If a person’s car is a symbol of her mental state, I may be in trouble.
I have overlooked the cereal bits on the rear floor, pulverized by tiny sneakers. I have ignored the play keys rusting in a car seat cupholder, coated with sticky goo.
My neighbor says cleaning is like stringing beads without knotting one end. With our house, I string beads fast enough to keep a few on the necklace and keep our space livable.
The car suffers low-priority status but for the handful of times my mother-in-law visits each year. As a family we never quite clear out as much as we bring in. Between all the trips to the park, the pool, camping and back-to-school prep, the gross factor swelled this summer.
Cleaning felt futile. Nobody but us had to see it, I reasoned.
Then came kindergarten drop-off.
The first morning I pulled up to the school door and hugged my son across the seats, I spied a teacher walking toward the car. Instead of watching him forge triumphantly into school and the next phase of his life, I had to corral old water bottles, dirty napkins and Legos that Murphy’s Law wanted on the ground.
That was the spark I needed to reform. While brother was at school, my younger son and I spent an hour and a half dismantling the debris and filling a jumbo-sized laundry basket with discarded kids’ clothing and toys. The Shop-Vac worked the hardest, sucking up shriveled Lucky Charms, stale nuts and crusty tissues peeking between the seats. We treated my husband to lunch with the money we found on the floor.
Now the car is clutter-free and comfortable. I will keep it that way, if not for the sake of cleanliness, for our safety.
All that gunk breeds germs. Obviously. I am happy to be ignorant of which kinds lived in my car, but I have an idea based on the shudder-worthy results of a recent swab test “The Doctors” performed on one brave woman’s slovenly SUV. E. coli lurked on her toddlers’ car seats, and mold spores circulated through the vents.
A cluttered car poses another hazard I hadn’t considered: All those half-full bottles are potential projectiles.
News reports abound with examples of unrestrained objects as deadly projectiles in vehicles, including a cellphone that cracked a California 1-year-old’s skull during a head-on crash. As many as 13,000 people get hurt each year by flying objects in their cars, according to a 2012 study done by Massachusetts-based Safety Research & Strategies.
Something as lightweight as a tissue box can’t kill you — “MythBusters” tested that one — changed: but hurtled at enough force it would still hurt.
That’s enough motivation for me. We will stow. We will pick up and put away. We’ll vacuum and wipe down with regularity.
Car, I will conquer you.