Pardon the interruption. Be sure to check back next time as the series of posts on housekeeping authors continues.

In a recent comment to this blog, a reader posed a question that I thought might be of interest here. Following is her question and my answer. Please feel free to chime in via comments to this post if you have any other suggestions I didn't think of. Also, please feel free to post your own household cleaning questions for me to address in future blog entries as well. Thanks!

Q - Charity said:
I have hidden a small garbage can in our entry so that we can immediately purge any incoming things from making it into the rest of the house. It is an old metal milk box that used to sit outside on the porch for the milk man to fill each week. I absolutely love the way it looks and the way it conceals the garbage but it is scratching the wall..bad. I have tried putting sticky felt on the part that scratches but it doesn't seem to help. Any suggestions?

A - Mindy said:
Hi Charity, great question. I have a similar issue with a clothes-drying rack in my laundry room. My solution is to paint the wall the exact same gray color as the scratches that the rack makes. (No kidding, I actually held paint samples up to the scratches till I found the closest match!) I haven't painted it yet, but I've purchased the paint and hope to get around to it soon. I'll be sure to post about how it goes once I do. I doubt the scratches will disappear completely but at least they should be less noticeable.

Any chance you could do that in your entryway?

If not, I wonder if it might help to paint the metal box the color of the wall (or at least the part of the box that makes the scratches.) Hmmm, not sure if that would do any good or not, but it's worth a thought. Or perhaps there's a varnish that could be used on the box to seal in the surface and eliminate some of the discoloration that the scratches are making? You might ask someone at a local home repair store about this approach.

How about hanging a tapestry or curtain or other fabric item on the wall behind the can? I'm surprised the felt idea didn't work, maybe you just need to try that again but use thicker/better/different colored felt this time.

Finally, if it were me and none of the above solved the problem, I would consider buying a small, square seat cushion or similar and hot-gluing it to the back of the box. (Unless the box is a valuable antique or something.) That way, the only thing hitting the wall would be the padded fabric.If you don't want to hurt the box, maybe you could just affix the cushion to the wall directly behind it instead.

Anyway, these solutions are just off the top of my head, but they might get you thinking in the right direction. Thanks again for asking, and best wishes on your own House That Cleans Itself!


Farewell Stephen Bly, 1944 - 2011

Pardon the interruption. Be sure to check back next time as the series of posts on housekeeping authors continues.

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing my friend Stephen Bly for a video I was making about Christian Fiction. Later, when I was editing the footage, I couldn't get over what a "presence" he had on the screen. I figured if he ever got tired of writing, he could certainly pursue a career in television!

In the end, I used two different clips of Stephen, one to open my film and one to close it. Today when I heard about his passing, I dug up those clips and spliced them together to create the above short video in his memory. (Please excuse the shoddy camera work; the filming was quick and off the cuff, using available lighting, no tripod, and an old Super 8 camera.)

Stephen Bly was an incredible writer, a Christlike individual, and a wonderful husband to Janet. I only knew him from various professional functions, but every time I spotted his cowboy hat in the crowd, I couldn't help but smile. I know many others felt the same. He was so sweet, so funny, and such a joy to be with.

Please pray for Stephen's widow, the lovely and gracious Janet, and his entire family. I know they are grieving and rejoicing at the same time. Please also consider joining with his many friends and fans in buying a copy of his newest release, Throw the Devil off the Train, from the BLY BOOKS website or wherever books are sold. Let's s honor Stephen's talents by celebrating his books, his long and fruitful life, and, most importantly, his deep and abiding faith.

So long, Stephen Bly. No doubt, God allows cowboy hats in heaven, which means the angels are the ones spotting you in the crowd and smiling now! :)

Mindy Starns Clark

My Office

Hi Friends, I'll be launching into my new series next week, but for today I thought I might share some fun links and a few photos with you. My webmaster has recently uploaded some pictures of my home office at my website. There you can see my treadmill desk, my amazing two-level work-surface, and even my Oreo Cookie cows.

When you're done there, you might check out this article, for which I was interviewed. Home offices can be so great--or so disastrous. If you're housekeeping impaired, don't let your mess take over the space you've designated as your work zone! Apply the House That Cleans Itself principles throughout the room to get yourself organized--and stay that way.

Recently, I ran across some old before-and-after photos of my office. Here's the before:

and here's the after:

(What, you thought I was kidding when I said my home used to be a disaster?!) I've since reorganized and gotten different furniture, etc, but it's still fun to see these pics and realize how far I've come. Here's hoping you can do the same.

See you next time!

Happy Easter

My daughter Emily made this cake, which I'm proudly showing off here. She's just so darn talented.

I hope you have a lovely day, full of family and food and celebration and JOY.

HE IS RISEN!!! Hallelujah!

Clean Travel Tip #9

Enjoy the scene captured in this shot taken near Hanalei Bay, Kauai, then let's wrap up this travel series with one last tip: ABOVE ALL ELSE, TRY TO PACK LIGHT!

There are plenty of reasons for packing light--less trouble, easier on your back, avoiding extra airline charges, etc.--but here's the biggest reason of all, at least for the housekeeping impaired: the less you pack, the less mess you can make at the other end.

It's that simple.

HAPPY TRAVELS TO YOU! Here's one last photo for the road, a shot I took from my hotel room in St. Louis last summer. Talk about a great view, huh?

See you next time, when I'll share some of my favorite housekeeping books with you!

