Whether you’re heading out for a long road trip or trying to manage the chaos of school pick up, use these simple but powerful van organization ideas to find what you need when you need it. These must-have minivan organization tips will keep kids’ snacks handy, trash packed away, and mom stress-free.
Ah, the family vehicle. It’s your method of transportation, and it’s also usually a family catch-all. From snacks to sports equipment, school papers, clothing, and much more, somehow, it all lands in the family vehicle – and stays there.
Why van organization matters
It’s easy to forget about car organization. Like many families, we’re usually so busy coming and going that organizing our family vehicle is often only a passing (nagging) thought.
But a well-organized van can make life SO much easier! When you have organization systems in place, you’re easily able to plan ahead, which makes coming and going simpler and less stressful for the entire family. And it helps eliminate that age-old problem of forgetting things at home!
That’s why one of my goals this summer was to get our minivan organized. And I wanted to implement my new storage systems on a slim budget – basically, using things around the house.
How I organized our van: Our minivan organization system
Before I could get our minivan organized, I had to clean it first. Ugh, I didn’t relish the thought of dragging out the giant wet-dry vac or dealing with all the filth the van has accumulated over the winter.
But we had a beautiful afternoon recently, and it motivated me to finally tackle the project I had been putting off. Of course, the kids helped. And got in the way…
It took me a solid two hours to fully vacuum and clean out the van. It was that dirty. And it’s still not as clean as I’d like it to be since four kids with muddy boots in New Hampshire (where mud season can last almost as long as winter itself) track in a whole lotta dirt.
To get it as clean as I’d like it, we would need to buy new floor mats and pay for professional inside detailing…but that’s a project for another day.
For this project, there were three specific areas I focused on for organizing our minivan:
- Car-sickness supplies
- The back cargo area
Minivan organization: A solution for trash
In the cabin of our van, trash was the biggest issue. It was practically overflowing with litter. Granola bar wrappers. Zip bags (from sandwiches.) Napkins. Old water bottles. So many papers.
I’m sure we’re not the only ones who deal with this problem. And finding a solution for trash is an important part of car organization. If you don’t have a place to put it, you’re going to have a mess no matter what you do.
In the past, we used a cardboard box as a makeshift trash can. It kinda worked.
But one major downside was that it took up valuable floor space. And since it was in the middle row, it didn’t help with trash in the backseat.
Usually, it all was left on the floor until I declared “time to clean the car” every few months, and the kids grudgingly picked up. So, honestly, that system really didn’t work.
A budget-friendly van organization idea
This was the number one issue I wanted to solve. And I found the perfect budget-friendly solution on Pinterest.
Say hello to my new friend: Command hooks. They’re ideal for holding a plastic grocery bag for easy trash disposal.
I put one small Command hook on each row. The first went in the back seat row.
It’s off to the side so it won’t get in the way, yet it’s still accessible enough for the kids to toss stuff into easily. I may add a second hook on the other side later, but for now, I think one will suffice.
NOTE: I’ve had readers ask if I have had to replace the Command hook adhesive yet. So far, I’ve only had to replace the tape once – when Nathan thought it would be neat to see what happened when he pulled the bottom of the tape. Sigh.
Next, I attached a second Command hook in the middle row of the van.
This is Joshua and Luke’s row. They’re still a little young to reach over and put trash in the bag while buckled in. But once we stop, they can each pick up their own sandwich bag and throw it away.
I was going to add a third hook in the front when I realized our Toyota Sienna is already equipped with a small built-in hook. I’ve never used it before, but now it finally has a mission.
It’s a little lower than I’d prefer, so I may still add a Command hook above it later. But for now, I’m giving it a trial run.
A great advantage to this trash solution in the van is that it’s easy for the kids to help empty or replace the bags.
Trash? Problem solved!
Van organization idea for snacks
I used to pack new snacks each time we left the house. But it was one more thing to remember, and I knew it would just be simpler to have the stuff already in the car.
So I made a snack bin for our minivan.
I used an empty wipes container. Wipes containers make great storage bins and are so handy for so many things!
It’s small and fits under the middle console, which keeps it hidden from small children wanting to help themselves.
Now, I don’t have to remember to pack snacks because they’re already in the car! I do need to restock it once in a while, but I can easily do that during nap time or when the kids are occupied for a few minutes.
A bin for car-sickness supplies
Unfortunately, Joshua gets carsick. Usually, it’s only on long car trips or in stop-and-go traffic, but I can’t always predict it. Driving in horrible Boston traffic and having Joshua get sick not too long ago reminded me that I kept forgetting to stock the car with towels and a puke bucket.
Enter the Car-Sick Bin.
Our car-sick bin holds a plastic bag, a small towel, baby wipes, and some plastic cups (which work great as portable, disposable, affordable “puke-buckets.”)
