Friday, December 31, 2010

Cleaning House (NOT a New Year's Metaphor, I Promise)

As the parenthetical subtitle says: this is NOT a New Year's post about metaphorical housecleaning. This is a post about real housecleaning as a single person, a woman, and an ostensibly upper-middle-class person.

This post was inspired by an offhand comment overheard in the coffee shop I'm currently sitting in: one of the baristas, as she went out to clean the condiment counter, noted that she'd "called the maid about doing it." This was by way of a funny: we, the comment said, are the ones who do the cleaning-up. Household help is something so utterly foreign as to be silly. The foreign-ness comes partly from being a 20-something working in a coffee shop, but also, I suspect, from being a person living in this particular neighborhood in this particular city. Since this is the city and the neighborhood I grew up in, I felt myself included in the unspoken "we."

I thought most people in my peer group were like me. And here in Puddletown, they are. But do you know what? The four academic women I am closest to in my department all have someone clean their houses** once every one to two weeks. Granted, one of them only has a housecleaner because her husband had one, and when she moved in with him, the housekeeper was already installed. But honestly, I was shocked. Because all of a sudden, the thing I thought was a joke had become normal. I found myself an "us" on the "them" side of the line (or the other way around, depending on your point of view).

Now, "Why do people have housekeepers?" is a question with many answers. "Why do professional women have housekeepers?" is one I can answer myself: Because they'd rather be doing something else, and no one else is going to do it for them. And I can certainly appreciate that on an intellectual level, and don't begrudge any woman the choice of what to do with her own hard-earned money. If my friend is using her money to buy her way out of scrubbing the toilet, I can totally get behind that.

So, at this point, the question is: "Why don't I, when other people do?" Here's what I've come up with -- admittedly off the top of my head while on the second cup of coffee:
  • I can't afford it.
  • Okay, so maybe I could, but I'd have to give up something else that I value more than paid domestic labor.
  • The Gender Thing: I have a hard time paying women in particular to do things that I've always successfully done for myself. This is why I only rarely get pedicures; the image of a woman more or less on her knees for me just to earn a lousy couple of bucks makes me want to scream with outrage.
  • The Class Thing: I feel like I'd be exploiting the people I came from. Yes, I'd be providing employment, and any work is good work in these times. And I could pay a real living wage and tip generously. Yet somehow, it just feels wrong.
  • The Race Thing: See both "class" and "gender" reasons, above. Since most "house help" in the Grit City area are immigrant women, all the above reasons apply here.
  • I rent 500 square feet. Really, doesn't hiring someone to clean a teeny-tiny space that I don't even own seem like overkill?
  • I'm the kind of person who takes perhaps unreasonable pride in doing for herself whenever possible. I can change my own bicycle tire; I can navigate my way solo around a foreign city's bus system; I can damn well sweep my own floors.
  • I can't live in disorder, clutter, or filth, but do I really need floors I could eat off of at any given moment? If my bathtub or kitchen floors are only really thoroughly cleaned every two to three weeks, will something bad happen? Does anyone really look at the baseboards? The answer to all three, I've concluded, is: Probably not.
So, I guess that's kind of it. For me, personally, it's a list compelling enough to ensure that I will keep on doing my own half-assed housecleaning. So come on over to Casa Notorious, help yourself to what's in the kitchen... and keep your line of sight well above the level of the baseboards, okay?

Happy New Year, everyone.

**For what it's worth: 1 full-sized house, 2 two-bedroom condos, 1 two-bedroom apartment; all are women living with their spouses, no children, and no pets. If that makes a difference.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, it's something I struggled with for a long while. For a few months, I had someone come in to clean up (I was running a lab, teaching 3 classes, finishing a dissertation, and doing a national job search), but once my circumstances changed, I started cleaning on my own. I didn't have as much of a problem w/ this particular person b/c it was a white dude whom I paid a fair wage. Still, if you are able-bodied and working fewer than 60 hrs/week, you should not be living in a place that you are unable to clean yourself.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Just for the record: I would not go so far as to say "should not," because everyone's priorities are different. It's an allocation of labor/resources thing, I think. But for me, there's a lot of very personal stuff mixed up in there.

And also for the record: even when I was a 21 year-old waitress, I paid someone to clean and starch my work whites.

squadratomagico said...

Happy New Year!

