I got over my liberal guilt and got a housekeeper

Fancy Tricks
Photo by Tal Bright, used by Creative Commons license

Cleaning makes me angry. Organizing I love, but cleaning makes me angry in a uniquely unpleasant way: I turn into a seething, resentful bitch. No one is exempt from my hatred while cleaning…

"Fucking Andreas," I mutter in my head. "Always putting the sponge on the wrong side of the sink. Always leaving his dirty wine glasses in the living room. Never cleaning the toilet. Fucking stupid husband." Then I move onto the baby. "Stupid Tavi," I mutter to myself. "Scattering toys and kitchen utensiles and shoes and clothes everywhere. Stupid, stupid baby." Even the dog is not excempt. "God damn Sassafras," I growl. "She's practically hairless, and yet somehow she manages to shed on the couch. How is it even possible?"

When I run out of cohabitants to resent, then things get really ugly. "GODDAMN ME AND MY FUCKING CLUTTER!" I curse myself. "I hate it how I always leave my shoes in the middle of the floor. And these pink stains in the bath tub! I HATE THAT MY HAIR COLOR BLEEDS ALL OVER EVERYTHING! Stupid, Ariel. I HATE ME."

In other words, I suck at cleaning. It makes me hate everyone, myself included. I am desperately, unabashedly jealous of the people who get a therapeutic hit from cleaning. I get that from tidying and organizing, but not from cleaning. I hate scrubbing. I hate mopping. I hate cleaning the windows and deep cleaning the sink and getting under the couch with the broom.

In an effort to reduce the amount of rage in my life, I started thinking about having a housekeeper come help us clean twice a month. But, how could I justify it to myself?

I AGONIZED over the decision. What does it say about me as a person that I outsource my dirty work? What's wrong with me that I can't clean up my own fucking mess, and instead I pay someone to do it for me? I've read Nickel and Dimed — I know how poorly most housekeepers are paid, and I agree with many of author Barbara Ehrenreich's perspectives about poverty and class. I'm a good liberal for godsake! How could I possibly justify hiring someone to clean my house?

I thought I'd lucked out when I learned that a friend of a friend was a housekeeper. An aging raver, she was totally a member of my extended community. She worked independently, so I knew the money went straight toward supporting her and her teenaged daughter — not to an agency. That made me feel a little bit better about the decision to have a housekeeper. I hired the friend of a friend, and felt my cleaning rage diminish … even as my liberal guilt continued to fester.

"…At least I'm not hiring an undocumented immigrant or something," I said to a friend, still wringing my hands over the idea.

"Oh, I see how it is," he joked. "You feel ok about having a housekeeper because your housekeeper is white?"

He was kidding (and of course his logic was joke-logic: undocumented immigrants can be white, my very American housekeeper could have been non-white), but I was sent into a whole new wave of negative navel-gazing. In my attempt to "eat local" and keep my money within my community, was I denying a segment of the population access to that potential income? Thanks to language and cultural barriers, an immigrant (legal or not) might have greater difficulty finding a job than my born-in-America housekeeper. In my efforts to support my extended community, was I being a xenophobic classist? My guilt found new crevices to burrow into.

I tried to compensate for my angst by paying my housekeeper more than she asked, until she finally told me to stop it: when I gave her an extra $20, she felt like she had to clean for an extra hour. I slapped my forehead. FUCK! Liberal guilt is so stupid and insulting to everyone. I'm such an asshole!

Ultimately, I realized that all my ill-informed agonizing over economics and culture and race and immigration were misguided. Like any consumer, I needed to focus on my priorities and stop agonizing over the decision. After some soul searching, I decided my priorities were A) having a cleaner house so I can stop hating on my family and myself and B) developing a sense of trust and support with a member of my extended community. I'm not saying these will be anyone else's set of priorities — those are mine, and so that's how I made my decision.

When our first housekeeper changed careers, she referred us to another friend of a friend — a woman who divides her time between cleaning houses, nannying, and teaching kids yoga classes. Twice a month, she lets herself in and makes the home sparkle. I stopped agonizing over my guilt, and started just enjoying the fact that the $100 a month saves me hours of self-loathing and family rage.

This reduction in house cleaning rage has become so important to me that it's become a financial priority. When Dre was laid off from his corporate job in 2008, we kept our housekeeper. When I was then laid off from my corporate job in 2009, we made all sorts of shifts in our budget — but we STILL kept the housekeeper. I consider housekeeping my highest priority "splurge" — more important than eating out, shopping, travel. I work at home, meaning I spend a LOT of time in the space, so shifting my budget to ensure that space felt good became a priority. I not only gotten over the guilt … I got over it so much that I'd give up cocktails with friends to keep the housekeeper.

I've written in the past about being an intentional consumer, and how it all depends on your priorities. All I'm saying is that I realized $100 a month for vastly less rage, less resentment, and a way to support a member of my extended community is important enough that I overcame massive amounts of guilt and reconfigured my entire budget to make it happen.

Evidently, that's how much I hate cleaning.

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  1. Thanks so much for this article. I desperately want to employ somebody to clean my house once in a while, but I struggle with many of the same issues and concerns. It is nice to read that you found a way to balance your values and desires in this way. Gives me hope that I'll find a situation that makes me comfortable too!

    11 agree
  2. Great article. I also do not see a big deal with hiring a housekeeper as long as they are decently paid, especially if it is keeping you sane! ๐Ÿ™‚ Not everyone has the time or patience to clean up their house, so why not? It is also helping to keep small cleaning companies in business, as many are closing down with the economy being so bad.

    Also, to add to what you said about an immigrant finding it harder to find a job.. People will hire immigrants, but pay them waay below minimum wage and take great advantage of them BECAUSE of their illegal status.

    5 agree
  3. My mother-in-law is a housekeeper. She's also a counselor for addicted mothers. The housekeeping jobs help give her extra cash. While I probably wouldn't hire her (she is my mother-in-law after all) I wouldn't have a problem hiring someone else if our house and income were big enough to justify it.

