Fly Lady Friday: An Interview With “Fly Lady” Marla Cilley


I hate housework. I hate spending hours picking up the mess that will never stay organized, vacuuming floors that will be messy the next day, and never having the time (or desire to spend so much time) thoroughly cleaning.

That is why there have been entire years where we never invited friends or family to our house.

But do you remember our transformation? After spending half a summer living on board, where housework was a quick 5-10 minute pick-up n the morning (later, we added a 5 minute vacuuming as needed, usually less than once a week), I was ready for a change in our house.

It started with multiple trips to Goodwill. Anything we didn’t use on the boat was questioned. Decluttering alone made our house company-worthy. But it also made cleaning much, much easier. It took some time to fall into a good routine, but now our cleaning barely takes more time than it did on the boat.

I owe a great deal of our success to Fly Lady. Yesterday, I was able to interview the Fly Lady herself, Marla Cilley. This is what she had to say about decluttering, perfectionism, and avoiding CHAOS.

Intro to the Fly Lady System

Marla describes her system as a way to avoid CHAOS. “Are you living in CHAOS? When you ask that question, most every one answers yes”.

CHAOS, in case you don’t know, is “Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome“. The Fly Lady system helps you to set up routines so that you can maintain an orderly home.

According to Marla, it is very similar to living aboard. “On the boat, you had things that needed to be done everyday. Now bring that routine home.”


And it all begins with polishing your sink. Why? Marla states that, “You’ve got to do a few things to set your morning up to be better than it was yesterday…It’s all about giving you some hope…You’re overwhelmed and need to take some baby steps…[You will] get up in the morning not greeted by mystery water and dirty dishes. This puts a smile on your face.”

Sounds good to me.

Dealing With Clutter

According to Marla, clutter begins when young people first start out, and friends and family give them lots of items to help them just get started. Then, they start collecting items that fit their own style. Then, eventually, they inherit items from relatives, and adult children may move back in with their own items. One family’s house becomes filled with possessions from multiple families. “Stuff accumulates,” Marla observes, “When you have no system.”

It took Marla 9 months to finish her initial decluttering. But, she says, “It’s an ongoing process. It never finishes.”

Like many minimalists (Fly Lady is not specifically a minimalist system, but it works amazingly well in a minimalist household), Marla recommends starting with clothing. She always gets rid of one article of clothing when a new one comes in. When she’s trying to reduce the amount of clothing she has, she will eliminate–“fling”–two articles for the one she is bringing in. Doing this “makes room in your closet for things you love, things you have that fit.”

But will that clutter creep back, once you get rid of it? Marla says it won’t, if you get rid of all of it. You will, “get the feeling that your house is a haven for you and your family.”

The problem is that most people are reluctant to declutter in the first place. As much as they want to get rid of it, they “like clutter. It represents something“. That is why, according to Marla, “They have to see it for what it is”.

The biggest battle, in all of this, Marla says, is against perfectionism. It’s perfectionism that makes us hold onto items that people have given us, because we don’t want to hurt the giver’s feelings. It’s perfectionism that leads us to hold onto something until we can find the “perfect home” for it, rather than throwing it away or donating it.

To overcome this, Marla strongly advocates spending time on yourself. She recommends a “morning musing” or meditation to start the day. (Here is my morning routine).

Decluttering must be done, before you can begin thoroughly cleaning. According to Marla, “Clutter stands in the way of the baby-steps. You can’t organize clutter.”

What If You Become Overwhelmed?

Last summer, I did a great job keeping my house organized. Then, as the school year went on, I began to fall behind. On Monday, I was supposed to clean the fridge, but I had a late meeting. So I planned to do it on Tuesday, but I got home late. So, on Wednesday, I tried to clean the fridge, as well as complete Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s tasks.

I stated in my blog that rather than FLY-ing, I was “sinking slowly.”

When I described this to Marla, she gave me this admonishment,”You’re not behind…Jump in where you are! So what if you missed cleaning the fridge? Jump in and grab the worst thing…You can’t beat yourself up because you didn’t get around to it!”

