15 Steps to Vacuuming Once a Month

As I stated in the last blog (and I apologize for the delay), a House That Cleans Itself is one that only needs occasional vacuuming. That's entirely possible if you do the following:

1. Place large, sturdy mats inside and outside every exterior door of your home. The rougher and bigger the mats, the better.

2. If someone in your family routinely tracks in mud, also place a mud scraper outside every exterior door of your home. Also, check back in a few weeks to see my post titled "You Gotta Love Malta". It features a really neat way to stop dirt before it gets tracked inside.

Don't know what a mud scraper is? Click here for an example. Mud Scraper

3. Keep your exterior areas, especially the walkways, free of fallen leaves and other debris.

4. Make sure that visitors can get from your driveway to your door without having to walk on any grass or, even worse, through mud or puddles. Install stepping stones or even a sidewalk, if necessary.

Why not get started on these first four changes, and then check back next week for more steps you can take to reduce your home's need for frequent vacuuming.

No Kidding

I had a fun interview yesterday with a writer who is putting together an article for a major women's magazine. (I'll let you know which one when it hits the stands.)

One of her questions was, "How often should a person vacuum their house? Every day, every other day, or is once a week enough?"

"Once a month," I replied, causing her to gasp.

"You're kidding."

"No really, it's totally possible," I assured her. "If."

"If what?"

"If you first do the following."

I then went on to list the changes you can make to your house that will allow you to avoid vacuuming more than once per month--without living in filth in between. When I was finished with the list, she agreed that it made perfect sense. I knew it would, because that's how things are in a house that cleans itself!

Check back here next week to find out how you, too, can get away with vacuuming just once a month.


Examine Your Sight Zones

Go to the room you want to tackle first. Stand in the doorway, facing in, as if you had just stepped into the house. Now look from side to side. Your Sight Zone includes all of the parts of the room(s) you can see. When you consider the Sight Zone for the space you are in, ask yourself if there is anything you need to do to make this first impression of the interior of your home more attractive and easier to keep clean. Does the area 'work' in terms of setup, flow and design? Are there any changes you can make, such as touching up chipped paint, replacing shabby or overworn items, or removing a stubborn stain?

Consider also, how many other rooms you can see from where you are standing. Is your Sight Zone too broad, covering so many areas that it's impossible to keep them all looking nice all the time?

Page 142 of The House That Cleans Itself has ideas to address this broad Sight Zone issue. Work on your list created in the first paragraph of this entry and stay tuned for some tips on narrowing your Sight Zones!


Making Small Household Repairs Easier

One more great idea for a station is to set up a bin with everything you'll need for indoor repairs. Some of these items may be duplicates of those stored in the garage.

What the Repair Station includes depends entirely on how handy you are and how likely you are to want at your fingertips midlevel tools such as drills and electric screwdrivers.

The most common things include a hammer; screwdrivers (big and small, Phillips and flathead); an assortment of nails, screws, hooks, picture hangers; a carpenter's measure; a small level and a roll of duct tape.

The key is to fill it only with the items you will use regularly and none of the things you only need two or three times a year.


It's a wrap!

A gift wrap station is as simple or as elaborate as your gift-wrapping is.

The key is to put everything together in one place: gift wrap or bags, tape, scissors (that are used only here and never carted off), tissue paper, ribbons, bows, labels or tags and a permanent marker.

Whatever you do, if you are housekeeping impaired, resist the temptation to hoard tiny scraps of wrapping paper in anticipation of wrapping a really small box. Paper scraps belong in the trash or recycle bin even if they're pretty. Also, make a habit of tossing any wrapping paper that gets crushed or bent. If it's too raggedy to use on a gift, why hang on to it?


Rabbit Trails and Setting Up Stations

A rabbit trail is sort of like a treasure hunt. It is what you go on when you need to do a recurring task but the items required to do that task are not stored together.

Page 128 of The House That Cleans Itself has suggestions for setting up a Coffee Station.

If you're in the habit of making coffee, it stands to reason that everything you need should be in the cabinet nearest your coffeemaker. This includes coffee, filters, mugs, cups, saucers, sugar, sweetener, nondairy creamer, measuring scoop and anything else that's part of your coffee routine.

You can set up stations for any tasks that you regularly do. Check out Chapter 14 of The House That Cleans Itself on page 123 for more ideas!

Do whatever it takes to keep your stations intact. You'll find that creating and maintining stations saves you an enormous amount of time and energy!

Ditch the Time Suckers!

Throughout your house look into replacing any items that need repeated 'fixing' to keep from looking messy. From couches with pillow backs to miniblinds that don't want to hang straight. As soon as you can, fix them or get rid of them. Life's too short and your time is too valuable to waste.

See page 120 in The House That Cleans Itself for more details on this great idea!


Ready...Set... Launch!

In our last entry we talked about setting up a launch area near the door that we use the most. This week we'll list some specific ideas.

1. If your entryway is in a less visible area, for example a mudroom, you may prefer to use open cubbies or clear bins. This way everyone can see their items.

2. If you need to easily see the items you're supposed to take with you , try setting up a launching pad in a jelly cabinet. Everyone can have their own shelf. And you can apply adhesive cork to the inside of the door so that extra reminders can be pinned there like a bulletin board. If company comes a knockin', all you have to do is shut the door and your entryway instantly looks neat!

Enjoy your day!

