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It’s common for spouses to have different standards of cleanliness. Sometimes it can signal larger problems, such as a failure to recognize a partner’s needs

After a long, slushy winter, I really look forward to spring cleaning my car. On the first warm April weekend, you'll find me in my driveway, rag in hand, contentedly wiping mucky boot prints from the back seat and scrubbing salt stains from the mats.

Call me anal (I prefer "tidy"), but I can't stand a dirty car. All winter, while my children make smudgy fingerprints in the window frost, I long for the day I can spray glass cleaner without it freezing into chunks.

My husband doesn't have such hang-ups about mess. While I wash my car regularly, his usually gets cleaned once a year around Father's Day, if the kids are up to the task. His passenger seat is often hidden under food wrappers, receipts and lunch containers. Good luck fitting a week of groceries in his trunk, crammed as it is with tools, bicycle parts and empty motor oil bottles. Heck, you'd be hard-pressed to get a coffee into the cup holder, it's so full of coins.

Sometimes it's hard to believe, but I'm married to a car slob.

It happens, says Kimberly Moffit, a Toronto-based couples therapist. It's common for spouses to have different standards of cleanliness. Sometimes it can signal larger problems, such as a failure to recognize a partner's needs, Moffit says. Often the spouse who's always cleaning up grows increasingly frustrated until they wind up in a big fight (and in counselling).

I guess it's a good thing I never clean my husband's car. I might blow a gasket!

My husband's not oblivious to my disdain for his unkempt car. He knows I can stand only so much mess before I go from neat freak to angry freak. He will slip quietly out of the house with his car keys and a garbage bag when he knows I'll be riding shotgun with him. Still, I wonder, isn't there an easy way to turn Mr. Nice into Mr. Clean?

Not really, says Laura Kay, a Toronto-based professional organizer. Unless messy people are motivated to change, you can't force them to be neat. You can, however, try to encourage some tidy habits with a system of organization.

Start by containing the mess, she says. Every car needs a trash bin, otherwise garbage will be shoved into cup holders or any crevice within reach.

Next, you need a portable container, preferably see-through, for errands. Keep it by the front door for library books, dry cleaning and whatever else needs to move from the house to the car. "If you can keep it on the passenger seat beside the driver, it may act as a reminder," says Kay.

Whatever you do, don't put the errand bin in the trunk, she warns. "That trunk is a lost cause. It's good for the tools, the snow brush and the cables."

Kay suggests clear seasonal containers for the trunk – one for winter gear and one for summer. Each time you change your snow tires, swap the bins and give the whole car a thorough cleaning.

Her final advice: "You have to pick your battles." She tells me it can take 21 attempts before a new habit takes hold.

So, at two cleanings a year, that means I should expect to see a cleaner car in about a decade.

Fortunately for my husband, I think he's worth the wait. In the meantime, I'll stick with the system we already have in place: Turn a blind eye, and hope the kids keep up the Father's Day car-cleaning tradition.


Do you have a messy car? Send us a photo for our "Junk in the Trunk" gallery!




How messy is your car interior?

Total car apocalypse: 15% (1,313 votes)

A bit of a mess: 52% (4,505 votes)

Utterly spotless (as usual): 33% (2,842 votes)



Want to go from car slob to car snob? Here's how to clean your car the right way, according to Dave Lambert, Canadian brand manager for Autoglym premium car care products (official supplier to the Queen):

  • Wash the exterior with a ph-neutral car wash (not dish soap).
  • Every six months, use a polish to remove imperfections in the paint and bring out its shine. Finish with a layer of wax to create a protective barrier.
  • Use an all-purpose interior shampoo on fabrics, carpets, mats and plastic surfaces. A coarse sponge can help remove salt stains.
  • The dashboard and plastics should also be protected from cracking with a vinyl-care product.
  • Use an auto-glass cleaner on windows, displays and mirrors.
  • Clean and moisturize leather to keep it soft and prevent drying.
  • Don’t forget the tires, rims and wheel wells, where debris collects.
  • Use a pressure washer under the body.

Dianne Nice is the Globe's business community editor. Follow @diannenice on Twitter.

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