Clean Travel Tip #8

I snapped this photo with my iPhone while on Maui. Just looking at it makes me want to grab my suit and jump in... And now here are a few more handy tips for clean and peaceful group travel: - Everyone should establish their own separate, personal KEY ZONE. That's because this is where you dump your pockets, and you don't want to dump together lest you lose and/or take each other's stuff by accident. When traveling with others, I'll usually set up my KEY ZONE somewhere on the side of the dresser that's closest to where I'll be sleeping, or maybe even in a top drawer that no one else will be using. - If you are traveling with a super neat freak, offer to contain any non-zone personal items to a specific but out-of-the-way area, for example in a back corner or behind a chair. You may even choose to drape a blanket over the pile when its not in use. That way, all your traveling companion needs do in order to avoid seeing your mess is not peek under the blanket. - If you tend to be messy, be sure that every night before you go to sleep you take a quick look around to see that you haven't left anything out on the floor or in the way. This is unfamiliar territory, remember, and you don't ever want your mess to cause someone else to trip and fall during a midnight bathroom run! - Be generous with the distribution of drawers, hangers, horizontal surfaces, plugs, etc., making sure that everyone sharing the accommodations gets an equal right to the storage options. This should go without saying, of course, but I'm including this here just in case you tend to act without thinking things through fully. Remember: A considerate travel companion would never hog all the hangers, take the top drawers of the dresser, monopolize the only table top, etc. 'Nuff said. - If there is someone you travel with frequently, such as a spouse or co-worker, try to learn from any past conflicts/mistakes/needs and solve the issues so that they don't come up again. For example, on your last trip did you... .
..lose the keys to the rental car, making you both late to an important function? If so, then you need to establish a better ZONE for those keys, or perhaps allow the other person to take charge of them whenever they're not in use. ...realize that sand was getting in your bed(s)? If so, then you need to come up with a solution for sandals, beach wear, beach toys, etc., that better limits the sand to a balcony or bathroom. ...misplace important receipts among all of the other papers that accrued? If so, then you need to establish a RECEIPT ZONE that's separate from your PAPERS ZONE so that it won't happen again.
and so on. However you deal with past problems, doing so promptly and with grace can insure that such issues are less likely to crop up again. Remember that travel can be stressful on everyone! Even the smoothest of trips can involve hassle, delays, waiting in lines, unfamiliar bathrooms, different mattress types, etc, causing temporary irritation or discomfort. If keeping your things a little neater than usual will help to ease the stress for others, then by all means give it your best try! And if you're a neatnik traveling with someone who's housekeeping impaired, remember that messy tendencies often go hand in hand with other things that you love about this person--especially on a trip--such as their spontaneity, sense of humor, or generosity. Show them some grace whenever possible. And who knows? By the end of the trip perhaps one or two of your neater habits just might have rubbed off on them!

Clean Travel Tip #7

My hubby took this photo in Hawaii, when we were cutting across the parking lot of a large apartment complex. I suppose you could call this handy surfboard rack one way to have a House That Cleans Itself--Hawaii Style! This week's traveling clean tip is about establishing "group standards" for travel cleanliness. If you are traveling with others, it's important that everyone be on the same page about the level of cleanliness you'd like to maintain as you travel. This is for the benefit of all who are on board, both the messy types and the neatniks. Somehow, regardless of how you do things at your homes, you'll need to find a middle ground of cleanliness that will work for everyone who is together on this particular trip. This may require some compromise on both sides, as those who are naturally neat may need to agree to accept a little more mess than usual, and those who are naturally messy may need to put in a bit more effort to stay neater than usual. As you sort this out, try to remember that this situation isn't forever, it's simply for this one trip! As my mother-in-law likes to say, "A man can get used to anything--except hanging!" I've been talking here about establishing various "zones" in your hotel room/condo/etc. as soon as you get there. This step is doubly important when you are traveling with others. Though some zones will be for your own personal use, you'll probably want to establish a few communal zones too. For example, two women would likely keep their ACCESSORY ZONES or their MAKEUP ZONES separate but might choose to combine their FOOD ZONE. Follow whatever procedure works best for all involved. For communal zones, you can establish them by committee, so to speak, but before you do, see if one of you is more eager than the other to be the chief zone-establisher. If so, you can save time, effort, and debate in the long run by letting one person establish the zones for all and simply inform the others what and where those zones are. When my hubby and I travel together, I choose most of the zones for us and simply clue him in once I'm done. But I do this with past trips in mind and with regard for how I know he would choose, if he were the one doing the choosing. For example, he's very tall, so I know he usually likes his KEY ZONE up high, like on a shelf above the TV, if there is one. Come back soon for more handy trips on clean and peaceful group travel.

HTCI Interview Part 7

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.


A lot of magazines and books discussing home organization provide costly examples of how to change our homes. Does it have to be expensive to set up an organized home? What are some examples of inexpensive ways to organize problem areas?

Mindy: Over the years, I’ve spent a personal fortune on organizational items that proved useless in the end. Somehow, I think I feel better about a problem if I throw money at it!

It is true that sometimes, yes, money needs to be spent, even in a House That Cleans Itself. The broken window blinds that hang crooked and give a messy feel to the whole room need to go. The moldy grout that has resisted every product you’ve thrown at it needs to be replaced.