Stuff that 'Needs To Go Out'

Is your entry way cluttered with piles of things that need to go back outside like library books, car keys and videos?

Page 117 from The House That Cleans Itself says that having a neat-but-effective launching pad is vital for the cleanliness of your entryway, and the more people you're launching on a daily basis, the more adaptable it needs to be.

Ideally, somewhere near the door should be a bookcase, cabinet or shelving unit that holds as many baskets or bins as there are family members. Each person uses her bin to place items she will need to take with her when he goes out. For mom it could be purse, sunglasses, and library books; for dad, maybe outbound mail or dry cleaning; for kids, lunchboxes, school papers and class projects.


Is this you #7?

Problem: When you decide to change, you jump in too far, too fast, and too enthusiastically... and burn out before you're done. Over the years the people who know me best have learned not to invest too heavily in some of my enthusiasms because they know most of them will peter out long before I establish true change.

This is more than a personality issue. At its core, it's a spiritual issue. When we go running too quickly down a primrose path at full steam, we're running ahead of God - ahead of his timing and ahead of his blessing. Read Psalm 24:4-5. In our hurry we leave no room for learning or guidance. Our hope is not in God but in our own ideas and excitement. Psalm 46:10 says, "Be still, and know that I am God."

If this is you the solution can be found on page 74 of The House The Cleans Itself.

Solution: Resist the urge to run off half-cocked every time you think you've found a new and better way to conquer mess. If God is in what you want to do, he will reveal that to you in his time. Resolve to stop entering into household purges and changes without first fully grasping the scope of what lies ahead. Read Isaiah 40:29 and Isaiah 40:31.


Is this you #6?

Problem: Through past problems and failures, you have developed aversions to many conventional tools and methods of organizing, such as putting papers into file folders.

If this is you and you've spent a lifetime feeling stupid or guilty because conventional tools and methods don't work for you, it's time to stop beating yourself up. The following solution can be found on page 72 of The House That Cleans Itself.

Solution: Throw convention to the wind and base your solutions on the tools and methods that do work for you. Give yourself the opportunity to try new solutions. Think outside the box! For example, I don't know why sliding papers into a slot doesn't appeal to me but dropping them into an open bin does. I have given up trying to figure out the 'why' and instead decided to focus on the 'what': what works for me in keeping this house clean, in helping me organize, in guiding me through the hours I am given in a day. Ditch the 'oughts' as in 'you ought' to do something this way or that way. Says who? Do it in whatever way works for you. Just don't give up on finding ways to make it work.

Is this you #5?

Problem: You are a perfectionist, or similarly, you are an all-or-nothing cleaner. You're not going to clean at all unless you can do it right and do it completely. The problem is that life doesn't often allow the luxury of that much uninterrupted time. Consequently you can miss out on a lot of life because you might avoid having people come over except when your place is perfectly clean.

If this is you, the following summary comes from information found on page 70 of The House That Cleans Itself.

Solution: To combat this problem, you have to see that it is a problem and not just a personality quirk. Perfectionists can absolutely paralyze themselves preferring complete inaction to doing something imperfectly or incompletely. This one must be attacked head-on by refusing to allow these tendencies to have an effect on your cleaning behavior. Raise your lowest standards and lower your highest standards. Decide what "clean enough" is for you.

Tell yourself that your company is not here to see a clean house, they're here to see you. Invite them over on a regular basis whether the house is spotless or not.

Remember that a house that cleans itself is one that's clean enough.


Room-to-Room Sequence Cleaning

Do you get bogged down trying to get the whole house cleaned? Does the task seem daunting?

Page 200 from The House The Cleans Itself includes details on how to go through your house cleaning using the Room-to-Room Sequence Cleaning process. I'm going to share some highlights with you here and please note - this process is used when you have more than one person involved and is a great way to help children feel part of a team yet individually important.

Each person is assigned several primary tasks:
1. Dad - neatener, high duster
2. Mom- wiper, disinfectant sprayer
3. Teen A - vacuumer, low duster
4. Teen B - mopper, finisher

Start cleaning:
Dad will go to the first room and straighten up any messes, put things that belong elsewhere in a big basket for redistribution and dust the high items. He calls "Done" and moves to the next room to do the same tasks.

Meanwhile Mom moves into the first room and wipes up any messes and cleans. Once she has finished her tasks she calls "Done" and moves to the next room which has been straightened up and is ready for her.

Teen A enters the first room to vacuum and dust the lower items. When done she calls "Done."

Teen B enters the first room and mops if appropriate and finishes the room by putting everything back into place (furniture may have been moved to make way for vacuuming and such tasks).

You get the picture. This way everyone keeps moving from room to room with the supplies he or she needs. As you use this process you may find that someone gets backed up waiting for the previous person to finish a room. If this happens, you can add a task for them in their list of things to do.

Stay tuned for some more interesting cleaning tips!

Is this you #4?

Problem: When you clean, you tend to get lost in the process, which costs you so much time that you aren't able to finish the job. It is a strange phenomenon that most people who consider themselves housekeeping impaired will flip to the opposite side of the spectrum once they get rolling. Before they know it, they're alphabetizing the entire CD collection or are on their hands and knees with a razor blade.

If this is you, check out some suggestions below. They can be found on page 69 of The House That Cleans Itself.

1. Always look at the big picture. Take a quick inventory of a room first and force yourself to begin with the most important areas. For instance, in the kitchen, if there are dirty dishes in the sink and newspapers spread across the table, don't start by washing the windows.

