keep them in a thin notebook, and store the notebook in the pocket too. This is also a great place to keep a printout of your family address book.

Other Helpful Items

In the glove box, keep the papers required by your state in a nice, neat folder you can buy for this purpose. I also keep ear plugs in there. These are not safe to use while driving, but if you are the passenger on a long road trip, they can help mute the noise so you can get some rest for your next turn to drive. I also have extra ear plugs for the children who are sensitive to the sounds around them. After twelve hours in the car, a younger sibling’s voice may not sound pleasant. We keep a few straws, napkins, and plastic wares in there too.

We try to gather things from the car when we get home, but sometimes this does not happen, so once a week our children take turns cleaning out the van. This involves gathering everyone’s stray items, throwing away any trash, and bringing in the diaper bags for refilling. They also bring in the snack bags, clean them, reorganize them, and refill them. For a deeper clean, after the children have emptied the car or van, once a month I will go to a self-serve car wash to vacuum the floor mats and seats.

The biggest key to an organized car is to have a plan and practice the plan. The car can become a disaster very quickly if you do not add these little habits into your weekly routine. Soon you and your family will enjoy the benefits of an organized car and you will find that the frustrations of an unkempt car will be a distant memory.

Malia Russell is the blessed wife to Duncan, thankful mother to five children (newborn to 21), and an author, conference speaker and director of and

Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the April 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free or read it on the go and download the free apps to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

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