    I think there is this idea out there that if you can't do it all you are less of a person. Of course that's not true. If you can find a way to make your life just a little bit easier, like hiring a housekeeper, then more power to you.

    5 agree
  4. When I go back to working full time after a year at stay-at-home-parenting, we're probably going to hire a housekeeper also so I, too, don't turn into resentful McBitchy Bitch. Here's the part I struggle with: I'm a trained Montessori preschool teacher and teaching children to clean up after themselves is REALLY IMPORTANT to me. I want my child to understand that he is responsible for his own messes. As he gets older, I will expect him to take on minor household chores and – to the extent that he is able – sweep and mop his own spills, put away his own clothes, etc. I remember back in my teacher training that the phrase "a Montessori classroom should never require a cleaner!" was hammered into us: the children should learn that it is THEY who are responsible for keeping their own environment clean. And the children learn by watching how we behave. How do I reconcile this with having someone come and magically sparkle-ize our home? Even if neither of us are ever home enough to keep up with it ourselves? Sigh.

    (And to be honest, we're both home enough to keep the house at a level that would keep my *spouse* happy – cluttered and dusty but not filthy. He just doesn't care about it as much as I do – but even that level stresses me out SO MUCH!)

    Clearly I've come down on the side of recognizing it's more important to me that I not be angry all the time about an untidy house, but that's still the aspect of guilt I have a hard time with personally. I don't want to teach my child the lesson that if you have enough money, you can buy away your chores, but I also don't want to handle living in a messy home. I welcome suggestions on how to explain this to my kid if he starts asking questions about it.

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    • I hear you! My advice in regard to explaining to the kidlet: sometimes, it makes more sense to get someone to help you than it does to try to do everything by yourself, because you run out of time. For example: you *can* learn to change your own oil, rotate your own tires, make your own clothes, cook something from scratch every single night … but because that would probably necessitate giving up sleep, it makes sense to 'hire out' or obtain assistance with the things that end up eating up time in an unhealthy fashion.

      That was how I thought of it when I hired a housekeeper: I believe in keeping things somewhat tidy, but I *hate* doing the periodic dusting, vacuuming, etc. So, I figured I could either seethe and do a piss-poor job because I resented having to do it, or I could hire someone to do it and devote the time that I would have given to doing something I loathe to doing something more (to me) productive. With kids, I find that putting it in the context of needing help is what they understand. Particularly if you're still cleaning up after yourself and not leaving *everything* for the housekeeper/cleaner to do/put away. The basic gist of being responsible for your space will still get through.

      8 agree
      • That's a great way of looking at it! I will definitely use that explanation if and when it comes up.

        1 agrees
        • Yay I have something to contribute!

          I actually grew up with a housekeeper around. But it was made clear to me that she was there to CLEAN. Not to pick up after me. Not to do dishes. But to do the deep-cleaning jobs that can pile up over time. And, if she did have to pick up after me, she had the full right to put my stuff wherever she pleased- which meant if I wanted to know where my own stuff was, it had better be picked up before she got there. Especially since she had a wicked sense of humor. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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          • Me too! My mom was ill for a decent portion of my childhood (*shakes fist at lupus*) so I grew up with a housekeeper who came once a week or once every other week. If Martha cleaned my room, she put my things where she felt they belonged (I think I tried to have her not clean my room as a teenager for this reason, but I think my mom pulled the "It's my house too and it will be clean" argument :)). She was there to help my mom keep our house clean, not to pick up after me.

            Of course, I'm still messy and tend to leave things where they don't belong, but now it's MY house and I'm fully entitled to leave my crap around. ๐Ÿ˜›

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    • We don't have a housekeeper (can't afford it) but my friend has the housekeeper intentionally stay out of the kids rooms since she feels like her kids need to learn how to clean up after themselves. Maybe you could do something like that?

      • This is what my parents did with me. My room was Off Limits to the cleaners (except for the toilet/shower) if it wasn't picked up. If it was picked up, I got "rewarded" by the cleaners vacuuming/dusting. Since she knew that the toilet/shower scum and germs were being taken care of, my mom was content to let me live in my own teenagery filth (filth = never picking up my clothes/projects/stuff). I don't remember what the arrangement was when I was a little kid.

        4 agree
      • It is totally doable to have a housekeeper and still teach your children to do chores and be tidy!

        I grew up in a fairly well-to-do household with a housekeeper without becoming a spoilt brat, mainly because we had a sensible arrangement. Even though we had a housekeeper my siblings and I still had our normal, everyday household chores – loading the dishwasher, taking out the trash, etc. Our housekeeper's job was only cleaning, not tidying and de-cluttering etc., and my parents made a point about that – so they made me tidy up my room by myself every week before the housekeeper came in, so that she could sweep, vacuum, mop etc.; and she would not do it if I left my room untidy with clothes on the floor and junk everywhere, in that case I had to do all of it (tidying AND cleaning) myself immediately after the housekeeper left. I was a teenager, I had to do myself once or twice, I hated it and it taught me a lesson ๐Ÿ˜‰ Plus, after some quarreling we made an arrangement that she leave my desk untouched by all means, because that, at the time, was my sacred private space and I just could not stand the idea of someone rearranging my stuff for school and such, albeit with good intentions, so I had to dust it myself.

  5. So glad I'm not the only one who feels the housecleaning rage. I used to place the blame squarely on my mom for how I start to feel when I'm cleaning, since we'd get in all sorts of shouting matches about chores when I was younger and it set up a weird association of chores to self-worth… now I'm starting to realize that she was probably feeling it as well, and it's probably something that's just a part of our personality. I mean, I've tried everything- upbeat music, only cleaning a bit at a time, highly regimented organization, and nothing makes me enjoy it any more. Oddly enough though, I LOVE cleaning the grossest, grimiest spots to make them sparkle- it's the daily de-clutter that makes me crazy.

    13 agree
    • ACK. This comment!
      I never really thought about the association of self-worth and chores, but it's so true. I have such a negative feeling towards cleaning and I feel like I'm just letting the whole world fall apart and that I'm not appreciating the things I have and–that's all stuff my mom would grumble and shout while trying to con me into being helpful. Ack!

