Ask Unclutterer: Auto office

Reader Jim submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

My wife uses her mini van as an office for her process serving business, and a shuttle bus for taking our children to and from various events plus all the household shopping. Her process serving business involves carrying multiple files that need served and ones that have been served. She also uses duct tape to post papers on doors, flashlight, mace, and a gps. She uses a plastic grocery bag over one of the arm rests for a garbage bag and she carries all the coupons in her van since she never knows when she will need one. All of these items are kept in between the front seats, door pockets and overhead visors. Needless to say the van can get cluttered quite quickly. This drives me crazy when we use her van for family trips. What suggestions or gadgets have you come across for organizing a vehicle? Any suggestions would be appreciated.

The same rules you use to keep your home uncluttered should apply to your car. Specifically, I’m thinking of the Unclutterer motto: “A place for everything and everything in its place.” The reason the car is becoming cluttered is because none of your wife’s items have a “place” in the car.

I recommend that you and your wife look into getting an automotive mobile office. There are many different options, so find the one that works best for her specific needs. I like the AutoDesk Standard Efficiency model because of the additional storage space behind the laptop surface:

The prices might initially seem a little steep (most are between $100 and $200), but when you compare them to the costs of traditional office furniture, they’re incredibly less expensive. And, it is her office. Just because she works in a car doesn’t mean she has to sacrifice all of the benefits of a conventional office.

A coupon organizer would be a great solution for her coupon collection and could be stored in the auto desk unit. And, a large litter bag would also be a nice addition to keep trash under control.

As far as posting papers around the car, you might consider using sticky tape to adhere a cork or metal strip to the front of the glove box. Then, either with thumb tacks or magnets she could hang the papers there instead of using duct tape throughout the car.

Thank you, Jim, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.

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21 Comments for “Ask Unclutterer: Auto office”

  1. posted by Jonathan on

    Erin, I think an automobile should be a unitasker, just to be courteous to other pedestrians and motorists. Drivers should wait until the vehicle is parked to collect trash, make and post notes, and organize coupons.

  2. posted by Glyn on

    Seeing your post about the rolling tool cart, I thought I’d mention a tip passed on to me my the local village carpenter. He used to save glass jars with metal screw-top lids and then fix the lids to the undersides of shelves. The jars could be filled with nails, woodscrews and other small items and then stored in place by the lids fixed to the shelving.

    This way he could see the contents of all the jars and still had plenty of shelf space. Maybe its an old tip in the US but it was new to me in the UK.

  3. posted by T on

    For those who don’t care as much about looks, the DIY car console highlighted on Lifehacker might work for you.

  4. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Jonathan — I think that since Jim’s wife is intelligent enough to have a job and family, that she is more than intelligent enough to know to not drive and work at the same time.

  5. posted by HMR on

    I think that “She also uses duct tape to post papers on doors…” refers to taping notices to clients doors, not the interior car doors. Either way, the strip on the glove box is still a good idea for those papers you need to keep handy on a trip.

  6. posted by John Swope on

    I have the Autodesk Truck Master with the integrated 400 watt power inverter. Yes, they’re a bit on the expensive side, but it’s been indispensable when it comes to doing ANY work in my vehicle. I added velcro to the tabletop as well as the bottom of my laptop, which helps immensely in keeping the laptop in place while driving. And no, I don’t work on it and drive at the same time ๐Ÿ˜‰

  7. posted by Loren on

    Yeah I agree with ‘HMR’ I think the duck tape is for notices on HOUSE doors. Not for hanging notices in the car.
    For all of her ‘every day’ things like the GPS, duck tape, mace and flashlight, maybe she could find a tool belt. It could hold everything, be taken on and off in the car to be more comfortable, and could be carried into the house when she comes home from work (and left there when you guys go on vacation).

  8. posted by Jonathan on

    Erin: your response is humorous, but inductively false.
    “Potash, a large public fertilizer and chemical company, never told managers like Mr. Dekok, or regional salesmen like Rob Hudson, that they needed to multitask while driving.

    But given that both men drive an average of 150 miles each day visiting feed mills and other customers, their cars inevitably became rolling offices, the place where they call clients, plan meetings and make hotel reservations.”

    From The New York Times’ series on distracted driving.

  9. posted by trillie on

    It sounds like maybe a hanging file folder box for papers and coupons and a toolbelt (what a great suggestion, Loren!) might be enough. For the garbage bag, maybe a hook with a suction cup could be placed somewhere less irritating than the armrest to hold it in place.

