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, FlyLady.net. "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.