Showing posts with label The House That Cleans Itself. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The House That Cleans Itself. Show all posts

Oct 22, 2010

Interview with Mindy Starns Clark: Dealing with Messie Kids and Husbands

This is Part III of my interview with Mindy Starns Clark, author of the revolutionary home keeping book The House That Cleans Itself. Be sure to check out Part I and Part II of my interview, too

Kristina: 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 III?

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.

Kristina: 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.

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.

One final note on this: I’m a firm believer that negotiation, whenever possible, is always better than compromise, especially when partnered with some sort of penalty/reward system. With compromise each of you only gets part of what you want, but with negotiation, each of you gets all of something you want. In the end, those who learn to negotiate are usually much happier. For example, my husband and I negotiated the shoes-by-the-door issue so that in the end, he gets to keep his shoes exactly where he wants them, beside the door, albeit neatly and only one pair at a time. But because I had to “give” in this matter (I really wanted no shoes by the door at all, ever), he “gave” me something in return through an attached penalty/reward system: Now, whenever he breaks the rule we established, for example by exceeding the one pair of shoes only rule, then I get a 10-minute back rub for each extra pair of shoes that he leaves there. Trust me when I say that nowadays when I see extra shoes by the door I’m actually kind of excited, especially if my muscles are feeling sore. This also helps to keep him in the habit of following the rule, because he has to pay the price of a back rub whenever he breaks it. As you can imagine, we are both far happier with this solution than if we had compromised and come up with some other place for his shoes that wasn’t really satisfactory to either of us.

Kristina: 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.


Oct 20, 2010

Interview with Mindy Starns Clark: Encouragement for Harried Moms

This is Part II of my interview with Mindy Starns Clark, author of the revolutionary home keeping book The House That Cleans Itself. Be sure to check out Part I of my interview, found here.

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

Mindy: First, a caveat: I’m going to answer this and the following questions with the assumption that most of your 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. J

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.

Watch for PART III of my interview with Mindy, where she offers specific advice about dealing with kids and husbands who are messies.

Oct 18, 2010

Interview with Mindy Starns Clark: Does The House That Cleans Itself Really Work?

I've really found the concepts in Mindy Starns Clark's The House That Cleans Itself extremely helpful. Although I'm still slowly (very slowly!) working my way through our home and applying Mindy's techniques, I've already found that where I've given my home The House That Cleans Itself treatment, things stay neat and tidy. If you've always considered yourself a messie, I hope you'll read Mindy's book.

To wrap up my posts about
The House That Cleans Itself, Mindy agreed to let me ask her a few questions. Her answers were so comprehensive and full of info, I'm going to divide them up into several posts. This one focuses on how she came up with the idea for the book and how her method works in real life.

Kristina: The House That Cleans Itself method is much different from any other home keeping 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.

Kristina: 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 pack rats 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 less 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.

Kristina: 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.

Watch for PART II of this interview, where Mindy tackles some difficulties moms often face when it comes to keeping their homes organized and clean.

Sep 1, 2010

The House That Cleans Itself: Finishing Up

NOTE: Mindy Starns Clark, author of The House That Cleans Itself, has kindly agreed to an interview here at Proverbs 31 Woman. If you have questions for her about her book or about home keeping in general, please email me and I'll be sure to include your question in our interview.

For the past month or so, I've neglected The House That Cleans Itself. I've just been too busy working on my book, canning, and school prep. The good news is, although I haven't cleaned in over a month, my living room (part of which I had treated to Mindy's plan) has held up just fine. Yes, toys are everywhere, but other than this, what I'd already tidied stayed tidied up. For example, the table that used to be piled high with books still only contains devotional material. The basket for library books and "long books" I'm reading to my daughter still only contains those materials. And the flat surfaces are clutter free. My kitchen, which I had treated to Mindy's system, didn't fare quite as well, but that's only because there's still canning stuff everywhere that I'm not going to put away until I finish up that project. All in all, I'm delighted - and happy to finish reading The House That Cleans Itself and start implementing the process throughout the rest of my home.

The last few chapters of the book are all about implementing the strategies explained in the previous chapters. Mindy helps us work our way through our homes, offering specific advice for common trouble spots (including newspaper pile up, kitchen spices, the cords to electronics, mail, and beauty products). She even offers advice on keeping the kids occupied while you clean.

