When messy minivans attack: vehicle hacks for parents

I cleaned my van on Saturday morning and, I’m not going to lie, it was totally magical. I have a new-found love for that hunk of metal on wheels.

I was inspired by this column I wrote a couple of days earlier, which is in newspapers across the 9-0-2 (cool-people speak for Nova Scotia, maybe?) today.

If you’re going to write about cleaning your hell-hole of a minivan, you really feel compelled to practice what you preach.

Here’s a sneak peek of the “essentials kit” (yes, business cards are essential) I keep in the driver’s side door of my mini …

Of course, it’s not the only kit in there. Oh, no. There are many. I’ll show some more “after” pics tomorrow.

(Updated to add: There’s a new post on EVERYTHING I keep in my vehicle, and how I organize it.)

Today is all about sharing the HUGE list of ideas I compiled, so here we go …


There’s less than two months of school left and the weather’s already perfect for lots of playground-hopping and mini roadtrips. It’s time to give your babe-mobile a much-needed wash and vacuum — SO. MUCH. ROAD. SALT. — and get it nice and organized for spring.

My own minivan? Definitely looks worse for wear right now. There’s at least one melted sucker in a rear cupholder and the remains of several broken Happy Meal toys. So I’m going to take my own advice and try a few of these vehicle hacks for parents …

  • Keep a basket of snacks in the trunk — either individual packages or large containers with bowls for portioning out servings. It’ll save you from running through the drive-through if someone is suddenly starving, and it’s great for impromptu park picnics.
  • Ditto for water and juice boxes. We always have a large jug of water in the back for emergencies and usually keep smaller water bottles on hand, too.
  • Keep parental pick-me-ups — like aspirin, breath mints and gum you don’t feel like sharing — in the driver’s side door. The kids are less likely to rummage through it, compared to the easily-raided centre console.
  • Are those annoying kids always whipping open the doors and banging them against the wall of the garage? Cut a pool noodle in half, lengthwise, and bolt the pieces into the wall at the spot where the door normally hits. 
  • Turn a plastic container into a trash can, or tie a bag to the armrest of the passenger seat. I picked up two $1 packages of mini trash bags and keep a package in each of our vehicles now because the garbage used to drive me crazy! Now there’s always a fresh bag right there, ready to use. 
  • If there’s a chance of frost in the morning, park your vehicle so it’s facing east. You’re increasing the odds of the sun melting it for you so you don’t have to wrestle with the scraper — minivan windshields are BIG. (We hopefully won’t need to worry about this tip until the fall, although my windshield was totally frosted this morning, so who knows?) 
  • Shell out for a phone-charger that plugs into the cigarette lighter (wait, does those actually exist for lighting cigarettes in 2016?) and never, ever leaves the vehicle. Get in the habit of charging your phone whenever you’re driving, and you’re less likely to get stuck somewhere with a dead phone. 
  •  Keep a few boredom-busters in the vehicle. We have a small tote with a few books and quiet games we can pull out if we’re unexpectedly delayed or find ourselves at a home without toys, but we hardly ever need them. This means that no one remembers what’s in the bag and it’s a big exciting deal whenever we pull it out! 
  • If you’re going on a long trip — or your kids just get especially bored in the car — you can hang a canvas shoe organizers over the back of a front seat. The pockets are perfect for storing little toys, snacks and activities. 
  • If your little one is prone to carsickness or they’re just a messy eater, cover their seat with a fitted sheet to protect the upholstery. 
  • Get creative with containers. Travel soap cases are great for storing crayons and decks of cards. Empty DVD cases are a perfect spot for coloured pencils and drawing paper. 
  • Keep a summertime stash in your vehicle so you’re always prepared if you stop at a park or playground unexpectedly. It should contain a hat for each child, a towel or two (for splash pads) and a small bottle of sunscreen. Ideally, yes, you’ll already have sunscreen in a bag that regularly goes in and out of the house with you — because sunscreen can lose its effectiveness if it’s being baked in a hot car every day — but it’s better than nothing if you’re stuck. 
  • Keep wipes in a seatback pocket for wiping up sticky fingers, sticky faces, sticky spills, sticky everything. 
  • Don’t forget a first-aid kit. I have one in my vehicle that I don’t think I’ve ever used, but it’s there — including a mask and gloves in case I get a chance to use my CPR skills on the side of the road (something my instructor assured me would probably never happen). We do, however, use the extra stash of band-aids I added. Playground scrape season is coming, guys. 
  • Did a bottle roll under the seat a while back and now your minivan smells like a rotting animal? Hop on Pinterest and learn how to make a vehicle-ready essential oil diffuser from a clothespin, hot glue and felted balls. 
  • Picking up a drive-through meal and the cupholders are mostly full? Bring along a muffin tin and sit in on the passenger seat inside a deep plastic container — you can fit 12 drinks easily! 
  • If everyone will be eating in the car, keep a few plastic shower caddies around to hold their meal and drink — since, chances are, the cupholder’s been yanked off their booster seat and who knows where it is? 
  • Keep an old blanket in the trunk. You can use it at soccer games, picnics and beach outings during the spring and summer, and it’ll be an in-case-of-emergency item during the winter months. 
  •  You know how the cupholders always end up sticky and crumb-y … or is that just my minivan? Put silicon cupcake liners inside the cup holders and you can simply pull them out and wash them (or replace them) when they start to get gross.

You might also like …

The complete list of what’s in my van (and why)

So what do you think?

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