Merry Christmas!

Here's our dog, Belle, under the tree.

Have a blessed Christmas and a New Year that cleans itself. :)


It's Almost Christmas

Merry Christmas Eve!

You're no doubt busy getting ready for tomorrow, so I'll make this quick. I have two handy cleaning tips for Christmas morning. Naturally neat people already know this one, but if you are housekeeping-impaired as I am, it may never have occurred to you.

1) Before you open a single present on Christmas morning, place a big open cardboard box or large trash can, lined with a plastic bag, in an accessible area in the room. As you unwrap, have everyone toss all crumpled papers, torn ribbons, and other trash into the container. Don't let the monitoring of trash ruin the Christmas morning fun, of course, but if you follow this handy rule, you'll save yourself a lot of trouble in the long run. You might even make a game of it with the kids, challenging them to score two-pointers from where they sit. Even if most of the trash lands in the general area of the box or trash can, it will ease the pain of cleaning later.

2) Even with a handy trash can nearby, there will still be some mess. Therefore--and we learned this one the hard way--always designate one person to be the collector of all cash, checks, giftcards, and other tiny and valuable items the moment they have been opened. Trust me, there's nothing more frustrating than realizing several days later, after the trash has gone out, that the $100 bill Uncle Bobby sent you is on its way to the city dump.

Most of all, be sure to enjoy your loved ones and to remind them of the reason for the season: our beloved Messiah's birth!


Show Us Your Stations

Last week I talked about creating a gift-wrapping station in your home. Have you done it yet? If so, we'd like to see it! Take a photo or two of your station and email to me at, along with any description or explanation you'd like to add. In exchange, I'll send you a one-time use coupon for $5 OFF ANY ITEM purchased at my website. How's that for incentive?

If your photo(s) is chosen to appear on this blog, I'll also send you a FREE COPY of my book A Pocket Guide to Amish Life. Time to get out the camera--or the smartphone--and show us your station!

This offer good through Dec. 31st, 2010.

Create a Gift Wrapping Station

In The House That Cleans Itself, I talk about setting up various "stations" throughout your home for your more common, repetitive tasks such as making coffee or writing letters. Now that the Christmas gift season is here, it's time to create a temporary gift-wrapping station as well, one that will help minimize mess and save you time and trouble over the next few weeks.

First, pick a logical location for your station, one where you are most likely to do your holiday gift wrapping. Base this decision on past experience, not on where you think it ought to be! I've seen more than a few very well-equipped gift-wrapping stations that went mostly unused because they were either too far away from where the family hung out, too visible to nosy children, or, in the case of one elaborate garage set-up, too cold.

Once you have chosen an appropriate place, again look to past experience to decide what supplies you will need to put there. For example, I know for a fact that no matter my intentions, when it comes down to it I never have time for adding fancy ribbons and bows to my gifts; I'm just lucky to get the darn things wrapped at all. So even though the artiste in my imagination produces lovely color-coordinated packages with curled ribbons and glittery tags, I don't stock those things in my station. Instead, I simply have wrapping paper, scissors, tape, a Sharpie, and self-stick labels, because I know that's all I'll end up using.

Be sure to add a trash can to your station, because gift-wrapping can get messy. Also, if scissors tend to take walks in your house as they do in mine, consider attaching them to your station with a long piece of string, yarn, or ribbon. That should be enough of a reminder to everyone that those particular scissors are to stay exactly where they are for the duration.

Make the station usable for others in your family as well, for example by including safety scissors for the younger children and perhaps a step stool if the surface is too high for them to reach easily. Show it to your spouse if they'll be doing any wrapping too, and remind everyone who'll be using it that the job isn't done until the station is in order. (One family I know who is fond of glitter keeps a dustbuster as a part of their station, for quick cleanups.)

Finally, give yourself some grace, if need be, when it comes to gift wrapping. Just because the packages in the magazines are gorgeous doesn't mean yours need to be. Remember: The gifts featured in the magazines aren't wrapped by busy parents with full lives and active kids but are instead created by artists who are paid to come up with this stuff. When you feel guilty about your own relatively un-embellished packages, tell yourself that until someone is willing to give you a paycheck for time spent wrapping, you've got more important things to do elsewhere!

Have fun setting up your station--and have a lovely Christmas season.


Cyber Monday Super Special - 40% Off!

Today Only: Get 40% off of your entire order at and!

To get 40% off of autographed books, Amish artwork, and more, order from the above websites and enter this code into the coupon box at checkout:
This offer expires at midnight tonight, so don't delay.

Also, from now until Dec. 15th, don't forget that you can get FREE GIFT WRAPPING upon request by entering this code into the coupon box at checkout:

This is the best offer we've ever been able to give, so be sure and place your order for 40% off TODAY ONLY, as well as FREE GIFT WRAP through Dec. 15th.


Handy Holiday Decorating Tip

Turkey time is over, and if you're like me, you're now faced with the monumental task of decorating your home for Christmas. I have a handy suggestion that should help minimize the mess during the holidays.

If you're housekeeping-impaired, chances are you have a lot of knick knacks or gee gaws or other general decorative clutter lying around--which means that by adding holiday decorations to the mix, you're going to make a bad situation worse and fall into serious stuff overload in your home. To keep that from happening, follow this simple rule of thumb: Don't try to have both your regular decorations and your holiday decorations out at the same time, but instead REPLACE the one with the other!

Wondering where can you store all of those regular decorations during the holiday season? Do what I do: Use the containers that hold the Christmas decorations! Simply trade out, and then let those everyday items stay hidden away in the containers until Christmas has passed. You can take them back out and put them on display again when you are ready to put away your holiday decorations.

Around here, we call this The Great Knick Knack Trade. The added bonus is that when it's time to put the regular stuff back out, I'm usually in the mood to do a little stuff-purging first.

I hope today's tip helps you to have a very merry Christmas-decorating season.


Happy Thanksgiving

Thought you might enjoy this photo of my (very thankful) shih tzu, Belle.

No doubt, she'll be nabbing some tasty scraps today under the kids' table. Hope you have a lovely day too!



