Thursday, January 18, 2007

FIRST, CLEAN YOUR SINK: One Thing I Learned from Flylady


Kitchen sink drama, originally uploaded by stevacek.

A few years ago, I read about Flylady, a woman who had developed a unique home organization system. Since organization of any kind has been my lifelong quest, I was immediately intrigued. Now in case you get the wrong idea--let me defend my womanly honor here. My house is not dirty. It is, however, messy. Ditto the state of my writing files, my daily schedule, and well, my life. When Flylady promised that if you learned to organize the space around you, it would spill over into every area of your life, I was hooked.

The first thing you do as an official member (a Flybaby) is to clean your sink as you've never done before. You soak it in bleach, then move on to a greasy elbow scrub, and end with a Windex polish. I had no idea how this excessive sink cleaning routine could lead to order in the home--or my true goal, a life that worked better in every way, but I was willing to give it a try.

Intrigue quickly led to obsession, and the kind of fervor frequently seen in cult members. At work, people said I talked about nothing but Flylady for months. Someone would bring up a problem with their boyfriend, and I would soon be quoting Flylady: First, clean your sink. Credit card bills that were out of hand? You start with a bottle of bleach, and then...

After a month or two, I was forbidden to use the words "Flylady says..." in polite company. Like all my runaway enthusiasms, my Flylady phase finally exhausted itself. But some of her principles are still with me, and they really have improved my life and work.



When I started this post, I intended to write it as "Ten Things..." But my life is pretty hectic right now, and every time I thought about compiling it, I decided to wait till "tomorrow".

In the end, I realized my procrastination was the very thing that Flylady counsels against. Her method emphasizes baby steps. You don't try to transform your house in a day. In my translation, you don't try to write a novel in two weeks, or untangle the strands of a twisted relationship in one discussion.

What you do is one thing. You write a solitary page. You make tea, sit down with that person in your life, and talk. Or maybe you just clean your sink. With bleach and Windex. And slowly, you learn that one positive action slyly, magically, inexorably leads to another.

56 comments:

KG said...

That decides it. Tomorrow I'm cleaning my sink! :)

Your blog posts are always so refreshing. I laughed at many points during this one.

And the Flylady — what an unforgettable name.

Marilyn said...

When I worked in TV production I was a HORRIBLE procrastinator--the WORST! I'd be so overwhelmed by the huge stack in my IN box that I'd feel paralyzed to do anything. In all honesty, it was getting sober that finally 'cured' me of my procrastination...the cliched whole 'one day at a time' thing. Because people would tell newcomers that sometimes even one DAY seemed too much at first...that it was okay to make it one HOUR at a time. I began translating that concept into my work life...and when I'd feel overwhelmed by too much to do, I'd remind myself to JUST DO ONE THING. Just ONE. And I'd feel so good after doing that one, that I'd do another and another... It's a technique I still use all these years later that's become ingrained. A large load no longer feels overwhelming because, as you said, sometimes it's enough to just clean the sink. I don't have to do it ALL...at ONCE.

Patry Francis said...

kg: So happy you LAUGhED!

marilyn: Your comment made me realize why I'm thinking of all this right now. It's the overwhelm. And yes, it's a good kind of overwhelm. The best and happiest kind. But when I think of all the things I have to do in the next few weeks, I become paralyzed. So it's one thing, or as you say, one hour...

rdl said...

yes i remember her well. headin to my sink!

Paris Parfait said...

I like the idea of doing one thing - I'm a big believer in baby steps and one thing at a time. "Flylady" sounds wacky and wise. But I'm finding it hard to get excited about cleaning my sink. Cleaning out my desk? Maybe. Tomorrow.

zhoen said...

I love a clean sink, or bathroom, and the momentum carries me on, sometimes.

Tarakuanyin said...

Yesterday I noticed my sink was stained when the thingy under the sink wouldn't turn off. You know, the one that eats vegetable peelings and eggshells and disposes of them. I had to turn it off at the mains to make it stop grumbling and roaring, and while I was examining it I thought to myself, "I need to clean my sink." And then this post..... :-)

kenju said...

One can easily get to be a bore to others when something like this becomes an obsession with you...LOL

My house may be dusty and in need of a carpet shampoo, but it is always neat unless my grandchildren are visiting. Perhaps we should live together?

Left-handed Trees... said...

Clean sink, huh? Hmm...I'm willing to try anything once. I keep telling myself "keep the drama on the page" and working the writing in whenever and however I can--this is just me, trying to dodge "overwhelm" and "uncertain" myself. Off to find the bleach now (do we even own this?)...
--D.--

Alexandra S said...

Flylady is onto something there! My place so quickly becomes messy it just amazes me esp since i live alone. Most of the time everything is enough in order and then a hurricane hits-me!- and its craziness. So I shall clean my sink later when I get home after seeing Pan's Labyrinth and The Painted Veil. Hopefully I will be stuffed with inspiration afterwards and be in a mighty mood for a giant next step like the bathtub. Hope you are enjoying your Sunday!