But more often than not, achieving a House That Cleans Itself costs nothing at all. For example, consider the Sight Zone principle. In the book, I explain that every room in your home has at least one “Sight Zone”—that area you see first when you stand in the doorway and look inside. (A room with multiple doorways will have multiple Sight Zones.) I suggest that you evaluate the Sight Zone for every room in your house. Next, for each of those rooms, decide which elements tend to stay neater and cleaner and which tend to get messier. (For example, you might be pretty good about making the bed but pretty bad about letting your dresser top get cluttered.)

Then—here’s the key—rearrange the furniture in each room so that the part that tends to stay neater is the part that sits in the Sight Zone, while the part that tends to get messy sits in that area of the room you may not see at first.

Using the above example, you would arrange your bedroom so that the bed sits across from the doorway in plain sight, but the dresser rests against the wall beside the door, maybe even with a plant or a curtain on the near side that blocks it from full view of the door. How on earth does this give you a cleaner house? It’s a mental thing, which has physical repercussions. Allow me to explain.

Before implementing this principal, every time you walked into that room, your eyes landed on the messy dresser and your first thought was “This room is a mess.” Even if you came further into the room and saw that the bed was made, your brain said, “Look at that, I tried to do something neat to this messy room.”

Now consider the impact after implementing the Sight Zone principle. If every time you walk into that room you spot the neatly-made bed, your first thought is, “This room is neat and clean.” Then when your eyes finally catch sight of the messier part you think, “Oh look, there’s a messy spot in this clean room.”

Do you see the difference? In the first example, not only does the house feel messier, but if this happens in room after room, the mess can seem so overwhelming and hopeless that you don’t even try to clean. In the second example, not only does the house feel cleaner, but by allowing you to see the mess as an isolated issue you are more likely to jump in and clean it up as well.

Household experts and those who are naturally gifted at housekeeping would probably call this concept crazy. They would instead lecture you about that messy dresser, sell you a bunch of containers, and tell you to try harder.

Not me! I already know the cold, hard truth: If you are housekeeping impaired, lectures won’t change your behavior, containers create a whole new kind of clutter, and no matter how hard you try, you’re never going to change simply through sheer force of will.

That’s what makes the House That Cleans Itself system so different. That’s why it works, even when nothing else has ever worked before.

Clean Travel Tip #6

I took this travel pic with my iPhone, in Kauai. We were on our way to the airport to fly home and made a quick stop at one last sight we'd wanted to see all week but had never gotten around to. Thank goodness we did! It was an eyeful, for sure, and well worth the trouble. Talk about a great way to end a vacation!

As for traveling clean...

In a previous post, I talked about having an ELECTRONICS ZONE in your hotel room. Depending on the number of available electrical outlets and how they're placed, you may have to split this zone into two or more areas. For example you might have to keep your computer and related equipment on the desk, your cameras near the plug by the window, and your phone charger in the plug nearest the bed.

Though necessary, this can be risky because it's easy to miss seeing one or two chargers when you are packing to leave! To be safe, you should always follow this handy "reminder" tip so that no charger is ever left behind again.

As you are first unpacking, think in terms of something you are absolutely going to need on the day you leave, but preferably not until then. For example is there a pair of shoes or some article of clothing you know you won't be wearing until you're ready to go home? If not, maybe use an empty suitcase, an airline ticket, or something else necessary for when you leave but not needed during your stay.

Whatever item(s) you choose, integrate it significantly into your less noticeable ELECTRONICS ZONE(S). Thus, for example, when you plug in your phone charger, wrap the cord around your shoe. If you know for a fact that those are the shoes you'll be putting on when you're ready to leave, then there's no way you can miss spotting your phone charger as well. Or, run the cord for your camera charger through the handle of the empty suitcase. When you grab that suitcase to pack it, you'll see the camera charger and grab it too.

Why does your reminder item have to be something you're not going to be using during your trip? Simple: Because if you are housekeeping impaired, I can almost guarantee that you won't "re-rig" your reminder if you have to disassemble it for use. The first time you grab that shoe because you want to wear it during your stay is likely the last time the shoe and the phone charger will ever be in such close proximity again, at least while on this trip. If you are by nature a sloppy person, you're never going to remember to set up this reminder once you're finished with the item and take it back off.

If you're traveling light and don't have anything that you won't be using during your stay, then at the very least wrap something unexpected around the handle of a suitcase--such as a long wad of toilet paper--to serve as a vivid reminder of your chargers. When you are packing to go, you'll see the funky handle, wonder "What on earth?" for just a moment, and then that will jog your memory to grab your chargers.

The naturally neat might read the above and simply shake their heads or roll their eyes. But if you are housekeeping impaired, chances are you're nodding right now and going, "Good idea. I totally get it."

Isn't it great that God has filled the earth with both kinds of people? Come back soon to hear what I have to say about clean travel when your trip includes others.

HTCI Interview Part 6

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.


Do you have advice for women whose husbands are messies and not on board with The House That Cleans Itself system? For example, my dear hubby is terrible about sticking *stuff* on my kitchen counter and never moving it. We also have a problem with his mail; I have a special container I put it in, and when it's full, he's supposed to go through everything and toss out what he doesn't need. But instead, the container just overflows. One Proverbs 31 Woman reader also says her husband leaves his medicines on the counter, even though she's made a special spot for them in a cupboard. What advice might you give for situations like these?