      10 agree
    • Yes!! Me too.
      I would desperately love a housekeeper, but our budget won't stretch that far, and I know I'd have the guilt thing too, paying other people to pick up my mess!

      That said, this article makes me really want to squeeze a house cleaner in somewhere!

  6. I always start with hating myself, which leads to a full day (or two) of feeling absolutely worthless and disgusting. It takes me a minute to get over the insults I manage to hurtle at myself when I'm cleaning, because it's no-holds-barred hatred, and there's no filter on the shit I say. DAMN YOU BRAIN AND YOUR ABILITY TO CRAFT A BITING INSULT!

    Anyway.

    My mom worked as a housekeeper when she was younger. She's one of those people that loves to clean. She LOVED her work and really appreciated the sort of work style that housekeeping offered. I really hope that's a reassurance to people out there considering a housekeeper. Most often, these are people who–like crafters, bloggers, yoga instructors and many others before them–are making at living doing something they genuinely love doing, something they have a skill for.
    And honestly. People hire other people to mow their lawns, clean their gutters, trim their hedges and take away their trash. What the bigs, yo?

    My mom didn't work through a service, but I know that there are some that are some really upstanding services out there. It's all about doing your research, like everything else. While you can be sure that the service company is skimming cash off the top of the fee you pay and certainly encouraging your housekeeper to rush along to the next client, they also often perform detailed background checks and have had their housekeepers under their employ for years. If you don't already know someone in the business, services can be a great resource. But DO YOUR RESEARCH. Ask for references on the service from former employees of the company if possible.

    2 agree
  7. Thanks for this! I used to feel very adamant about not hiring "help", but in reality we both deal with chronic pain and cleaning things like the shower will never not be painful for us. Our lack of cleaning drives us crazy and makes us resentful. I haven't been able to afford housecleaning, but I've told my husband a million times, "the second I get a full-time job we are getting a fucking housecleaner!!!" We will be sure to hire someone who is getting paid a fair wage directly from us, though.

    1 agrees
    • I also have chronic pain and my husband works full time as a custodian for the school district and I dont work, I do basic cleaning but the shower can't be scrubbed by me and I have difficulty vacuuming, sweeping and mopping (no cartilage in my knees makes taking a step backwards painful) so I will take my mom out for coffee or buy her a bottle of wine and she does the very basics in my kitchen (sweep, mop, tidy counters and put stuff away for me) I then scrub the counters and do the dishes cause I can do them sitting.
      I once in a while hire a 19 yr old male friend of ours who is great at scrubbing stuff to do the tub and shower, I pay him $10 for it and he usually has it sparkling off white and not pink (also hair dye) in about 30 mins, I also feed him…LOL.
      I sometimes pay Alex's sister to help dust or help me organize things though sometimes we just trade off on the "I make something yummy for dinner and buy her coffee a few times" plan since as far as organizing things go she LOVES doing it.
      Doing this piecemeal like that allows me to help friends who could use an extra $10-15 here and there and also lets me spend time with friends and family since I am always right there helping since I dont mind cleaning so much if I have help.

      2 agree
  8. Starting a corporate career, hiring a housekeeper for me means a) I'll spend more time with my husband b) I'll spend more time with my kids! That's a pretty decent trade of.

    • Yes. This.

      I have no firsthand experience, but my parents are doctors with crazy work schedules. My mum, who is rather indifferent to household chores, once said "I'd rather hire someone to do the cleaning and ironing before I hire someone to watch my children so that I have the time to do the cleaning and ironing."

      It worked for us. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      1 agrees
  9. Thank you for writing this article!! With my boyfriend working overseas, me in school full time and attempting to work 30+ hours a week outside of the house, there are many times when I debate getting a housekeeper. I never was able to justify it to myself; that's what rich, old, lazy people do, along with hiring illegal immigrant gardeners and pool boys so that they can "work the system". Others are in my situation and manage it. So what if I despise cleaning so much that I'd rather save the hardest, most time-consuming jobs until the two weeks before my boyfriend makes it home and then ignore schoolwork to desperately clean it all to a sparkling shine?

    No, a housekeeper can definitely be in my grasp. It can even be a good investment – a cleaner home makes me feel better physically, which makes me so much more productive! I'll have to put out my feelers for a housekeeper that doesn't work through a service… maybe I can find a friend of a friend also.

    • think about the jobs you can do easily on a regular basis, the 5 mins here and there stuff.. then write down the jobs that take longer or are truly hateful and figure out how often they NEED doing and see if you can hire someone to do just those jobs.

  10. My friend, who is 25, started her own housecleaning company fresh out of college and how employs five different teams of people because she has so much business. It's incredible and inspiring. It made me realize that tot only does hiring a cleaner help your sanity, it provides a living to others in your community.

    1 agrees
  11. I use a housing cleaning service that uses eco-friendly, non-toxic cleaning products and is a women's co-operative – so the women cleaning my house actually have a stake in the ownership of the company. http://www.emmasecoclean.com/ There are women's co-op's of house cleaners throughout the SF Bay Area.

    It definitely made hiring house cleaners a guilt-free decision for me, and like Ariel, I could not live w/o this help!

    4 agree
    • Late to the comment party but OMG thank you for this link! We're in Silicon Valley and Emma's sounds awesome!

  12. Holy shit, A. I just wanted to stop in and say this piece is epically awesome. I'm going to share it with Sean, who does most of our cleaning and hates it (he also gets a kind of high from tidying and organizing, but not cleaning).

  13. As a person who used to troll Craigslist for cleaning jobs for a living, I say as long as you treat your cleaning helpers like respectable human beings and pay them a decent amount people who hire help have nothing to be ashamed of. I've worked for people who did neither, and it was loathesome and demeaning. But I've also worked for people who were stellar human beings, and I never felt resentful or put upon at all by them.

    4 agree
  14. On the other side this article is making me re-think getting a job as a cleaner, at least part-time until I find something better again.

