If you’ve thought about getting your house in order sometime in the past decade and looked online for help, chances are you are familiar with The FlyLady. Inspired by Pam Young and Peggy Jones, otherwise known as “The Slob Sisters”, Marla Cilley started an email group, first on e-Groups and then Yahoo Groups, as a means of helping others get control of their homes using what she had learned from Young and Jones as a starting point then putting her own spin on it.
I first heard of The FlyLady in the early days when she was still on e-Groups. I received her (numerous) daily emails off and on for years. Even though I tend to be fairly neat by nature, I still found much value in her methods. If I had been living alone in a modest-sized home I probably never would have paid much attention to The FlyLady but at the time I was homeschooling two children in a 3000 square foot house. Having kids at home 24/7 is a challenge, even for someone who is basically neat and orderly. And the amount of “stuff” a homeschooling family acquires is a true test of a family’s organizational skills.
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So I signed up for the emails. Several times a day I would get reminders such as:
- Get dressed to shoes.
- Have you emptied your dishwasher?
- Reboot laundry.
- Swish and swipe bathroom.
- Check your calendar.
This was pre-Facebook days so email was my primary source of online interaction. Even back then some people complained about the number of emails but I didn’t find it a problem. Once you’d read them a few times you knew just by the subject line what it was about so you didn’t even have to open the routine ones. I’d see one show up in my inbox and I’d be reminded to go attend to some task. I’d just delete each one after it was done and at the end of the day delete any I hadn’t done so I’d start each day with a clean slate.
In a way, it was sort of like positive brain washing. If you see a reminder to do something every day it eventually worms its way into your psyche. Even though I haven’t received the emails in years, I still have a little voice in my head which sounds suspiciously like The FlyLady.
In general, I think her methods have merit. For instance, here are some of the things she recommends:
Get dressed: Yes, all the way to shoes, first thing in the morning. Do I do this? Heck no. Do I think it’s a good idea? Absolutely. I tend to stumble out of bed following a night without adequate restful sleep, put on my robe and slippers then head downstairs to get the hot tea my sweet husband has made for me. I then curl up in my chair in the library and start reading Facebook until I realize how much time I’ve wasted. As for shoes, this is a big sticking point with a lot of her followers. It seems many of us balk at the lace-up shoe recommendation. My feet like to be as free as my spirit so the best I can do is a comfy pair of Birkenstocks. But even that is better than barefoot. It’s better for your feet (ask me about plantar fasciitis sometime) and if you have to run outside in a hurry it’s nice not to have to search for a pair of shoes. And I haven’t given up on that notion of getting dressed right away.
Shine Your Sink: The FlyLady calls it the “shiny sink” and has very detailed instructions for this. Once you get your sink clean and shiny initially, the idea is that you return to this state every night before you go to bed. Make sure the dishes are done, the sink has been scrubbed and you’ve laid out a clean dishcloth and towel for the next day. This is the lynchpin of her plan and I totally agree. If I wake up in the morning to a clean kitchen sink the day seems ripe with promise. On the other hand, a sinkful of dirty dishes is a sure way to get off on the wrong foot and to feel behind before the day has even fully started.
Swish and Swipe: This is FlyLady terminology for a daily “lick and a promise” in the bathrooms. Okay, maybe “lick” isn’t the best choice of words. Each day you quickly swish the toilet bowl with a little cleanser of some type. If you do it daily it really doesn’t matter much what you use. A splash of vinegar, a bit of PineSol, a squirt of toilet bowl cleaner – whatever. It literally takes 10 seconds a day to have a clean toilet bowl at all times.
Aside from the toilet, you take a minute or so to put away toiletries and other items, wipe the mirror and sink, pull the shower curtain closed, and put out clean towels if necessary. Once a week you do a more thorough cleaning, including the tub/shower but this daily attention means you’ll never again be embarrassed by a drop in visitor who asks to use your bathroom.
5 Minute Room Rescue: This assumes you have a room, closet, garage, etc. which needs a lot of attention but you keep putting it off because you don’t have a spare 18 hours to clean it. With this method you simply set a timer for 5 minutes and work on it in small bites. If you keep at it regularly you’ll begin to see progress.
27 Fling Boogie: Take a garbage bag and as quickly as you can, walk through your house and find 27 items to throw away. As soon as you have done this, close the bag and throw it away (or put it in your recycling bin if you have one). Then take a box or other container and find 27 items to give away. Put the box in your car and drop it off the next time you are near a place which takes used items. The FlyLady has a reason for choosing the number 27 but you can certainly pick another number. And if you don’t have time to do both the throw away and the giveaway on the same day, alternate.
Morning and Evening Routines: This seems pretty obvious but simple morning and evening routines can make a world of difference. Start small. Pick three things to do in the morning and three at bedtime. Do these consistently for a month or so then add something else.
Hot Spots: In FlyLady lingo, a hot spot is an area of your home which tends to collect clutter. A table near the entry, a corner of a kitchen counter, a bedroom chair, the coffee table, the table by your favorite chair. These are the places where it is all too easy to leave a coffee cup, the day’s mail, unfolded laundry. The thing about hot spots is that they seem to attract clutter. All it takes is ONE item left there and before you know it, it’s piled high with stuff. I’ve found that if I leave something on one of these surfaces it gives the rest of the family permission to do likewise and before you know it, we’ve got a mess. As FlyLady says, “clutter attracts clutter”. Clear these spots and then police them daily.