I know, I know – gross. But hey, it’s a fact of life.
It all fits nicely in a small bin under the center console, where I can quickly grab supplies whenever we need them.
The next time we have an incident, this mom is prepared!
Minivan storage solution ideas for the back cargo area
One of my favorite features of the minivan is the van storage area in the very back. The downside of that storage space is that it easily gets out of hand with junk.
I cleared everything out and only put back the essentials. For our family, this includes:
- Extra wipes
- A few spare diapers for Luke (since I rarely use a diaper bag anymore)
- A spare just-in-case-life-is-unpredictable-with-kids towel
I also included a couple of insulated frozen foods reusable bags and a few water bottles. We rarely buy bottled water, but I do keep some in the back of the van for the occasional day trip out. Plus, you never know when an activity may run long or the day may be hotter than you expected.
Bottled water in the van has come in handy more times than I can count, so I always keep a few there. Just in case.
The rest of the back is empty, leaving plenty of room for whatever summer fun may bring us. Now I don’t have to move things around to fit in the beach chairs and blow-up floaties!
Car organization success!
Van organization FAQs
I’ve seen several questions from readers about organizing their own family vehicles, so I’m answering some of them below in case you have them too!
Won’t plastic trash bags blow around in the car?
We did run into that! Empty plastic bags tend to fly around if the van windows are open while we’re driving (but probably isn’t a problem if you never open the windows).
To avoid that, we now simply put the plastic bags in nearby cup holders or cubbies when they’re empty. Then we pull them back out and hang them up when we have trash.
Are plastic trash bags noisy as they move around?
With four kids in the van, there’s so much noise that I don’t even notice any noise from the plastic bags! However, if you have that problem, you could purchase a reusable foldable trash bin accessory that hangs from the headrest. It’s more expensive but will accomplish the same task without the noise.
Does the plastic bag up front get in the way?
For the most part, we haven’t had any problems with the bag getting in the way. There was one time when a sports bag jostled it, but we started putting sports bags in the back cargo area.
If that location is a problem for you, you could try putting plastic bags in the compartment at the bottom of the front doors. I do that when we go on longer trips and have more stuff in the van. It works great and offers a trash solution that’s completely out of the way.
Do these tips work for other types of family vehicles?
Yes! We have a minivan, but these same tips can be adapted to work for cars, trucks, or even a work van if you use it to transport your kiddos from time to time. You may need to use slightly different storage systems, depending on your exact van layout, but the basic ideas will work well.
And that, my friends, is how I organized our minivan. I hope these tips help you transform your messy family vehicle into an organized transportation tool!
More organization inspiration
If you’re searching for more helpful mom hacks, check out these ideas!
Renee Arbia says
This is a great post! There so many different types of ways to organize your house but I have never seen a car organization and it is definitely needed. I know I will be doing all this in our car. Thanks so much for the great ideas!
These are great tips!
They make trash bins that you can hang from the back of the seat. My husband uses those in his car, and my minivan has a built-in trash can.
We use throw up buckets too. We have disposable cups – we actually save them EVERY time we eat out and get kid’s cups (moe’s, Olive Garden, etc). I have a really big one and then a whole bunch of small ones. Also my daughter was in the hospital a couple months ago and they make these awesome disposable throw-up bags.. but I don’t know how you could get your hands on those (in any case, we have a stash of those).
I’m a big ‘rag’ person. I have a huge stash of washcloth rags at home, and I put some in the car too. It works great for big spills in the car, or other random stuff (like when we went to Six Flags and it had just rained, so we took some to dry off the seats).
I also keep a big stash of plastic grocery bags in the van. Great for trash or like if the kid’s shoes get muddy (we take off their shoes and put them in a plastic bag).
And of course an extra set of clothes for each kid 🙂
Ahhh a planner after my own heart! Great list, Marysa!
I also love ‘rags.’ I have a ton of old diaper rags and cut up towels too. They are so handy. I use them for everything from cleaning to wiping up spills to paint cloths.
The bags they give at the hospital are called emesis bags and you can get packs of 12 or 24 on Amazon. We keep some in my van and I always have one in my purse. My kids tend to puke at the worst times! LOL
As i read this i was wondering…
1. Now that its summer over there is it safe to leave food in the car? I mean it probably gets very hot in it.. And that cant be good for the food
2. Because of the heat dont the baby wipes get dry?? That happens to me every time here…
Michelle Pelletier says
I buy the baby wipes with the plastic lid on the soft bag (from Walmart) and they stay moist in the car forever!
Those are my favorites too, Michelle. They work so well and are so handy for out-and-about use!
1) It doesn’t get that hot here in NH. We’re way up in the north. And when we do get a few 80+ degree days, I only keep granola bars or basic crackers in the car, never anything perishable. It would be more of an issue in the winter (with frozen food) because it gets SO cold here.
