Fly Lady Friday: An Interview With “Fly Lady” Marla Cilley


I hate housework. I hate spending hours picking up the mess that will never stay organized, vacuuming floors that will be messy the next day, and never having the time (or desire to spend so much time) thoroughly cleaning.

That is why there have been entire years where we never invited friends or family to our house.

But do you remember our transformation? After spending half a summer living on board, where housework was a quick 5-10 minute pick-up n the morning (later, we added a 5 minute vacuuming as needed, usually less than once a week), I was ready for a change in our house.

It started with multiple trips to Goodwill. Anything we didn’t use on the boat was questioned. Decluttering alone made our house company-worthy. But it also made cleaning much, much easier. It took some time to fall into a good routine, but now our cleaning barely takes more time than it did on the boat.

I owe a great deal of our success to Fly Lady. Yesterday, I was able to interview the Fly Lady herself, Marla Cilley. This is what she had to say about decluttering, perfectionism, and avoiding CHAOS.

Intro to the Fly Lady System

Marla describes her system as a way to avoid CHAOS. “Are you living in CHAOS? When you ask that question, most every one answers yes”.

CHAOS, in case you don’t know, is “Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome“. The Fly Lady system helps you to set up routines so that you can maintain an orderly home.

According to Marla, it is very similar to living aboard. “On the boat, you had things that needed to be done everyday. Now bring that routine home.”


And it all begins with polishing your sink. Why? Marla states that, “You’ve got to do a few things to set your morning up to be better than it was yesterday…It’s all about giving you some hope…You’re overwhelmed and need to take some baby steps…[You will] get up in the morning not greeted by mystery water and dirty dishes. This puts a smile on your face.”

Sounds good to me.

Dealing With Clutter

According to Marla, clutter begins when young people first start out, and friends and family give them lots of items to help them just get started. Then, they start collecting items that fit their own style. Then, eventually, they inherit items from relatives, and adult children may move back in with their own items. One family’s house becomes filled with possessions from multiple families. “Stuff accumulates,” Marla observes, “When you have no system.”

It took Marla 9 months to finish her initial decluttering. But, she says, “It’s an ongoing process. It never finishes.”

Like many minimalists (Fly Lady is not specifically a minimalist system, but it works amazingly well in a minimalist household), Marla recommends starting with clothing. She always gets rid of one article of clothing when a new one comes in. When she’s trying to reduce the amount of clothing she has, she will eliminate–“fling”–two articles for the one she is bringing in. Doing this “makes room in your closet for things you love, things you have that fit.”

But will that clutter creep back, once you get rid of it? Marla says it won’t, if you get rid of all of it. You will, “get the feeling that your house is a haven for you and your family.”

The problem is that most people are reluctant to declutter in the first place. As much as they want to get rid of it, they “like clutter. It represents something“. That is why, according to Marla, “They have to see it for what it is”.

The biggest battle, in all of this, Marla says, is against perfectionism. It’s perfectionism that makes us hold onto items that people have given us, because we don’t want to hurt the giver’s feelings. It’s perfectionism that leads us to hold onto something until we can find the “perfect home” for it, rather than throwing it away or donating it.

To overcome this, Marla strongly advocates spending time on yourself. She recommends a “morning musing” or meditation to start the day. (Here is my morning routine).

Decluttering must be done, before you can begin thoroughly cleaning. According to Marla, “Clutter stands in the way of the baby-steps. You can’t organize clutter.”

What If You Become Overwhelmed?

Last summer, I did a great job keeping my house organized. Then, as the school year went on, I began to fall behind. On Monday, I was supposed to clean the fridge, but I had a late meeting. So I planned to do it on Tuesday, but I got home late. So, on Wednesday, I tried to clean the fridge, as well as complete Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s tasks.

I stated in my blog that rather than FLY-ing, I was “sinking slowly.”

