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.