Introduction Ever since I first began landscaping organically in 1980, friends have been asking me for advice about how to solve problems around the home and garden without using chemicals or breaking too much of a sweat; in 1995, after I first self-published Slug Bread & Beheaded Thistles: Amusing and Useful Techniques for Nontoxic Housekeeping and Gardening, total strangers began contacting me as well. When asked for housekeeping tips, I always made it clear that I was primarily an organic gardener and that the sole focus of my housekeeping was to keep my family healthy and happy. Period. But a couple of years ago, my focus broadened a bit: A few of my friends were unable to maintain control of their homes and the disorder was making them suffer. I spent many long, chatty days helping them clear out and reclaim their living and storage spaces. The profoundly life-changing effects of these cleaning and organizing sessions made me realize that I wanted to write a book about nontoxic housekeeping. For several months, my big party joke went something like this: "Guess what the subject of my next book is?" Everyone guessed that I was writing another gardening book. After a well-calculated pause, I would deliver the punch line: "It's about organic housekeeping!" Incredulous and hysterical laughter generally erupted. The joke worked so well because I am one of the least domestic people I know. I prefer to spend as little time as possible doing housework: I would rather dig a ditch than iron a shirt. But on the other hand, my family is extremely healthy; I am quite knowledgeable about managing living systems, controlling pest organisms, and preventing disease; no one has ever gotten sick from my cooking or cleaning; and although both my husband and I had allergies when we were children, our offspring have no allergies at all. After they stopped laughing, most people told me they wanted a copy of the book as soon as it was published. My friends know that if there is an easy, low-maintenance, nontoxic way to accomplish a task, I will find it. I have been an organic landscaper, gardener, and worm farmer for most of my adult life. One of my great pleasures is to design and set up a miniature ecosystem, tend and tweak it, and watch it balance itself out. During the years I have repeated this process in dozens of gardens, ranging in size from the tiny to the massive, and with hundreds of worm-composting systems for food waste, ranging in size from under-the-sink to large industrial. My goal with each of these projects has been to design a low-maintenance ecosystem that is as self-sufficient as possible. Both a low-maintenance organic garden and a worm composting system depend upon beneficial bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms to break down organic waste materials, synthesize vital nutrients, and fend off harmful microorganisms. In this way they resemble all other living systems on our planet, whether that system is a prairie, a blue whale, or a human being. Without bacteria, the surface of much of our planet would rapidly be buried under piles of unrotted wood, leaves, and dead animals. But we would not be here to suffer the consequences because, without our intestinal microbes, we would long since have starved to death. Unfortunately, many modern cleaning products contain antimicrobial agents. Like all other pesticides, antimicrobials have a tendency to kill off beneficial organisms while allowing harmful ones to proliferate. As they say: "Only the good die young." Our homes are our habitats, and our health depends upon a large population of helper microbes in and on our bodies as well as in our houses. My housekeeping philosophy and my gardening philosophy are essentially the same: Evaluate the situation; work with what you have; don't make extra work for yourself; and as much as possible, avoid the use of toxic chemicals. In generSandbeck, Ellen is the author of 'Organic Housekeeping In Which the Nontoxic Avenger Shows You How to Improve Your Health and That of Your Family While You Save Time, Money, and Perhaps, Your Sanity', published 2006 under ISBN 9780743256209 and ISBN 0743256204.