When I described this to Marla, she gave me this admonishment,”You’re not behind…Jump in where you are! So what if you missed cleaning the fridge? Jump in and grab the worst thing…You can’t beat yourself up because you didn’t get around to it!”

Fridge day will come again next week. You don’t move backwards in this system. If you miss a task, you get to catch it next time around. Again, it’s all about overcoming perfectionism,

Marla says that it’s those “negative, ugly voices” that lead people to fail on her system. We’ve been told that, “If you can’t do something right, you shouldn’t do it…But [we need to realize that] housework done incorrectly still blesses our family.”

For that reason, the Fly Lady system should not be overwhelming if it is implemented correctly. People become overwhelmed when they allow perfectionism to have the upper hand and try to do too much, too fast. Marla says that, “They go guns-ho and before you know it they’re burned out. They’re trying to do too much.”

For readers who are feeling this way, Marla recommends slowing down. Focus on keeping that sink polished, getting enough sleep, and leaving your clothes out for tomorrow. “Slow your brain down,” she urges.

So what about those of us who work outside of the home? We have an advantage, Marla says, because we know that “every minute is precious“. There is really no difference in what we should do in the daily routines because, done correctly, they should only take 15-20 minutes. The important thing, according to Marla is to “remember to do it“. It’s important to keep reminders up. The other tasks, especially the “weekly home blessing hour” can be broken up into 10 minute sessions that are done everyday.

Involving the Kids

The Fly Lady system works even better if we get our children involved. The best way to do that? Make it fun! “Kids love games,” Marla says. “We love games. If you make it fun, you will get it done.”

Marla even has a CD available, called “Up Kind of Day,” that uses music to teach kids about picking up toys, dusting, and other household chores.

A Final Thought

In the end, I find it necessary to confess that I don’t follow the Fly Lady system to the letter. I don’t leave out my clothes for the next day, because I only own 5 outfits. I didn’t shampoo my living room carpet (don’t worry–this is on the “in-depth cleaning” checklist, that should only be done after decluttering!), because we plan to get rid of it soon.

And this is exactly the point, according to Marla. “I’ve always told people to adapt it to your family.”

So, please go and explore the Fly Lady website, and give some of her ideas a try. You have nothing to lose, except your CHAOS!

Note: Marla writes a weekly column, and I will be publishing those, along with notes on my progress, every Friday.

Fly Lady Friday: Christmas Update

I’ve been following Fly Lady’s “Cruising Through the Holidays“. One of her premises is that you need to have everything ready by December 1, so you can just enjoy December.

Let me confess that that hasn’t happened. My budgeting isn’t THAT stellar.

However, everything is planned for. We know what we’re doing and when. We know what we have left to buy, and how much it will cost. We’re doing a fun activity every weekend.

So we’ve shot for the moon and landed amongst the stars, so to say. Not a bad situation.

Thanks to all the planning and preparation, I think this will be a stress-free, enjoyable holiday. Next year we plan to shop year-round, especially as we’re sailing.

Fly Sense

I have to admit that I am horrible with money.

I started out really well, on a very tight budget. Then something happened. We got in a bind, and it kept getting worse. When I got my actual teaching job, it got even more out of control. I was making twice what we had been living off of before, but we were living paycheck to paycheck. On a good week!

Finally, I got sick of this. I figured my friend the Fly Lady would be able to help. And sure, enough, she has written the Fly Sense series. This has been a complete Godsend! She forces us to face the music and be aware of our bank balance everyday. Then, we meal plan, budget, and organize our money in the same way we organize our house, by spending just a few minutes a day on it.

What surprised me, reading her commentary, was how well she seemed to know me. She talks about panic causing people to bury their heads in the sand, about money problems being a dirty little secret due to our fear of rejection, and about overspending being a cycle. I thought I was the only one!

And now I’m sharing it, because I have a feeling that I’m definitely NOT the only one.