Free Gift Wrapping with Special Code

Hi Friends, now that the holidays are here, I'll be interrupting my two current series in order to share some fun Christmas-related tips. To kick things off in the right spirit, I wanted to let you know about a special I'm currently running on my websites, and

From now through December 15th, get FREE GIFT WRAPPING ON EVERY PURCHASE!

Simply shop as usual, and at checkout enter this code:

into the Coupon box. That's all it takes to get your items gift wrapped for free.

Oh, and be sure to check back here on Cyber Monday for some incredible online offers!


HTCI Interview Part 2

Here's more from my recent interview with blogger Kristina Seleshanko, who has been implementing the HTCI system in her home and blogging about it online at Proverbs 31 Woman.


How long did it take you to implement the method in your own home? And are you able to consistently keep your home clean and orderly?

Mindy: It took a long, long time to convert my house to a House That Cleans Itself, because I was starting from scratch with nothing but some ideas and a theory. If I’d had the book, lol, I think I could’ve done it in a few months. As it was, it took me a year at least, maybe a little more. But it was worth every minute, especially because in the end I was able to help others by sharing my own struggle.

I love the second question here, and I’m surprised how rarely anyone asks me that. The answer is yes and no. Yes, my house today compared to my house ten years ago is ridiculously better. We use HTCI thinking for every new item we acquire, every rearrangement of furniture, and so on. The order and cleanliness of this house, relatively speaking, is amazing.

However, the system does fall apart once in a while, and always for the same three-fold reason:

1. We acquire new stuff,

2. but we don’t get rid of any old stuff,

3. and we don’t assign a place for the new stuff.

In the book, I state that NO house can be consistently clean if there’s simply too much stuff in it. Given that both my husband and I are packrats by nature, that’s our biggest ongoing challenge. For me, it’s not that I have trouble getting rid of things, it’s simply that I don’t take the time often enough to do so. Sometimes, we do reach that tipping point and I know it’s time for a big purge. If that doesn’t happen, then after several months things will start to get out of control again. With a House That Cleans Itself, it’s easy to see what needs correcting and fix it, but I’d be lying if I said it’s something you do once and never have to worry about again.

In fact, over time, the most important lesson I have learned is that a House That Cleans Itself is more of an ongoing mentality than a one-time process. As long as we remember that, the system continues to work like a dream.

And lest anyone read this answer and feel discouraged, let me reiterate: I DO live in a House That Cleans Itself. My home is always fairly clean, and for those who have known me a long time, it’s SHOCKINGLY clean. But even at its worst, my house, compared to how it used to be, is like night and day. For me, that’s a dream come true.

Clean Travel Tip #2

If you love to preserve your vacation memories through photos, then you'll appreciate today's tip. It's a bit of a no-brainer, but I think it's still worth mentioning.

Whenever you go on a trip, if there's any chance at all you're going to want pictures of your room,
(perhaps because your accommodations are especially lovely or unique), then you should snap those pictures before you do anything else. I'm talking about before you unpack any suitcases or flop on the bed or anything.

Why? Because no matter how hard you try to keep this place neat, it's never going to look as good as it does when you first get there. So if you know you're going to want to preserve it in your memories and your photo album, then stash all suitcases, carry-ons, etc. right inside the door, take a moment to walk around and snap some pictures immediately, then put away the camera and go ahead and move in.

At this point, you may be asking just how, exactly, this makes your room any cleaner. It doesn't, actually, but it's still good advice for the housekeeping impaired! Trust me, as you look through the vacation pics years from now, you'll be very glad that you took a moment to do this first.

I'm sure glad I did at this gorgeous place, the Hanalei Colony Resort in Kauai, where we stayed this summer. Talk about a beachfront location!


We Have a Winner

The winner of the self-cleaning hairbrush is...

Sandi in California.

Congratulations, Sandi, and many thanks to all who entered!


My Latest Book Has Hit the Shelves

I'm excited to announce the release of my latest mystery novel, Secrets of Harmony Grove, from Harvest House Publishers!

Be sure to check out the following related links:
• Learn more about the book
Read the first chapter
Download book club questions
• Visit to see photos from my research and learn more about the Amish
• Enjoy, where I take turns with several other authors blogging about the Amish
Here's the trailer:

You can find Secrets of Harmony Grove wherever books are sold, or online from,, and more. Autographed copies can be ordered directly from my website.


Because Not Everyone Travels...

...I have decided to alternate my "Clean Travel Tips" with other non-travel-related entries. Thus, in every other post I'll be sharing excerpts from a recent interview I had with blogger Kristina Seleshanko, who has been implementing the HTCI system in her home and blogging about it online at Proverbs 31 Woman.

The interview is a lengthy one, which you can view it in its entirety at Kristina's blog. Here, I'll be sharing it one question & answer at a time. Enjoy!

Kristina: The House That Cleans Itself method is much different from any other homekeeping or organization book I've ever read. The idea of changing our homes to make cleaning easier is pretty revolutionary - especially for messies. Can you tell us how you came up with this idea?

Mindy: First, it helps to understand that I am absolutely horrible at housekeeping. I don’t like it and I don’t do it well. Much of my life, I felt like a failure because I couldn’t get a handle on this particular set of skills.

The cleanliness of my house went from bad to worse when I sold my first novel and became a full time author, leaving even less time for cleaning. Once I had several books published, I was making enough to be able to hire a housekeeper to come in and clean once a week, thank goodness, but even that was not enough. She would turn our disaster into pristine perfection every Wednesday morning—but by Thursday night, you wouldn’t know she had ever even been here. Even when things were clean, they were just waiting to explode into mess again!

Then came The Trouble with Tulip, my sixth novel and the first one in the Smart Chick Mystery series. The series focused on Jo Tulip, a cleaning expert who uses her knowledge of household hints to solve crime. (Think Martha Stewart crossed with Nancy Drew.) As I wrote this series, I had to do an enormous amount of research into Jo’s field, and as the second novel, Blind Dates Can Be Murder, came out, I realized that I had already managed to make my way through 42 different books about household cleaning and organization.

I decided it was pretty pathetic that after having read 42 books on the topic I still couldn’t get a handle on my own mess. But then I had a major epiphany: Every single one of those books had been written by someone who loved housekeeping and was naturally good at it. No wonder their advice didn’t work for me! No wonder the many little sayings and rules of thumb that the experts threw out there had been useless around my house! All the experts in the world were never going to be able to help me because they didn’t think the way I did. They didn’t live the way my family lived. They wanted me to change, but I was never going to change. I was born this way! At 43 years old, despite a lifetime of struggle, I still couldn’t “fix” the behaviors that were supposedly creating my mess.