Fridge day will come again next week. You don’t move backwards in this system. If you miss a task, you get to catch it next time around. Again, it’s all about overcoming perfectionism,

Marla says that it’s those “negative, ugly voices” that lead people to fail on her system. We’ve been told that, “If you can’t do something right, you shouldn’t do it…But [we need to realize that] housework done incorrectly still blesses our family.”

For that reason, the Fly Lady system should not be overwhelming if it is implemented correctly. People become overwhelmed when they allow perfectionism to have the upper hand and try to do too much, too fast. Marla says that, “They go guns-ho and before you know it they’re burned out. They’re trying to do too much.”

For readers who are feeling this way, Marla recommends slowing down. Focus on keeping that sink polished, getting enough sleep, and leaving your clothes out for tomorrow. “Slow your brain down,” she urges.

So what about those of us who work outside of the home? We have an advantage, Marla says, because we know that “every minute is precious“. There is really no difference in what we should do in the daily routines because, done correctly, they should only take 15-20 minutes. The important thing, according to Marla is to “remember to do it“. It’s important to keep reminders up. The other tasks, especially the “weekly home blessing hour” can be broken up into 10 minute sessions that are done everyday.

Involving the Kids

The Fly Lady system works even better if we get our children involved. The best way to do that? Make it fun! “Kids love games,” Marla says. “We love games. If you make it fun, you will get it done.”

Marla even has a CD available, called “Up Kind of Day,” that uses music to teach kids about picking up toys, dusting, and other household chores.

A Final Thought

In the end, I find it necessary to confess that I don’t follow the Fly Lady system to the letter. I don’t leave out my clothes for the next day, because I only own 5 outfits. I didn’t shampoo my living room carpet (don’t worry–this is on the “in-depth cleaning” checklist, that should only be done after decluttering!), because we plan to get rid of it soon.

And this is exactly the point, according to Marla. “I’ve always told people to adapt it to your family.”

So, please go and explore the Fly Lady website, and give some of her ideas a try. You have nothing to lose, except your CHAOS!

Note: Marla writes a weekly column, and I will be publishing those, along with notes on my progress, every Friday.

9 thoughts on “Fly Lady Friday: An Interview With “Fly Lady” Marla Cilley

    • I remember that it’s the thought that counts. It’s sweet that the person thought of me. I read once that the gift becomes the burden of the receiver. It was in an article cautioning about going overboard with gift giving, but, in a way, it was also giving permission to get rid of gifts that we don’t use.

  1. Once again. GREAT POST!!!! I’ve tried fly lady several times and fail because of the “perfectionism” issue. I want to be perfect and have sparkling clean everything and since I can’t I give up.

    I’m going to start again today.

    • I’m positive that was why I failed last time. And I think that was why I was able to keep Moonraker clean–it’s a boat, so I wasn’t such a perfectionist about it!

  2. I wish more would read what Marla just had to say. So many make it difficult. I literally took the March Challenge Getting Dressed To Shoe, Hair and Makeup. The 31 days turned into writing a mini blog and posting a picture of myself for 436 consecutive days. I pop up once in awhile for a surprise visit as this summer my passion has been gardening and I am able to do it and still keep my home clutter free.

    There was a need for closed groups for some that wanted to fly and wanted to keep their real name. I started The Flylady Way which is now Marilyn’s Way. I made the change because it was becoming confusing. What Marilyn’s Way stands for is finding your own way to fly that will work for you with using Flylady Resources and Lessons that apply to the individual. We are a group with 350+ members all asking to join. I suggest going to and looking at her babysteps and anything else weekly. I still post on her Facebook Page and am always learning. My closed group address is It is focused strickly on flying and that is why it has been successful. I also have an open page to share things that flysisters may also be interested in. Mine is gardening at the moment. I also have 2 blogs I now call Marilyn’s Way Too! and another blog where I write my interpretation and what I have learned from flylady and pass on to others.

    I am giving you this information not as a plug but that you say you fly too and if you would like to join our closed group on facebook go to and ask to join. We would love to have you!

    This has to be one of my favorite interviews I have read of Marla’s. You did a great job!

  3. I wrote a comment and it didn’t go through. Will have to write it later if I have time. Disappointing it didn’t work

  4. Great article! I can totally relate to sometimes not having people over to my place, due to my carpet needing cleaning, etc. These are great tips!

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