So, print out the Control Journal, take the baby steps, and get in control of your finances as the holidays approach!

Click here for more Fly Lady related posts.

Fly Lady Friday: Holiday Readiness

I have been following Fly Lady’s program for some time now. If you haven’t been following along, here are the posts chronicling my progress:

How We Got Started

My First Baby Step

The Next Step

A Few More Days

My Control Journal

More Decluttering and Holiday Prep

Inspiration Pages

How I Finished Decluttering

Setting up a Calendar

Family Fun Day

More Holiday Prep

Adjusting the Routine for my Work Schedule

Right now, I am focusing on Fly Lady’s holiday preparedness schedule. The first step is to declutter during October. This is easy for me, because we have already decluttered quite a bit! Still, I am going through all the rooms and getting rid of anything that isn’t necessary.

Rethinking the Routine

Well, folks, last week started out great. On Monday and Tuesday, I was definitely FLYing. On Wednesday, I started to lose ground. I got my daily routines done, but not my weekly tasks. The rest of the week was a complete loss. I just get more and more tired as the week rolls on. This tells me that I need to load up the beginning of the week with more tasks, and have less/easier tasks at the end of the week.

I had just been using the recommended weekly routine from Fly Lady. Clearly, I am going to have to put a bit more work into it than that. I found Fly Lady’s basic weekly checklist (scroll down to the bottom on the page) here. I have incorporated all of these activities into my weekly routine.

Weekly Home Blessing Hour

Clean cars, grocery shopping, clean fridge

Planning Day (menu, budget, activities, etc.), get together with my parents

Pampering Mission

Renew your spirit day

Family Fun Day

Date night

On top of that, we currently do laundry every 3 days. Eventually, I would like to expand our wardrobes so that we do a load once a week. I’ve found that doing a daily load of laundry uses energy unnecessarily, in our family. There are only 3 of us, so we just don’t go through that much clothes in a day!

I will try this routine for the week, and I will keep you posted on our progress!

Mindfulness: Why Weekends Need to be Days Off

It doesn’t need to be the weekend. But you do need a couple days off each week.

Use the days that you have off of work already. Or, if you don’t work outside of the home, use your spouse’s.

But have two days where you only do your daily housekeeping routines. Don’t do anything else. Make one a family fun day, and make one a day to renew your own spirits.

Spending two days at the boat helps us to focus, once again, on the task at hand. It’s when I have time to write my blog. I reconnect with friends. Then, on Monday, I rejoin the rush.

Fly Lady Friday: Preparing for the Craziness

Every summer, I get into a routine with the house. This year I did better than before, but it was kind of the same. Then, I lose ground during the fall. Then, during the holidays, it all falls apart until the next summer.

I lost ground this fall. And I have come up with some rules for myself, for those crazy times, when the routine falls apart:

1. If you are not home for a day, don’t try to make it up or do it in advance. This will overwhelm you. That task just doesn’t happen this week. It will happen next week.

2. If you can’t stick to anything else, stick to the daily routines.

3. After the daily routines are going well, add the weekly tasks.

4. Only if those two things are in place, add the “zones.”

5. If it all falls apart, don’t try to make up what you missed. Just get back into the daily routines, and add from there. Focus on the future, not the past.

6. When working outside of the home, the morning routine is too long. I switch as much of it as possible to the evening routine, which is done after dinner. Just the Internet components are done in the morning.

So that is my plan. I will keep you posted!

Saturday Simple Playtime: Family Fun Day!

As many of you know, I have been following the Fly Lady program, for getting my house in order. Each day of the week, she assigns one task to be completed. For example, on Fridays I clean out the cars. Saturday’s task is to have a Family Fun Day.

Now we have a lot of fun already. We do activities with Beanie throughout the day, and she goes to her music class once a week. But still, having one “enrichment” activity, once a week, is really appealing. I’ve made a list of activities we can do, depending on the weather and the time of year. In the fall, we can go to a cider mill or a petting farm. In the winter: sledding, skiing, or skating. When it’s raining: the children’s museum or the library. When it’s hot: the beach or the splash park.