When I finally wrapped my head around all of that, I realized that housekeeping is a talent, one that simply hadn’t made its way into my gene pool. Given that fact, I decided that instead of trying to change myself, as I had for years to no avail, maybe I should change my house instead. Rather than continuing to beat myself up for all of my household shortcomings, maybe I should throw away the guilt and shame entirely and focus on using my strengths to tackle this problem in a whole new way. Maybe the solution was to ignore all of the “expert” advice in the world and try to come up with my own way of doing things.

Armed with this new outlook, I began to study my surroundings almost like a detective. Instead of looking at a big pile of papers and thinking, “I’ve got to be better with my filing,” I thought, “Okay, obviously filing doesn’t really work for me. What could work instead?” Instead of looking at a mountain of clean clothes waiting to be folded and put away and thinking, “I’ve got to do better keeping up with the clothes,” I thought, “What’s wrong with the way we have set up the laundry processing in this house that there’s always a backlog?” For every messy dresser top, every cluttered floor, every disaster of a closet, I forced myself to be studious and analytical and devoid of all “emotion.” It was a problem to solve not a personal character issue. Once I removed the emotion from the process, I could see things much more clearly and I began to have some great ideas about what was wrong—and how to make it right. As a creative, out-of-the-box person, I found that I was a natural at thinking up fresh new ways to handle our mess, ways that would work in our house for our family, not in some perfect home whose inhabitants are gifted at housekeeping.

Here’s the shocker: As I slowly went through our home and made changes that made sense for us, the house started staying cleaner. The more changes we made, the cleaner it stayed. Finally, one day my husband remarked that the house was so consistently clean that it was almost like it was cleaning itself.

Voila, the concept was born. Within months, I had begun documenting my process, testing my theories on others, and assembling a proposal for a book about it. That book became The House That Cleans Itself.

Once it was published, I’ve been gratified to find that though there are some people who just don’t “get” it (those who are naturally gifted at cleaning), the ones who do get it find that it can change their messes and thus their lives. It has been incredibly gratifying to see big disasters turned into Houses That Clean Themselves all around the world.

Clean Travel Tip #1

Today's tip for Traveling the House That Cleans Itself Way begins before you ever leave home.

When I pack, I tend to make a pile of "possibilities" (clothing, accessories, etc.) and then whittle that pile down to what's actually going with me. Unfortunately, by the time I'm finished and ready to depart, that leaves a big, messy pile of leftover clothing and things heaped on or near the bed. As I am often running late, there's no time to put that stuff away before heading out on my trip. (News flash to those who are organized, yes, there are indeed many of us who do not get around to packing for a trip until it's almost time to go!)

If this sounds like you, then you might try my favorite trick: Before you start packing, grab a large, empty laundry bin or other container and place it very near your suitcase. As you whittle down what goes and what stays, toss all of the "stay" items into that one bin. You'll still have to deal with them once you get home, of course, but the mess that greets you upon your return is far more contained. And if there are other "piles" in your room, at least you'll know what this pile is about and thus won't waste time standing there going, "I wonder why I put all of this stuff here..." Instead, you'll see it and think, "Oh, right, those are my packing leftovers," and then you can promptly--and more easily--put everything back where it belongs.

Voila, that's all it takes to have a cleaner packing area when you leave--and, obviously, when you return.

PS - To celebrate this series of travel-related posts, I'll be sharing some of my family's favorite trip photos. My daughter Lauren took this gorgeous shot from an airplane window as we headed to Hawaii this summer. (Pardon a mother's boast, but she's got a real eye for photography, don't you think?) Enjoy!

Traveling Clean

It seems that no matter how much I refine the House That Cleans Itself system in my home, the minute I check into a hotel, my room starts turning into a giant disaster. It's bad enough when I'm traveling alone but far worse when my family is with me as well. Given that I am housekeeping impaired, this makes sense. WIthout all of the stopgap measures/clever fixes/problem-solvers/etc. that I have established throughout my house, when I go on the road I'm left with nothing more than a few suitcases and my own behaviors, which have always been and will always be MESSY.

Recently, I started thinking about this problem, about how I could make changes to my luggage choices, travel accessories, packing techniques, etc., that would make for a neater travel experience overall. The more I thought about it, the more ideas and realizations I had. Over the coming weeks, I'll share these with you. So keep checking back for helpful and fun ideas you'll want to try on your next trip.

Let's start by talking about the big picture, what I call Trip Standards. Should you have different standards of cleanliness when you travel than when you are at home? My husband and kids think so. Their theory is that a room can be messy as long as it's not dirty, and since most hotels include maid service, dirty isn't going to happen.

I agree, to a point. How messy is too messy when traveling? For me, too messy is:
a. anything that sucks up extra time, for example having to iron a shirt just because I didn't hang it up
b. anything that gives me a sense of irritation/frustration rather than peace, for example clutter that blocks a beautiful view
c. anything that's just too much trouble, for example trying to find loose jewelry in the bottom of a jumbled up suitcase.

As long as I adhere to the above standards, I'm willing to live with more mess on the road than I do at home--on vacation, that is.

When I travel for business, I follow a different set of standards, mostly because I don't have much time to spare, and the messier a room is, the more time everything takes to get done. I also dress a lot better for business than I do for leisure, so I'm that much more careful to keep my things neat and save time and trouble with every change of clothes.

How about you? Are you a messy traveler? Or are you the opposite and find yourself living more neatly on the road than you do at home? I'd love to hear how your mess does or does not go with you.

Be sure to come back next week, when I lay out my ground rules for neater travel.

Self-Cleaning Wish List

If you missed my last post on this blog, be sure to take a look so you can enter the FREE Self-Cleaning Hairbrush contest while there's still time.

I have enjoyed featuring various self-cleaning products here over the past few months, and I have decided as a final entry on this topic I would create a "wish list" for more. I wish someone would invent a self-cleaning:

• refrigerator

• car

• mirror

• carpet

• shower

Of course, my list could go on and on, but these are the ones that seem the most doable to me, especially in a House That Cleans Itself.

