Not all of us have beautiful, perfect homes. And many of us don't have time to take care of them -- or even a clue as to how. That's OK. We just need a little nonjudgmental jump-start, says Kate Payne, author of "The Hip Girl's Guide to Homemaking" ( Her mantra is summed up in the book's introduction: "Why homemaking? Because it's cool to have a cool house." We talked with the Austin, Texas, transplant about the joys of jelly-making, fresh-baked bread and successful stain removal.

Q Why did you write this book?

A There are many homemaking manuals, but they're intimidating and judgmental: "You should do it this way. Otherwise it's gross." It doesn't feel reflective of many people's situation, of living in a crappy rental place you're not excited about. I'm trying to coax them gently into the idea. Maybe you'll like this more if you know more.

Q You describe yourself as a "half-assed domestic goddess." Explain.

A That I kept at it makes me a goddess. I, like everyone else, have so much going on all the time. But I enjoy cleaning my house and making it part of my routine. I don't feel I'm always excited about it, but I do what needs to be done. It's good enough.

Q Did you have a demographic in mind?

A I'm obviously speaking to people who are first-time householders, moving out on their own for the first time. But the demographic expands because so many people are not learning this stuff.

Q You write that if you ever learned any homemaking skills as a child, you blocked them out. What turned you off?

A The social stuff surrounding it. I thought, "I'm going to grow up to be a working woman." I never thought [homemaking] should be the focus. It seemed antiquated.

Q You say your advice is for guys as well as girls, yet you chose a chick-focused title.

A It's totally relevant to guys. Guys live alone, live with a woman. Homemaking gets a bad rap, gets pegged as a woman thing. ... I don't think guys will be flocking to it on the shelf, but maybe guys will accidentally pick it up and read it.

Q Which homemaking skills are you proudest of having mastered?

A Laundry. I've honed my skills in the laundry room. Getting happy-life stains out of linens is empowering. My proudest moment was getting blueberry pie off my brand-new seersucker shorts. I'm also proud of making sweet preserves, jams and jellies. I made some Concord grape jelly that was the most delicious thing, without pectin. My crowning glory!

Q You're very zealous about bread-baking. Why?

A I'm not a perfectionist, into precise measuring. But after I got over my initial fear of bread and started wrapping it into my life, it's so gratifying -- to offer anyone who comes into your home some homemade bread. It's changed my life in small but beautiful ways.

Q Why do you advocate buying cheap dishes and linens at thrift stores?

A I like the story behind the stuff, the uniqueness. When I use my Charles and Diana plate, I always think of being in Berkeley, at the little stoop sale where I picked it up. I like wondering where a cup has been all these years. Giving things new life and incorporating them into yours is really cool.

Q What's the coolest thing you've done in your own home?

A Just before the book-release party, I made a Mason jar into a mini chandelier. It wasn't that hard -- not much different from the theme of the whole book.

Q If you could impart one kernel of homemaking wisdom, what would it be?

A Start small. Small things make a big difference. Once you do a few things, your mind frame starts to expand. Thinking about making a happy house is intimidating because there are so many areas. Just start feeling attuned to little areas.

Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784