Straighten Up and Fly Right!

As you read, are you wearing your shoes? Is your sink shiny? Can you walk through your living room without tripping over clutter? Would a knock on your door cause you to die of embarrassment?

In her classic book, “Sink Reflections” (Bantam, 2002), author Marla Cilley remembers the days when she slouched around in bare feet and uncombed hair. She can remember not being able to find a clean dish. She often refused to open her front door because of the mess inside. But those days are over. Marla did it. She conquered CHAOS, which is her clever acronym for Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome.

In this entertaining and laugh-out-loud guide, Marla teaches you how to look at home maintenance in a new light.

Known nationally as The FlyLady, Marla takes you one baby step at a time from disorder to order in your home.

The first few chapters introduce you to the devastating effects that clutter has on you and your family. Marla compares clutter to cholesterol in our arteries. Clutter clogs up our homes, adds stress, decreases joy and wastes time and money. She’s right. After we’re convinced that all that clutter is killing us, chapter 3 begins the nuts and bolts of getting rid of it. Here’s where we need to be ruthless.

Most of us save stuff because of sentimental or economic value. Marla challenges that in a convincing way: Get rid of all that stuff. Marla reminds us that it is impossible to organize clutter. Amen.

Marla is a true believer in lists and index cards. Borrowing from the classic “Sidetracked Home Executives” cleaning system, she has incorporated it into her book.

Marla recommends that before you try her cleaning system, throw out the piles of magazines, cute kids’ artwork from 20 years ago, clothing you’ll never fit into again, weird kitchen gadgets and VHS tapes.

On her fun website (, Marla even asks readers to weigh every bag of stuff they pitch and post it on her site to see how many tons they’re getting rid of. (And don’t forget to write down and appraise your donated items for the potential tax benefits.)

The beauty of the FlyLady’s system is that you start small. After you’ve torn into your clutter like a school of piranhas, the actual cleaning can begin.

On the first day, there is a list for you to follow. It’s pretty simple. Get completely dressed, including hair and makeup, then go shine your sink. Her directions for an eye-popping sink are found on page 97. I tried it. It was dazzling. There are chapters to help us do laundry efficiently, get the family involved in cleaning, conquer paperwork and even go on vacation.

Marla lays out a plan for each room, or “zone,” in one’s house. It works. But she reminds us not to expect perfection overnight. This is a little-by-little process. And this is a book you need to read. I cannot recommend it highly enough for its wit, wisdom and ability to change a life, home and family.

By following Marla’s detailed plan, we can stay on track, “work” our lists, refuse to let clutter take over, and transform our homes into neat, efficient and warm havens. What could be better than that?

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Mary Hunt

Mary invites you to visit her at, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at, "Ask Mary." Tips can be submitted at . This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."

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