One of my favorite recommendations is to put something decorative in that spot. If it’s attractive, it’s less likely to become a dumping ground. Clean off your coffee table, polish it well, and place a plant, flower arrangement or bowl of fruit on it. Maybe your family will be less likely to think it’s an alternate wastebasket and will throw away their empty gum wrappers or used tissues instead. Hey, we can always hope!
Zones: If you like tearing your house apart and spending a week deep cleaning until you’re exhausted every spring and fall, have at it. But there is another way. Divide your house into zones and focus on one area each week. In addition to your regularly weekly cleaning, do one or more deep cleaning tasks in that week’s zone. Rotate these chores and over time they all get done. No, you won’t have that awesome feeling of everything spotless all at the same time. But you also won’t need a week to recuperate every spring and fall, either.
Daily laundry: Each morning throw in a load of laundry then be sure to see it all the way through the process. Dry, fold and put away. If you have a family you will likely need to do more than one load, at least on some days. But even at just one load you can be sure everyone has clean underwear and then catch up on the weekends or whatever other day you choose.
When I had kids at home I did approximately 15 loads a week. Mondays were my catch up day and it wasn’t unusual for me to do 5 or 6 loads that day. But by doing one or two loads each day I kept it under control. Now that it’s just the two of us, a load a day plus an extra one or two on Mondays keeps our laundry caught up.
Household Notebook: Take a look at Pinterest and you’ll see that the household notebook or planner is a very popular concept. But when FlyLady first gave the instructions for creating what she calls a Control Journal, it was not on most people’s radar. There are a multitude of ways to create one and it’s important to consider your own lifestyle but the instructions for creating a Control Journal is a good place to start.
Sink Reflections by The FlyLady
So now that I’ve shared what I consider the best of The FlyLady, is there a downside? Yes, I believe there may be. Now, let me just say that her plan was developed for people whose homes are out of control. She refers to it as C.H.A.O.S. – Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome. If your family is regularly out of clean underwear, you’ve resorted to plastic silverware and paper plates because all your dishes are dirty, you have to move piles in order to sit down and you spend an inordinate amount of time every day trying to find things then I believe her plan is well-suited to getting a handle on the situation.
That was not the case for me, however. I was simply looking for a structured plan for making sure everything got done on a routine basis. And in many ways her methods worked. But over time I began to notice something that concerned me. The emphasis on doing tasks quickly (often with a timer) and just barely “good enough” started to make me think of housekeeping as simply a series of tasks to do as fast as possible to get them out of the way. And if you despise housework on a deep and visceral level this might be a good thing. But I was one of those little girls who loved to play house and couldn’t wait to grow up and have a real home to take care of.
In those early days of marriage I loved taking the time to set the table with our wedding china, even if we were just having hot dogs. I enjoyed cleaning and scrubbing until everything sparkled and smelled wonderful. I was forever moving things around, decorating and basically playing house on a grownup level. I’m a nester by nature.
The message I was receiving from FlyLady emails was that perfectionism was the enemy. Set a timer, follow instructions, get it done and then go do something fun. Don’t worry about those extra touches. But I think there’s another way to look at housework.
When I think back to my childhood days I am reminded of the way my grandmother kept house. There were no lists, no timers, no housekeeping journals. She approached homemaking in a more natural, organic way.
People needed to eat so she cooked meals. She did the dishes after each meal so they would be clean for the next one. Beds were made each morning as a matter of course. When there were enough clothes for a load, she ran the washing machine. I didn’t ask her if she had specific days for such things as cleaning bathrooms or vacuuming or if she just did them when they needed doing. I do know she was in the habit of cleaning the refrigerator on Saturday mornings, though.
I never heard Grandma complain about keeping house. On the contrary, she hummed or whistled while she went about her tasks. She never seemed rushed. She kept a tidy and comfortable home, even with eleven grandchildren in and out all the time. And she seemed to enjoy the process or had at least made peace with it.
That is what I’m aiming for. I can make use of many FlyLady methods but with my own philosophy of mindfulness. Instead of rushing through a task with an eye toward the next thing on my to-do list, I’m trying to focus on what I’m doing. The feel of warm, soapy water on my hands as I wash dishes. Noticing the way sunlight reflects off a freshly polished mirror. Taking a few minutes to rearrange the decorative items on the coffee table after dusting it. I find that I tend to enjoy the things I put a bit more effort into and housework is no exception.
So while I do think The FlyLady has some terrific ideas and many of her methods are worth trying, I would also encourage a bit of caution. I believe there is something to be said for finding ways to make housework a pleasure whenever possible. Develop a regular morning routine but then take a few minutes to do a little something extra. After you swish and flush the toilet, add a few drops of a favorite essential oil. Light a candle and play some music while doing the dinner dishes. Iron your pillowcases when you change the sheets. These small touches help elevate housework from drudgery to creative expression. And isn’t that a happier way to take care of our homes?
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Note: I originally wrote and published this as a guest author on the (sadly) no-longer-published site, The Glamorous Housewife. Bethany Herwegh, the site owner, granted me permission to republish it here. The graphic at the top of this post was Bethany’s work from the original post on her site.