Entering a spotless car is a rare treat, one that often leaves us wondering if something might be amiss with the owner. Maintaining a perfectly clean car for an extended period is no small feat and can be equated to the challenge of keeping a woman’s purse orderly. However, a piece of advice once dropped on me has resonated ever since: “If you don’t eat in your car, it will look brand new until you sell it or it dies.”
This nugget of wisdom makes perfect sense. By avoiding meals in your vehicle, you can sidestep the accumulation of age-old French fries under the seats, wax-coated cups from last week’s soda wedged in the cup holder, and Doritos bags stashed in the glove box. It also means no more relentless crumbs entwined with the carpet fibers.
Our cars serve as mirrors reflecting different phases of our lives. During our teenage years, a car doubles as a dressing room, a hangout for friends, and a mobile repository for drive-thru remnants, makeup paraphernalia, work uniforms, and gym attire. In this youthful chapter filled with aspirations, maintaining a clean car seldom makes the priority list. The automobile is merely a vessel propelling us toward our dreams.
Then comes the “Mommy Mobile” phase, characterized by a car that doubles as a debris field. Parents navigating the treacherous terrain from newborns to high school graduations receive a universal pass from judgment on their car’s cleanliness. It’s an unwritten pact between the cosmos and parents: you will not be scrutinized for your car’s state if you have kids.
Recently, I visited my daughter—a mother of two boys—and her Jeep SUV epitomized the archetype of the Mommy Mobile. If I had examined closely, I wouldn’t have been surprised to discover another forgotten child somewhere amid the backseat chaos. The pandemonium felt all too familiar. There simply aren’t enough hands, fingers, or arms for one person to manage toddlers, school materials, artwork, lunch boxes, coats, sports gear, and Goldfish cracker containers.
However, somewhere around middle age, societal expectations regarding car cleanliness begin to shift. As we decelerate, our cars need fewer supplies to navigate life: no more diapers, juice boxes, or soccer balls. This is the car your grandchildren will inherit—a clean, technologically outdated relic at the time of inheritance, with low mileage and perhaps even a fresh box of Kleenex in the backseat.
I ponder when this newfound desire for a clean car took root. For the majority of my life, I didn’t fret over it; there were more pressing concerns. But now, I cringe when giving someone a ride in an unkempt car. “Sorry the car is such a mess,” I often find myself saying.
I challenge anyone to locate the space between the driver’s seat and the center console that isn’t a treasure trove of pennies, French fries, and elusive debit cards. If an automotive manufacturer could devise a solution for that abyss, I’d be the first in line to purchase one of their cars.
Then there are the carpets. They possess tiny fiber fingers that clutch onto crumbs, never releasing their grip. It’s entirely possible to spot a salt speck in your car from 1997 that fell off a chip during a journey across Alligator Alley in Florida.
If only crumbs could recount their stories.
Sure, you can invest in fancy equipment to restore your car’s splendor in your driveway: miniature air blowers designed to extract minuscule debris from tight spaces, attachments that infiltrate the nooks between seats and consoles. There’s rug shampoo, leather conditioner, and dashboard wipes for that polished finish.
However, I’m a “good enough” kind of person. If I can locate a clean spot to sit that doesn’t bear the remnants of yesterday’s trip to the garden store, I consider it a job well done.