2. Clean with a portable timer. Divide the number of minutes you have to spend by the number of areas you want to clean. The resulting number is how long to set the timer for each room. When the timer goes off, whether you are finished in there or not, move to the next room. This technique will keep you moving throughout the house. Note from Shari: If you've prioritized the messes in the space you're working on as suggested in number 1, then you know you've tackled the biggest issues and can move on.

3. Clean with others. Trade off with a friend. You give her two hours every Tuesday and she gives you two every Thursday. Or you can try Room to Room Sequencing described in part 3 of The House That Cleans Itself. Tune in next week for some handy tips on using this method.


Is this you #3?

Problem: When you organize, do you tend to overdo by creating too many categories? (Too many subdivisions makes sorting complicated and challenging.) Even if you set up a good sorting system by following someone else's simple guidelines, when it comes time to use it you may find youself simply standing there in confusion, item in hand, wondering what category that item is most closely related to. And then, later you can't remember which category you chose, forcing you to dig through all applicable file folders to find the missing paper.

The below solution comes from page 67 of The House That Cleans Itself.

Solution: To best deal with it, think in terms "broader is better." Use boxes or drawers rather than files, and give them more general categories (for example, that air conditioner receipt could go into a box labeled "Papers related to stuff I own"). This sytem may look inefficient to others, but for you this might be the answer to a lifetime of struggling with your tendency to overanalyze.

Whenever you set up any new organizational systems, alway pause and ask youself if you're carrying it too far. Then ask someone else! His or her input will help you see if your organization is too extensive, causing more problems than it will solve.


Is This You #2?

Problem: If you can't see something, you can't remember that it exists--which can lead to all sorts of household messes. (Think about it: Is it harder for you to find something when the house is perfectly neat or when it's kind of messy? If your answer is the latter, you are an out-of-sight-out-of-mind person, for sure!)

If this is you, the solution to this problem can be found on page 67.

Think see-through: clear bins, clear containers, clear drawers. One money-saving tip: Buy clear storage containers at after-Christmas sales.

If it helps, you may even want to set up memory-jogging helps such as bulletin boards, big signs, labels and reminders. (For easy and attractive labeling, I highly recommend the Brother P-Touch line of electronic labelers. I use mine all the time!)

Whatever signs or reminders you use, be sure to integrate them into your decor in such a way that they can easily be camouflaged when you want to tidy up. For example, my family bulletin board is mounted on the inside of a cabinet. I leave the cabinet door open most of the time, but if I want to make things look neater, all I need to do is close the cabinet door and that messy bulletin board disappears.


Is This You #1?

Problem: You have a hard time remembering to pause, think and do when it comes to the actions of daily life.

Solutions to compensate for this type of impairment are found on page 66.

1. Set up your home so that doing the neat thing is as thoughtless a process as doing the messy thing. For example replace the chair you usually dump your jacket on with a standing coat rack.

2. Force yourself to take a five-minute walk through your entire house once a day and focus on what's in front of you. Just do light straightening; if you do it daily it can become a fairly pain-free habit.

3. Use labels everywhere so you don't have to think or remember when putting things away. I lose an enormous amount of time standing in front of a closet trying to bring my brain back into the moment, consciously realizing what I'm holding in my hand and then trying to remember where it goes. Without labels, cleaning is so much trouble that I'm less likely to do it.

Problems with the Hard Wiring

Did you know that many household mess problems have nothing to do with bad habits or laziness but are in fact a direct result of how our brains function? In The House That Cleans Itself, I have dedicated an entire chapter to describing the various challenges that may be contributing to your mess, along with solutions for dealing with those problems. I'll feature excerpts from that chapter in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!

Dear Readers,

I've got a very busy few months ahead, so for the summer I have decided to take a break from writing this blog. Never fear, however, because my assistant Shari is going to continue post here each week a brief excerpt from my book The House That Cleans Itself. I hope you'll keep stopping by to take a look--and that the info you get will be helpful as you work through or fine-tune the program!

As for me, I'll be hard at work finishing my next novel, Shadows of Lancaster County, which will be released in January from Harvest House Publishers. It's a gothic-type mystery set in Amish country and I'm having a great time immersing myself in the story. If you have any household mess questions in the meantime, feel free to send them to Shari at, and she'll hold onto them for me to answer once I have turned in my novel in August and can return to this blog and give your questions my full attention.

Thanks for your patience and understanding! I hope you have a lovely summer full of reading and relaxing and VERY LITTLE CLEANING because your house, like mine, is practically cleaning itself!



Your Comments

In April, I heard from Melissa Lester, who said, "I love entertaining and can usually get things together for a party, but struggle with daily home maintenance." Melissa, you have no idea how common that is! Many of us housekeeping-impaired types are highly creative and know how to do things with a flair, so parties are a natural fit. Not so for the drudgery of day-to-day household upkeep.

The good news is that the House That Cleans Itself plan can be a godsend to a creative mind. We excel at problem solving! We love challenges! Now if we can just look at our messy spaces with fresh eyes and think through the right solutions to stop those messes from happening in the first place, half the battle is already won. Melissa, I hope you are persevering in the plan and seeing good results.

And readers, you may want to check out Melissa's blog. She's being humble when she says she can "get things together" for a party. Just scroll down and take a look at the photos from her daughters's birthday and you'll see she gives Martha Stewart a run for her money! While you're there, take a look at her great idea for an end-of-the-year teacher gift as well.