2) No, I use the same type of wipes that Michelle recommends (see my photo too) and it’s fine. I also think our not-as-hot summers here in New Hampshire factor into that.
Thanks for reading, Mara!
Shannon V. says
Great tips Erika!
I always wondered if command hooks would work in the car for trash bags (I currently have mine hanging from the ashtray). I will give the command hooks a go!
My concern would be leaving sunscreen in the car at those temps. Even though you don’t get many days that are 80+, the high temps will cause the sunscreen to degrade and become less effective.
I didn’t think about that, Shannon. I guess we’ll stick with keeping sunscreen on my to-bring list everytime instead. Thanks!
Brandy Scott says
I just wanted to add that I keep sunscreen in my beach bag as well as an extra in my truck for those not planned outings. I would rather put some sunscreen that might be less strong then none at all. But that’s just my thinking, something is better than nothing. I live in Florida and haven’t had a problem with any of my sunscreen not working.
Thanks, Brandy. That was my thinking too. Better a little defective than none at all!
One of the first things I did after buying my minivan was search for organization tips. I found that if I spend just a few minutes per week cleaning it out, I can keep it in decent shape. I use our shop vac to vacuum it out at least once a month. Thanks for sharing these tips!
That’s a great point, Whitney! That would have definitely saved me the 2 hours of cleaning I had to do! lol
Thanks for reading! 🙂
I just discovered your blog love it and I too am a follower of Christ!
I wanted to tell ya your not the only one with “mini van” troubles. I thought I’d shared with you one of my biggies. Spills on the rug! Some stains won’t come out, but vinegar does work in some cases. But I purchased those rug remnants (small rectangles) or just use area rugs Like you get for your kitchen. I put them in front of each seat and on the step-in area (2 side by side for width) of the sliding doors. This helped me so much for when they had wet or muddy feet or when we go to the beach, we replace rugs with Bathroom shag rugs because it catches the sand, then we just shake it out. *I wish I had thought of this before our carpet got ruined but at least I know for our new crossover car. I just LOVE your blog and you can count me in as a new loyal fan!
That’s a great idea, Jen! I’m definitely going to try it. Thanks so much for sharing! And thanks for reading – it’s always wonderful to hear good feedback. ((HUGS)) Have a wonderful weekend!
I liked your creative ideas. You didn’t mention some other useful things to keep in a car but perhaps you already have them? A roll of quarters and twenty dollars in smaller bills is essential to keep in the glovebox. This comes in handy so often! Also a flashlight, multitool , basic first aid kit, a roll of tape and scissors. I also keep an area map and a cigarette lighter charger for our phones . I sure wish summers here weren’t so hot so that I could keep snacks in the car also.
I try to avoid keeping bottles of water in the car because of the plastic leeching chemicals into the water when it gets warm. You can check online for more information. Great tips though! Thankyou from a new to minivans mom 🙂
Yes, thank you, Steph! This summer I have started doing that too. You are very right!
Please come clean and organize my car! LOL ….the problem with mine is I put things in and never take things out. Right now there are two coats, two sets of gloves, a sweater, a hat, a dog pillow and a dog blanket…and I will not even get into the trunk! And its just me!!! Great job, maybe if its warmer this weekend I will get mine done.
Car sick option: Get a disposable cup WITH A LID! Like the ones at gas stations. Then you can cap it and toss it! Get more than one, because it is rarely a one of event.
Also, stock some mints that your child would like in your kit. It cleans up their breath a bit and soothes their tummy!
Thanks for these ideas, especially the trash one! That is our number one issue!
Great ideas! Thanks for sharing!
This is a van organization post I can totally relate to! Thanks for posting the dirty van pic–a lot of bloggers seem to be throwing up the “I’m obsessed with a clean van and it’s always clean” image. We use the little hook in our Honda Odyssey for bags, too, but the command hook is a great idea for the back when our kids get a bit older. The snack stash is genius…small, easy to restock, and doesn’t take up much room. We like to keep the van open for life’s adventures, too, and it’s nice to see someone who doesn’t clutter up the van with fancy bins.
Thanks, Joy! You should see my van now – it’s awful! I need to reorganize and clean it big time. Now to find the time! 🙂
Hi, do you think you could use a command strip or hook on a the seat of the car itself?
Yes, absolutely, Emily! That’s a great idea!
I live in a semi truck and enjoyed your posti wanted to tell you ifyoutie a knot in the handle of the plastic bags thewill stay on the hooks better.
Aliza Adam says
I searched for organization tips after I purchased my minivan as one of the first things I did. As long as I spend a few minutes cleaning it out every week, I can keep it in decent shape. At least once a month, I vacuum it out with our shop vac. Your tips are helpful.