Mindy also explains how to do little tasks every day to keep the house clean. "Clean every day??" some of you may be thinking. "Okay, you've lost me there!" But as Mindy explains, and as I've discussed before, many home keeping tasks take only a minute or two to complete, yet make the house seem so much cleaner. Mindy suggests - and I fully concur - improving your mindset about cleaning by giving your kids a stopwatch and letting them time you doing typical tasks, like wiping down the counters or picking up the clutter on the bathroom counter. Often tasks we build up in our mind really take very little of our time.

Mindy also discusses ways to deep clean your house, including dividing the work fairly among family members or making the task more manageable when only one person is the cleaner. Mindy devotes an entire chapter to dealing with paper clutter in a way that really works for those who can never make traditional filing systems really work for them. She ends the book by offering up her own journey from "messed to blessed."

Yes, it's going to take me quite a while to make our home a house that cleans itself, but all that hard work will actually save me uncountable hours of work in the years to come!

Aug 17, 2010

Anticipating Messiness - The House That Cleans Itself Chapters 16 & 17

Do you keep a list in your head about all the things you’d - eventually – like to do to make your house nicer? Mindy asks you to put it into action in Chapter 16 of The House That Cleans Itself. That means putting the list in writing, with special emphasis on changes that would either make the house look cleaner or make housekeeping easier. Then actually make these changes a priority in your life. Here’s a good example from my house: The bathroom sink is badly chipped around the drain spout. No matter how much I scrub, it always looks dirty. Seeing the chipped sink always lowers my spirits, and I’m sure I’ve wasted plenty of time trying to clean something that can never look clean. Therefore, I’ve added “new sink” to my list of needed changes.

The next chapter challenges us to prevent messes before they happen. Mindy asks us to look at areas that tend to get cluttered (like the coffee table, perhaps) and study them after we’ve decluttered. Memorize how that table looks and vow to never let a single thing that isn’t there now park there. It’s amazing how well this simple idea works. I’ve already implemented it on my kitchen table. No matter how many times I cleared off that table, stuff always managed to accumulate there. What I’ve discovered, as I’ve read The House That Cleans Itself, is that:

#1 Most of the stuff that ended up on the table didn’t have a home elsewhere.

#2 I kept putting things on the table until I “found time” to give the things a proper home.

Now that I’ve made up my mind to keep the table absolutely clear (except for dinnerware and food, at meal times), it “magically” is clear all the time. Every time I’m tempted to put a thing on the table until I find time to put it elsewhere, I stop myself and find a home for it right away. And, wonderfully, I’ve discovered that it’s quick and easy to do this, while at the same time I feel better because I’ve kept the table cleared.

Mindy also asks us to anticipate where trash will build up in our homes. For example, our family room is often cluttered with such things as empty popcorn bags, so I’m setting up a trash bin in the room – near the couch, where it’s easy for any family member to toss the trash. The rest of the chapter deals with anticipating purging and dirt in a similar fashion – including the brilliant idea of keeping “quick cleaning” items (like wipes) in each room, to make quick cleanups super fast and easy.

Have you put Mindy's ideas into action yet? Tell us about it! (Or, if you haven't, start today. They work!)

Aug 3, 2010

The House That Cleans Itself: Site Zones (Chapter 15)

"Examine Sight Zones" is the title of Chapter 15 in The House That Cleans Itself - and what an interesting concept that is. In essence, Mindy asks us to enter each room and notice what can be seen from the doorway. Decluttering those sight lines, she says, should be a priority.

This step is all about making your home appear tidier than it might actually be. Mindy offers an example of homes that allows people in the entryway to see into nearly every room.
"If the houses are nicely decorated and perfectly neat, the broad scope of the Sight Zone is very effective. But more often than not, from what I've seen, if there's even a little bit of clutter in family room and a few dirty dishes by the sink, the whole beautiful effect of the home is ruined. The house looks messy...If I lived in a house where everyone who came to my front door could see at a single glance all of the rooms where my family cooks, eats, and relaxes, I would probably go crazy with cleaning. Id never relax enough to enjoy my own home. Either that or I'd fall to the other extreme and give up on cleaning entirely..."