I have someone clean for me every other week. Honestly, if I lived alone I might very well do it myself, mainly because I am the kind of person who cleans as she goes. If I cook a meal, the kitchen looks pretty good at the end of the process, without needing a special cleaning afterward: spills get wiped, fallen things get picked up, dishes get cleaned, etc.

However my *ahem* other half is, frankly, a slob. It is mainly to keep up with his level of disorder that I pay someone else to clean. And quite frankly, I suspect the wage I pay is well above any other option my cleaner has -- particularly since I pay directly, rather than through a service that skims off the top.

Belle said...

I find myself nodding at your reasons, Notorious. Yeah, I own my house, but even then... I'm one of those people that would likely clean the house before the housekeeper came in. If I could get past all of those other issues you raise. Except the disorder bit - I am usually comfortable with prodigious piles of cat hair and dust. Disorder tolerance very high.

That said, I'd love to have a robotic vacuum and one of those litterbots for the cats. Because I can't get ahead of the cats.

Anonymous said...

We are on the verge of hiring one. But only if one of the handful of recommendations I've gathered pan out.

We would have done so sooner but it is very difficult to find someone great who is willing to do it around here, at any price.

We had the hardest time finding one when we were putting the place up for rent and had to have the place spotless, and by the end of her cleanings we were having to clean even more after her to undo the damage she'd done. She was great at first, but after a while it was a source of stress.

But the best thing about when our child was an infant was the way the mother's helpers watching him while we worked (no maternity leave, we alternated days on campus) would clean up the place while he napped. It was wonderful. Not quite worth having another baby for, but tempting.

I'm good with us doing most of the cooking. When we have to clean on top of cooking, cooking usually get short shrift because it makes extra cleaning. And we like cooking.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

We have said for years that when we are BOTH actually employed with salaries and living in the same place (so far, that's only been the case for about 3 years of our marriage, from around 2001-2004), we are going to hire someone to clean. I cannot WAIT. I get your list, but those reasons aren't compelling to me.

I think it's partly because my mom was a SAHM and I saw the time and effort she put into cleaning (and cooking and all the rest), so I think of it kind of as a job. (Part of) my mom's job was to clean and launder and do all the (inside) house upkeep. If I have a full time job outside the home, I'm not going to have the time to do the second job of cleaning as well - I have no desire to work two jobs! (There's also a gendered thing to this - I have a theory that when it comes to living space upkeep, men have traditionally tended to do the big periodic jobs that result in some specific thing and earn praise - painting, building, repairing, that kind of thing. While women get to do the never-ending drudgery of dishes, dusting, sweeping, etc. that's totally undervalued. My response is not to try to reclaim cleaning, it's to avoid it. Because I do find it intensely tedious.)

Also, you note that you've always successfully cleaned for yourself. I haven't been happy with the state of my living space since about 2004. I *don't* feel like I'm remotely successful at keeping my living space the way I'd like it to be AND doing everything else with my life that I want/need to. And while we don't have a lot of money, I do feel like we fall into the category of people who have more money than time, and I would rather put my time to other things than cleaning.

But I have also never felt the need to do for myself whenever possible. For instance, I don't care how my car works; that's what I pay a mechanic to know. I spend a lot of time learning a whole bunch of other stuff that the mechanic doesn't know. So I would be FINE with someone else cleaning my space.

(That said, I kind of get the renting-500-sq.-ft. argument - we rent a just under 600 sq ft apartment and it does seem slightly ridiculous to have someone to come in to clean it. Although that's partly because we're so crammed into it that it's a cluttered mess and so I would feel awful for anyone trying to figure out how to get started cleaning it. Hence my passionate desire to move somewhere a bit bigger this summer, so we can be ORGANIZED, which will help keep things clean. At the moment the problem is not even so much finding time to clean surfaces as it is having nowhere to put anything, so it's everywhere. Argh. I WISH we could have a cleaner now!)

Tree of Knowledge said...

I can't wait until Husband and I both have good paying jobs. I dream of having a housekeeper come in periodically and flying first class. That's all I really want, not to do the heavy cleaning and to have a modicum of space on a plane.

My mom hired a housekeeper to come in once a week when I was a kid and she was getting her business off the ground. She and my dad both worked overtime and my sister and I only saw them on the weekend (grandmother did the after after-school care care). If they hadn't hired a housekeeper, I would have never seen my parents during those years. I'm glad they did that.

I have no problem paying someone to do something I don't want to do as long as it's a living wage and we treat them as people not appliances. But cleaning someone else's mess is an intimate thing, which makes for a odd arrangement. Paying someone for intimate work feels weird because if you don't know them, then you want to draw a line, distance yourself so it feels less intimate, which is fairly objectifying.

