"The goal is to find peace," says Cilley, 46. "And getting rid of stuff helps you find peace." That may sound a tad simplistic, but try telling that to the 100,000 devoted followers on Cilley's online mailing list, many of whom insist that her e-mails changed their life. "I used to end each day feeling inadequate and miserable," says Joy Critchfield, a mother of four who joined the list last April. "Now I wake up excited to be alive." And while there is no shortage of organizational guides for sale in bookstores, or professionals who will do the dirty work for a fee, only Cilley offers a free service that promises both inner joy and a clutter-free home.
It all starts, in the FlyLady method, with baby steps small changes people can make in their life to manage C.H.A.O.S. (can't have anyone over syndrome). First step: shine the kitchen sink every day. Why? "I don't know why, but a beautiful sink to greet you each morning starts your day with a smile," says Cilley, who lives in Brevard, N.C., and chose the handle FlyLady because she likes to fly-fish. Second step: put on lace-up shoes in the morning, because you are much more likely to get things done when you are not lounging around in bunny slippers.
After that come simple cleaning routines that are easy to stick with because they don't take all day. There's the 27 Fling Boogie, where you run through your home with a plastic bag and find 27 things to throw away. Or you spend five minutes cleaning up a particular "hot spot," a place where messes tend to pile up, like the bedside table or the junk drawer in your kitchen. The so-called Weekly Home Blessing Hour is actually 60 minutes of intensive cleanup in which you spend no more than 10 minutes on each area. To avoid feeling overwhelmed, Cilley encourages everyone to set a 10-minute timer for each task and stop when the buzzer rings no matter what.
To help flybabies stay on track, Cilley bombards them with e-mail reminders about 10 a day to do a five-minute "room rescue," say, or to plan their calendar for the following week. She sends out daily "attitude adjusting" essays with titles such as "Eviction Notice: Clutter, Pack Your Bags!" and "Do Not Crash and Burn!" followed by testimonials from members. One new mother from Pittsburgh recently wrote in to say, "With the FlyLady at my side, I am not A.L.O.N.E.--anxious, lost, overwhelmed, negative and exhausted."
And if all the e-mails create too much clutter in themselves? "Just delete them," says Cilley, who insists that the goal is progress, not perfection. One rule, however, is ironclad: no whining!
You can e-mail questions to Anita at firstname.lastname@example.org