PS to Melissa: I also loved the posts about your trip to New Orleans. With your interest in Louisiana, you may want to check out my latest novel, Whispers of the Bayou, which celebrates that region, where I was born and raised.


The Jewelry Problem

My jewelry wasn't getting put away where it belonged. This didn't make much sense to me, because the system I use has been effective for several years. Still, it seemed time to revisit the issue since most of my jewelry didn't go back into its case but instead was sitting in a heap on the dresser.

If you've read The House That Cleans Itself, you know that I recommend a very unique jewelry solution: I keep my earrings, necklaces, bracelets, etc., stored in clear plastic divided boxes I got at an office supply store. The point of doing this is so that I can go through my jewelry to pick out what I want simply by looking through the clear plastic instead of making a mess while rooting through a jewelry box.

Click here to see plastic boxes

Taking a new look at this system, I realized where the problem was coming in: I'm up to 8 plastic boxes now, and that's too many to go through so easily. (It's not that I have a ton of fancy jewels or anything, it's just that I never get rid of stuff. I've got earrings in there so old that my kids use them with costumes!) My solution, then, was three-fold:

1. First, I purged unneeded jewelry. My teenage daughters took some of it and the rest I gave to a friend who recycles costume jewelry into beautiful artwork.

2. Next, I picked out the pieces that I wear most often and put them into two of the boxes. The other six boxes contain seasonal pieces (like Christmas tree pins), things that go with just one outfit, or things I keep mainly for sentimental reasons (like my childhood charm bracelet.)

3. I hung a row of pegs for the chunkier necklaces that didn't fit in the boxes.

Now, when I get undressed and need to put my jewelry away, I just have to search through 2 plastic boxes instead of 8 to find an empty spot, and I don't have to fight with the chunky necklaces that made the boxes hard to close.

Problem solved, the House That Cleans Itself way!


The Makeup Zone

The problem in my makeup area is the perfect example of why I simply had to write The House That Cleans Itself: because I'm so domestically challenged. A naturally-neat person would never have had this issue, it's that big of a no-brainer.

The problem: My makeup area is consistently messy, littered with cotton balls, tissues, and q-tips.

The solution: (Get ready for a big "Duh!") Put a small trash can within reach.

The reason there was always a mess on my vanity was because the bedroom trashcan is located across the room, and so every time I finished putting on my makeup I had to gather up the used tissues and things, carry them over to the can, and throw them in. For the domestically impaired, that's no small feat—because the simple act of getting up out of a chair is enough to shift the mind into a different gear, one that has forgotten all about walking to the trash can and is instead focused on whatever is next in the agenda.

Because there wasn't room to relocate the bedroom trashcan within reach of the vanity, I got a second, small decorative trashcan instead and stowed it underneath. Now, when I use a tissue to remove my makeup or a q-tip to smooth out my eye liner, it goes straight from my hand to the trashcan. My messy makeup area is no more.

Click here to view a variety of small trashcans.

Next up: the jewelry problem.


Never Stop Tweaking

Recently, my bedroom hasn't been as consistently clean as one in a House That Cleans Itself ought to be. I have been busier than usual with lots of speaking engagements, travel, and novel-writing, but still something has felt "off" about it. The HTCI plan is supposed to be nearly effortless, but in this case it no longer was.

Using the HTCI principles outlined in the book, I decided to take a look at my mess, examine the evidence, and see if I needed to make any new changes. Sure enough, I was able to narrow the problem down to five issues:

1. My makeup area was consistently messy, littered with cotton balls, tissues, and q-tips
2. My jewelry wasn't getting put away where it belonged
3. The TV cabinet seemed messy
4. My bedside table was cluttered with too much stuff
5. The catch-all basket next to my bed had caught all it could—and then some!

Check back next time to see how I solved each of these problems the House That Cleans Itself way.


The Cluttered Couch, Take Five

There are still two items on the cluttered couch that need a home. First is that ubiquitous crayon box.

When my kids were small, I solved the crayon problem with a visit to Pier One, where I bought a gorgeous wooden box that I knew would be pretty on my living room coffee table. We placed the crayons inside that box. That way, they were always handy but hidden in plain sight, and they were easy to put away once they weren't being used.

Click here for an example of the wooden box.

If you don't have a coffee table (or do but don't have room for a pretty box), choose a drawer or cabinet where the crayon box can always go, one that is located very near the couch, since this is obviously where you are in the habit of keeping the crayons.

As for the diaper bag, this brings up a whole set of challenges. It's been so long since my kids were babies (my oldest will graduate from high school this spring!) that I confess I'm not an expert on this. I do, however, remember being out with the diaper bag and reaching inside for something important—only to find that I had used that item up last time and never replenished it. With that in mind, I'm thinking that the best storage place for a diaper bag isn't just somewhere convenient but also somewhere very near the items that go into that bag—for example, hanging on a peg close to the diapering table.

If the baby's room is very far from the door, however, this won't work because it will be too inconvenient. Therefore, I would suggest making room for the diaper bag in the same place you keep your purse—but be sure to post a small list there of things that need to be added to the bag before going out again, such as diapers and wipes. If you really wanted to be efficient, you could keep extra packages of diapers and other items there as well, to pull from.

Moms, do you have any other good ideas about where to store a diaper bag—and how to keep it freshly stocked? If so, post your comments here.


