The car I'm driving now -- a 2004 Touareg -- is the first car I ever bought for myself. I got it in 2006, and when I drove it home, I promised that I'd never let its immaculate surfaces become grungy and cluttered. I swore I'd take it to the car wash every couple weeks to keep its sleek black paint job shiny and clean. I carefully hung a tiny faux-leather trash receptacle around the gearshift, dusted off my hands, and marveled at the gleaming expanse of new-car-scented leather interior.

That new car smell must've lasted about a week, tops, before my baby horked a reeking geyser of semidigested milkbarf all over his carseat, which soaked the seatbelt, ran down in foul trickles into the seat cushion cracks, and spotted the floormat.

I don't know how long it was before I just ... gave up on the idea of having a clean car. A couple more years? After I'd vacuumed up the thousand million billionth Goldfish cracker that had been mashed into the seats, maybe.

Now, to be clear, I don't drive around like a mobile version of Hoarders. You know how some people's cars get filled up to the ceiling with fast food wrappers, empty soda containers, overflowing ashtrays, and various fly-specked detritus? My car is nowhere near that bad, I promise. But it's certainly come a long way from that pristine vehicle I drove off the lot seven years ago.

I admit I contribute to some of the mess: crumpled Kleenexes, mostly, and forgotten receipts. My kids, however, are the reason that laughably tiny trash receptacle had to be replaced years ago with a gargantuan always-full bag that practically forces the passenger against the door.

Back when they were unstable babies and toddlers whose moods fluctuated wildly based on their blood sugar levels, I always had snacks on hand in the car. As a result, my car always looked like the bottom of a birdcage -- crumbs and half-chewed mysterious substances everywhere, smears and blobs and random shudder-inducing chunks.

I thought things would get better once they were past the stage where things were constantly going into or out of their bodies, and to a certain degree, that's true. They don't eat in my car very often, so I don't have quite as many biohazard zones. Still, when they DO eat, they're no tidier than they used to be. The other day I found a stash of rock-hard, fossilized french fries next to my oldest son's booster seat, as perfectly and repulsively preserved as the amber-trapped mosquitoes in Jurassic Park.

The floors are littered in a layer of school papers, many of which are perpetually moist from overenthusiastic glue application and shedding glitter. There are tiny LEGO parts everywhere you look. Someone's filthy umbrella is crushed partway under a seat. A tennis ball rolls back and forth during our trips, bonking gently against the doors. Leaves and dried mud and piles of playground sand coat the floormats. Both of the boys' booster seats rattle with god only knows what shoved into the drink holders. The pockets on the back of both front seats are stuffed with Ninjago books and more school papers.

Mysteriously, there is a sole once-white sock in the exact middle of the backseat. "Whose sock is that," I asked irritably the other day. "NOT ME," both children chimed in unison.

Every few months I haul the Shop-Vac out of the garage and I vacuum every inch of my car. I clean the fingerprints and nose-smudges off the glass, I wipe the seats so they're once again fit for human use. For a brief, shining moment, I can see what the interior of my car is actually supposed to look like -- but that would be in a world without two giggling, messy children who often forget to wipe their shoes or chew with their mouths shut. My car is a disaster, and I guess the truth is I'm totally okay with that.

Is your car a traveling mess-heap too?


Image via &koia&/Flickr