Mindy: Most men are born problem-solvers, and it always helps to take advantage of that fact. In a peaceful moment, sit down and talk with your husband about the issue, focusing on the items, not on his character or behavior. Tell him something like, “We have a cleaning problem, but the solution I came up with obviously isn’t working. Do you have any better ideas about how we could handle these pill bottles?” If you present things correctly, he’ll see that this is a challenge to be solved rather than a condemnation of his habits, and there’s a good chance he’ll come up with something that will eliminate the issue entirely.

The hard part may be in helping him to understand why this is actually a problem and not just a matter of preference. For example, though I suspect your reader doesn’t want medicines left on the counter primarily because that makes the room look messy, there are plenty of other reasons why this shouldn’t happen:

- the kids might accidentally get into them

- the medicines are far more likely to get stolen if they’re out where just anyone can see them

- it’s too hard to wipe the countertops if items have to be moved out of the way first

- the medicines can roll away, get hidden under piles, or even accidentally spilled on or thrown out

- and so on.

Once he is convinced that this is an actual problem and not just a matter of two different housekeeping styles, he’ll probably understand the need for a solution and may even come up with alternatives so that the problem will be solved.

In a situation where it really is just a matter of preference, it’s best to admit that. Ask yourself if you’re being too picky, or if this is something you could let go of and just ignore. If not, then try to appeal to that side of him that wants to love and protect and cherish you. Ask him to bend a little for your sake, just because it will make you happy.

That’s how I would handle the issue of your husband’s stuff and how he leaves it on your kitchen counter. First, of course, see if together you can come up with some specific solutions for the various things he tends to deposit there. But beyond that I think you should just be honest with him and explain that each item—no matter what it is, no matter that this wasn’t his intention—feels to you like a little slap on the face. It’s disrespectful and hurtful and makes you very sad and frustrated. (If the rest of the house is a real mess, chances are he just can’t see what difference it makes whether the counter is clear or not. But even so, your feelings don’t need to make sense, they just are.) We all have areas in our messy homes that we need to keep under control simply for the sake of our sanity, thanks to our brain and how it works. Tell him this is one of your mental health zones and that you desperately need him to try harder just so that you will stay sane. J

Sometimes, that’s enough to get him to change. Sometimes, however, a husband will agree to change somewhat as long as you’re willing to give a little in return. For example, we had a mess-by-the-door problem that seemed almost insurmountable. You see, my hubby likes to take his shoes off when he comes in the door and leave them there until he’s ready to put them on again the next day. To make matters worse, sometimes he’ll wear different shoes to work, causing the pairs to pile up and make a big mess. As that is the first thing you see when you come inside my house, it makes me crazy, but he really feels that there’s nothing wrong with it.

None of my solutions fixed this problem—not conveniently-placed baskets or clearing a spot in a nearby closet—so finally I sat down and had a talk with him. I said, “I know you don’t think of this as an issue, but it is for me. Seeing your shoes there makes me feel irritated and frustrated every single day. For that reason alone, I need you to work with me to find a solution.” His response was equally honest, saying that while he heard what I was saying and he wasn’t intentionally trying to hurt me, the fact was that he needed his shoes to be right there by the door or he would lose a lot of time and focus in the mornings if forced to retrieve them from somewhere else.

In the end, we decided that he did have the right to leave his shoes near the door, but within specific limits: He could only leave out one pair at a time—never more than that—and the shoes couldn’t just be plopped messily on the floor but instead had to be set neatly side by side, right next to the wall. It was a good solution. And though I’d rather not have to see his shoes there at all, I appreciate how he has stuck to this system, most of the time at least. As for me, I have done as I promised and stopped complaining or nagging him about the shoes he leaves at the door.

In the end, the most important key is to find a solution that works for your husband and the way he thinks. For example, maybe the guy who leaves his pill bottles on the counter is an out-of-sight-out-of-mind person. In your statement, “she's made a special spot for them in a cupboard,” perhaps the key phrase there is in the cupboard. Maybe when the pills are kept put away like that, he doesn’t see them and he forgets to take them. Instead, perhaps her compromise needs to be that the pills can stay out in the open on the counter (so he won’t forget) but that he has to put them into a little basket rather than just leaving them scattered willy nilly all over the table (so that they aren’t quite as much in her way, creating clutter). To me, that seems reasonable for both sides.

For your husband’s paper issue, maybe the container you chose is too big and he finds himself overwhelmed by the amount of papers it holds. In that case, get a smaller one. On the other hand, maybe the container you chose is simply too small, and the reason the papers are overflowing from it is because he only wants to deal with these things once a month but your container only holds two weeks’ worth. If that’s the case, get a bigger one!

Maybe he’s simply rotten at sorting and sifting, in which case the two of you should try and figure out some kind of simple pre-sort that you or he could do that would make the task feel less burdensome overall.

A final thought here: Ask him to specify a type of time or situation when he will be most likely to deal with the bin of papers. For example, maybe he doesn’t like doing them at night because then he’ll lie awake for hours obsessing about the bills, but he doesn’t mind sitting down on Saturday afternoons and going through them then, while you’re nearby cooking supper. The key here is that once he specifies the best case scenario for doing his papers, you’re allowed to remind him at those times without being thought of as a nag. Conversely, if you remind him at those times but he still doesn’t do the papers, you need to remember that he is a grown man and has the right to put this task off—though not to the point where your credit rating, electricity, etc., is in danger of being affected—as long as you can remind him with impunity the next time the situation again presents itself.