Couch Clutter, Take Four

Blankets are a common culprit for couch mess. Blankets on the couch drive me nuts, probably because every member of my family (except me) makes this particular mess all the time. My solution has been to buy a lidded laundry basket and place it in an unobtrusive spot against the wall in the living room. When not in use, blankets get crammed into that laundry basket, folded or not. The key here is to put the laundry basket in such a convenient spot that blankets can be put away the moment people get up from the couch and chairs. And a lid is very important, otherwise it still looks messy.

Click here to see an example of a laundry basket that's inexpensive but attractive.
Wicker Corner Laundry Basket

If this idea works for you, you may want to look into a fancier, more permanent model such as the one you see by clicking here.
Cappuccino Finish Laundry Basket

Come back soon as we wrap up the cluttered couch issue once and for all.

More on the Problem Couch

Once again we look at the issue submitted by joyannasmom.

If there are books all over your couch…good for you! At least you're reading. But if you've got book clutter, you need to ask yourself where these books belong and why they're not getting put back. It may be that you need a small bookshelf in the room where the couch is. Or maybe there is a bookshelf but it's so overloaded that you don't use it like you should--or it's up too high or down too low and therefore inconvenient. Again, because your goal is to engineer cleaning convenience, you need to examine what's causing this problem and fix it once and for all.

In my house, whenever I notice book clutter in a room where I don't have or want a bookshelf, I'll create a "temporary book storage" area, such as a wicker basket that sits on the floor next to the couch. I won't want that basket there forever, but it's a great temporary solution. You may also want to look at putting some "hidden" storage places into the room, such as a storage ottoman. Click here for an example. The only problem with a hidden storage space is that you might forget the stuff is there. So if that sounds like something you might do, better to keep things neatly corralled—and in plain sight.

Check back soon for more help with a messy couch!


The Problem Couch

Back to joyannasmom and her messy sectional, where she frequently tosses her jacket.

Jackets should always go on a convenient coat rack or hook—not on the nearest chair! You've got three choices, really, on how to do this. Click on each type, below, to see an example or to purchase:
standing coat rack
mounted coat rack
over-the-door coat rack

There's no need to spend a lot of money, though there are some nice-looking ones out there if you're willing to pay the price. If none of the above types fill the bill, head to the nearest dime store and buy a nice-sized coat hook for just a few dollars. Install it in a convenient place—and then force yourself to use it until it becomes a habit.

Come back soon as we keep working through this mess!


Another Problem Area

A while ago, I asked for descriptions of some of the biggest problem areas in your homes. Today we'll talk about one of these, which was submitted by joyannasmom.

Where: living room couch (sectional)
What: clean clothes, jackets, books, blanket, diaper bag, my purse, crayon box
Why: I know I need another bookshelf -- one for my kids' books; clothes we set there to sort through "later"; I do not have a set spot for my purse or keys.

Yikes! If you don't have a set spot for your purse or keys, you've got bigger problems than a messy couch. Right now, before you do anything else, take a walk around your house and select a logical, convenient, and easy-to-reach storage spot for your keys. This should be somewhere very near the door you most often use to go in and out. You can use a basket or cup or hook, but whatever you do, don't make it more complicated than it needs to be. (None of those fancy cabinets where you open a little door and then hang your keys on a tiny hook inside. One you've shut the door again, you've had to do three separate actions, and that takes too much effort.) I toss my keys into a small basket that sits on top of a cabinet beside the door.

Once you have designated a "key spot", stick with it! It won't take long to become a habit, and eventually you'll wonder how you ever got along without it.

Next, find a place for your purse. I don't want mine stored quite so close to the door, so it goes behind a specific chair in a nearby room. You might use a cabinet or other small space; the key is to make your "purse place" convenient but also fairly out of sight, for security reasons.

Once you have a designated purse place, stick with it! Again, you'll easily develop this habit, and in the long run you'll be very glad that you did.

Hopefully, you found help with the clean laundry problem from previous posts. We'll look at more of your mess the next time.


Encouraging Words.

Hi friends,
I had a fun interview this week on 95.5 The Fish radio, with Len and Brooke of "Fish Mornings". They were great interviewers and really seemed to "get" the whole House That Cleans Itself concept. The interview was pre-recorded and I'm not sure when it will air, but if I find out I'll post that info here.

I love doing radio, probably because it feels so personal, like I can talk directly to people out there who are just like I used to be: naturally messy, overwhelmed, and incredibly frustrated. I'm still naturally messy, but once I turned my house into a House that Cleans Itself, those feelings of overwhelm and frustration began to fade away for good. These days, I still have to work hard to manage my time, not over-commit to activities, and stop procrastinating, but at least the house is one less burden for me to carry.

Why am I saying this? Because I want to offer a little glimmer of hope to those of you who are feeling like it isn't possible to be delivered from your mess. It is possible! If I could do it, you can too!!! The key isn't to get your house clean--you probably know how to do that and have done it plenty of times before. The key is to make changes to your house that will cause it to STAY clean much of the time, with far less effort from you. To make a lasting difference, remember: It's not about changing yourself or your behaviors (which can only last so long), it's about changing the house itself.

Be sure to come back next week when I move along to a different area of your home and show how you can apply the House That Cleans Itself principles there.


The Final Word on Laundry

I have a naturally-neat friend who keeps griping about my latest blog entries, saying that many of my laundry problems would be solved if only I would fold the clothes straight out of the dryer, carry them up, and put them away. Yeah, duh. I know that! But I am housekeeping impaired, and I am only being honest and realistic when I say that ain't gonna happen around here. Not very often anyway.