Janice said...

When both Mike and I had full-time jobs, we hired cleaners to come in every other week and tackle those big jobs. It was great in some respects but a bit of a hassle to have to tidy everything up before they'd come through and do their cleaning frenzy.

Now Mike's on part-time work and we've reclaimed the cleaning work for our own. Fortunately, he does a goodly share of the housework and we're trying to teach the kids the basics, too, so it's not all on my shoulders. That said, I do enjoy deep-cleaning the bathrooms. There's something gratifying about seeing tangible results of my work (unlike a virtual folder of corrected essays).

Susan said...

I have someone come in every other week. Partly, it makes ME tidy things up, so that they can clean. I'm not very messy, but I end up with piles of letters, reading material, etc. that I don't necessarily deal with when I get home from work at 7 PM and have to prepare for the next day's class. I would say I'm clean, but not tidy. So it's partly for discipline.

thefrogprincess said...

I'd love to get a cleaner, although I totally understand all the race/class/gender issues. I don't get pedicures often (b/c of money and b/c it's a luxury) but when I do, I go out of my way to be as nice and as attentive as I can be. I also give a nice tip in cash to the woman who has worked on my feet, rather than on the receipt, just so that I'm as sure as I can be that she's receiving the money and that she knows I appreciate what she's done.

But back to the cleaner: I just had a conversation about this with my friend who's a stay-at-home mom. Her sister had negotiated a decent rate for a monthly clean and my friend's husband, who's one of my dearest friends, said no. I told my friend that at the end of the day, she did not choose to stay at home so that she could clean, she stayed at home so that she could spend valuable time with her children.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Short reply here, because I'm on the Puddletown airport's free wi-fi, and they're about to board my plain for Grit City, but:

While this is an admittedly unscientific sample, I'm really surprised that the results are so lopsided. Not saying that's good or bad, just odd to me. But perhaps that just goes back to the original post's thesis: apparently it's me who's the odd one here.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

And Tree of Knowledge, flying first-class is one "other half" luxury that I could really get behind, if I didn't have to think about money.

squadratomagico said...

Hmmmm... interesting difference, that: I would have to be seriously wealthy to pay the price for a business or first-class airplane ticket. That's something I just wouldn't spring for unless I was at the level where money was not an object for anything, any time. But I employ a cleaner without a second thought!

Bardiac said...

Like Susan, I like the fact that having someone come in and do the cleaning makes me much better about tidying up every other week.

I love that I have a house that's pretty much always presentable for guests or parties without extra work. And to me, it's worth the money.

But I totally recognize discomforts about class, race, labor, etc. I hesitated a lot about hiring someone at first, but I'm glad I did.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

Yeah, I'm with squadrato - I wouldn't consider flying first class unless I really was so wealthy I didn't know what to do with my money. Whereas a cleaner is probably actually going to happen someday. Which is funny, actually, because I get seriously claustrophobic if I'm in the middle seat on a plane these days. But first class still seems like a ridiculous extravagance to me (not knocking anyone who would opt for it! just that it wouldn't be worth it to me).

Historiann said...

This is a really interesting discussion of our personal and household boundaries and what we're comfortable with.

Class, race, and gender differences make for different toleration of intimacy with others. I once asked a contractor renovating my kitchen if it was rich who were crazier about renovations or middle-class people, and he said it was the people who didn't have a lot of money who were more anxious about having contractors around for a month or two at a time. Wealthy people are used to strangers or near-strangers having access to their houses--cleaners, delivery services, household staff, etc.--whereas middle-class people are sometimes very anxious about having others in their houses. They experience it as more of a boundary violation, and value their right to be left alone more. Wealthy people are usually people who are able to dictate the terms of strangers in their homes, whereas middle-class and poor people are more likely to have those boundaries violated by the state and/or against their will (by law enforcement, child protective services, etc.) or to have histories of these violations in their families.

Anonymous said...

I should clarify, so as not to appear smug or self-righteous. Ack, holiday brain!

By my last statement, I really only meant it as my own standards for myself/my household. I certainly understand and respect that others have different priorities that may not involve a need to take care of one's own space.

