Carson City swim coach and housekeeper publishes memoir

Barbie Nelis smiles for her "About the Author" headshots. She published her book through Amazon in April.

Barbie Nelis smiles for her "About the Author" headshots. She published her book through Amazon in April.

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Barbie Nelis is a cleaning fiend, avid stamper, passionate swim coach, long-time envelope exchanger and, as of April 27, a published author.

Her memoir, “Observations from the Toilet Bowl, Confessions of a Housekeeper,” details almost 15 years’ worth of encounters with strange homeowners and their messy lives. And, just for good measure, each chapter includes her professional tips for cleaning, interacting with a housekeeper, and being a generally good person.

Her biggest piece of advice for anyone with an unkempt house: “Don’t let procrastination keep you from (cleaning). Start with what annoys you most … Start today.”

Though she and her husband, “Oatmeal Man,” are currently living in South Carolina, she spent almost two decades in Carson City, from 1990-99 and 2011-17.

Nelis made a name for herself at the Carson Aquatic Facility where she taught swim lessons. Lots of parents and children recognize her by her spikey hair, held up by cans upon cans of hairspray.

Serendipitously, her hairdo has been a great asset to her swim lessons.

“The children said that to me, ’Can I touch your hair?’ I go, ‘Hurry up because I'm going on the bottom of the pool,’” she said in an interview with the Appeal from her South Carolina home. “Then when I came up, they would mess it up and then pull on it to make it stand out. Then I knew they were relaxed and happy.”

Nelis floating in her pool in South Carolina. She said that her students love to come knock on her door and ask for extra swim time.


Between 1999 and 2011, Nelis moved to Ramona, Calif., and added housekeeping to her already busy schedule of swim lessons. That’s when she started to see the baffling ways in which people managed to dirty their homes.

“I’d go, ‘Oh, I have to [write] this down. Who would ever believe it?’” Nelis said.
Throughout her memoir, she alters the names of her housekeeping clients, but holds back none of the gory cleaning details.

In chapter seven, “Splash and Dash,” she recalls a dysfunctional clogging toilet and having to rush back home for a plunger, hoping that her dam of towels would hold off the flood. Her advice to clients here: “Get your plumbing fixed. If something is broken or does not work, please write a note to your housekeeper. She’s not a psychic; she is a housekeeper.”

Chapter five, “Diva of Disaster,” recounts the sordid tale of Packrat Pattie, who filled her house, garage, and two RVs with the stench of hoarded camping equipment, cracked novelty knickknacks, and unused office paraphernalia. Nelis’ take on this, “If you have trouble letting go of things, you have to deal with your fear of loss.”

As for her latest adventure, Nelis and her husband are listing their house, packing up their belongings, and hitting the road. This will be their second “homeless and unemployed” road trip, as “Oatmeal Man” likes to say.

They don’t have a strict itinerary, but they plan to hop from one Holiday Inn Express to another, making their way along the East Coast, then out west to Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the art, or perhaps back to the Truckee River area for the fly fishing.

And while she travels, looking for a new place to settle down, Nelis will be thinking about the sequel to her first memoir.

Readers can purchase her story at


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