I am the least naturally organized person I know.
It's not pretty. My mom was one of those innately tidy and organized people, and my whole childhood was spent with her frustrated at the mess and chaos that just seemed to follow me around. As a child, my messy room resulted in countless punishments and groundings. I did try to keep things clean and orderly; I just couldn't seem to establish a system or routine or strategy that could be maintained.
After I left home and became an adult, with an entire home to manage, the problems only worsened. My ex-husband was also tidy by nature, and he would just shake his head at the state of things when he'd come back to California after months away at sea. Even with a marathon pre-homecoming cleaning sessions, the underlying lack of order was still apparent -- and biding its time 'til my hypervigilance fell off a bit. Which it always did. To say this was a point of contention in our marriage is an understatement.
At some point a couple of years ago, desperate and sick of living with clutter and mess, I Googled "home organization" -- and stumbled on FlyLady, "your personal online coach to help you gain control of your house and home." I was intrigued. "Do you suffer from CHAOS (Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome)?" the site asked. I did indeed. "Do you feel overwhelmed, overextended and overdrawn? Hopeless and you don't know where to start?" Yes, yes, and again yes. They certainly had my attention.
In short, FlyLady teaches you, step by step, how to declutter, clean and maintain an organized, comfortable home. It all starts (and this seems silly, but I'm here to tell you, it works) with cleaning and shining your kitchen sink. After you're able to maintain this, you move on to other tasks -- starting with baby steps you tackle cleaning in one of five zones of your house on a monthly basis, establish routines for your day, and spend 15 minutes a day decluttering. The system stresses routine and consistency, taking small steps vs. being paralyzed by the mess, and acknowledging that it took time to create the chaos, so it'll take some time to undo it.
When first I started following FlyLady, I was so ready to make a change in the way my home looked and was kept that I didn't care how silly some of it seemed. And even if I had, there were message boards tied to her site full of men and women whose homes had been transformed by the routines and who were ready in a cyber-second to encourage, offer support or make sure you were following the rules. The site sends emails sent throughout the day to keep you on track and gently remind of the day's goals.
I have to admit there are a couple of areas where I am a bit of a FlyLady scofflaw. I don't get "dressed to the shoes" as she recommends every morning before I head downstairs, for example, because I have a dog with a 13-plus-year-old bladder who needs to pee first thing in the morning and a cat who shouts at me from the minute I get up until I feed him. I also still have a junk room and some scary closets and drawers that I am working my way through without a great deal of enthusiasm.
But slowly, steadily, I have learned how to maintain a home -- a home that's comfortable, welcoming and ready for company at a moment's notice without a panicked scramble to hide things in the oven or toss clutter into a closet. I still get the emails and read them every morning. And despite the corniness and seeming oversimplicity of her strategies, my home (and my ability to maintain it) is a testimonial of how well the FlyLady system works.