My own house has a pretty open floorplan, so this chapter gives me lots to chew on. But even if your house is more traditional, Mindy offers lots of tips on making your home look cleaner by paying attention to Sight Zones. For example, if your family has trouble keeping bookcases looking neat, The House That Cleans Itself system says that instead of putting that bookcase in a location where you'll see it as soon as you enter the room, you should place it where it can't be seen upon entering. This way, as long as the rest of the room is pretty neat, you and your family's brains will think "clean" before the bookcase is ever seen.

Working smarter, not harder, is what The House That Cleans Itself is all about!

Jul 20, 2010

Living Room Transformation

Even though I'm not at the point in The House That Cleans Itself that I'm supposed to be cleaning and organizing yet (because I'm not done learning about the system), I have been tiding up, little by little.

Here's a shot of my living room before:

And my living room after:

I removed a lot of clutter from the mantlepiece and the old televisions, and I moved one box of toys into my son's room. (A benefit to this is the toys will be less played with, so I'll be able to rotate toys now.) I realize some people would still find this too cluttered, but given that I have two small children who use this room to play almost exclusively in, I'm pleased.

Jul 19, 2010

The House That Cleans Itself: Chapters 11 - 14

Part II of The House That Cleans Itself at last explaining how Mindy's system works. In the next several chapters, Mindy explains the steps we'll be using to get our homes in order - once and for all.

Working one small section at a time, the first thing Mindy says we must do is get rid of clutter. No surprise here, although I like what Mindy says about determining what to keep and what to get rid of:
"The questions to ask yourself are not value judgments about when you used it last or when you might need it again. To clutterers, there are too many shades of gray in those questions. Instead, face the black-and-white reality of the true trade off you're making. When you are decluttering, with every single item you own ask youself these questions:

*Is this item worth my time?
* Does what I get from this item provide a fair trade-off considering I have to clean it and store it?
* Do I want to spend another second in the future fooling with it or do I want to get rid of it now so it will no longer cost me a thing?"
Mindy also stresses the old adage, "A place for everything and everything in its place," and I must confess, I have a lot of stuff that has no "place."

Next, Mindy says to thoroughly clean the area. Finally, she wants us to "neaten, organize, and solve problem spots." I love that she offers specific advice on changing our homes so they are no longer problematic (like dealing with paperwork and keeping the entry tidy). There's a lot of stuff to chew on here.

However, for me, chapter 14 was the real eye-opener. Here, Mindy explains we should set up "stations" throughout our homes, which will save us enormous amounts of time. She calls failing to have these stations "rabbit trails." For example, I realize one of my rabbit trails is mailing packages. The shipping containers are in my laundry area. The envelopes in my desk. The packing tape is above the fridge. The scissors are on my desk. The stamps are in my purse. No wonder I find mailing things such a hassle! But if I set up a shipping station in my house - a place where I store all the boxes, envelopes, packing tape, stamps, and a set of scissors that are only used for shipping purposes - getting packages out the door will be much less frustrating and time consuming. (This must be a DUH to some of you, but truly it never occurred to me before!) Again, Mindy offers concrete examples of rabbit trails (from getting ready for church to making coffee) that are easy to remedy with stations.

Now we're almost done reading about The House That Cleans Itself method, but I'll bet you're like me, and the book has already inspired you to start tiding NOW.

Jul 13, 2010

My Devotional Area

Although Mindy doesn't immediately ask you to clean up your existing devotional area in chapter 10 of The House That Cleans Itself, I chose to. (Chapter 10 is really more about creating a devotional area, if you don't already have one, and making sure you use it every day.)

Here's what my devotional area looked like before:

A cluttered mess! Yet it took me less than 10 minutes to make the space a lot more functional and relaxing:

I removed a lot of clutter; some it went directly into a donation box. The rest, I admit, ended up cluttering some other area of my living room because it's stuff I think I'll keep. I also dusted and tidied the couch slipcover. On the table, there now only sits my Bible, my daughter's Bible, and some devotional materials.

Because the whole premise of The House That Cleans Itself is to change your house, not your habits, I realized I also needed a better place to keep library books and books I'm currently reading to the kids. These are the books that really made my devotional area a difficult-to-use mess.

The answer was pretty simple. I dug up a long, narrow basket I've had forever, but which wasn't serving any real purpose at the moment. I placed this underneath the table and put only a handful of books inside it - stuff we are reading now and nothing we will soon read or have finished reading.

Yay! It looks so much better! My hubby even commented on it. Bit by bit, step by step, is what this is all about.