However, I have pondered the situation a lot lately, asking myself why I don't do this more often. (Almost always, it's because I don't have time right then. But when I DO have time, why don't I do this?) My honest answer? I can't even get started on that process because it's so boring in there by the dryer! My laundry room doesn't even have a window, so when I try to stand there and just fold I go nuts. Better to drag the pile into the living room where there are family members to talk to. At that point, however, all sorts of other things divert my attention and, well, you know how it goes. The laundry gets stuck in the fold-this-when-you-have-time basket.

Then it hit me: I find cooking a real bore as well, that's why there's a TV in my kitchen. I flip it on every time I cook. If I installed a television in my laundry room, would I (and my family members) be more likely to stand there longer and do what needs to be done with the clothes that are coming straight out of the dryer? I'm not sure, but I think it's an option worth exploring. Just last night, I moved an old portable TV of ours to the top of the dryer. It looks dumb in there, but I'm still in the "testing" phase right now.

I love my little kitchen TV so much, that if this works, I'll get the same model for the laundry room for a more permanent solution. (I got my under-cabinet mounting TV/DVD/Radio at Target for only $99 on sale, though the non-sale prices for these things can get a lot higher than that.) Anyway, I'll be sure to let you know if installing a TV over the dryer helps us solve the fold-now-not-later problem in our house. With two teens who procrastinate their own folding, I have a feeling this might be a nice solution for at least one of us, and maybe all.

That's it for now about laundry. Next time, a new housekeeping topic. Stay tuned!

Oh, Those Clean-Dirty Clothes

Here was another great question, from dana&ryan: "I was wondering what suggestions you had for the bedroom in regards to clothes that are used but are still clean. I don't really want to rehang them but they always end up on the floor. Any suggestions?"

Man, did your question strike a nerve with me! If you blog readers are nodding your heads over this one, you know what I mean. In my experience, the only people who ever ask this question are the housekeeping-impaired. Don't believe me? Go ahead, ask the Martha Stewart in your life. She or he will look at you, perfectly perplexed, and say that you hang them up and return them to the closet, of course.

Not of course. That may work for Martha-types, but not for me and obviously not for you. We poor impaired folks simply cannot, will not, hang up worn-but-still-clean clothes in our closet among the clean-but-not-yet-worn stuff. It may have to do with our perfectionism, our need to categorize or whatever, but just the thought of it gives me the shivers. Besides not wanting the clean and dirty clothes to co-mingle, there's also something about the act of hanging or folding a worn item that just feels distasteful. (I suspect that feeling stems from my general forgetfulness; if the item LOOKS newly clean, I'm likely to forget that I already wore it once.)

So what are you to do if your only choices are the floor or the closet? Create another choice—an intermediate station, if you will—for all of those clean-dirty clothes. I happened upon this solution when staying at a hotel a few years ago. I had a roommate who just happened to be a neatnick, so I didn't want to clutter the room with piles of my pre-worn clothes. I realized that there was a really deep drawer in the dresser, so out of desperation I put the clothes in there that I had worn but could wear again. I didn't fold them, just sort of draped them across the wide space. My only caveat at the time was that when I wanted to get dressed I had to look there first. Guess what? It worked! My clean-dirty clothes were stored out of sight, kept fairly wrinkle-free, and I was able to remember to wear them again.

Back home, I changed things around to create a similar spot in my bedroom, where the system has worked ever since. If you don't have any deep dresser drawers, consider these similar options:

• Install some hooks or pegs in an out-of-sight place, like inside a closet or behind a door. Only allow yourself as many clean-dirty items as there are pegs.

• Buy a free-standing coat rack and place it inside a closet or in an unobtrusive place nearby. This option has more potential for abuse, as you could continue to stack item upon item, so resist that urge. Again, limit yourself to as many clean-dirty clothes as there are spots to hang them.

I know, wall pegs and coat racks covered in worn clothing aren't the most beautiful sights in the world. But they're still better than draping things on chairs or plopping them on the floor. Best of all, this approach will allow you to keep those clothes relatively wrinkle free until you have the chance to wear them again—without having to go through the strangely distasteful task of hanging or folding worn items.

Yep, we're all nuts in our own way. Check back next time for one more laundry tip, then we'll move on to a different area in your home.

Your Laundry Comments

Thanks for your input on the whole topic of laundry! Before we move on to a different room, I'd like to answer your questions and add one final tip of my own.

First was Beth, who said: "The problem I tend to have is that when the clothes are clean they are sorted into piles and placed on the respective person's bed. If that person comes home late or doesn't have time to put their washing away the pile gets moved to somewhere else so that they can jump into bed."

Beth, I have had that problem in the past as well. For me, the solution was to use the "container limit" technique (described in my Feb. 8th blog entry) in my bedroom.

I bought a lovely fabric-lined wicker basket and put it on the floor next to my closet. Now, when I carry my clean laundry into my room, if I don't have time to put everything away right then, I put the laundry into that basket instead. (Doesn't look great, but it's better than piling the clothes on a chair or the floor.) I can continue to pile my clean clothes there UNTIL THE BASKET IS FULL. At that point, I must put away those clothes before I can do another load of wash.