As you can see, getting to the root of these issues requires discussion, problem-solving skills, and a willingness to demonstrate love through action on both sides.

Clean Travel Tip #5

My daughter Emily got artsy with this shot, taken while horseback riding in Hawaii:

And now back to clean travel...

Previously, in my discussion of the ZONE principle of clean travel, I listed the zones that I most commonly use when I travel, including a KEY ZONE, SECURE ZONE, ELECTRONICS ZONE, FOOD ZONE, BEDSIDE ZONE, MAKEUP ZONE, PAPERS ZONE, SPORTS ZONE, and DIRTY CLOTHES ZONE. What other types of zones might you need to establish? Here are some ideas:

- a TOY ZONE, if you are traveling with kids

- a BABY FEEDING ZONE, if you have bottles, formula, spoons, etc.

- a BABY CHANGING ZONE, for diapers, wipes, baby clothes, etc.

- an ACCESSORIES ZONE if you're a bit of a fashionista and have lots of purses, belts, scarves, etc.

- a GYM ZONE, if you'll be working out daily and want to assemble a small version of your at-home gym bag

- a WEATHER GEAR ZONE, if it's cold outside and you've got lots of gloves, coats, scarves, etc.

- a SHOPPING/SOUVENIR ZONE, if you keep coming to the room with various shopping bags, purchases for home, etc.

- a FREEBIE ZONE, if you're at a conference or event where you are accruing various promotional giveaways.

- a GAME ZONE, if you've brought along a deck of cards, Travel Yahtzee, Gameboys, etc.

You get the idea. When you travel, what categories of items do YOU bring along? Start thinking in terms of ZONES, and your hotel stay will be astonishingly neater than ever before.

Oh yeah, one more thought on that "FREEBIE ZONE", listed above: By keeping these all in one place, you can better make the decision at the end of your stay about what comes home with you and what you'll leave behind. I hope it goes without saying that when all is said and done, most things in this zone should be left behind! Do you really need yet another handy all-in-one ruler/paper clip/Post-It note holder at your house, or 3 more Frisbees with company logos on them? If not, ditch 'em! These things will clutter up your house needlessly, stealing your time and your sanity!

Lecture over, putting soapbox away. Come back soon for more handy clean travel tips.


Pardon the Interruption...

...but I have some big news: My latest release, The Amish Midwife co-written with Leslie Gould, is now the #1 bestseller in Christian fiction! Yay!

ECPA bestseller lists

I've made the bestseller list before, but this is my first appearance in the #1 spot. I'm so excited, I hope you don't mind me sharing it with you here.

Have a great day!



HTCI Interview Part 5

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.


I see on your blog that you and your publisher are considering follow up books for The House That Cleans Itself. One of the ideas is a book focusing on implementing your method in a household with kids. Could you share one or two ideas for moms with small children? For example, do you have advice on getting small kids to pick up after themselves without causing World War Three?

Mindy: When it comes to picking up mess with kids, here are some ideas I have found success with in the past:

- Make cleaning a game. For example, let the kids pick a peppy song that becomes the “cleaning song”. When it’s time to pick up toys, put on that song and they have to pick up as fast as they can, seeing if they can finish before the song is over. Keep it fun, every time, and they’ll actually begin to think of it as an adventure rather than a chore.

- If you have several children, assign each one a different color and tell them they have exactly three minutes of picking up but that they are only allowed to pick up an item if it has their color somewhere on it. They get so engrossed in the “game” that they forget that game is also getting the room clean.

- Do whatever you can to make cleaning easy and convenient. Make sure that all bins and containers are easy to reach, clearly labeled, and present no challenges to tiny fingers. If they can’t read yet, use pictures as labels. Most of all, don’t create a situation that requires excessive sorting. (For example, you don’t need to separate Legos by size and color, just get them in the dang bin!)

- Ask for your child’s input on how he thinks his stuff should be organized and listen to his suggestions. By bringing him in on the decision-making process, you are giving him “ownership” over the success of his ideas.

For slightly older kids, here’s one of my favorites: Go to a hardware store and buy a carpenter’s apron, then stock it with child-safe cleaning supplies. My daughter hated cleaning until I did this for her. But the moment she strapped on that tool belt loaded with Magic Erasers, wet wipes, a mini feather duster, and more, she transformed into a lean, mean cleaning machine. It was wonderful!

I’ll have many more suggestions in the book about cleaning with kids, but these are off the top of my head for now.

Clean Travel Tip #4

Here's this week's travel photo, taken by my daughter Lauren on a trip to "Reddish Knob" in Virginia. Gorgeous, huh?

Now let's talk some more about the "zone" principle of clean travel, which I introduced previously.

First, I don't want anyone to misunderstand: I'm not saying that you should unpack all of your stuff from your suitcases whenever you go to a hotel. Personally, I won't fully unpack unless I'm going to be somewhere for at least 3 days, usually more. (That's why in my list of zones, you don't see anything about clothing other than the DIRTY CLOTHES ZONE.) I'm just saying that there are certain travel-related items that are easier to keep straight and use if you give them a zone in your room rather than leave them in a bag. If these items are easier to retrieve and use, your entire room will stay neater with less trouble.

