FlyLady cleaning: everything you need to know about the internet’s new favourite decluttering technique

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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The technique is getting so popular that people are calling it the new Marie Kondo. But how does it work? And how can you try it at home? 

Marla Cilley is, and always has been, a busy lady.

Even in 1999, when she began mentoring in a forum about cleaning and decluttering – using the nickname FlyLady, after her love of fly fishing – Cilley was also serving on the North Carolina legislature on a board comprising entirely of men. 

But then the FlyLady mentoring started taking off. The forum turned into an email group and then a website. As of 2016, FlyLady had more than 300,000 subscribers on email and 550,000 on Facebook. She has a popular online store, has penned two bestselling books and has helped hundreds of thousands of women achieve their decluttering dreams all around the world. 

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In fact, searches for the FlyLady technique are currently up by 40% on Pinterest, while searches for Marie Kondo are down by 80%. But what exactly is the FlyLady technique? Is it the new Marie Kondo method? And how can you do it at home? 

What is the FlyLady technique?

Decluttering your life can help declutter your mind, too.

As Cilley herself has put it, the FlyLady technique isn’t just about cleaning, it’s about being your best self. “I just want to help women gain back their freedom,” Cilley said. She doesn’t want clutter to take over your life or dominate your time. The FlyLady technique is about improving your life and making it work for you.

That’s why FlyLady – once a reference to Cilley’s love of fly fishing – has been retroactive rechristened the “Finally Loving Yourself (FLY)” technique. 

How does the FlyLady technique actually work?

Good question. The FlyLady technique works by breaking all household tasks into small, manageable increments.

The technique starts with “babysteps”, some 31 small things that can be done around the house every week in order to build up your decluttering habit. Each task should take no longer than 15 minutes to do. In fact, Cilley recommends never working at something for longer than 15 minutes a time, and using a timer to keep track. People who subscribe to the technique start with babysteps in order to get all the clutter of their life in order.

Cleaning Getty
The FlyLady technique isn't just about decluttering, it's about taking things one small step at a time.

And these babysteps really are babysteps. They include little things like laying out your clothes for the next morning before you go to bed, meal-prepping for the week and, um, shining your sink.

Yes, The FlyLady technique begins with a shiny sink. Sink Reflections is the name of Cilley’s first book, and realising that having a clean, decluttered sink would change the way she approached the rest of her house changed the way Cilley thought about daily tasks.

As Cilley puts it: “Many of you can’t understand why I want you to empty your sink of your dirty dishes and clean and shine it when there is so much more to do. It is so simple: I want you to have a sense of accomplishment!” Cleaning your sink is about so much more than just, well cleaning your sink. It’s about a pat on the back each morning knowing that you’ve achieved one task and can get on with your day. 

This is the crux of the FlyLady technique: taking everything one step at a time, not sweating the small stuff, and approaching decluttering in small, manageable chunks. 

What are the areas that FlyLady technique can help you with?

Firstly, clutter. The technique was devised to help people sort out their overstuffed lives and on that particular topic it’s been proven very successful.

Cilley and the FlyLady technique believes that it’s never a simple question of “organising” your clutter. “Clutter cannot be organised,” Cilley says. “Clutter stands in the way of you finding success and peace in your life.” It has to be thrown out in order to be solved.

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Like with everything in the FlyLady technique, it’s about taking small steps to forming a habit. Break every large task into smaller ones, and tackle them for no longer than 15 minutes at a time. Do one small thing every day and you’ll notice incremental change in your life, the technique preaches.

For example, if you’re working on decluttering your wardrobe – and you’ve asked yourself the questions that you should be asking before doing a major closet overhaul – then try breaking it down category by category. If you need to keep separating the tasks into smaller increments then do it, right until you have a nice little 15 minute-long parcel that you can do each day until you’ve achieved your decluttering goals. 

What are the weekly home blessings?

Again, the secret to the FlyLady technique is thinking small. So like the babysteps mentioned above, the weekly home blessings are small tasks, completed in 10 minutes, that Cilley recommends people do once a week to “bless” their home.

The tasks are pretty obvious: vacuum, dust, empty bins, change sheets, polish mirrors or doors, quick mop. This is not deep cleaning, this is just 10 minutes of a quick task in order to stay on top of everything that needs to be done.

“Don’t obsess,” Cilley has explained. It should take you no more than an hour, if you’re following the 10 minute rule. “Set your timer… then quit,” she has said. 

Is the FlyLady technique about more than just decluttering?

That’s the point. As Cilley has said, this technique is about giving women “freedom” from the clutter that overwhelms their life. In that way, it’s a little bit more than just a home organisation technique, it can even be considered self-help.

Cilley has said that she never wants anyone who comes to the technique to feel like they have failed. “Don’t expect to do it all at once,” she has said in an interview. “Start small and let the snowball effect happen. Also, you need to learn to forgive yourself for missing days. Sometimes that’s the hardest part, forgiveness.” 

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This is the language of the FlyLady technique – wise words for all aspects of life, right?

Cilley’s theory is also that you can apply some of the techniques to other aspects of your life. For example, the “babysteps” and 15 minutes rule can be useful for building any habit, like going to the gym, learning to meditate or starting a big creative project. 

What have people said about the FlyLady technique?

Hundreds of thousands of people around the world have tried the FlyLady technique since Cilley started it back in 1999. And they love it. Like, they really love it.

“I am realising more and more just how much I haven’t been loving myself as I practice implementing your habits and routines,” one person wrote in a testimonial. “Thank you FlyLady for being willing to change. You are helping me (and many others) to also.” 

Sounds pretty good, right? Will you try it? 

Images: Getty, Unsplash

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