Conquer Your Clutter — Now!

An organization expert offers "baby step" tips and daily motivation for cleaning up your life, one pile at a time.

The FlyLady offers "baby step" organizational strategies for ADD / ADHD adults conquering clutter ADDitude Magazine

This is not an obstacle course; this is your life!

Marla Cilley, the FlyLady

The Top Ten List

Some of those who subscribe to FlyLady's organization system write in about how she changed their lives. Here is one e-mail of praise.

10. You urged me to unload my underwear drawer, but I already did it.

9. You hankered for me to hose down my Hot Spots, but I already did it.

8. You requested I revamp the refrigerator, but I already did it.

7. You clamored for me to clean up the kitchen cabinets, but I already did it.

6. You cajoled me to crank up the crock-pot, but I already did it.

5. You enjoined me to exult in my evening routine, but I already did it.

4. You requested I revel in a relaxing bath before bed, but I already did it.

3. You flamboyantly suggested adding a flourish with flowers, but I already did it.

2. You bid me to get bully with my bills, but I already did it.

1. The next thing you know, you're going to suggest that I lighten up the load in my linen closet, but, as you well know, I already did it!

Can you believe this? I think I'm finally loving myself! Unbelievable.


Marla Cilley moved to Transylvania County, North Carolina, to teach fly-fishing in 1999. Now, instead of teaching the rod-and-reel set how to hook a shimmering trout, she is teaching countless thousands how to catch something every bit as satisfying: the neatness bug.

The FlyLady, as she calls herself, sends out e-mail tips — as many as 10 a day — to each of her 233,000 followers, instructing them to dust the ceiling fan with a pillowcase or to clear the breakfast dishes from their kitchen sinks. To Cilley, these tips are medicine for people suffering from chronic disorganization. "Don't act like the stubborn child that has clenched his jaw shut, refusing to swallow the cure that is going to make him well," she writes on her Web site, "What are you afraid of? A few e-mails in your inbox, or change?"

Go clean your rooms

The FlyLady has succeeded where other organizational entrepreneurs have failed. Why? For one thing, she wraps her daily injunctions in homespun humor and musings about life. She also infuses doing the laundry or shining the kitchen sink with an element of fun. Cilley has coined her own quirky housekeeping vocabulary that instructs as it inspires.

Some of the FlyLady's classic exhortations include: "You are never behind. Jump in where you are," "Get in there and get this done," and "I want you to smile in the morning." She refers to her followers — most of them busy mothers — as SHEs, for "sidetracked home executives." And when someone signs up for her free daily e-mail service, he or she is dubbed a Flybaby, soon to grow up into a FlyLady.

Cilley gets away with giving marching orders to adults because she's a reformed clutterholic herself. "I wanted to change one little thing about my life," says Cilley, author of Sink Reflections. "I decided that it would be keeping my sink clean and shiny. And because I wanted to keep my sink clean, I unloaded my dishwasher so I could stash dirty dishes. With the sink clean, I wanted the counter to be clean." Adds Cilley: "I wasn't born organized, but I learned to be organized with the help of a routine. All of a sudden, you don't have to think about what to do because it becomes second nature."

Routines and baby steps

It became second nature, as well, for Cilley's niece, Courtney Wood. She has ADHD and found that her aunt's daily reminders functioned as clutter coaching. Wood was, at one point, so messy that she'd buy new clothes instead of trying to exhume her old ones from the piles in her room. Her car was cluttered to the point that no one else could sit in it. Depression set in.

"When you don't have your surroundings organized," says Wood, "it makes you feel like your whole life is disorganized. After using my aunt's techniques, I'm a happier person because my apartment is neater."

Wood's favorite technique? "Using a timer to do housework or other tasks a little at a time. I use timers because I have no concept of time."

The FlyLady's nostrums appeal to the ADHD mind. They provide structure, repetition, reward, and entertainment. The essence of her system is to divide big jobs into small ones. Take the house, for example. Cilley has carved it into five so-called Fly Zones: kitchen; living room; bathroom and one extra room; master bedroom; entrance, front porch and dining room.

Each week she will send you daily e-mail tips about how to neaten up one of these zones. She doesn't ask much of your time — just 15 minutes a day. Set a timer, follow her instructions, and, when the timer goes off, you're done. FlyLady calls these short investments "baby steps." The next day and for the rest of the week, you will receive more tips — and still clean for no more than 15 minutes a day. Next week the FlyLady will move you into another zone (room).

As you progress through the Fly Zones and witness the transforming power of "baby steps," FlyLady will introduce you to more cleaning concepts: Daily routines for morning and evening (see below), and timely decluttering raids on the messiest rooms of the house.

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TAGS: Cleaning Up Clutter, ADHD Housework Tips, ADHD Time Management, ADHD Expert Tips

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