Have I ever shared my idea for the easy-cleaning high chair? (This might even be in the book, I can't remember.) In my opinion, every house with small children should have a "shower bay" in the kitchen, big enough for the child's high chair, with a drain in the floor and a mounted/handheld water faucet on the wall. There aren't many things messier than a child who is learning to feed himself, nor many things more frustrating than a highchair that get filthy from top to bottom and has to be cleaned three times a day.

With my version, the child would enjoy his meal sitting in the chair in the shower bay, and when he's finished I would simply grab the handheld water hose, adjust the temperature, and spray down the chair. While I was at it, I might even spray down the child as well! My kids would've loved this, I know.

Ah, but so much for dreaming. Come back next time when I'll talk about how to take a House That Cleans Itself on the road.


Pardon the Interruption...

...But I've got big news that I couldn't wait to share. My publisher and I have been talking about coming out with a series of new books based on the HTCI principles, showing them in action in certain rooms, areas or categories, such as The House That Cleans Itself for the Kitchen, or The House That Cleans Itself for Newlyweds.

These books would be smaller (and less expensive) than the original, offering practical suggestions and solutions on a more specific basis. For example, The House that Cleans Itself for the Kitchen might deal with how to handle the following:
- counter clutter
- cabinet organization
- food storage
- piles of papers
- homework at the kitchen table
- the kitchen that also serves as an entryway
- items that migrate there from other rooms
- trash and recycling
- large appliances
- small appliances
- bulletin boards/refrigerator magnets
-and more.

And The House that Cleans Itself for Newlyweds might discuss what to do about:
- too much furniture
- not enough furniture
- geegaws, keepsakes, and mementoes
- compromise and negotiation
- learning to live with each other's cleaning styles
- dividing the household chores
- setting up stations
- how to share a bathroom
- organizing hobby areas
- when there's not enough closet space
- how to acquire new furniture and other items the House That Cleans Itself way
-and more.

Given the above, I'm trying to decide what rooms, areas, or categories these various books should focus on. Thus far, I've been thinking about:
The House that Cleans Itself for the Kitchen
The House that Cleans Itself for the Bathroom
The House that Cleans Itself for the Bedroom
The House that Cleans Itself for the Garage
The House that Cleans Itself for the Living Room
The House that Cleans Itself for Newlyweds
The House that Cleans Itself for Families with Kids
The House that Cleans Itself for Teens

Which of the above most appeals to you? Please let me know in one of three ways:

1. post your favorite(s) as a comment to this blog
2. email your favorite(s) to me at
3. go to and cast your vote in the official poll.

If you can think of even more great ideas for books in this series that aren't listed here or in the poll, please post or email as well. I also welcome requests for specific problem areas that you would like to see addressed in these books, such as how to keep under-the-sink cabinets organized or what to do when you have too many books/Legos/mail order catalogs/etc.

Thanks so much for your input!

And be sure to come back next time, when we continue with the current series on new housekeeping technologies.


The World's First Self-Cleaning House

Have you ever heard of Frances Gabe? Certainly, she's a hero of mine!

Frances Gabe's self-cleaning house (yes, you read that correctly) uses nearly 70 various tools to save time, space, and labor, rendering such petty chores as dusting, dishwashing, and even washing clothes completely unnecessary.

With a house made from cinder-block, termites are no longer an issue. Every surface of the house is also coated in resin, which repels water. In every room there is a ceiling mounted device that washes, dries, heats, and cools the room--all at the touch of a button. With waterproof, dust-proof carpets and furniture completing the set, the home is set up to literally clean itself whenever you need it to. Simply push a button or two, and soapy water will quickly give the room a much-needed scrubbing. Next, the rinsers go to work getting rid of the suds. Finally, the blowers dry any remaining water that hasn't run down to the drains located at the bottom of the sloped floors. Impressed yet?

If that wasn't cool enough, get this: the bathroom cleans itself too. The toilet takes care of itself, as do the sink, shower, and bathtub. No more hands-and-knees scrubbing with bleach getting up your nose! In the same vein, the self-dusting bookshelf keeps both the bookshelf clean and your nose sneeze free. On cold nights, a fire in the fireplace is often a cozy, fun family activity that can really be special. Cleaning the ash out of the fireplace, however, is not so special. That's why a drain in the fireplace gets rid of them for you in the self-cleaning house. Still not impressed? The kitchen cabinets are also the dishwasher. Imagine: Take out the dishes, eat off of them, put them back in the cabinet, hit "clean," and then forget about it until you need to use them again! If this isn't the coolest house ever, I don't know what is.

If you want more information on the self-cleaning house or Frances Gabe, you can look here. She lives in the woods of Oregon, and never has to clean a thing! Brilliant!

First Things First

Hello Friends, now that our Author Q&A series is over, I’m back and ready to share some more fun House That Cleans Itself info. It’s been a busy time for me, and many days I hardly know which way is up. That’s why I’ve chosen to blog today on the topic of prioritizing.

See, if you’re housekeeping impaired, chances are you’re priority-impaired as well. Like me, you may often find yourself overwhelmed when you have a lot to do and not enough time to do it in. Do you often say, “I don’t even know where to start!”

If, so you might enjoy this handy trick: To get your ducks in a row, try using an online prioritizer, such as the one found here:

(And if that one doesn’t work, just google “prioritizer” to find many more.) At first glance, this looks like a financial tool, but in truth you can use it to sort ANY list in order of priority. Every time my to-do list starts to overwhelm me, I use one of these.

I love prioritizers so much I won’t even take up the time here to explain how they work. Just trust me on this one, give it a try right now, and see what you think. Start with a simple list, like 5-10 things you really need to do, and let it work you through until it has put those 5-10 things in order of how they need to be done.

Cool, huh? Told you so!

See you next time, when I’ll tell you about the world’s first self-cleaning house.


Author Response, Part Nine

This week, author Susan Page Davis tells us all about the messy world of The Blacksmith's Bravery.

What's the neatest or messiest character you have ever created, what book did they appear in, and why did you make that creative decision?