Stephanie said...

I was a flybaby for while, but I had to stop because it was too many emails. I mean, yes, the sink was clean....come to think of it the whole house was a lot cleaner.....

never mind....

Patry Francis said...

r: As I recall, you were the first victim of my proselytizing...

tara: My daughter, who is a master organizer (a Virgo, if you believe) just helped me revamp my entire office space. I can't believe how good it feels to have a work area where I can really FIND things.

zhoen: Momentum...yes, that's it.

tarakuanyin: My thingy that grinds the eggshells, etc. died about ten years ago, but my family still puts the shells in the sink anyway...I think you've hit on a pet peeve.

kenju: I think I've just found my perfect roommate.

delia: I try to keep the drama on the page, too, but every now and then, just like the clutter, it spills over and makes a mess of everything.

alexandra: Pan's Labyrinth! That movie looks wonderful. I'm going to have to head over to your place and see if you've reviewed it.

stephanie: You were a flybaby, too! Did you do the Weekly homeblessing hour? Did you wear your lace up shoes? The emails got to me, too, but now I get them in Digest form--once a day. I don't have time to read them much, but when I do, I always come away with some helpful tidbit.

Amy MacKinnon said...

Ah, a clean sink.

Personally, I find it impossible to write if there are dishes in the sink, unmade beds, and I haven't yet vacuumed. I need order or else the chaos will whisper to me, pull me away from my desk and into its vortex.

Now if I could just tackle that pile of bills...

Jessie said...

okay... i love this post. 'nough said. i just love it. :) thank you.

Sara said...

Or, you could commit to procrastination and just make muffins. 'Cause maybe muffins are magic, like blueberry pie.

Not that I would know this personally, of course. My sink is spotless.

Today, anyway.

donna said...

Cleaning your sink with bleach can strip the ceramic coating. It's not really a terribly good idea.

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Robin said...

Love that picture!

Cute post, Patry, and wise as always. I like to joke that I'm the 'Flyswatter Lady,' but that just makes me feel better about having to clean toilets. Really, I like the Flylady approach. Everyone seems happier when I keep up with things, and I find that there are fewer random fires when things are clean.

Don't mix the Windex and the bleach in the sink, though. (Does Windex still contain ammonia?) The fumes from bleach and ammonia will ruin your day and maybe make you dead.

Patry Francis said...

amy: That may be my problem; I write with the vortex always in the background...

jessie: Thanks--and I love that photo!

sara: "Commit to procrastination" Now that's an interesting thought.

donna: Never thought of that. Maybe we should alert Flylady?

robin, the flyswatter lady: Good advice about the ammonia and bleach!
A clean sink is nice, but not worth making yourself dead over. Make sure the bleach is long gone before you take out the Windex--just in case.

Devon Ellington said...

As messy as my house sometimes gets, the one thing I cannot stand is to have a single dirty dish in the sink.

I'm constantly cleaning the sink! I find it soothing!

Fred Garber said...

My wife must be a Flybaby! She will not allow unwashed dishes to rest quietly in the sink for more than a few hours. My view on dishwashing is once every few days is enough. And she is always washing the sink!

Sustenance Scout said...

So that's my problem, Patry, a dirty sink. I'll go clean it right away; my mother-in-law will thank you. :) One time after she'd babysat I realized she'd scrubbed the kitchen sink clean. Not too embarrassing! I do keep a tidy house, but some things just aren't top priorities. Funny I read this after cleaning out cupboards for two hours. Now THAT's therapeutic!

How exactly did you get on this subject...? :)

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Irene said...

"slowly, you learn that one positive action slyly, magically, inexorably leads to another." thank you, I needed this today.

Holly Kennedy said...

I agree with Amy. I MUST have a clean sink, house, closet or I can't seem to write anything worth reading. I'm not anal, but the clutter sends my mind off in way too many directions to focus on the story at hand.

That said, I also have to admit I do my best thinking when I'm cleaning!

colleen said...

I've been writing about tea and talking about starting from where one is, so I perked up my ears for this one.

It reminds me of when my girlfriends and me got hooked on Sarah Ban Breathnach's book "Simple Abundance." Every day there was a new inspiration for uncluttering and beautifying your home/life. I guess I fell off that wagon.

I do feel better when I give my sink an intensive cleaning. Funny, the sink here is clean but the picture is dirty.

deirdre said...

I heard about the Flylady a few years ago and, intrigued, I went to her site. It didn't work for me because my sink was already obsessivly clean - it kind of screwed up the starting point. Maybe I'll look again.

gerry rosser said...

Flylady was right, clean the verdamte sink, early and often. We are obsessive about cleaning the kitchen sink, must do it ten times a day.
I'm bored--clean the sink.
I'm achy--clean the sink.
Our house is so damn organized, it hurts my head.

Matt said...

