Home & Garden

A clean sweep for spring

I've been waiting for spring since, oh, around New Year's Day. But with snow and cold outside, I've been stuck inside, giving me ample time to observe that my kitchen cabinets could use a wipe-down and my baseboards are a little dusty.

And naturally, my longing for spring turned to musings about spring cleaning, so I turned to the most practical cleaner I know for advice: the FlyLady.

Perhaps you've never heard of the FlyLady, aka Marla Cilley of Brevard, N.C. Or maybe you're nodding your head in recognition on your way to shine your sink.

For a decade, Cilley has dispensed decluttering tips and cleaning advice through daily e-mails to her FlyBabies, who are trying to escape being sidetracked home executives, or SHEs.

These days, there are 550,000 FlyBabies in 78 countries. Most, like me, learned of the FlyLady through word of mouth.

I, for example, was complaining to a friend about my laundry piling up and the never-ending task of picking up the house when she told me about FlyLady. I checked out her Web site, www.flylady.net, and before long, I was sharing FlyLady's tips, too, and keeping the CHAOS at bay (can't have anyone over syndrome).

That was five years ago. I'm a backslider now. So when I called Cilley to ask for spring-cleaning advice, I admitted my errant ways.

"But I'm trying ..." I said before Cilley tsked-tsked me into silence.

"Trying' is not 'doing,' " she said, her North Carolina lilt taking the edge off her words. "I hate the word 'try.' "

Then she sucker-punched me. "What does your desk look like right now?"

"Um, it's a little messy," I said. "I mean, I just finished a big story, so I've got lots of notes lying around."

There was a moment of silence on the phone. And then, "I don't know if the FlyLady should even do an interview with a reporter with a messy desk," she said. Panic welled in my chest. "Are you wearing shoes?"

That's a FlyLady must — starting each day dressed to your shoes (preferably the lace-up kind). And I wasn't wearing my shoes. Like an idiot, I told her so. So while she did agree to speak with me, she delayed the interview until I left my messy office to find my tennis shoes and put them on.

Finally, we got down to business. What could the FlyLady tell me about spring cleaning?

It's simple, she said. In the old days, people hauled everything out of their homes in the spring and cleaned them from stem to stern, a process that sometimes took days.

But "spring cleaning" is nothing more than detail cleaning, Cilley said. And detail cleaning is what the FlyLady is all about. The beauty of her plan, she explained, is that you don't have to wait until spring to put it into action.

Once a week you do a quick cleaning of the entire house in about an hour, kind of a spit shine. Then you move into one of the FlyLady's five zones, where you spend extra time daily.

Each week, FlyBabies tackle a different zone, with each day devoted to a detailed cleaning of a different area within that zone. The FlyLady calls these "missions."

For example, if the zone for the week is the master bedroom, one day's mission might be to clean off the nightstands in the bedroom — putting away books, throwing out clutter, dusting the surface.

"It's doing the little things," Cilley explained, "like getting the smudges off the light fixture or the cobwebs off the ceiling."

And every day of every week, FlyLady advocates decluttering the "hot spots" in your home — areas where stuff piles up. You don't have to spend long — just 15 minutes a day is enough to make a difference, Cilley said.

"After about three months of doing little missions every day, your home is detail-cleaned," Cilley said. "When you do one little thing every day, you never have to spring clean again."

That sounds good to Kerri Bell-Jones of Prairie Village. A mother of three, Bell-Jones started following the FlyLady about three years ago. Her impetus to FLY: the clutter that quickly accumulated in her small house as she and her husband welcomed a second child. She was overwhelmed until she embraced FlyLady's "baby steps," doing a little every day.

"I noticed that when my house was clean, I felt much, much better," Bell-Jones said.

So she began building her FlyLady habits: wiping down the bathroom after taking a shower, shining her sink every night, doing at least one load of laundry a day. So when Bell-Jones and her husband brought home Baby No. 3 a year ago, the clutter wasn't so daunting.

Now you know

clear thinking on cleaning

Don't despair, decluttering diva Marla Cilley advises. It's all about baby steps, and you don't have to do it perfectly; you just have to do it. Here are a few of her tips:

* Get a timer. Set it for two minutes and put out one "hot spot," a place in your house that accumulates clutter, such as the dining room table. A timer keeps you focused and gives you permission to walk away.

* Practice periodic "fire drills." Set the timer for 15 minutes, and run through the house, finding 27 items to throw away and 27 items to give away.

* Stop whining that you don't have enough time. "We all have the same hours in the day," Cilley says. "In the time it takes to say, 'I don't have the time,' you could have shined your sink."

* Establish habits. But don't beat yourself up. "Perfectionism is a disease," Cilley says.