In my book The Blacksmith's Bravery (coming from Barbour in December), Griffin Bane is a victim of the scrubbing bandit. He lives in one small room behind his blacksmith shop. It's jammed full of stuff and very messy. When his nephew comes to live with him, he's too embarrassed and overwhelmed to let the boy see his living quarters, so he boards him at the rooming house across the street.

Here is a scene from The Blacksmith's Bravery:

So far, Griff had managed to avoid taking the boy into his private quarters. Sometime he’d get around to redding up the place, and then Justin could see it. Not until.

He shoved the door open and held the lantern high. And stopped in his tracks.

“What—” His heart lurched. Had he been robbed? The place looked almost bare. The floor between where he stood and his bunk was clear. And his bunk! The covers were smooth and. . .not his covers. A quilt he’d never seen before lay over the mattress, and his pillow actually had a linen cover on it. That was odd. When did thieves leave things behind?

Justin touched his arm. “Uncle Griff? Something wrong?”

“I’m not sure.” Griffin stepped into the room and swung the lantern around slowly. The room felt fairly warm, like someone had kept a fire in the stove today. His extra wool pants and dungarees, along with his two other shirts, hung from nails on the wall. All his boxes and kegs were neatly stacked, and the shelves, while crowded, had an orderly look. He could actually see the surface of the small plank table he’d lost sight of months ago, and sitting in the middle of that table were a covered basket and a green bottle holding a cluster of dried weeds and red berries. It was kind of pretty.

“This place isn’t so bad,” Justin said. “I thought you said it wasn’t fit to live in.”

“Well, I. . .” Griffin swallowed hard. He didn’t know who’d done this, but his initial shock had faded. Now anger vied with gratitude in his heart. Insight flashed in his brain, like the sparks that flew from his hammer when he struck white-hot iron. He could get mad at the scrubbing bandit, or he could accept an anonymous friend’s act with humility. The first course would be easiest. But someone had cared about him enough to spend a lot of effort making his place nicer. And he had a feeling it wasn’t done for Griffin Bane alone.

He whipped around and eyed Justin suspiciously. Had the boy complained to someone that his uncle had farmed him out to the boardinghouse? Had he told other people the room behind the smithy was too filthy to take a boy into?

“You, uh, didn’t say anything to anyone about not liking the Fennel House, did you?”

Justin shrugged. “Don’t think so. Why would I? It’s not half bad.”

Griff nodded and looked around again. He strode to the table and lifted the napkin that covered the basket. Biscuits. And a jar of jam.


“Hmm, what?” Justin came over and looked down at the basket. “Say, those look mighty good. Did you make ’em?”

“Nope.” Griff laid the napkin back over the tempting biscuits. “I’d say we had company while we were out to the Chapmans’ ranch.”

“You mean someone brought you those biscuits while you were away?”

“No, someone brought us those biscuits.” Griffin thought he might know who. Vashti had known they’d be gone today. But how could she have done all this by herself and still made the stagecoach after lunch? He looked cautiously at Justin. “Do you think this place is too small for the both of us?”

Justin looked around. “Well. . .there’s only one bunk.”

“True. But I could build another one over the top.”

“You mean. . .” Justin cleared his throat. “You mean you’d want me to stay with you after all?”

“If you’d like that. But if you wouldn’t, you can stay over to the boarding—”

“I would!”

“Oh.” Griffin nodded slowly. “All right, then. Let’s go over and have supper, and I’ll tell Mrs. Thistle that tonight’s your last night with them. And tomorrow we’ll scare up some lumber and build another bunk. How does that sound?”

“Sounds good, Uncle Griff.”

Griffin smiled. “Great. And for breakfast we’ll have biscuits and jam.”

-Susan Page Davis

Be sure to come back next week and see the final installment in our author Q&A series!


Author Responses, Part Ten

Back again with the final installment of author responses. This time, we'll hear from Mae Nunn, author of Her Forever Family, A Texas Ranger's Family
and more.

How neat or messy is your home or office most of the time?

Somewhere between the ages of 18 and 55 and for some reason known only to God, I became a tidy freak! Don't get me wrong, though. It's not that I clean all the time or that my house is spotless. On the contrary, there are two big dogs trucking across my floors all day so hair, grass, drool and crumbs are a constant maintenance evil. There's generally a dish towel on the floor for the purposes of soaking up puddles and I keep the Dust Buster charged and at the ready for miscellaneous pickups. But doggy mess aside, I believe in a place for everything and everything in it's place. I even created a hero once who lived by that credo. Of course he fell for a slob which made for a fun story to write! Yes, I have a few piles of paper, some stacks of books and there's always a load of laundry that needs to be put away, but for the most part my home is neat. I'm the kind of person who pre-cleans before my cleaning lady shows up, which has always driven my family nuts. Now that I'm a full time author and can't afford a cleaning lady anymore, that's no longer an issue at my house! Gotta go now, there's a dust bunny on the floor and it's taunting me!

Mae Nunn
Her Forever Family, April 2010
A Season for Family, November 2010


Power in Numbers

Hi Friends, I'm having some technical problems with my author housekeeping Q&A's, so no new entry today. But be sure to come back next week when all should be straightened out.

In the meantime, I thought I'd share this photo, which I took the other night at my youngest daughter's high school graduation:

Just to tie this in to housekeeping, let me say for the record that all of those caps made a big mess on the field, of course, but that was okay because of the adage "many hands make light work." Once the ceremony was over, it didn't take long for the detritus of the entire event to be broken down, cleaned up, and put away, simply because a number of people pitched in to help.

Can you do some "group cleaning" this week? Why not set a timer for 15-30 minutes, assign tasks, and put the troops to work? There's power in numbers, especially when it comes to cleaning. Once the timer dings, put away your supplies whether you're finished or not, and focus on enjoying your family instead.

And remember: There are more important things in life than dust and clutter, namely those little ones who make all of that dust and clutter! Enjoy them while they're still there with you, because before you can blink you'll be taking pictures just like this one. Trust me, I know.

I'm just glad that I was able to convert my home into a House That Cleans Itself while my kids were still young, so that I didn't waste one more precious minute agonizing over the mess. As you work on your own conversion, I wish the same for you too, that you'll be able to get a handle on the housekeeping problem so you can move on to far more important matters: the people with whom you share that house!

See you next week.