This is just one of those tricks for flexible-but-enforced limits. It's flexible in that I can choose when to put my clothes away, but the time limit is the size of the basket. As long as I stick to my own rule about not letting the basket overflow, the plan works.

It may sound gross, but for many years I frequently found myself washing things at least twice between wearings, because I'd stack them on the floor while waiting to be put away—and invariably the pile would fall over and the clothes would get stepped on and dirty again! How sad is that? At least with the container limit method, the items are staying clean while they're waiting to be put away. And hey, it works for me!

Check back next time for my answer to dana & ryan's question.

Final Thoughts on Laundry

Before we move into another challenge that needs creative problem solving, I want to share with you how the art of sorting works in our house. In my tiny laundry room, there are five bins, as follows:
1. Anything that needs hand washing (because I don't want someone else in the family accidentally tossing these in with a regular load)
2. My husband's permanent press dress shirts (because they have to be hung up immediately, I never wash these unless I know I'll be free to do the hanging as soon as they're dry.)
3. My husband's t-shirts. (He doesn't want me to dry his t-shirts, so I only wash these when I know I'll remember not to toss them straight from the washer to the dryer—and if there's room on the dryer rack to hang them up.)
4. Dirty washcloths. (I use washcloths in the kitchen rather than sponges—just my personal preference—but I hate the thought of tossing them in with the regular laundry, especially if they have food particles or bleach on them!)
5. Everything else.

See how we have used the art of sorting? I still follow the light-medium-dark rules to an extent. But by dividing the laundry into more useful categories, I save a lot of time and trouble—and headaches.

I'll respond to your comments about laundry next time, so be sure to come back!

The Art of Sorting

My third suggestion for tackling the laundry monster requires moving back a few steps, to the point when the clothes are still dirty. I call this the art of sorting.

How do you sort your dirty laundry? If you go with the standard light-medium-dark divisions and that works for you, stick with it. However, if you'd love to know a better way, consider perfecting the art of sorting in your home.

Here's how it works. Take a look at your laundry with fresh eyes, and think about it in terms of how you live your life. What thoughts run through your mind when you bring dirty clothes into the laundry room?
"I'll need to get this clean as soon as possible."
"These things might have stuff in the pockets—don't forget to check."
"This stuff is damp, I need to wash it before it starts to stink."
"I'll have to remember to hang up these shirts as soon as they're dry."
"I'll need to hand wash these."
"I won't be wearing this again any time soon."
And so on. If that's how your mind works, then why not sort your laundry this way? Instead of three bins, get four or six or eight or whatever you need, and label each one with the type of dirty laundry it should hold:
Check pockets
permanent press
no rush
This way, when you start a load of laundry, you know exactly how it needs to be processed. Let's say it's Sunday evening and you've got a busy week ahead. Better to throw in the damp stuff or the ASAP stuff now, because you might not get around to doing laundry again until Friday.

Or maybe you're working on a project near the laundry room and you'll be ready for a break in an hour or two. That would be the perfect time to start the permanent press, because you know for a fact you'll be available to hang it up the moment it's dry.

Can you see where I'm going? By looking at the way YOU do laundry and then sorting accordingly, you're lessening the load, shortening the time, and solving one more type of mess in your home.


The Laundry Problem, Continued

The second suggestion I have is that you should take a good look at the various tasks your folding sessions include, then make changes to the laundry itself so that less of your time is required to process it. For example:

• I highly suggest ONE KIND OF SOCK, not 20 different pairs. Socks that all match don't need to be sorted; they can just get dumped into the drawer and pulled at random, and they'll always match.

• Unless it's important to you, stop folding underwear; the wrinkles will smooth out as soon as you pull it on anyway.

• Give every member of the family their own color for sheets and towels and make them responsible for folding their own. (This is especially helpful with teens who tend to use a towel once and then toss.)

• Watch any tendencies you may have toward perfectionism. I know people who never get around to folding because they know they're going to obsess about doing it perfectly, so they'd rather not do it at all. Give yourself a break! If you tend toward perfectionism in this area, then do a "folding pre-sort" where you divide the clean laundry into several piles, such as "must be perfect" (dress clothes, slacks, etc.), "can be okay" (such as jeans and t-shirts), and "just get it done" such as baby clothes and kids' play clothes). Start with the sloppiest pile first, and by the time you get to that "must be perfect" pile, chances are you'll be so tired of folding that you'll move through it more quickly than ever before.

Check back next time for my third and final laundry solution.


The Laundry Problem

Last time, we talked about relocating your laundry room upstairs. But if that's not an option, consider these suggestions.

First, you might try setting a "container limit", which means you're allowed to accumulate something up to the point where your designated container is full. Once you exceed the container, you have no choice but to take action. Applied to clean laundry, this would mean getting a big bin or basket (if necessary, a REALLY BIG bin or basket) and putting it in the corner of the living room. Clean laundry gets dumped into it straight out of the dryer. A regular folding time is designated—perhaps while watching your favorite TV show or right after school while chatting with the kids about their day. You try to form the habit of folding at that designated time, but if you fall behind at least the laundry is in one spot, contained, rather than spread all over the couch. Just make sure that there's never more laundry than there is room in the container, or you'll need to put in some extra folding time so as not to exceed your container limit.

More on laundry next time!

Here We Go Again

WHERE: Living room

WHAT: Clean folded and unfolded laundry

WHY: Because I hate to carry the laundry up stairs I also hate to fold. Apparently I am not the only one!! LOL!!!

