Inspiration to Fly
20 years ago this month, the Flylady changed (possibly even saved?) my life.
I see you rolling your eyes. But I didn’t make that up to get you to read this.
I’ll admit to making stuff up sometimes just for fun, but not this.
I remember the exact moment when I decided it might be better for me to go quietly into the night and let my husband find a new mom for my kids, one who could keep up.
Since I sucked so badly at it.
Who Is the Flylady?
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Marla Cilley, aka The Flylady, is a housekeeping guru for women who weren’t born organized. She uses the Sidetracked Home Executives (SHE) model (from books written by Pam Young and Peggy Jones) to lead women who want to get more organized but struggle to do it the “normal way.”
I’d read the SHE books before I found Flylady and loved them. But I was still struggling.
I think that it was her honesty in saying she was suicidal from not being able to get her act together that spoke to me.
I’m pretty sure she later removed that from her bio, but that’s what gave me hope, and that’s why I’m being honest here.
The Flylady System
Back then her system involved getting emails all throughout the day telling you what to do next.
Honestly, like a true ADHDer, I got pretty good at ignoring the emails. It was like digital clutter blindness.
But the lessons she taught me put me on the path to getting my life together and taking better care of my family, my house, and myself.
Lessons I Learned from The Flylady
1. Small Changes Add Up
Ah, the Flylady’s famous “baby steps.”
Like all the other overachiever, perfectionistic, all-or-nothing women before me, the thought that doing one small thing to improve my situation was foreign to me when I found the Flylady.
Apparently chipping away at things you want to change is more sustainable long-term than sweeping, dramatic changes.
I still like dramatic changes like deep-cleaning and knocking down walls in my house “just because,” but I’ve also learned the value of building habits slowly over time for real change.
2. Break Out of Someone Else’s Mold
If you grew up with a born-organized mom who kept things “just so,” or if you have a friend who seems to keep it together effortlessly, you have a choice:
- Keep trying and failing to do things exactly the way they do,
- Figure out a way to get the same results in a different way.
If something isn’t working for you, change it and make it work.
Figure out what works for your life and keep doing that.
Figure out what doesn’t work and stop trying to force yourself into that mold.
Psst – This post shares how I work around my messy tendencies to keep my house clean all the time, instead of trying to do it like the “born-organized” moms do.
3. Solutions Trump Excuses
It’s tempting to use ADHD, chronic illness, or your newborn as an excuse not to get organized.
But if you’re pretty sure that organizing your life would make it better, the only way to get there is to find work-around solutions that keep pushing you forward.
4. Perfectionism Is the Devil
One of Flylady’s most well-known quotes is
Housework done imperfectly still blesses your family.
Sure, vacuuming every nook and cranny every single week and dusting behind knick-knacks etc may give you the perfect house. But if you can’t (or won’t) do those things, then that doesn’t mean you get to skip everything.
It’s okay to:
- Vacuum the center of the room.
- Dust without moving anything.
- Do anything at all, because it’s better than doing nothing.
I see this all the time with people I help – laundry is crippling because they can’t let themselves fold things imperfectly.
If you have time and energy and the wherewithal to be perfect, feel free. But if you don’t, let it go.
Do you really want to spend the rest of your life feeling defeated by the clean clothes pile because you can’t get yourself to accept less-than-perfect results?
Wouldn’t you rather have crumpled underwear in your drawer than 17 “to fold” piles on the couch, inducing panic every time you walk into the living room?
5. It’s Okay to Not Finish
If dusting normally takes you hours so you put it off, then stop putting “dust the house” on your to do list. Instead, plan to dust as much as you can for 15 minutes and then quit. Start somewhere else next week so eventually you hit it all (or most of it).
If you truly do dust your entire house top to bottom every week with no procrastination I’m not telling you to stop (although it’s possible you’re reading the wrong blog).
But if you never dust until your knick-knacks get so gunky they have to be washed instead of feather dusted, then 15 minutes of dusting is your friend. Just do it.
6. Routines Are Wings, Not Chains
Routines sound monotonous, predictable, and boring.
I know I don’t even like eating dinner or going to bed at the same time every night. I am easily bored.
But think how freeing it is to know that you can accept an invitation to go away for a last-minute weekend trip because your house is in order.
That you can impulsively take your kids to the pool in the afternoon without a hassle later because you’ve already figured out dinner and don’t have procrastination chores hanging over your head.
Think how much easier your life will be when you wake up late but your work bag and your kids’ lunches are already packed.