For our first activity, we decided to get out the canoe. We have not used this boat since before Beanie was born! Rob and I have always enjoyed canoing, even if we don’t exactly take it seriously… (On our 4-night trip, we sat facing each other. One of us ran the white gas stove and made coffee while the other steered. When it was time to switch, we just turned the boat around!).

Where we live, there are signs advertising “20 lakes in 20 minutes.” We chose a lake from the list, and checked it out. We plan to visit all 20 before we’re done. (We have visited 3 of them already). So, this time, it as Nestor Lake. No houses, no speed boats. Just extreme lily padding! It was very pleasant, and we had a great time.

Fly Lady Friday: Decluttering–We’re Done!

Decluttering was our focus this week. This has been an ongoing battle in our house. One of my tasks was to spend some time–up to an hour a day–decluttering. I had already gone through every room twice, with lots of trips to Goodwill. So, by the end, this became difficult. I read some websites on the “100 Possession Challenge” (try here, here, or here ) and was inspired to try some of their ideas. If I followed the usual rules–shared possessions don’t count, collections count as one, etc, I would probably have about 5 possessions. Beanie, hoarder that she is, may have up to 10.

However, I was curious, if we counted logical sets as one, but counted everything else separately, where we would be. We were at 480, counting only items in the house. 300 would be 100 per person, so of course I went a little nuts trying to get there!

Nuts is the key word, folks. I put a lot of the stuff back. If we use it every day, if it helps Beanie with her therapy goals, it is worth keeping. This is voluntary simplicity, not martyrdom. In this country, we’re so overloaded with stuff that we declutter as a hobby. We never expect to be…well…done.

And I’m done.

I might not qualify as an “extreme minimalist.” Our house is different from mainstream culture, that is for sure. But maybe it doesn’t fit into a neat little peg hole. Maybe it’s just us.

And that’s all it needs to be.

So, now, it’s time to move on. I’m done decluttering. I think we’ve been open enough about ourselves and our values, that we won’t get the usual influx of stuff over the holidays. I think we’re good. Now, we need to focus on cleaning up the yard, and finishing the basement for this winter. Getting the cars in order is another task at hand.

Then, we can enjoy weekends on Moonraker. At this time next week, I’ll be enjoying one of those pancake-wrapped Kogels in East Tawas. I’m so ready to be there.

Fly Lady Friday: Calendar Time!

I must confess that I am disorganized. I have a great memory, so I have never gotten into the habit of using a calendar. Oh, I have the large desk calendar at work, but I do not have the same in my house. I never forget an IEP meeting at work, but I’ve often missed hair appointments. Apparently, with a full time job and a kid (another full time job, in my opinion), my brain has gotten full. It needs some assistance.

Today’s Fly Lady task involved starting a calendar. I followed her steps for setting up the calendar, but I took it one step further. I have always liked Heather’s calendar system on the Want What You Have blog. Here is how my hybrid of the two works:

1. Following Heather’s advice, I start with a notebook. This is my “everything notebook.” I write my notes from Fly Lady, messages from phone calls, my grocery list–everything! I keep the notebook next to the phone. When I go back to work, I will probably invest another 50 cents and put a notebook in my bag. That way, I will have notes from work as well as from home.

2. Information from the notebook goes into either the Home Control Journal or the calendar. Actually, the calendar is a section in the Home Control Journal! I have lots of scrap paper, so I hand wrote calendars for one year. I will write everything important on these.

3. Lastly, I bought a small dry erase board for my fridge (the one that isn’t plugged in!). I write out a mini-calendar for the week here, so we can focus on what’s ahead.

I am hoping that, with this system, I will remember birthdays, appointments, and other important dates. Face it, as we get older, we need to give our memories a break!