So what do you do with your clothes if you're not staying long? Here's what I do for brief stays. In the closet, I'll hang up any outfits I'll be wearing, then I set up the luggage rack in a handy spot against a wall nearby. I'll put a suitcase on that and use that one suitcase for any non-hanging items I'll need such as sweat pants, underwear, socks, nightgowns, bathing suits, etc. Sometimes this is as far as I'll go for longer stays as well, depending on the cleanliness of the drawers and/or the number of available hangers in the closet. Shoes go near the door, or on the floor of the closet.

If you try out the zone principle on your next trip, remember to always make a concerted effort to return each item to its assigned zone whenever it is not in use. If your zones are consistent and logical, this really won't be a hard habit to establish at all. Then you will find that you have a Hotel Room That Cleans Itself.

Now if we could just figure out a way to get daily maid service at home...

HTCI Interview Part 4

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.


One of the things I LOVE about your book is all the little stories you tell about your most embarrassing housekeeping moments. They not only make me laugh heartily, but they make me feel better about my own housekeeping skills. What would you say is your all time most embarrassing housekeeping moment?

Mindy: Actually, the Most Embarrassing Messy House Moments in the book aren’t from my own experience, they are stories I have collected from others. My favorite is the grass growing out of the bathmat. Yikes! I take comfort from those stories, glad at least to know I’m not the only one these sorts of things happen to.

I can’t even pinpoint my own most embarrassing moment, there have been so many over the years. I do remember one of my saddest housekeeping moments, though. That happened when I told my five-year-old daughter over breakfast that “Today, we’re going to get this house clean.” She broke into a big smile and replied, “Oh goodie! Who’s coming over?”

Isn’t that just awful? Even at five, my kid saw more than I did, that about the only time I ever got a handle on our mess was when we were expecting company. Even though I laughed about it at the time, that was a real wake-up call for me. In a way, it broke my heart.

Clean Travel Tip #3

First I'll start with this week's travel photo, taken during our recent vacation to Louisiana. Just for fun, I had picked up some little craft painting sets at Target in an after-Christmas sale. I pulled them out on New Year's Eve for my kids and their cousins to have a fun project to do. There were enough little figurines for the adults to participate as well, and when we were finished we even had a "contest" for Most Precise, Most Creative, Biggest Risk Taker, etc., as judged by the adults who hadn't joined in with the painting. Here's a photo of the winners:

Can you guess which one got Best Overall? Answer is at the bottom of this post.

Now on to the topic at hand, how to travel neatly...

This is the single most important clean travel tip I can ever give you:

Whenever you reach the hotel room/condo/etc. where you will be staying, immediately establish "ZONES". These are the various areas where you will be keeping your possessions for the duration of your stay.

For example, when I stay in a hotel room for work purposes, I set up the following zones:

- a KEY ZONE, where I will keep my room key plus any other non-valuable, similar items I'll be carrying around in my pockets, such as pocket change, itinerary, etc.

- a SECURE ZONE, where I'll keep my purse, jewelry, and medications

- an ELECTRONICS ZONE, where I put chargers and equipment for my phone, camera, laptop, Kindle, etc.

- a FOOD ZONE, where I'll keep any snacks and beverages I want to have on hand

- a BEDSIDE ZONE, where I'll put those few things I'll want at bedtime, such as Blistex, dental floss, whatever book I'm currently reading for fun, and a flashlight

- a MAKEUP ZONE, where I'll put my beauty/hair products

- a PAPERS ZONE, where I'll dump any important incoming papers

- a SPORTS ZONE, if I have brought along any sort of equipment such as goggles for the pool, a tennis racquet, etc.

- a DIRTY CLOTHES ZONE, where I'll throw clothing after I've worn it

Even in a small room, it usually isn't too hard to find a separate place for each of the above. Every time I travel, I try to use similar locations for these zones. Thus, even though the various hotel rooms my differ in size and shape, I'll learn the habit of looking to certain areas for the things I need, both when I'm retrieving them to use and when I'm putting them away again. For example, here's the above list of zones, with the rules of thumb I usually follow when choosing where each will go:

- the KEY ZONE is usually on top of or near the television

- the SECURE ZONE is usually inside the room safe, or, if there isn't one, somewhere discreet that your average thief likely wouldn't notice (and that's all I'm sayin' here, haha)

- the ELECTRONICS ZONE is usually on or near the desk. Depending on the number of electrical outlets there, I may have to split this zone into two, moving my camera and phone chargers to a different outlet elsewhere in the room. When that happens, for example if my phone charger is in a plug in the corner, I always follow a handy "reminder" tip so that I don't forget and leave it behind. More about that in a future post!

- the FOOD ZONE is usually on/near/in the fridge, if there is one, or the ice bucket/coffee maker area if there isn't

- the BEDSIDE ZONE is, of course, either on the bedside table, if my trip is a brief one, or in the bedside table drawer, if I'll be staying there for 3+ days

- the MAKEUP ZONE is usually on the bathroom counter or near the best, most well-lit mirror in the room

- the PAPERS ZONE is usually on or near the desk or in my briefcase

- the SPORTS ZONE is usually on the floor of the closet

- the DIRTY CLOTHES ZONE is also usually on the floor of the closet, at the other end, or in an empty suitcase if I happen to have one

Be sure to come back soon so you can learn even more about the zone principle of clean travel.

Answer: Winner for the Best Overall ornament in the photo, above, was the white snowman with the red hat in the center, 5th from the left, which was painted by my very talented niece Sarah! (If you're curious, mine is 2nd from the right.)