You may be surprised at my answer to this question. In a true House That Cleans Itself, the washer and dryer are taken out of the basement or downstairs and reinstalled upstairs, near the bedrooms.

I mean, really, why do we lug the dirty clothes all the way down just to wash and fold and lug all the way up? I'll tell you why: because traditionally men designed houses and women did the laundry! Now that there is more equal representation in the work force—not to mention more men doing their share at home—you'd think this would change with every new house that's built. But it isn't. Why? I'm not sure, but I guess it's because we are all creatures of habit, and if it was good enough for mom this way, it should be okay for us too. I say, let's start a revolution. Washers and dryers should be as close to the place where the people in your house dress and undress as possible! End of story.

On the other hand, let's say you're in a rental or for some other reason can't make that change. What are lesser changes that could solve this problem at least somewhat? I'll address that question next time.

Ready for Another One?

Here goes:

WHERE: The master bathroom

WHAT: My husband uses a towel then tosses it on the floor where it sits, damp and stinky, until I pick it up and carry it to the laundry room.

WHY: Because he's lazy and doesn’t do his share!

Sorry to pick on husbands, but they do seem to make their share of messes.

The solution to this problem might be easier than you think. It begins by asking your husband—without accusation or anger—why you think he has this habit. The answer may surprise you. Perhaps there's not a convenient towel rack nearby. Or maybe there is a rack but it's usually full of dry towels and he doesn't want to get them wet by placing his on top. Maybe he's gotten yelled at in the past for putting a towel back on the rack crooked, and he figures it's easier to throw it on the floor than to risk getting yelled at again.

Obviously, don't ask this question unless you're prepared to hear the answer! But once the two of you have worked together to find the cause, you need to work together to find the solution. Ask him what you can do to help him keep the damp towels off of the floor from now on. Maybe he wants an over-the-door hook. Maybe he needs a towel rack that's reserved for him only—and free from criticism no matter how messily he uses it.

If that thought bothers you, just take care to place the rack out of the room's "sight zone". (A sight zone is the area of a room that you can see from the doorway as you look in.) A towel rack that's always going to be a little messy should be hung on the wall right next to the door, so that it isn't even noticeable until you have stepped into the room and turned around. The mess has far less impact that way!

Whatever solution the two of you find, just remember that there's a difference between an act that's thoughtless (leaving a mess for you to clean) and one that's without thought (dropping a damp towel on the floor because he's so focused on getting ready for work that he doesn't even realize what he's doing.) Thoughtless acts needs some emotional exploration, but acts without thought simply need creative problem solving.

Check back again soon for another problem and solution.

Creative Solutions for Household Problems, Part 2

It's time to do some creative problem solving for the issues that plague us most. As you review my suggestions, notice how most of the changes that I suggest are primarily made to the house, not to someone's behavior. This is the bottom line for a house that cleans itself: You set things up so that the house does the work instead of you!

Let's start with a simple one:

Where: the kitchen floor

What: hubby's shoes and dirty socks

Why: Because that's where he puts 'em when he gets home from a hard day of work. Every day.

Mindy's suggestion: Get an attractive container, such as a basket, that's just big enough to hold his shoes, and a small lidded trash can (which will serve as a laundry bin for his socks). Put these two items side by side exactly where he usually leaves his shoes and socks, and tell him that you need him to make one small change to the routine: His shoes go into the basket and his socks go into the can. Even if you have to put these things in the middle of the kitchen, do it: The key is to put them exactly where he always kicks off his socks and shoes anyway.

After several weeks, once he has formed the habit of putting his shoes and socks into these containers rather than on the floor, move them slightly in the direction where you wish they would go (closer to the wall or around a corner or whatever.) Keep an eye on how well he continues with the habit of using the containers rather than the floor. (If he starts using the floor again, you moved them too far, too fast.)

Eventually, you should be able to relocate the containers to a more suitable place without ever asking him to form a completely new habit. In the meantime, though I'm sure you don't want a basket and trash can in the middle of the kitchen floor, at least you are making steps toward fixing an irritating problem. You'll also see that shoes in a basket and socks out of sight in a can are preferable to what you have now. Just don't forget to grab those socks on laundry day!

One final note: If it sounds like I recommend training a husband the way you might train a dog, please know that this is also how you train yourself. If you have a bad habit of putting something where it doesn't belong, you should follow the same procedure I've described above. The whole reason things like shoes end up in the middle of the floor is because it's a mind-less process, something you do without even realizing it. In your more coherent moments, however, you can containerize and relocate any misplaced mess. The key is to do it gradually, not all at once.

Check back next time for another out-of-the-box solution to a household problem.


On the Air

I just had a delightful interview with Peter Benson on KNKT radio in Albequerque, NM, about The House That Cleans Itself. During the show, we referred folks to my website and this blog...and as I hung up the phone I had to admit that this poor blog has been pushed to the back burner for far too long! Fortunately, I have finally made my way through a series of writing deadlines that were keeping me too time-challenged to have the fun of blogging. Now with the release of my newest mystery, Whispers of the Bayou, I'm able to return to this forum and share more of my thoughts on how to have a clean house. Check back for updates once a week or so.

If you heard the radio interview and have just found this blog for the first time, welcome! This blog is the place where I can give practical suggestions for the ongoing process of turning homes that tend to be messy into homes that tend to stay neat. Sounds good? Then stay tuned! I'll be back with more on here soon.