It is indeed a personal issue. I was well into my 20s before I could go to the dry cleaners without feeling weird. Definitely a vestige of my upbringing.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Late to the party, and I have to say I once did hire cleaners, for about three months. It just felt wrong, for all the reasons you cite. I'm not from the sort of people who have cleaning ladies (or whatever). I'm from the sort of people who *are* cleaning ladies (seriously, my grandmother cleaned other people's houses on and off, when the family needed money). I'm good with hiring people to do my heavy yard stuff, but it just bothers me to have anyone doing work that I think of as "what servants do." I suppose if I had enough money to pay someone really decent wages and benefits, I might feel better about it, or if I lived in a place where people in our social position were expected to have someone work in our homes (a colleague just returned from a Fulbright in such a country, and I can see how there, it might seem odd and even selfish not to employ someone).

But in general, it's not for me at a core level. I honestly don't are if my friends do it, although I admit having problems with some of my acquaintance who think of themselves as socialists but rely on immigrant cleaning women and even friends to keep their houses clean. But that's more about hypocrisy, I think.

Dr. Rural said...

There is nothing shameful about honest work, whether one is being a professor or cleaning houses. If I were a house-cleaner, I'm assuming that I would want people to hire me so that I could pay my bills.

In fact, I am an academic and I clean my own house, because my cleaning standards are low and I don't mind doing it. But if I wanted to hire someone to clean my house (assuming that I paid a decent wage), I would regard that as no more problematic than paying someone to fix my car or paint my house.

Dr. S said...

I have had a housekeeper this year for the first time ever, because the faculty member for whom I've been dog/house sitting has a woman come clean the house every Wednesday. It's weird! I go off to the office, and when I come home later in the day, everything's been cleaned and often rearranged, often in ways that don't make full sense to me. One of the nice things about the little part of the break I spent still in that house is that I actually got to spend some time with the housekeeper (cleaning out the vacuum's HEPA filter for her, among other things). I see myself, if I ever do have my own place, hiring someone to do the yard but doing the housekeeping myself. One thing, for me, is that I don't much mind having some degree of clutter around, and probably a little more dust and dirt than would be acceptable to a lot of people. It just doesn't matter enough to me to pay someone to make everything neat and tidy and super-clean every week.

What's also weird is that I have no problem doing a stellar job of housekeeping when that's my job when I'm on retreat at the monastery. I will get on my hands and knees and clean a toilet and then sponge a bathroom floor clean. But I don't love doing that shit in my own house. I was thinking about how kind of weird that is when I was there this past week. Ditto with dish-doing: I'll do someone else's dishes, not necessarily happily but certainly *readily*, but if given an opportunity, I will neglect my own. Go figure.

Happy new year, by the way!

Dr. S said...

As for first-class flying: on my first-ever visit to Puddletown this June, I flew first-class both ways because it was actually *cheaper* to cash my frequent flyer miles for a first-class ticket than to do so for a coach ticket on the same planes. WTF? Who knew. It was pretty nice, though weird, and if given the chance, I'd do it again, but not if I had to pay for it. It wasn't *that* much nicer. Mostly I liked being able to get settled in and get back to reading as quickly as possible.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Happy New Year, Dr. S!

I might be with you on the yardwork, but the possibility of me ever having a yard seems so remote that I've never thought about it.

I think First Class would be nifty for those long transatlantic flights. I especially covet the way the seats turn into little partitioned beds with half-walls.

Perpetua said...

My partner and I always cleaned our own apartment/house before we had children. We wouldn't have ever hired a service otherwise. We believe in living in a small space and don't mind cleaning generally (we also do it 50/50). I have this idea - perhaps delusional- that we'll go back once the kids are older. But right now the strain of working f/t and commuting and having small children makes housework not impossible but something we feel like we need to outsource ("need" here = makes our lives less stressful). I'm very aware of the class/race/gender issues involved in hiring a cleaner, and think it's an important thing to be aware of. But I don't feel weird about hiring someone to watch my kids and I don't feel weird about hiring someone to clean my house. (And I do not blur the lines - the childminder watches the children, and is never asked to fold the laundry.) I wonder if it doesn't feel weird-as-intimate to me because having "strangers" watch my kids all day (in an institutional setting or in the home) is so much more intimate. Like Dr. Rural, I think cleaning houses is valuable work for which I pay a fair wage. Part of the reason our society puts cleaning on as such a low-status job is that it is feminized work. To me it isn't any different from having someone change the oil in my car cook me a meal at a restaurant.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

I wonder if part of my objection is that I can't afford anything near what I think that labor is worth, even if I could afford what cleaners charge. Where I live, I could probably find someone to clean for about $8-10 an hour cash. But cleaning well, especially without using noxious products, isn't easy. Getting someone who is bonded is probably at the higher end of the range, but there aren't any payroll taxes involved when you pay cash. Paying a service means paying considerably more, but less cash goes to the worker. I reckon that, in order to give a cleaner something like $10 an hour after benefits, I'd be paying closer to $20 x 3 hours a week x 52 = $3120 per year. And that's based on the idea that a good cleaner you can trust with your valuables and pets should get paid at least as much as a decent barista...