We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Program… talk about this fall’s American Christian Fiction Writers Conference.

To my regular readers: Though today’s post is aimed primarily at aspiring writers, keep reading! You might find an interesting tip or two that will help you keep your office or paperwork tidy. And be sure to come back next week, when we continue our ongoing series of Q&A’s with other authors about housekeeping.

If you’re new here: You must be wondering why today’s link for the ACFW blog tour has brought you to a website about cleaning. That’s because I’m an author of both fiction and nonfiction and it just so happens that one of the classes I’ll be teaching at the conference, Tracking the Details, relates well to both writing and housekeeping.

Allow Me to Explain...

When my first book came out about 10 years ago, it was #1 in a series of 5. Though each book focused on a different mystery, the characters were the same throughout, with an overriding romantic storyline that arced across all five books.

Because I was new at this business of writing, it didn’t dawn on me right away the sorts of problems I would begin to encounter as my series progressed. Namely, I never thought to make notes about any of the details of my characters—hair and eye color, street names, what they called their grandparents, etc.—assuming I would be able to keep all of that minutia stored in my brain. Yeah, right. By the third book in that series, I found that I was wasting at least an hour a day combing through books #1 and 2 in search of previously-established facts both mundane (the name of my main character’s high school) and significant (the kind of car driven by my love interest.) By the 4th book, the whole process had become even more time-consuming. By the 5th, well, let’s just say if I could have all of that time back I could watch every episode of all eight seasons of 24.

Though I knew I would be sad to tell these characters goodbye, my main emotion upon finishing the final book in the series was relief. Never again would I have to flip back and forth through previous releases in search of the name of the neighbor’s poodle!

When I started on my next series, I was determined to find a better way to track all of those stupid details as I went. There were many different systems to choose from—file-based, spreadsheet-based, notebook-based, charts, etc.—that figuring out which one was best wasn’t easy. In the end, the most important truth I learned was this: Whether you’re writing a standalone book or a series of a hundred, you must establish a system for tracking details but it must be a system that works with your brain.

If you’ve read my book The House That Cleans Itself or have spent any time on this blog, you know that my whole message is about finding the systems that aren’t necessarily the “best” but rather those that are best for you, that work best with your own natural inclinations.

Narrowing it Down

That’s why I always begin this particular lecture with a simple test, one that I created to help my students figure out which type of brains they have. You may be a “horizontal thinker,” a “digital creator,” a “tactile maintainer,” or something else, but figuring out which one you are is the first, best step in establishing a detail-tracking system that will work for you.

Once you know that, we discuss the various types of details that need tracking (hint: there are more than you think) and then we cover the specifics of the various systems available, indicating which systems work best for each brain type.

It’s a lot packed into an hour, but every time I teach this particular class, the feedback is incredibly enthusiastic—not because I’m something special or that I have unveiled some miracle plan that no one has ever thought of before, but simply because my students have begun thinking about the many ways they can work with their brains rather than against them to get their details—and maybe even their lives—in better order.

A Killer Quote

For example, here’s a quote that I love to share whenever I teach this class, because as I do I can see the “lights” turning on inside certain heads across the room:

“When I put something in a file, I never see it again. The problem isn't that I can't find it (although that has happened), but that I don't look. I am constitutionally incapable of opening a filing cabinet and fishing out a half-finished project to resume working on it.”
John Perry, A Plea for the Horizontally Organized
Isn’t that great? That’s me to a “T”, which can make this business of being a writer a very messy process indeed. After 14 books, I think that without my detail-tracking systems, my office—and my brain—would’ve exploded by now!

The Perfect Desk

Whether you’re a writer or not, I hope you’ll take some time to think about the various systems you use (or don’t use, for that matter) to track the details in your life. Are you an out-of-sight-out-of-mind sort of person? If so, then I urge you to find ways to keep things more “visible” around your home. Use clear storage containers, never opaque or cardboard. Hang bulletin boards where you’ll see them, but also where you can conceal them when you want to, for example on the insides of cabinet doors.

One of my favorite tools is my glass-over-wood desktop, as shown:

I got it at IKEA a few years ago and have found it to be the perfect solution for my needs. When I’m working on a book, I can cover my desk with character lists and timelines and house plans and more, but because this information goes under the glass, it’s always there and always handy but without getting in my way. When I’m not working on a book, I’ll use that space for other important items, such as to do lists, computer keyboard shortcuts, calendar printouts, eyeglasses, etc.

Don’t Miss This Conference!

If you are a writer, I can think of a hundred different reasons you should come to the ACFW conference (whether you’re interested in my particular lecture or not, lol.) I sincerely hope that you’ll come and take advantage of this amazing event and all that it has to offer. To learn more about it or to sign up, visit the ACFW website.

Thanks so much for stopping by my blog today. If you’d like to learn even more about how to turn your home into a House That Cleans Itself, be sure to come back again next time.

To my regular readers, I hope today’s post has inspired you to think about your own natural inclinations/shortcomings/strengths/thinking styles and how you should always keep these things in mind when applying systems throughout your home.



Author Responses, Part 8

Stephanie Grace Whitson is our author this week. She's the mastermind behind Sixteen Brides, A Claim of Her Own, and many more excellent books. (My personal favorite is her captivating "Prairie Winds" series, which was first recommended to me by my mother.)

If you could invent a machine that accomplished one single
housekeeping task in your home, what would the machine do?

Gobble dust bunnies from beneath the furniture, munch on the clods of dried mud that fall off my construction worker son's work shoes inside the back door, slurp up spills before they can dry on the kitchen floor, and creatively and continuously vacuum, clean, and polish every floor in the house whether its hard wood, tile, or carpet. The machine would also maintain itself without my being required to replace filters or tanks full of crud. And it would do stairs.

When you create fictional characters, do you ever deal with their
level of housekeeping ability and/or their tolerance for mess?

I was very tempted to do this in my new release Sixteen Brides, since my characters live in a sod house. I've read some amazing, terrifying, and hilarious stories about what it was like to keep house in a soddy, all of which make me grateful I live in 2010 instead of 1870. Toads, rattlesnakes, bull snakes, mice, dirt floors, and wood-burning stoves just don't have all that much appeal for me.

What's the neatest or messiest character you have ever created?