HTCI Interview Part 3

Here's another entry 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.


What words of encouragement and advice would you give to moms (like me!) who look around the house and are completely overwhelmed by the idea of getting it in order?

Mindy: (A caveat: I’m going to answer this and the following questions with the assumption that most of Kristina's readers are married, with kids, and are the primary caretaker of the children. My apologies in advance to two-career couples, single moms, house-husbands, etc. No offense is intended, it’s just easier to write with this assumption rather than trying to cover all of the bases.)

Okay, in answer to this question, allow me to rant for a moment…

First of all, take a deep breath, throw your guilt out of the window, and give yourself a big hug. No one knows how hard it is to be home with kids except those who have been there. The world puts so many expectations on young mothers these days, it’s just absurd: Mother your children AND get those kids into numerous activities so they will be well-rounded AND try to develop a side income/part time job to help with the family finances AND be an attractive, loving partner/sex goddess for your husband AND be sure to keep yourself up on current events AND make sure you eat healthfully and do regular workouts AND do your part volunteering at the church and school AND keep your home clean at all times AND make sure it’s decorated like in a magazine AND on and on.) The problem is that we always leave out one of the “ands”: AND do this all by yourself with no outside help whatsoever because your extended family lives far away and your neighbors all have full time jobs outside of the home and your spouse hasn’t got a clue how much time all of this stuff takes. In other words, are you kidding me? Somehow, we’ve kept all of the expectations that we used to have for young mothers back when there were support systems to help make that possible, and to all of those we’ve added tons more new expectations. The justification? Well, nowadays we have things like microwave ovens and automatic washers and dryers, so all of this household stuff should be faster and easier, right?

Wrong. For every new invention or development that was meant to help streamline our lives, I contend that man has done something to “compensate” so that the streamlining gets completely negated. For example:

- Microwaves allow us to cook faster, yes, but now there is an expectation that we should be able to whip up healthy meals night after night in record time without much effort or planning or hard work. Good grief. Microwave or not, feeding our families well is a huge, time-consuming undertaking that should never be underestimated.

- Washing and drying a load of laundry takes far less time for us than it ever did for our grandmothers. But guess what? We own about 10 or even 20 times more clothes than they did, because of our busy lives and various activities, we change those clothes far more often, and there are zillions of different fabrics and fabric-cleaning products for us to deal with. No wonder laundry still sucks up as much time as it ever did! We may do it faster, but we also have to do it far more often and with a greater variety of products/temperatures/handling.

- Caring for the lawn with a riding mower and a weed eater is far faster and easier than the way grandpa had to do it with his antiquated lawn tools. But guess what? Keeping our lawns tidy is no longer enough, especially now that we live in the suburbs. These days, we also have to weed, chip, shred, mulch, landscape, and more. Better garden as well, and make sure it’s organic. How about compost, are you doing your part to save the earth? For every advance in machinery, we heap on another load of expectations!

- In my mother’s day, many housewives didn’t have a car. Nowadays, of course, car-less-ness would be a rarity, which should make our lives easier and more convenient, saving us lots of time. But guess what? With readily-available transportation, we are now expected to ferry our kids and ourselves hither and yon, taking lessons, joining teams, volunteering, handling obligations, etc., all of which eats away at our time in humongous ways. Having our own cars hasn’t saved anything at all but has, instead, robbed us of much.

I could keep going, but you get my drift. The more things have changed, the more they’ve stayed the same—or even gotten worse—and yet somehow our mindsets have completely bought into all of these new myths.

So my primary word of encouragement is this: Recognize the myths that pervade in your household—in your own mind and in your husband’s—and claim them for the lies they are. Toss those myths, then toss the guilt as well. Your job is incredibly hard, especially in this day and age.

Next, embrace this truth: If your house has fallen apart, then you probably aren’t gifted at housekeeping. Some people can’t sing, some can’t dance, it just so happens that you can’t keep a house clean. You may know how to clean, you may be able to whip that place into shape like nobody’s business when you have to, but if it isn’t consistently clean then this is simply a talent that you lack. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, it’s simply a fact, one that you need to acknowledge and accept if you’re going to move on and find other ways around the problem of a messy house. If your house has gotten the better of you, it’s not going to be fixed by wanting it more or trying harder. You’ve already done both for a long, long time. Instead, you need to do something completely different. You need a revolutionary approach.

Once you accept that fact, then what? I contend that you begin to get things under control by committing to these two statements:

- My single most important job is to love and respect my husband and be his helpmate, support system, encourager, and best friend.

- My second most important job is to be Christ to my children, keeping them safe and healthy and loved, and teaching and living in such a way that they see Him in me.

If you agree with the above, then every single decision you make about how and where you spend your time and effort on your home should be based on these two statements. Do you see “scrub toilets daily” anywhere in there? I don’t! If I look at these two truths and consider how they might relate to housekeeping in my home, here’s what I see:

1. I should talk to my husband about the various messes around here, find out which parts bother him the most, and focus on keeping those under control, simply as a demonstration of my love for him. I should also learn which little acts of cleaning please him the most/relieve stress for him the most, and try to do those whenever I can. In turn, to preserve my peace and sanity, I need to help him understand how very hard my job is, where my priorities as a wife and mother lie, and how he can better pitch in to help me keep things under control.

