Conquering Household Clutter

Media Bakery

Before she began inspiring others to declutter their homes, organizing expert Marla Cilley was stuck in "CHAOS"Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome.

"When my husband and I married, he had a house full of clutter and I did too, and we put our clutter together," recalls Cilley, 53, of Brevard, N.C. (pop. 6,789). "We made paths in the house to walk, and if my husband had to meet work colleagues to get papers signed, he met them on the front porch."

In 1998, when Cilley was elected to the board of commissioners for Transylvania County, N.C. (pop. 29,334), she knew she needed to get organized. "I was scared that everyone would find my dirty secretthat an elected official can't keep house," she says.

To put her house in order, Cilley taught herself to establish a simple daily routine, such as spending 15 minutes clearing clutter, even breaking it up into five-minute segments when necessary. "If I missed one day, I had to forgive myself and start again," she says.

Within nine months, Cilley's house was organized. She shared her success in an Internet forum, and the group's members nicknamed her "the FlyLady," because Cilley is an avid fly-fisher. In 1999, she created an online Yahoo! group and, today, the group has more than 500,000 members in 78 countries who turn to Cilley for daily housekeeping tips and inspiration.

"My message is about getting unstuck and following your spirit," she says. Through her online group and her website,, Cilley teaches her "FlyBabies" to take daily "baby steps" toward cleaning house and getting rid of clutter.

"The FlyLady is like your private coach," says Linda Brooks, 63, of Pisgah Forest, N.C., who has been following Cilley's advice for years. "It's the best thing that's happened to me." As a group member, Brooks receives daily e-mails that provide instructions to perform specific tasks. She also receives Cilley's encouraging essays and group members' inspiring testimonials. "She makes you feel better about yourself," Brooks says.
Brooks' housecleaning habits changed as soon as she received her first FlyLady e-mail, which advised her to clean her sink. "You say to yourself, 'Now the sink is shiny, but look at the rest of the kitchen'you want everything else in order."

Learning to 'fly'
Although Cilley and her group members communicate online, you don't need a computer to learn to conquer clutter and keep your home sparkling clean. Here are a few of Cilley's best techniques:

  • Walk through one cluttered room with a garbage bag and throw away 27 things as fast as possible; playing music helps. Throw out the garbage immediately, so you can't rescue anything.
  • Make the bed as quickly as you can. Every morning, before getting up, Cilley pulls the sheets and covers to her chin and slides out sideways. She adds pillows, and the bed is made.
  • While you're in the shower, scrub a section of a wall. Use the same soap that you use on your body, but use a different sponge. After a month, you'll have cleaned the whole shower.
  • When drying off after a shower, wipe the bathroom mirrors.
  • Keep the toilet bowl brush in an old vase filled with old shampoos and soaps and a little water. Swish the toilet everyday.
  • Spend five minutes clearing your most cluttered roomthe one where you never allow visitors. Enter the room, take a bag or box full of items, then leave the room. Sort everything into three boxesitems to put away, throw away and give away, and follow through with each item. Do this five minutes a day, and after a month, says Cilley, you'll be proud of the once unsightly space.
  • Have specific places for your mail, newspapers and bills. When you walk into your house, place bills in a "to pay" pile and put junk mail in a recycling spot.
  • Create a nightly before-bed routine. For Barb Barrett, 36, of Woodbury, Minn. (pop. 46,463), this includes making her children's lunches for the next day, starting the dishwasher, loading the coffee pot, checking the next day's dinner menu, shining her sink and laying out clothes. "These simple steps help me start the next day peacefully," Barrett says.
    "I don't look at laundry as a chore anymore," she adds. "It blesses my family. As Cilley says, 'Nothing says I love you like clean underwear!'"
Found in: Family
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