I've actually assumed cleaning the kitchen in our house -- others in the family have a difficult time putting things away when they're done, and it really makes me feel ill-at-ease when I know there's a dirty kitchen. I agree with the baby steps thing; I've always been one who wants an immaculate house, and I've always tried to do it in one swoop. With a clean kitchen, I feel like I'm making progress -- and as Zhoen said, it SOMETIMES carried forward into something else.

- Matt

Laini Taylor said...

This is so funny -- I have a relatively new sink, but I hadn't REALLY cleaned it, with bleach and all, for a few YEARS. I thought it was clean -- it looked clean. That is, it looked clean until I used bleach and realized what clean really was. Every time we walked past it or used it, Jim and I called out, Wow! The sink is so white! So I can see that being a good habit kick-off.

And guess what!! Guess what book is sitting on my night stand, Patry -- Liar's Diary!!!!! heehee -- I finagled it from the Penguin booth at ALA last weekend, where it looked fabulous, by the way! There was a big stack of copies, so I didn't swipe the only one. I am SO excited to read it (I've read the first few pages and I'm hooked) and I want to let you know I've already pre-ordered it so I'm STILL buying my copy!

Courtney said...

This is such a wonderful post! Perhaps I might have to join flylady and get a handle on all of this...excess.

Courtney said...

This is such a wonderful post! Perhaps I might have to join flylady and get a handle on all of this...excess.

AnnieElf said...

wow, I haven't checked out Flylady in literally years. Nice to see she is still going strong.

Patry Francis said...

devon: I used to hate housework, but after sitting at my computer all day, it is, as you say, soothing to lose yourself in a physical task.

fred: The more I hear about your house, the more appealing it becomes...bean encrusted chicken, and a shiny sink? Oh, yes.

karen: Good question. How DID I get on this subject? I guess that when I'm overwhelmed with life, and large global problems I can't do anything about, I can always clean the sink.

irene: After seeing the photos of your children's beautiful room, I think you could probably teach even Flylad a thing or two.

holly: Oh, I agree. Housework is an excellent pre-writing activity, also a great way to wind down and loosen up after a good session at the computer.

colleen: The longer I look at that picture, the more my womanly pride worries: I hope no one thinks that's MY kitchen. Now you've got me interested in Simple Abundance.

deidre: It sounds like you don't need Flylady. You're already living the well-ordered life.

gerry: If you think your head hurts from too much organization, try the reverse.

matt: When my husband cleans, he likes the "one swoop" method, too. I'm definitely more of a babystepper.

laini: I can't believe you got the book! You have no idea how happy it makes me to think of you reading it!

courtney: Excess...oh yes, the flylady is very good in dealing with excess. Don't even get me started...

annie: Yes, she's still around, and the good thing is that once you've learned the system, it's always with you.

Coll said...

I remember hearing of "Flylady". I certainly like the idea of "one thing at a time." Sometimes the whole picture can be just a little over whelming. Breaking it down does help.

chiefbiscuit said...

In the randomness of blogging I read two posts in a row about Flylady and I've never heard of her in my life before! Maybe the cosmos is trying to tell me to clean my sink?!

Patry Francis said...

coll: "Breaking it down"--Yes, and also what I'm trying to do with my writing.

chiefbiscuit: Too funny. Now I'm wondering where you found the other post. Maybe flylady is channeling us all...

deirdre said...

I'm back to say that when I started thinking about it I realized that I need a little help with getting organized again. My organization skills have gone haywire since I lost my sister, and while I'm giving myself lots of kindness and recognizing this as a face of grief, I really want my house to run well. Sometimes it helps to have someone point you in the right direction. So, thank you for reminding me to step back and start at the beginning. And my sink is really, really clean now. :)

Rob Gregory Browne said...

I'm going to rudely chime in here to remind you (as if you needed it) that in one week your baby will be in bookstores.

Crazy, isn't it?

tinker said...

So that's what I need to do to get organized! Thanks for the helpful hint :)

I remember looking at a Flylady book about a year ago, but procrastinated about buying it :-) Thanks for letting me know she has a website.

Patry Francis said...

deirdre: Sometimes just doing one simple thing is the greatest kindness we can give ourselves in the moment. Glad you're taking care of YOU.

rob: Can you believe it?!? And that makes yours exactly 12 days away! I'm already so excited I can't think.

tinker: I never want to deny an author a sale, but I think the Website is really all you need.

chiefbiscuit said...

The link to the flylady entry is from my dear blogger friend Camille's blog here

Patry Francis said...

chiefbiscuit: Thanks for the link. I loved Camille's blog!

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Janelle said...

I did one thing today, actually sat down to nurse my cold and read a magazine. Which led to my reading book reviews. Which led to my noting your book. Which led me to google your blog and review at Amazon, and then, tada(!) eagerly await your book! "One thing" does work. Your book sounds fantastic. Thanks!

Patry Francis said...

Janelle: I'm sorry you have a cold, but I'm so glad that nursing it led you here--and to my book! Thank you so much for your lovely words.

And please, if you read it, come back and tell me what you think!

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Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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