    I don't mind cleaning and for ยฃ60 a month ($100 roughly converted) I'd happily clean someone else's house. The thing that always put me off is basically pride – I'd feel like anyone hiring me and anyone who knew what I did would think I was some failed drop-out incapable of doing anything else, so it's reassuring to know people don't think like that.

    1 agrees
  15. Ugh, cleaning. I would love to outsource parts of it to a housekeeper at some point in the future. And can I say Ariel, awesome prices. The prices in my area are definitely higher.

    The only thing that can gear me up to clean the bathroom is listening to something funny and interesting. I put on my iPod and blast my favorite snarky comedy news podcast: The Bugle. Thank you John and Andy for helping me get my house clean.

    http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-bugle-audio-newspaper/id265799883

    • Want to know what motivates me to clean my bathroom as good as I can, or at least the toilet, every freaking time?
      HOW CLEAN IS YOUR HOUSE? http://www.bbcamerica.com/content/100/index.jsp
      I find episodes of it on Youtube and watch even just 7-9 mins of an episode til they get to the bathroom and then I HAVE to scrub the loo… even with my arthritis I sit on the edge of the tub and scrub and scrub…lol
      Works every time, it is about the only show I really miss on cable (that and decorating/home improvement shows)

  16. I Lurrrve this article. I think it's also important to assert that there's a gender piece here too. If the house that me and my male partner share is unkempt, people who come over do not look to him, they look to me, as a woman.

    For some reason, culturally, having a clean home (and clean kiddoes, if you have them) is reflective of how successful you are as a person/spouse/parent or more accurately, as a woman/wife/mother. I think cleaning is stressful for women because there are social consequences and guilt for NOT cleaning.

    Certainly there are menfolk who feel stress about having a clean home, but I'm going to guess that most of the time, it falls to the woman. Considering that in heterosexual two-wage-earner households womenfolk still do 70%+ of the housework– I really, really like this idea.

    8 agree
    • Yes! I was just thinking upon reading this article that an underlying factor for many women may be that if the house isn't clean, there are social judgements that will be made against them. It sort of goes along with an earlier comment about how people outsource their gutter-cleaning and lawn-mowing…why not housecleaning? Maybe because housecleaning is stereotypically "women's work" and we're judged so specifically on it that to outsource it seems like saying "I fail at being a woman" psychologically/socially…which is total, total BS. (EDIT: and of course as soon as I scroll down, I see someone saying the exact same thing. LOL)

      You do what you gotta do in life to make your life work the way you want. If it involves a housekeeper, then it does.

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      • I didnt really think of it until you pointed it out, but that is so true!

        When people come over and the house is dirty I feel like I'm being judged as bad wife but that my husband wouldnt be judged in any way.

        Though, I only feel that way when WOMEN come to my house and its dirty. When MEN come to my house and its dirty it doesnt bother me, cos our guy friends really dont care.

        3 agree
        • Exactly. I have mostly guy friends, only a few key girlfriends, and I can't tell you the number of times the guys come over and give me blank stares when I apologize for a dirty house. They don't notice the dust bunnies or dishes in the sink…..

    • And the number of people who have said things to me like, "You're in a relationship with a woman? Ohhh, your house must be *so* clean…" make me bust up laughing.

      3 agree
  17. This reminds me of an article I read on Get Rich Slowly that changed my perspective on hiring people to clean one's house. The writer made the point that we outsource a lot of things that we could, at least theoretically, do ourselves — growing food, preparing food, cutting hair, watching/teaching our children, fixing cars, making and altering clothes, etc. Because we may not have the time, talent or patience for these tasks, we outsource them. And we think nothing of it. Cleaning gets the guilt though, perhaps partly because it's historically been considered "women's work."

    If it saves you time and sanity, and you give the person who cleans for you respect and a decent wage, then it's good for everyone.

    Article here — http://www.getrichslowly.org/blog/2010/02/19/how-i-made-my-peace-with-hiring-a-housekeeper/

    5 agree
    • I think the guilt might also come from the sterotype on TV and in movies that rich people have housekeepers and it's out of the reach of everyone else. It seems to be an unspoken rule that if a show wants to establish that a character is well off without making a big deal of it they put a housekeeper in the background.

      Fun fact: by contrast in 1910 or so families in England were classified as lower-middle class if they had less than 2 servants. It was pretty much expected that unless you yourself was a servant you'd employ one.

      3 agree
    • I don't know if he mentions it in this article or another one, but JD also pays his wife to do his laundry! He keeps her car full of gas in exchange and they're both happy with the arrangement. Awesome!

  18. Truly love this article because I feel the same way. My fiance has generally been grand about cleaning. I can't stand cleaning the toilet (which is all his buttsploding messes), the shower drain, and the dishes. The rest I can live with. But being in his last semester of school he suddenly stopped doing all of the above. I actually threw up over trying to do them myself. I feel so ashamed!

    But there is no way we can budget a house cleaner. My mother has offered, but it's her excuse to snoop and help by telling me we're useless children. FML.

    Every day I wake up saying I will just suck it up and do it. Kindah hard when I have the reaction of puking 5 minutes in.

    1 agrees
    • The shower drain often makes me gag as well. We both have long curly hair and it has to be periodically pulled out in a disgusting, matted mass. I've found that having cold water running into the drain while I do it helps a LOT. This also helps if you let your dishes sit too long and end up with mold on any of them. The water not only creates a psychological sense of cleanliness, but also suppresses spores and smells getting into the air.

      That said, obviously the real trick is to never let it get that bad to begin with. Buy bleach tablets for your toilet basins to keep them cleaner between scrubbings, check the drain for hair even when it seems to be draining fine, and always rinse off dishes (I really suck at that last one). It's natural to want to avoid doing the super gross task, but the less frequently you do it, the grosser it will be.

  19. I have a housekeeper, she's been working for my family since I was in grade school. When my parents moved to different states, she was out of a job after twenty + years of working for them. And I found myself so depressed. Even though I had moved out of my folks house, I still got to see her every time I came to visit. But with Elsa out of our lives, I felt a big hole in my heart. Then I realized, there's no reason she can't work for me! I'm a total slob, I hate cleaning, my husband and I fight about it all the time.

