On the home front, Flylady Marla Cilley wages an ongoing campaign to organize and declutter. Because of it, she's flying high. And like a modern-day Peter Pan, she teaches others to fly too. Instead of pixie dust, she relies on Flylady.net, a website she created to help even the messiest among us declutter our homes and our lives. According to Cilley, once you get rid of stuff and get organized, that's when you begin to FLY - Finally Love Yourself.
Although Cilley FLYs every day, today she's really flying. She's in the midst of a 9-day cross-country jaunt that earlier put her onstage with Utah Senator Orrin Hatch in front of 2,000 women. Two days ago she arrived in Denver for her first face-to-face meeting with personal trainer Jonathan Roche who's coached her through interval training while she's been on the road.
Believe it or not, he's done it all via email.
But that's nothing new to Cilley. The online world is her bread and butter. Eight years ago, when this North Carolina woman launched FlyLady.net, she had no idea she'd eventually be the owner of the largest Yahoo Group in the world; teach millions to get organized; or become both an Internet celebrity and a guardian angel for stressed women living in CHAOS (Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome).
On her website a handful of similarly memorable acronyms keep women buzzing about her down-to-earth style as she coaches, cajoles, and nudges readers to follow her unique but effective methods.
Taking Baby Steps
Her rationale is simple: You'll fail if you try to do everything at once. So she introduces BabySteps that anyone can take to achieve small successes, beginning with scouring and shining the kitchen sink.
Like a parent guiding a toddler trying to walk, she takes readers by the hand and shows them how to deal with clutter and disorganization step by step, room by room, minute by minute.
Using kitchen timers and concepts like the 27-Fling Boogie (find 27 things to throw away each day), she challenges her FlyBabies (newbies) to make cleaning and organization fun and rewarding. Those who register with FlyLady.net receive email reminders and words of encouragement to keep the momentum going.
In its eighth year online, FlyLady.net shows no signs of slowing down. And though Cilley has a FlyCrew to help her with day-to-day tasks, she's the one who notices an early morning email inquiry and answers it even though she's on the road. In other words, she's a true DIYer.
And whether you read her website, pick up her book Sink Reflections (the FlyLady way to get organized), or chat with her, she's always the same - unguarded, straightforward, and warm.
"That's who I am, and that's how I write," she admits with a laugh. Like a doctor sensitive to the needs of her patients, she gives the impression that she has all the time in the world and right now, you're what's important. "I struggle with the same things you do. That's what most people tell me when they meet me - that I am a real person."
A Real Character
It's a reality that allows her to be as anonymous - or as famous - as she wants. Her website is fronted by her FlyLady persona - a cartoon woman with dark hair cut in a neat pageboy, sparkling eyes, a smile that takes up half her face, and blue fairy godmother wings. One hand gestures in encouragement, the other holds a fishing pole. (The pole is a nod to the passion that gave Cilley her name - she's devoted to fly fishing.)
When she was introduced as Marla Cilley to Senator Orrin Hatch at his 23rd Annual Utah Women's Conference, he was nonplussed. But when he heard the name FlyLady, she recalls, "he threw his arms around me and gave me a hug." Later, after watching her work the crowd, like any skilled politician he had to know her secret. "He asked me, 'You can be onstage, laughing one minute and crying the next. How do you do it?' I never get nervous, but I do collapse afterwards."
Like Senator Hatch, others are drawn to FlyLady like, well...flies. Producers of a well-known talk show keep calling. They want her to come on the show, visit an unsuspecting viewer's messy home with a camera crew, and shame them into decluttering. But that's not who she is - she would never humiliate anyone that way. Her approach is to offer carrots and positive encouragement, not force results by using the stick.
She's also had conversations with an LA television production team about doing her own show.
At the same time, she was contacted by Jonathan Roche, who felt his exercise system was compatible with her own BabyStep techniques. After trying it out herself, she flew to Denver to meet him.
Cilley is drawn to his ideas because, like hers, they come from personal experience. "He began his business because he saw people coming into the gym in January who wouldn't be there in February. His message connects so well with my message."
On the Fly
Her message is a two-way conversation both personal and universal. On her website, stories and photos of FlyBaby gatherings (called FlyFests) fill up pages. She thrives on feedback and says she gets 10,000 thank you letters each week. The website and advice are free, but like any good entrepreneur, she has the FlyLady Shop where fans can buy everything from feather dusters and timers to T-shirts, water bottles, and home organizing kits.
Extended FamilyIf you judge success by how many people sign up, then Cilley is the Donald Trump of online groups. Visitors who join her cyber-family on Yahoo Groups receive emails full of tips and encouragement.
A recent gathering at Yahoo headquarters in Sunnyvale, CA, brought together the largest group owners of Yahoo's estimated 8 million groups. There, Cilley discovered she tops Yahoo groups with just over 450,000 members.
Power of Community
Her FlyLady network includes local groups that offer support and opportunities to socialize. FlyBabies help each other, all under the watchful eye of Cilley.
"I write each email as if I'm able to talk to each person," she says. "I believe I'm the first person to use the internet for behavior modification. That's the power of community at work."