The other night, my 17-year-son said: “Mom, you were right.”
I sat up and listened. It turns out he had been persuaded by a video he saw on YouTube that he does indeed need a diary to keep track of his schoolwork.
I smiled, and said we would go buy one.
Readers, I have been telling him he needs a diary since he left primary school, when the school made every kid keep one for their homework.
I am an organised person because being in control of things makes me less anxious. And large parts of the way I organise things, especially in the home, are derived from a guru in the United States.
I found my guru when that same son was much, much smaller and I was trying to balance being a working freelancer with caring for him (and he was as lively as a box of frogs) and doing my share of running a home.
I had the constant feeling that things were slipping away from me. I was talking to a colleague at one of my workplaces about my frustration about not being able to find something in the house.
Flylady, she said mysteriously. You need Flylady.
And she was right. I did need Flylady.
Marla Cilley, aka the Flylady, is a person who lives in Brevard, North Carolina in the States. She runs a business in which she offers a free email service and website which aim to help people get rid of clutter and sort out the chaos in their lives. (The business model is that she sells all sorts of organising and cleaning tools which support her method).
Her approach is simple: start where you are, do things in small increments, take care of yourself (that’s my take on it, anyway).
The true magic of the Flyady method though is that it is not about decluttering your home, or sorting out your paperwork, or getting your house clean in one big swoop. It is about finding sustainable ways to do those things, and finding ways to keep doing them. Marla Cilley is about systems and the importance of sorting things that are apparently mundane and boring into doable tasks that in the end make your life better.
To give one small example, her starting step for everyone is to clean your sink. She says:
After you do this, you will keep it shiny by drying it out after each time you use it and making sure when you go to bed that it is shining so it will make you smile in the morning. This is how I get to hug you each day! That shiny sink is a reflection of the love that you have for yourself. Our FlyLady system is all about establishing little habits that string together into simple routines to help your day run on automatic pilot. You can do this!
Read that paragraph carefully: she is saying the one small step is the start of a routine. Don’t clean the whole kitchen and then three months later you are back where you started. Just clean the sink every day, consistently, and then build on that.
At first I leaned heavily on Flylady, mainly in the department of daily and weekly routines. Before I had a baby, I used to do the washing when it occurred to me. Now, 15 years later I am still following the routine I established in those early Flylady days: wash clothing twice a week, and bedding over the weekend.
As time went on, I have developed my own system and no longer have the needs of a small human to consider. But there are fundamental Flylady things that I still do, and always will. Here are those things:
1. You can do anything for 15 minutes
Flylady’s basic principle: don’t procrastinate. Just set a timer for 15 minutes and start. Just start. I do this all the time – and once you’ve started, it’s easier to keep going. I cannot emphasise enough how revolutionary this is and urge you to try it. The next time you have some slightly unpleasant thing you have to do, and have been putting off, set a timer for 15 minutes and start. At the end of 15 minutes (and this is the important bit in the learning phase), stop and go do something nice. You can repeat the sligthly unpleasant 15 minutes tomorrow, or later in the day. This simple thing can really break logjams at work and at home.
2. The calendar
I order a Flylady calendar every year even though it us ruinously expensive to have it shipped from the US. Partly because it is my way of saying thank you to Marla and her team, but also because it is a superior calendar. It has really big blocks, so you can write lots of things in it. And that’s important because everything should be written in it. The regular extra-murals, the birthdays, the social engagements of everyone in the house. In our house, if an event is not on the calendar it doesn’t happen.
3. Routines – write them down
Flylady advocates a Control Journal, in which all the information about running your house is stored. She says: “The control journal is our own personal manual for listing and keeping track of your routines.”
I have never liked the name Control Journal and I know it seems ridiculous to write down the things you do every day but it does help.
To this day I have a diary in which I plan the week, and have items like “do the washing” (see above). It means that no matter what else happens, no matter how much real life throws curve balls (and boy does life throw curve balls) I have list of items that need to get done to support all the other things I do.
Remember – all of this means figuring out what the inter-locking systems are that you need to live a good life!
The heart of the Flylady method is the idea that you should love and care for yourself. And that is such a profound thing: you are not doing self-care by having your toe-nails done. You are caring for yourself by paying attention to the small, mundane details of your life, by drinking water and getting enough sleep and tackling all the anxiety-provoking chaos in the corners of your home and workplace.
To quote once more from Flylady – by using the parts of her system that work for you, you are:
(Changing) your To Do list from a stew of chores into a daily walking meditation on the value of life.
That’s a quote from an emailed testimonial to Flylady. And how valuable is it now, when Covid-19 has made all of us more aware of how valuable life it, while at the same time taking away all the things we thought were important?
And here in front of us are our homes and ourselves, waiting to be loved.