    So Elsa comes once a week to help me out. I pick her up and drop her off and actually cry when I say goodbye because I'm so thankful to still have her playing a motherly role in my life. And yet… I still feel SO awkward about it! I hate mentioning my housekeeper to people. SUCH liberal guilt.

    Anyway, I love this article and I love that I'm not the only one who feels this way.

    6 agree
  20. Wow…you are exactly like me! I've always hated cleaning (but love organizing), and I get really angry when I clean too (my boyfriend has learned to avoid me when I do it). Hiring a housekeeper has always been a dream of mine, but even more so now that I'm living with a messy guy. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  21. This article is exactly why I love Offbeat! I am the same way! I love organizing and I could spend all day re-arranging the kitchen shelves or sitting with a label maker, but I absolutely hate cleaning. And I live in a studio, so it wouldn't even take that long. I hate bending over in the tub, and I hate the smell of cleaning products, and I mostly just don't like getting dirty. I should just clean a little every day, but I hate it so much that I usually don't whip out the mop until it looks like I live with a bunch of frat boys. Or when my super comes to fix something. The good thing is that my husband likes cleaning. He actually likes to mop. And he hates organizing or things like filing paperwork and mail, which is why I find little piles of paper hidden all through the apt. I say if you can afford it and it's important to you, hire someone to clean.

  22. I grew up with a housekeeper coming in once a week. My parents taught me to clean up my ish by requiring that I clean up my messes the day they happened – dishes, spills, projects, etc. The housekeeper was just to tackle the things like the floors and windows. Also, the housekeeper always told me that she really enjoyed the job. It's just like any other service, but just as with anything else, it's really important that you treat the housekeeper as a person rather than just the "help". I worked in retail (who didn't) and the work wasn't that bad, as long as customers were respectful. That's how she felt about her job, from what she told me.

  23. I've been waiting for this article!

    Cleaning is still a sore point for me: a while ago I was in a fairly destructive relationship and even though I was studying full-time, I found myself responsible for 90% of the housework, and all of the cooking. It was exhausting and felt demeaning and I still have some residual issues with what happened.

    I moved back with my parents, I'm going to start work in a few months (I'm a doctor) and I will be moving to a different part of England. My mother gently suggested that if I'm working 40-56 hour weeks, it will probably be a good idea for me to get a housekeeper to come in a couple of times a month to keep everything ticking over, so that's what I'm going to do.

    1 agrees
  24. Oh, I'm not alone! My husband has been trying for years to understand my loathing of cleaning and how I feel while doing it. But his mom is one of those that gets a high from cleaning. Ariel, thank-you! This is exactly what I do-muttering and cussing under my breath.
    We recently went on a 9 day vacation and he hired someone to come in and clean while we were gone. We have two dogs and they make terrible messes in the spring. It was so wonderful. And it was a surprise too, which I love. I think he's starting to get it. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1 agrees
  25. This probably seems like a really stupid question, but having zero experience with cleaners I always kind of wonder:

    How do they know where to put everything?

    Far as I can tell there is no real rule for how stuff is organised in a house, every household has their own logic and surely they can't keep track of everyones different systems, can they?

    • Best as I can tell, my housekeeper's rule is "where I found it." (She doesn't do daily tidy stuff like putting away laundry or dishes — she's focused on scrubbing and deep cleaning.)

      1 agrees
    • LOL when I paid some friends to come over and really help me organize my kitchen and my pantry I put post-it notes on things to let them know where things went, then forgot to take them down.. that was 7 months ago and I only just got the last of them off the cupboard doors, which shows you how lousy I am at some kinds of cleaning.

      3 agree
    • Oh but that's part of the fun! Our old house keeper in a shared house would do all the pillow blankets and pillows differently every time. We loved the surprise!

  26. I am possibly the WORST housekeeper in the world. Combine a total hate of cleaning with expert procrastination skills, and you have me. Right now I there are about 7 or 8 loads of washing that need doing, a sink full of dishes and a layer of dust over the whole house. The only thing I can say for myself is that the lounge room is relatively tidy. My husband does 60-70% of the housework, and gets very frustrated that I don't automatically think to clean. I just see other things as more important. Like, say, reading offbeat home. Oh dear! I might have to investigate a house cleaner.

    1 agrees
  27. Thanks for this post! I totally have "liberal guilt" over having a cleaning service as well. I generally don't even talk about it unless I know the person hires out their cleaning as well. I soothed my guilt by going with a small locally-owned company with a handful of employees. They take care of all the taxes and insurance AND they use home made and environmentally friendly cleaners (mostly vinegar solution).

  28. We dont have a lot of money, in fact I am disabled and Alex works as a custodian for the schools and we just got married so my own income is going to drop seriously (a couple of $100 a month) because of it.
    we have discussed where we can cut back and we agreed that the one thing we CAN NOT cut back on is paying his younger sister $30 a month to do our laundry. She is a neat freak and does her schooling on line and they have a washing machine, she also has no other income and that covers her cigs and a coffee or two. She enjoys doing laundry for some odd reason and even folds everything up just right, something I can never seem to do.
    We did the math and if we used the laundry mat and I did the work which is hard for me since I have horrible knees and a hard time standing for long, it would cost us a minimum of $20 to $25. On top of the money we give her we supply the soap/softener and I give her rides places and help her run errands.
    We wish we could pay her more but she basically does 2 to 3 loads a week which she herself points out is about 20 mins a load and she says $30 is enough so I will take her word for it. She also finds it funny to tell people she is our laundry lady.

  29. This is such a cultural thing. In some places, it's actually considered really selfish if you DON'T have a housekeeper sort of person but could afford one.

    By hiring a housekeeper, you're providing an income to someone, and there is absolutely no shame in that. My mother worked as a housekeeper through college. When I was in high school, we had one ourselves. It's a job like any other job (better than a lot of jobs. Fast food industry, anyone?). Some people genuinely enjoy it, and you can actually make a good living doing it. Also, it's pretty much impossible to work full time and keep a house clean, so why not provide someone else with an income and have a clean house? Spread the money!

