Today the sink … tomorrow the world

Upon seeing the state of my home, my mother used to apologize to me for having been such a bad parent. The twice-yearly household recycling trips required a half-day of labor and a pickup truck. I was threatened with jail time once for being oblivious of a lost (and thus unpaid) car-insurance bill. Boxes from when I moved to Asheville 12 years ago were yet to be unpacked, and clothes that I hadn’t worn since high school were taking up coveted closet space.

Then I saw an article about the FlyLady’s system.

Surprisingly, her key concepts — dividing chores into incremental, nonthreatening steps, and turning housework into an entertaining hobby/routine (rather than an endless succession of guilt-driven, hopeless, never-ending torture sessions) — have actually worked for me.

Our house has been tidy and peaceful for nearly three months now, the checkbook is balanced, and squabbles about whose turn it is to do the dishes have ceased. And as I’ve become increasingly enthusiastic, my spouse now wants in on the action. Both of us are happily taking part in cleaning fests: It’s the new household pastime. Jettisoning junk has also spawned such a repulsion for accumulating useless stuff that we’re saving a good deal of money.

Part of the reason this system works is that the FlyLady offers herself as a surrogate parent; a mix of kind, supportive, stern and strict. She offers simple instructions for retraining the organizationally challenged child within and helping her to focus on the chore at hand. The system has lots of self-perpetuating positive feedback built in, so a chore doesn’t feel like a chore. Instead, it becomes an opportunity to earn a conceptual cookie; thus we learn to trick our compulsive selves into healthier habits.

Having the house (and, consequently, my life) under some kind of control is more empowering than I’d anticipated. Being relieved of the burden of guilt for a thousand tiny failures every day (“Hey, goofy, your socks don’t match”) is profound. Always having a project to be involved in is great fun, and when my partner joins in it’s even better.

There are limits, of course; overcoming culturally induced confusion and ambivalence about gender roles remains a lifelong struggle. But while the FlyLady program may not do it all, it will help you clear those unlabeled science projects out of your refrigerator.

And then, undaunted, you can sally forth to conquer the world — backed by matching socks and a positively sparkling kitchen sink.

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