In A Claim of Her Own, the heroine has to adjust her expectations markedly in this regard. She ends up living in a miner's tent on a gold claim near Deadwood, South Dakota and, as it turns out, the biggest housekeeping disaster she has to face ends up being a turning point in the plot. It has to do with a lot more rain and mud than Mattie would ever willingly cope with.

Thanks, Steph! And if y'all will pardon me for bragging on a friend, I just have to share the news of Steph's incredibly talented daughter, Shannon LaBrie. Shannon is a singer and songwriter, and her song "Calls Me Home" was recently featured on the TV show One Tree Hill. I downloaded the song from iTunes out of curiosity--and loved it so much that it's already worked its way into my "Top 25 Most Played" songs. Congrats Shannon, for a your much-deserved success.

Congrats, too, to Steph, who is no doubt one proud Mama right now!

Author Responses, Part Seven

Here's more of my Q & A with Jane Kirkpatrick. Enjoy!

If you could easily afford to have a full time or live-in housekeeper, would you want one? Why or why not?

No. I like my alone time with my husband and we have someone who works for us on the ranch so always have someone here everyday and I really would like to have private time. Having someone come in now and then, that would be great! But I’d have to clean up first.

Describe the state of your office right now. Be honest: How good or bad is it?

It’s pretty bad. I’m on final deadline and reference books and other items are strewn around. Notes of revisions I need to make are tacked to the computer; the church bench behind me holding reference books is now double stacked so I can just turn around and grab and not lose time going to the bookcase! I haven’t unpacked my retreat leading boxes either; they’re stacked. And since I just had a new book come out, the file boxes for that book have also not been put away as I might need to reference something in an interview, for example.

Thanks, Lenora, for your input--and your honesty. I think deadline time is the messiest time for every writer's home, or at least for their office. I know it is for me! And though I'm no fan of cleaning, there's something incredibly satisfying about putting my life back together again after having written "The End" on a manuscript and sending it off to the publisher. Here's hoping you'll reach that point soon yourself!

Author Responses, Part Six

This week, Jane Kirkpatrick, author of the Portrait of a Heart series (which includes An Absence So Great: A Novel (Portraits of the Heart) pictured above) gives us insight on going from messed to blessed.

If you could invent a machine that accomplished one single housekeeping task in your home, what would the machine do?

It would automatically go along the cracks between our oak floor boards (lovingly laid by hand but before the wood totally dried so the boards shrunk through the years) and pick up all the dog hairs, dust etc. that accumulates there between vacuum cleanings and kills my back bending over to get them. I have my closest friends agreed that if they outlive me, before the funeral, they’ll come to my house and clean out the cracks so no one will know we lived with such filth.

When you create fictional characters, do you ever deal with their level of housekeeping ability and/or their tolerance for mess? How does that factor into the story as a whole?

Yes! Being overwhelmed by clutter is a good indication of someone’s struggle with “weighty” issues, perhaps avoiding dealing with loss (can’t throw anything away) or feeling unworthy (keeping things and fearing that getting rid of them means getting rid of themselves) and other factors. Of course it’s also a great tension building (The Odd Couple comes to mind) between characters as well.

What's the neatest or messiest character you have ever created, what book did they appear in, and why did you make that creative decision?

For All Together in One Place , I created Adora, an older woman on a wagon train whose husband dies along with the other men on this train. She was very cluttered, messy about her person, too. Her husband had always told her what to do and took care of her and in some ways she was subtly resisting his control by being messy. But after he died, her cleaning up and clearing out became something she wanted to do. She ended up keeping a knife sharpener, though it was very heavy, that she had initially thought they should bring with them. This became her occupation when they reached California, so how her housekeeping (or wagon-keeping) changed was a metaphor for her own changes.

For more about Jane Kirkpatrick, be sure to check out her website.

Author Responses, Part Five

This week, Lenora Worth gives us two original shorts on housekeeping.

Invent a fictional housekeeper and create a scene involving that character.

I see a Granny-type who loves to nurture and clean, quiet to efficient
and non-intrusive.

Aunt Thelma worked her way around the outer perimeters of my office,
her sturdy SAS shoes whispering across the carpet with vaccum-cleaner
precision. The whish of her feather duster spoke louder than any words.
She did not approve of my messy ways, but far be it from her to ever
speak a word of criticism out loud. Aunt Thelma let the smell of Lemon
Pledge speak for her. That way, the sharpness of her disapproval
lingered in the air with a citrus-sweet smell long after she'd pranced
out of the room.

What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses with regards to housekeeping? As a creative person, do you ever tackle these issues in a particularly creative manner?

I have a plaque on my kitchen wall that states "Creative minds are rarely tidy." I think that says it all. My strength--I don't like filth. My weakness--I don't mind clutter.

Take this starter and keep going: Sally stood in the doorway of the kitchen, dismayed by the mess that greeted her there...

Sally stood in the doorway of the kitchen, dismayed by the mess that greeted her there. How had things fallen apart so badly so fast? She had to clean it up but didn't even know where to begin. Shoulders sagging as she reached for the broom, Sally couldn't help but think that if she had a man to help her around here, things would be so much better.

The loneliness of moving through this messy room hit her each time she looked at the stack of dirty dishes, all from dinners for one. She'd be more inclined to clean this place if someone else actually ever saw it.

Take this starter and keep going: Jared knew Beth was the girl for him the moment he laid eyes on her impeccable...

Jared knew Beth was the girl for him the moment he laid eyes on her impeccable kitchen. Everything was so perfect, so precise. She had even color-coded the containers for cereal, flour, sugar, rice, and pretzels. He loved pretzels. And he liked order. But when he saw one of the matching dish towels settled a bit crooked on the oven door, Jared felt a twinge of anger, followed by a harsh regret. So she might not be perfect after all. Maybe he could help her along with improving that a little bit.

Awesome! Thanks, Lenora!

Author Responses, Part Four

More from Lenora Worth this week, including an excerpt from the book she's currently writing.

If you could easily afford to have a full time or live-in housekeeper, would you want one? Why or why not?

I don't think I'd ever have a live-in housekeeper. I like my privacy
too much and I don't like other people going through my "stuff." But it
would be nice to have someone come in once a week maybe.