    It's funny, I don't think many men would feel guilty about having a housekeeper, because they're not expected in this culture to clean house anyway. I think a lot of the guilt comes from the fact that women are "supposed" to keep the house all sparkly and since a lot of women work, they're not able to, and therefore feel guilty about not living up to cultural expectations. Even if those cultural expectations are bull.

    2 agree
    • I feel super intensely guilty about hiring a maid because my grandmother worked as one, and her mother worked as one, and her mother worked as one – back when nice black ladies didn't have other options and weren't treated very well. It makes me worry I subconsciously think I'm better than or above my Nana ("I'm too good to clean a toilet, but she wasn't") even though I don't think I think that way; I don't like that feeling. And so I keep resisting manfriend's constant begging for a maid. But fuck if our house isn't filthy.

      1 agrees
  30. My grandfather moved next door when I was four, and he hired a cleaning lady. I would always go down to visit when Bonnie was there, often with my best friend, and she would always talk with us and laugh and never seemed annoyed to have kids around when she was working. I have such fond memories of her. When my grandfather died, my mother called her and offered to let her clean our house for a while until she found other work. It turned out someone had seen the obituary in the paper and already hired her! Good cleaners are worth their weight in gold.

  31. I found this article really interesting. Although, it makes me feel like I definitely do not clean enough. I pick up messes, vacuum , and do dishes. I wasn't aware there were more things to do. Seriously! My home must be filthy. I guess I'm lucky that me and my husband are okay with that : )

  32. My mom 'owns her own housecleaning business' (the line I grew up saying) with a staff of herself, but it's served her well for many years. She has a handful of clients that she's worked with for 15-20 years, and several of them give her vacation pay, which I've always thought was awesome. Being a house cleaner is one of those jobs where if you don't work you don't get paid, so that little extra means a lot to her!

    • If you work fast, charge by the job/house, and charge just enough to make the client pause briefly before accepting, you can make a LOT of money (I was making $35/hr) cleaning houses, after the first visit (it takes longer, gotta learn where things are, and how the equipment works, etc). It's a workout that left me breathing hard on the way out.

      1 agrees
  33. I've been a housekeeper, hired a housekeeper, and many shades of in-between in my colorful work-history. Most recently my partner and I were living in southeast asia and hired a local woman who we knew would be in financial difficulty without working for us. We looked out for her, and she was professional and took pride in her work, but I still never got over the liberal guilt. In the end, I just decided to be grateful to the universe for letting me have a time when I could hire someone to clean — now we're housekeeper free and I miss her intensely! But I don't think its bad to have a housekeeper for times in your life, as long as you retain the mindfulness of how lucky you are…

  34. More thanks for this article!

    I've been trying to talk myself into getting a housekeeper for years. I always talk myself out of it. My husband and I both work from home, and what this means is:

    [a] We feel like we should be able to keep the house clean on our own because we're HERE all the time…

    [b] …but we're here all the time because we're always busy working. Which means we never have much time for cleaning.

    My husband is an AMAZING organizer, but his talents are mostly wasted, because he spends all that time cleaning instead. Meanwhile I am naturally kind of a big fat SLOB and the only part I like in the cleaning process is decorating and prettifying.

    This article has definitely helped encourage me to take the plunge.

    Also–on the subject of "at least I'm not employing an illegal immigrant"…I just wanted to comment that my dad, as well as several members of my extended family, have employed the same woman to clean their homes for years. We are 99.9% sure that she and her family are illegals, but we figure it's none of our business. My family pays her a decent wage, and she does AMAZING work for it.

    The interesting thing is that my family are mostly dyed-in-the-wool Republicans, and until she came into their lives, they had a lot of contempt for illegal immigrants…but I feel like that has softened a lot since they've had an opportunity to get to know her and see how their relationship with her has improved her life AND theirs.

  35. I lived in a big shared house until a year ago, and we had a cleaner who was a saint and would sing as she worked and was so smiley and lovely and even showed my housemate her nipple once (to show off her tan).

    Anyway, now it's just me and the boyfriend and our flat is TINY so I sort of feel like we should be able to handle it or we've failed a little bit.

    But recently I've thought about it more frequently it's a time vs money thing. Time is precious to us – I don't want to spend it cleaning! It's not that the cleaner's time isn't precious – but it's paid work so it's different.
    That's how I've got over my guilt. I totally could clean our flat. I just would rather give up some of my money to do it than some of my time.

    • This is the formula on which I base my life.

      Time it takes to hang laundry out to dry vs. money it costs to tumble dry it. I would rather have the time, my partner would rather have the money.

      Time it takes to make your own cushion covers vs. money it costs to buy them. I'd rather have the money, my partner would rather have the time.

      Everything's a trade off, unless you're a bazillionaire.

  36. When I moved out of my folks house I didn't have the luxury of a housekeeper (being in South Africa, growing up in a house with a housekeeper is a normal thing for any middle-income family).

    When I bought my own place a friend of mine moved in with me. I'm super tidy and she is…not. This caused some strife as I found myself doing all the housework.

    One day one of the cleaners at my work, Lindiwe, came to me and asked me she knew anybody who needed a housekeeper, as she was looking to get some extra income. I jumped at the opportunity!

    Lindi has changed my life (she's like my second mom) and saved my friendship with my flatmate. I'm glad that I am helping her and her family with the extra cash.

    1 agrees
  37. I am EXACTLY the same as you! I love to organise, tidying doesnt faze me, but omg having to clean turns me into the biggest bitch ever. I HATE cleaning with the utmost passion.

    I'm embarrassed to admit that our house doesnt get a proper cleans unless we're throwing a party, so our toilet/bathroom could potentially go 3-4 months between a scrub.