Routines allow me the freedom to be spontaneous while also not living in a hovel with a starving family and frizzy hair.
This is how I keep the bathrooms clean all the time using a 2-minute daily routine.
7. A Low Bar Focal Point Sets the Stage for Major Change
One of the first things you learn when following the Flylady is to “shine your sink.”
It sounds silly to think that a shiny, dish-free sink 24/7 will change your life. But knowing that one thing in your life is always clean is like a tiny little bud of hope inside you.
Plus whenever you see it, it will make you smile.
Even if the pile of dirty dishes next to it makes you cry (don’t worry, baby steps).
8. Personal Pride Is Important
Getting “dressed to the shoes” is a Flylady mandate. It’s too easy to put off personal hygiene, grooming, and getting dressed in the morning as you put out fire after fire, especially if you’re a SAHM.
But washing up, putting on moisturizer, and getting dressed in real clothes right down to lace-up shoes wakes your brain up and makes it take you more seriously.
Plus when your rotten cat escapes, you won’t have to roam the neighborhood in PJs and unbrushed teeth at two in the afternoon.
This is what self-care is – wearing real clothes while climbing under your neighbor’s deck, swearing at your bad kitty.
9. Your Entire House Doesn’t Have to Be Cleaned At One Time
Stop getting distracted by organizing and deep cleaning things you notice when you’re just trying to get the house straight.
Worry about different parts of your house (zones) during specific weeks and save extra cleaning, organizing, and maintenance for those weeks.
It’s too easy to start dusting and end up an hour later chest deep in a pile of junk from the coat closet.
10. Cleaning Limits are a Good Thing
You could clean all day. And since you can, sometimes you do. So you burn yourself out. Then you don’t clean at all.
How many times have you maniacally cleaned for three days for a party, swearing you’d keep it up afterward? Then the party happens and you’re so exhausted from cleaning, you never want to clean again.
Instead, decide that Thursdays are the days you’re going to mop and, other than wiping up spills or hitting a sticky spot here and there with your dishrag, you’re not going to worry about the floors until Thursday.
The key is – on Thursday, worry about your floors!
11. We Need Deadlines – Even if They’re Arbitrary
Flylady talks about IGADS, her acronym for I’ve Got All Day Syndrome.
When you think you’ve got all day, nothing seems urgent.
I noticed this when I stayed home and also when I worked full-time. Somehow, the least rushed days always ended up being the days when I got the least done and was most likely to order takeout.
I’d be at work dreaming about how much I’d get done if I was home; then I’d have a day off and end up never even getting dressed.
So set deadlines, even if they’re self-imposed. Maybe noon to get all the daily chores done? Or a 4:00 p.m. deadline to pick up the playroom.
This also applies to events and holidays. Setting an arbitrary deadline of December 1 to have all my Christmas gifts bought each year frees up December for the good stuff (i.e., cookies).
12. That Starting Is 90% of the Battle
If you feel like you’re dragging or overwhelmed and can’t get motivated to start cleaning, set a tiny goal and do that.
Flylady claims you can do anything for 15 minutes. This isn’t necessarily true for me – sometimes, especially when I’m depressed, 15 minutes seems like hours.
But I can always manage to get up and count to 100.
And usually I keep going.
And when I don’t, at least I’ve put some laundry in the hamper or cleared the kitchen counters.
13. Clutter Attracts Clutter
One of Flylady’s emails I remember most was the “Hot Spot Fire Drill.” There are just spots in your house that attract junk, and she urged us to run around and clear them a couple of times a day.
If you can manage to keep those spots free of clutter, your house will stay cleaner. Your family is less likely to dump things in a clean area.
However, while there’s a possibility they’ll dump stuff on horizontal spots even when they’re clear, they will definitely dump stuff in areas that are already junky.
So the more messes I make myself, the more likely it is my rugrats will join in.
Good to know.
14. Decluttering A Little Bit Here and There Can Dejunk Your Whole HOuse
I remember the first ray of hope I saw when reading Flylady’s website. She mentioned throwing away 27 things a day. Her “27-fling boogie.”
27 things a day (or even 15 or 10) for a month adds up!
For a list of 100+ things to start with in your decluttering fling, check out this list with a free printable.
While I had been daydreaming about bulldozing my house because it just felt stuffed and I had no motivation to start a massive decluttering, here was a solution.
I threw away 27 crayons and pencils that first day. Even now when my house isn’t that cluttered, I’ll spend a month or two getting rid of 15 things a day.
And, finally, the most important thing I learned from Flylady…
15. That I’m not alone.
And neither are you.