Describe the current state of your office. Be honest: How good or bad is it?

I've been trying to clean my office for days now. It always get messy
toward the end of a book being written. It's cluttered but I have
little organized spots so I can at least attempt to find things. I
don't like it too neat. That kind of scares me. But I can handle only
so much clutter before that gets to me, too. I like a good balance.

Provide a brief excerpt from one of your books that shows a scene involving housekeeping/mess/cleanliness.

From Let's Make a Deal (working title) Harlequin
SuperRomance--January 2011--Lenora Worth

Letting out a groan, Jane Harper looked up from her now ruined black
Italian leather “client-meeting” pumps to the two-storied whitewashed
farmhouse sitting with forlorn loneliness up on the hill in front of
her. At least she was here now. And from the looks of the place, she’d
be here a while. The yard was weed-covered and drought-thirsty. An old
International tractor sat lopsided near a giant live oak on a hill,
looking like a petrified bug. The steps were cracked, the porch paint
was peeling. And the porch was lined with several pieces of vintage
wicker furniture and Victorian plant stands, along with exercise
equipment and piles of various brands of empty beer cans.

Author Responses, Part Three

Our next author, Lenora Worth (her 2010 release, Hometown Princess is shown above) was full of great answers about housekeeping. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did.

If you could invent a machine that accomplished one single
housekeeping task in your home, what would the machine do?

I'd invent some kind of machine that could wash, fold and put away
clothes. I seem to always be behind on the laundry.
Maybe a machine where you put them in and they go through the whole
process on a conveyor belt--start to finish!

Mindy's note: It exists--or nearly so. In a future blog post, I'll tell about a behind-the-scenes tour of a cruise ship that my husband and I took last fall. In the laundry room, we watched in awe as a worker put sheets and towels from the washer onto a conveyor belt, which brought them through a single machine that dried, pressed, and folded them!

When you create fictional characters, do you ever deal with their level of housekeeping ability and/or their tolerance for mess? How does that factor into the story as a whole?

Sometimes, I'll have one character who is extremely neat and pit that
character against a slob. Or I'll show my character cleaning the house
while fretting about something or just dumping everything into a corner
so she can go for a long walk and talk to God. I think it's important
to show such traits to round out the character and give the reader a
sense of that character's quirks and reality.

What's the neatest or messiest character you have ever created, what book did they appear in, and why did you make that creative decision?

In a book I just finished, the heroine is a life coach who "trains"
people to organize their homes. I put her up against a retired NFL
football player who's having a mid-life crisis and has allowed clutter
in both his home and in his head. It was fun, but it was also a tough
book to write because his emotional clutter really was causing him to
hoard things in order to built a wall around himself.

Great answers. Thanks, Lenora!

Author Responses, Part 2

Here's more from author Jill Elizabeth Nelson. This week, at my request, she has provided us with a brief excerpt from one of her books that shows a scene involving housekeeping/mess/cleanliness, etc. Jill says:

My April release, Calculated Revenge,doesn't contain any such scenes, but my October release, Legacy of Lies,is littered with them. (Pun intended.) The snippet I picked is from a scene where the main male character, the local police chief, takes off-duty hours to help the main female character set her grandmother's house to rights after an official police search that created havoc in the household.

An unsmiling Nicole opened the front door to him. He followed her through the foyer into the living room. Most of the furniture remained out of place.

"I'll put your muscle to work with that to start with." She motioned toward the couch that stood kitty-corner in the middle of the room.

Rich moved toward the piece of furniture. Nicole darted ahead of him and grabbed the far end. Together they put the couch back in its place then worked steadily to set the rest of the room to rights. She must really be skittish of him because she didn't talk except to give directions and kept her distance.

"I'm done in Grandma's bedroom and mine," she said, "but not much else. How about you take the dining room, and I'll tackle the kitchen."

"Sounds like a plan." What else could he do but let her be the boss?

Over the next few hours, they worked through the house, room by room. Nicole always made sure they weren't in the same room. Accidentally or on purpose? Rich battled disappointment that she seemed determined to hold herself aloof. But wasn't that a good thing? Hadn't he determined a similar course of action where the attractive Nicole Mattson was concerned? Why couldn't he convince his heart to chalk her up as a missed opportunity?

They finished the last rooms on the second floor and then met in the hallway. Nicole eyed the open doorway to the attic as if a monster might emerge from the stairwell at any time.

"We might as well get this over with." She marched toward the attic.

Rich hurried after her. So that's what had been bugging her. Of course! She'd have to face the spot her grandmother had lain bleeding. The stain would still be on the floorboards.

"Just a minute," he called.

Oblivious, Nicole charged ahead and started up the stairs just as Rich reached the bottom. On the third step, she let out a sound like a half sigh, half sob and went limp. Her body collapsed backward. Exclaiming, Rich lifted his arms and caught her. The impact of her slight frame drove him a step backward.

Cradling her limp form, he lowered her to the floor. Nicole was out cold.


For the Birds

Author Responses, Part 1

The authors have responded! Here's some of what Jill Elizabeth Nelson, author of Calculated Revenge, had to say to two of my questions.

If you could invent a machine that accomplished one single housekeeping task in your home, what would the machine do?

My machine would sense when crumbs have dropped to the floor or something has been spilled and automatically rush over and clean up the mess. Ummm, you know what? I think I've just invented The Family Dog!

If you could easily afford to have a full time or live-in housekeeper, would you want one? Why or why not?

If I could easily afford a housekeeper, I could no doubt easily afford my dream home. (I dream big.) In that case, I would definitely be interested in a full time housekeeper, though maybe not a live-in. I'd like total privacy at least some of my day. Even now, I'd enjoy having a part time housekeeper--maybe once or twice a week for a few hours. Since I hold down a full time job outside the home, as well as writing a couple of books a year, I would have no trouble keeping busy with my life minus the housework. I do the sweeping, dusting, vacuuming, mopping things because my aversion to filth is greater than my dislike of tedious household chores. But if I could pay someone to take care of those tasks--thus providing gainful employment to another human being--that would be a win-win situation.

Stay tuned for more thoughts on house cleaning from Jill Elizabeth Nelson. Here's the cover for Calculated Revenge, one of her exciting suspense novels for Love Inspired.