    Our decision not to get a cleaner in the past has less to do with liberal guilt and more to do with financial guilt. We dont make tonnes of money so couldnt really justify spending money on a cleaner instead of all the "good" things like putting on the mortgage or saving for rainy day. And really, its not like we couldnt find the time to clean if we gave up a few of our tv shows or playing games or surfing the net.

    But now we're having our first baby. Due any day now, we made the decision that it is worth getting a fortnightly cleaner for the first 6 months of our bub's life. Just to do the deep cleaning that makes us both angry when having to do.

    I'm sure the hardest part is when that 6 months is over! We might end up like you and decide having a cleaner is worth not getting a few takeaways or even working a couple extra hours per week.

  38. I am with you on the cleaning rage.

    I have actually thrown (and broken) plates at my significant other because I was in the midst if a cleaning rage and he had the appallingly bad taste to make a "get in the kitchen" joke.

    It doesn't help that he's a pig and has the genetic male-dirt-blindness affliction.

    Not that all the mess is his – I adopted 3 cats, and they probably make just as much of a mess as he does – and THEY don't pick up when I start to bitch.

    Unfortunately, I can't justify spending the money on a housekeeper. I just graduated from school and I am dirt poor due to a low income and student loans. Hopefully I will be able to afford something after I pay down some of my debt…but for now it's a lovely dream.

    (I totally love travel more than I hate cleaning. And when I get all ragey the significant other has adopted defense mechanisms that tend to make things magically get clean while I am asleep.)

    • >>It doesn't help that he's a pig and has the genetic male-dirt-blindness affliction.>>

      Trust me, that one's not carried on the Y chromosome.

      • My female housemate is by FAR the scummiest of the lot of us (2 girls, 2 boys). To the point where I actually want to retch just THINKING about the level of dirt she is comfortable living with. Both boys are lazy but nowhere near as insanely dirty as she is… Girls can be grotty too.

  39. Whew. Glad I'm not the only one! I mostly grew up with housekeepers, but I also grew up in fairly large homes. So it was hard for me to feel like it was justifiable to hire someone to clean our tiny (1,100 square feet, tops) house. But it has made me a much happier–and nicer–person.

  40. Here here! I totally hattttte cleaning (which makes my relationship with the mom in law just great since she's a neat freak from outerspace) and one day when I am no longer a starving artist I will encounter the same liberal guilt issue about hiring help….I know this since I am filled with liberal guilt about one thing or another every freaking day of my life.
    Anyway, when that particular day when the desire to hire and the ability to hire meet and make the baby that is my clean house, I'll think back on this article and feel empowered. word.

    • Ha! I get criticism from my partners Mother when a) she didn't bring him up to clean and b) she has a cleaner, a gardener AND her mother does her ironing.

  41. house cleaning is an AMAZING job. i have a ton of friends who do it. they can make their own hours, usually, the houses (& offices) aren't that dirty. you usually do it while they are gone so you don't have to deal w/ annoying co-workers. you can blast your own music. i have a friend who has her entire rent (including utilities & cable) paid by doing this ONCE A WEEK for about an hour. seriously. don't feel bad about giving someone a job. just b/c you don't wanna do it, doesn't mean they don't. many find it relaxing.

    • HA! Yes, once we have more moneys, the boy wants to get a Roomba. We have all hardwood/linoleum floors on the main level of our house.

      We also do not have an automatic dishwasher (can't afford one, have no room for one, and live in a rental, so couldn't get one anyway), but the boy does dishes (in exchange for me doing all the cooking). But sometimes I feel like he doesn't clean the dishes as well as I do. *sigh* Although he is much better at floors and putting away clean clothing than I am and I am much better about cleaning the bathroom (even though I detest it) and putting away dirty laundry than he is. Lol.

  42. I wanted to touch on your point about many people who are unable to get other jobs and work as a housekeeper. My parents have employed a wonderful woman and her family for over 20 years. She and my mom chat for almost as long as she cleans. We just love her!

    As she's, um, undocumented, she is limited in what she can do, but has put three kids through college on this work. However, the horror stories she tells about other clients would bring you to tears. They don't pay her her full wage, they'll have her stay late to clean up after parties and then refuse to pay her, they call her names and slurs. It breaks your heart. But since this is one of the few jobs that can support her family, she keeps showing up every day.

    So I can understand the liberal guilt, and I'm not sure if this is an entire justification, but if you can be polite, honest, and treat your housekeeper with respect, you're one more person providing much needed income without the horridness.

  43. Wow, such a great article! it puts things in perspective and I feel less alone…. I love organizing, hate cleaning (and worst ironing!). Comes probably from a very conflictual relationship with my mother and the fact that I had to clean, ironing etc whereas my brother didn't have to, amongst others things…
    With my first husband housekeeping was one of the hottest subject of fights. The deal was that I worked for paying my study and our living, he had to clean, but didn't so we fought. I propose to pay for a housekeeper, he didn't want to. Things went worse when I got a full time job after graduating and he was still a student. Didn't do the chores but still didn't want to hire a housekeeper, a total enigma for me…
    Of course I have liberal guilt, so much… And most of the time I tidy the house before the housekeeper come. Because yes, now I have one. How ?
    When I got my divorce I moved in a little flat but afterwards I got a bigger place, worked 80 hours a week and did not want to spend what remained of the week-end to clean. So I contacted an association helping immigrants to integrate by cleaning (I helped my housekeeper with the paper for the nationality of her children and she recently sent my a note saying a daughter got it!). I payed quite correctly (and more than I earned when I was working at the supermarket) and we had a great contact.
    Moving back to France with my second husband, we spoke together: he works full time, I work once a week abroad and at home the rest of the time. THose who works at home know how hard it is to structure their time: there's always something else to do than work…. So we hired someone. And it is great. And yes we are liberal guilty but do not fight over the cleaning. Everything is organized with the insurances and taxes so she is fully covered. I think it is a win-win situation for everybody in your case….

    1 agrees
  44. OHMY I want a housekeeper so bad! Just a couple times a month. (Since my ocd mother-in-law can't visit that often..darn!)