2. I should keep housekeeping in its proper perspective with regards to my children, remembering that kids need to live in a neat and orderly home that functions well, but that there are many other housekeeping chores that don’t fall under that umbrella that should probably be put aside for now. There will be time for alphabetizing the spices when they are grown and gone; right now, it is far more important that I aim most days for a minimum standard. That means my kids need to know that:

a. they can trust me to have a system that keeps me from losing important papers they bring home from school or groups

b. they will always have a neat, well-lit, comfortable place to do homework

c. there is a logical place to put the items they bring in and out of the house on a regular basis, such as backpacks, sporting equipment, etc.

d. when friends come over the house is clean ENOUGH that they don’t feel embarrassed by it.

Anything else beyond this standard is probably more than is needed at this stage of life.

3. I should allow myself to do the chores that please me and give me a sense of peace and control, but I need to think seriously about this and define exactly what those chores are and how much time I should be spending on them. Again, life comes in phases, and when there are small kids at home that’s by its very nature going to be a messier phase. Thus, I will define the chores that are most important to me, weed out all but a few, and not in any way feel guilty about the ones that get put aside for another phase when time isn’t at such a premium.

How does the above look when put into practice? It’s really a matter of choices. For example…

With regards to my husband:

- If his pet peeve is to see a sink filled with dirty dishes, then I’ll choose loading the dishwasher (his preference) over sweeping the front walk (a chore I might do instead just because the broom was handy and I had a minute). If he wants a spot near the door where he can dump his things when he comes in and they won’t be disturbed, I’ll suggest that we rearrange the furniture so that he has a cabinet where he wants it, and I’ll make it a hard and fast rule with the kids that they don’t touch Daddy’s cabinet, ever. If he just wants to know that there will always be a clean t-shirt in his drawer when he gets dressed each morning, I’ll make the laundry choices that help that to happen—and if it’s too much trouble to do laundry that often I’ll go out and buy him more t-shirts so that I only have to worry about it once every few weeks!

With regards to my kids:

- I will make decisions about how I spend my housekeeping time based on the goal of having a home that is primarily neat and functional for their lives and mine, rather than one that looks impressive to the neighbors or could pass my mother-in-law’s white glove test. That means making sure that the homework area is kept clean and organized and inviting, even if I’d rather spend that time dusting the knick knacks and organizing the gift wrap. It means that I need to tackle the household paper issue once and for all so that I never lose an important note from the school again—even if that means I have to skip my big spring cleaning this year. It means that when it comes time for a new couch, I’ll choose the one with the pattern that best hides dirt and stains, even if I’d prefer one that’s light and monochromatic but would show every spot.

With regards to myself:

For my own mental health, I’ll continue to do those household chores that I need done to keep me sane, even if my hubby or kids could care less. (Personally, how my family isn’t bothered by globs of food and puddles of water on the kitchen countertops is beyond me; if I didn’t wipe the counters clean at least once a day I’d go nuts.) But I won’t just jump in on autopilot and think I need to do all of those tasks that I’ve been told I “ought” to do. Says who? The only ought in my life when I have kids at home is that I ought to make sure our home is functional for my husband, my children, and myself, and that it is clean enough that it feels like a peaceful, pleasant place to be. Everything else is beside the point.

Okay, so this all sounds good in theory, but what should you do if you’ve already let things go too far? If your family is languishing amid disastrous mess and there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to get a handle on it, then it’s time to take drastic action. More than anyone, you need a House That Cleans Itself! Finding time to make that happen isn’t easy, but it’s worth it in the long run. Consider going into a sort of “hibernation” for a while, dropping outside responsibilities and extracurricular activities so that you can focus on getting your home back on track. OR maybe it’s time to put out a call for help. Give the book to a non-judgmental friend and ask if they would read it and then help guide you through the system, give you some accountability, and lovingly aid you as you problem-solve your way out of the disaster.

Perhaps it’s time to make some other changes as well, such as asking your spouse to carry more of the load, requiring more from your children, speaking to your doctor about any medical issues you may suspect that you have (depression, anemia, ADD, and many other conditions can contribute significantly to household mess), hiring someone to provide occasional cleaning help or child care, trading off with a friend, having a dumpster put in the front yard, or whatever else it takes to get your home under control.

Remember: Structure. Function. Peace. As a mom, these need to be your priorities and goals, not shiny granite or a sparkling oven or well-trimmed shrubbery. Those can wait until the kids are older. For now, your efforts should be all about creating structure, preserving function, and providing a sense of peace. As the kids grow, the specifics of how that’s done may change, but the goals should remain the same. For example, a toddler could care less about that giant pile of clean laundry waiting to be folded, but a preteen would rather die than have her friends see a pile of her father’s tighty whities on the living room couch.

You know, being a good parent means that in many ways we must become selfless, and housekeeping is no exception. There are only so many hours in a day, so as a parent your job is to give highest priority to the chores that have the greatest impact on your family’s functionality and mental health. Everything else should be put at the bottom of the list—perhaps even delegated, postponed, or eliminated entirely.

Trust me, speaking as an empty-nester, the day will come much sooner than you think when there’s no one around to make those terrible messes except you and your spouse. So for now, while they’re still with you, throw out the “perfect” home that lives only in your imagination, focus on creating function and peace around you instead, and tell yourself that once the youngest heads off to college THEN you can be the housekeeper of your dreams. Hopefully, by then you’ll have learned that you’re never going to change but that it doesn’t matter because your house is now cleaning itself.