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When domestic chaos threatens, FlyLady buzzes to the rescue

By Elizabeth LundStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / July 10, 2002

Picture a dark-haired Martha Stewart with a string of pearls and a set of wings. Now give her a Southern accent and a touch of Muhammad Ali's famed attitude. Sound like a strange domestic diva?

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No, she's Marla Cilley, an online "queen of clean" who will bark like a butterfly until you tidy your house like a busy little bee.

Ms. Cilley – known as "FlyLady" because of her love for fly-fishing – really means business. Fans know that if they sign up for her free e-mail service (, they can expect as many as 20 messages a day reminding them to banish their dust bunnies and polish up their housekeeping habits.

And "habits" is the operative word here. Unlike other organizers, FlyLady focuses on helping people build – and maintain – new routines. "You can do crisis cleaning," she says, "but unless you change your behavior, your house won't stay clean."

"Flying" – as the program is called – includes a fast-paced morning and evening routine, each of which takes just 15 minutes. Also part of the flight plan are frequent decluttering sessions, a twice-daily "hot-spot rescue," a weekly one-hour clean-up, targeted cleaning sessions, and weekly planning sessions.

But the first step for any new "flybaby" – most of whom are women – is to get fully dressed, fix hair and makeup, and put on lace-up shoes (if you own some). This, says FlyLady, is crucial; otherwise, you won't be ready for action.

Step 2 is to clean and polish the kitchen sink until you can see your reflection.

Excuse me? Clean the sink when the whole house looks as if it's been hit by Hurricane Hugo?

Oh yes, she insists. Put the dirty dishes in a dishpan and hide them in a cabinet until later, if necessary. That sink must stay shiny because (a) it provides a sense of accomplishment and (b) "as the kitchen goes, so does the rest of the house."

Once basic routines are in place, says FlyLady, both the house and the housekeeper will begin to sparkle. Maintaining the home will be easy, too, she adds, and requires less than 45 minutes a day.

But reaching such lofty heights is a challenge for many of her followers, nearly half of whom work outside the home.

"They don't know where to start," says FlyLady, who describes herself as part fairy godmother and part drill sergeant. So she tells people exactly what to do – and she tells them to quit whining.

Busy schedules are no excuse for a messy house, in her opinion. But they are the source of many messes. Flybaby testimonials, which are regularly sent to the 128,000-member e-mail list, often mention that overloaded schedules lead to CHAOS (Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome).

So, for many people, decluttering is a top priority.

FlyLady recommends doing what she calls a 27 Fling Boogie. In layman's terms, that means buzzing through the house with a garbage bag and filling it with 27 unneeded items.

The key is not to look inside the bag, so you won't be tempted to reclaim the clutter. Actually, she recommends that flybabies do two quick boogies: one that is destined for the trash can, and another that swoops up usable items for Goodwill.

Dealing with "hot spots" is another FlyLady favorite. These are a house's perpetual dumping grounds – an entryway or a coffee table, perhaps – that tend to get out of control. For these, FlyLady advises five-minute extinguishing sessions twice daily.

But can minutes a day really keep the messes at bay?

Yes, she says, especially when paired with a weekly one-hour "blessing." This takes the place of a marathon Saturday-morning cleaning. It breaks down to seven tasks – including tossing old magazines, mopping floors, and vacuuming – each of which, she says, can be buzzed through in less than 10 minutes.

Flybabies set a timer for most chores, and once it goes off, the cleaning stops. This rule prevents both sloth and burnout.