    Even though I’m now afraid of this becoming a long and heated “if you’re allowed to smoke in your car, you should be allowed to make phonecalls too” debate, I would like to say that I agree with Erin: Jim’s wife should be intelligent enough to know what she can do while driving and for what she should pull over and stop the car.

  10. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Jonathan — I believe people are good, capable, and reasonable unless proven otherwise. The two men in the article would have proven to me that in these specific instances they did not make reasonable choices, but they don’t change my entire perspective on human existence, nor do they make me think that they aren’t usually good, capable, and reasonable people.

  11. posted by chacha1 on

    I think the AutoDesk is a great suggestion – much better than cobbling together an assortment of random items – and hey, it’s a business expense.

    As to working from the car … process servers may need to take phone calls while driving, but actually serving papers involves, you know, *stopping the car.* So I’m pretty sure the lady in question has multiple points throughout her day to take care of business while the car is not in motion. Sheesh, people can be judgy.

  12. posted by Kate on

    One thing that an auto-office clutterer should perhaps take note of, is that every item that is unsecured in your car, from a coffee cup to a pencil, to a kleenex box, to a laptop computer – will become a projectile in the event of a collision. The recommended automobile mobile office is gorgeous – my organizer eyes are lighting up with greed – but would be a death-trap in a crash, unless it came with a latching cover to contain all the items, and a way to secure it to the vehicle console.

    A rule of thumb – if you would not be willing to have the item hurled at your head (or your passenger’s or child’s head) at 80 miles an hour, it should not be loose in your car.

    An illustration of this would be the woman in Vancouver last year who was in a low-speed minor collision last year, but was killed by her own laptop that was loose in her backseat.

  13. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Kate — These offices usually strap onto the seat. So they are as secure as something like a baby seat. And, I would contend that having a pen or pencil in a storage pocket like these desks provide is safer than having one loose on the dashboard.

  14. posted by Brit on

    Read The Lincoln Lawyer,” by Michael Connelly–about a defense attorney whose office is his Lincoln Town Car. Not sure you’ll get all that many clutter control tips, but it’s a corking good yarn!

  15. posted by AmyK on

    That is a good book, but as I recall, he had a driver and worked from the back seat.

  16. posted by Steve on

    In any accident this is going to lead to trouble. It would be interesting to see what happens when the cars air-bags deploy. Unless, of course, you were actually in the car.

  17. posted by Karyn on

    This looks like a great idea for those who practically live out of their cars. For those concerned about projectile potential, how is this any different from all of the loose items people carry around in their cars every day? Erin pointed out that this particular model buckles in like a car set; what about the books, shoes, shopping backs, gallons of milk, and sundry other items people throw into the car without a second thought? Point being, if you aren’t worried about a freak accidental injury occuring with a flying book or milk jug, then maybe there’s no need to single out this particular item. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  18. posted by GG Allin on

    While I am driving my car, I often, eat, place telephone calls, and watch DVDs at the same time. It is a necessary fact of my car-office existence. Don’t forget the mandatory scramble the dropped pen adventure!

  19. posted by Karyn on

    “Shopping backs” is supposed to be “shopping bags.” ๐Ÿ˜‰

  20. posted by Jill on

    I definitely think she is more than capable of knowing not to drive while working, what a silly comment that was.

  21. posted by Christina on

    HMR is exactly right. For those of you less familiar with the legal profession and litigation (Be thankful you are, too!) a process server serves papers on individuals who are in litigation. Often times, a process server is required to serve papers on people who have pretended not to receive papers by mail, give others reason to believe they will put up a fight (hence the mace), or otherwise try to evade service. Depending on the types of cases and individuals involved, being a process server can be similar to working as a document courier, or even like being a bounty hunter.

    Thus, I think the toolbelt idea is good, or a fannypack or something else to hold items like tape, mace, etc. or in addition to the Autodesk keep a small box in the car to old items one would need to use daily but might not need to be on your person the whole time. Also, I would get a filebox (something like this: to keep all of her files in. The idea is to keep as much of her work contained in a few items that are easy to pull out of the car on days they won’t be in use. I have a few bins in my car I use like this and it works great!!

    (Not a process server myself, but I’m familiar with the profession as I have had to employ one in the past… and I also work for a law firm that uses them frequently.)

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