I got over my liberal guilt and got a housekeeper

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Fancy Tricks

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.

Comments on I got over my liberal guilt and got a housekeeper

  1. 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.

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

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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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