  45. My mom is a house cleaner, she just barely speaks English, and is totally legal. She's been doing it for 25 years now. When I was growing up, she'd take me along in the summertime (and when I was older, while I was laid off) to help her clean. It was humbling cleaning someone else's mess…and also helped me realize that when my husband and I can afford it, we'll probably get a house cleaner too.

    From my personal experience, I think that #1 priority after hiring your housekeeper is to be respectful! Not just in words, but also in actions, and how you keep your house for when the cleaner comes in. My mom does dishes and laundry, but she can't always wash everything. Your cleaner may have a second house to clean, then a child to pick up from day care, so don't expect her to do 3 loads of laundry, 2 loads of dishes, and get out of there on time. At the very least, try to get your dirty clothes in one central location (and watch your non-washables!) If my mom finds clothes lying on the ground, she's going to wash them…even if it's the $300 wool pants that absolutely cannot go in the machine.

    One of the most disrespectful things that's ever happened to my mom was when one of her boss's son's pooped on the ground. He was almost 3 years old, ripped off his diaper, and pooped right in the middle of the kitchen. His mom left a note asking my mom to clean it up because she didn't have time to before she left the house…Yep, the client had time to write a note explaining what happened, but didn't pick up the poop. How awful!

    Anyway… don't feel bad about hiring a house cleaner. Just make sure you do a reference check and remember that you're helping give someone income. You don't feel bad about the dishwasher or busboy at your favorite restaurant, right? Or the custodian at your kid's school? Your housekeeper is doing the same thing, just at your house!

  46. Many have already pointed out how important it is to pay well (presumably a wage that, if paid for 40 hours a week, would enable a healthy life, health insurance, etc.) In addition, I would add that we should think carefully about the conditions of work: can we provide our cleaners with less toxic chemicals and cleaners (the effect on the person doing the cleaning is likely much more intense than on the person living in the space)? Do we make sure that the environment is as pleasant as possible for such work? (Whatever that might mean for the housecleaner: music, quiet, access to water and beverages, etc).

  47. I've struggled with paying a good friend of my fiancee's to clean our house. He doesn't have a problem – she needs the money and has offered before, and we've come up with what we feel is a generous offer to clean our overly large living space – $75 for the kitchen, living room, dining room, den, master bed/bath/dressing area, guest bath, small hall, laundry room and vacuuming the stairs. My "guilt" (for lack of a better word) is stemming from the fact that I don't want to treat our friend like domestic help, and I certainly don't want to damage our friendship by this, but she does need the money and we are able to help her without giving charity…..does anyone have opinions about this????

  48. I live in a two-bedroom apartment, and I finally realized that I can clean any room to my standards in 20 minutes or less. So, if I actually do it, I can clean one room a day, and have a clean-enough-for-me house. Once I knew that, I let go of my desire to hire a housekeeper – but I still use a drop-off/pick-up service for my laundry. They wash, dry, fold, and put the clothes on hangers for $1 per pound. They even wash my stuff in no-perfume-or-dyes detergent, because everything else makes me itch. It costs me about $30-40 ever two or three weeks, and is COMPLETELY worth it. I sacrifice other things in my budget before I give that up.

    1 agrees
  49. I also used to do the "15 minute cleaning" approach which seems to work well for me when I lived in my 1br apt. I would clean for 15 minutes after coming home from work and walking the dog. Simply, I would start cleaning something and once 15 minutes have passed, I will either be engrossed in my task and finish it and perhaps continue to something else, or stop because I've completed my 15 minutes. However, the new 3000 sf house can be so intimidating, it's easier to just keep it neat and ignore the dust sometimes! As for sending the laundry out, I have an aversion to strangers messing with my underwear, and also, clothes tend to wash themselves while you're doing something else.

  50. Libreal minded logic astounds me. How could employing a american worker(notice I don't mention ethnicity) could be a bad thing?

    1 agrees
  51. we finally sucked it up and hired a service. They gave us a quote and told us it would include things like "cleaning the blinds". Then 3 people armed with swiffer dusters descended on the house. There are blinds in front of the kitchen sink that need cleaning more than a dustcloth can provide, but "Oh, I'm sorry, that's not included in what we do". So in addition to having paid someone a truckload of $$$ to be an hour late for 6 manhours (womanhours?) of work that wasn't that big of an impression…this is why I would rather clean myself, but I hate it, and I hate losing half of my weekend doing it. I guess I best get back to the 15 minutes thing…explode that into an hour cleaning thing with the new house. Oh well, lesson learned.

  52. I felt a little weird about hiring a cleaner at first, mostly because I felt it was embarrassing. However, consider the current economy – if you can afford to pay someone to clean for you – that can be a HUGE benefit to somebody who really needs the money. I met my cleaner by random chance through a craigs-list sale, but she is a neat-freak and a single mom and she is so grateful that we hired her because it helps supplement her horrible wage.

    1 agrees
  53. This post may be futile because the story is three years old but I have to share how this article helped me get over my own "voice of Mom in my head" guilt and hire a cleaning service for our small house.

    I no longer feel that everything in my life is a mess because I look around my space and enjoy our stuff instead of curse it.

    The best part is that I am not besieged with martyrdom. If I *had* spent the 12 hours cleaning, I would not be able to fully enjoy it because my partner would never be able to meet my need of expressed appreciation. But I didn't do the cleaning, so the house can longer be a scorecard in our relationship.

  54. In several non-Western countries, it's considered extremely bad form NOT to have a housekeeper and gardener if you can afford to have one – you could be providing someone with work, but you're not, because your money is more important to you than helping your community. As soon as your income allows you to either either, or both, you're expected to – otherwise you'll be thought of as miserly.

    2 agree
  55. We don't have a cleaner, but recently we bought a Roomba and it's improved my cleaning habits and relationship with cleaning x1000.

    Before we bought it, it was super easy to just let everything pile up until it all turned into a full weekend of cleaning to deal with it. In order for the Roomba to run, the place needs to be relatively tidy – nothing on the floor, etc – and that has forced us to do small tidying/cleaning more regularly rather than big weekend cleaning.

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