Comrade Svilova said...

Is there something problematic with the idea that it makes more sense to pay someone to do traditional "male" work (yard work, contracting, house painting) than to hire a cleaner to do traditional "female" work? I ask because several people have said they would feel less problematic about hiring someone to do yard work, although (depending upon your area) that's as likely to have race and class issues. I know I can't imagine hiring a cleaner (small space, no kids, we share housework) but I'd love to be able to hire out some of the more "male" chores. I'd also feel less weird about hiring a house painter than hiring a cleaner. BUT.

As has been pointed out, the women who clean houses need the income. And it seems a real shame to pay a mechanic to look after our cars and pay yard workers, house painters, contractors, all traditionally male jobs, but draw the line at paying for a traditionally female job. Almost as if it is "less valuable" work, or "less skilled" etc etc.

I hope this doesn't sound judgmental. I'm just turning the ideas over and wondering.

squadratomagico said...

I think Comrade Svilova is on to something. I also would argue that part of the discomfort with paying someone else for "feminized" labor is the sense that we as women (and I think most of the commenters here are women), don't feel comfortable claiming the right to opt out of that particular realm of work. Paying men to do yard labor or painting or whatever feels more comfortable, because that's not "our" work; but when it comes to interior-domestic tasks, it can feel self-indulgent and classist and snooty and prissy to pay someone else to do... what? The work we were born to do? I don't buy it.
(And actually, I enjoy doing the painting and home-repair stuff myself, so go figure...)

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Just to be clear: I don't believe that I should do housework because it's "my" job as a woman. In fact, housecleaning is a twice-monthly job, and some of the harder chores get done with much less frequency.

But this extends to other tasks as well: I'm in the process of learning basic bike maintenance so I can do the regular stuff myself (major jobs still go to someone trained to do them). Likewise for basic home improvement (like squadrato, I enjoy painting, stepping back, and saying "I did that").

So why did I say I might hire someone to do yardwork? Because I have a pathological revulsion to creepy-crawlies. I will happily spend a couple hours mowing a lawn, raking leaves, or shoveling snow, but if there is planting or weeding to be done... Ew.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Hmmm ... I think that for me, the willingness to hire people to do yard work is more because it's often the sort of thing you can hire neighborhood kids (or students) to do. I actually *like* yard work, but I feel more comfortable paying someone to do it. Household repairs are all about levels of expertise/convenience. I can do some things, but I prefer to have plumbing/electrical stuff (except replacing faucets, toilet parts, etc.) done by professionals. But again, they make real money.

The more I think of it, the more I think it really has a lot to do with professionalization and class, with gender as a secondary but integral characteristic. There are people who would certainly clean my house for an amount I could probably scrape together, but it isn't a professional's wage, it's a getting by wage. And in that way, unless I were paying the same sort of decent living wages I pay to other professionals (and no, I don't think it should be the same wage, but if the handyman that lots of us hire charges $35 an hour for painting, etc., and $45 an hour for building/carpentry, then it seems to me that a good cleaner should be getting $15-$20), I see hiring a cleaner more as contributing to a system that doesn't value that labour, usually done by women, as less.

FrauTech said...

I'm currently paying a family member to clean our house because I was looking into paying a professional and she wanted the money. Actually, I'd rather pay a stranger to deal with my "filth" but so far it doesn't bother her and she wants the money. I think Dr. S is on to something with it being easier to do work in somebody else's house than your own, even my father has mentioned that when he's helped me around the house after we first moved in.

I get the race/class issues, but I think if you are comfortable paying someone to do your yardwork it is the same thing to me. As someone who both works and is in school married to a working spouse who cares more about cleanliness than me but is not willing to do the work having somebody else clean the kitchen has been an amazing release of stress. We're always home, but I can be doing homework or reading instead. My weekends are my free time and I'm generally too tired to clean on week nights. I hope once done with school I'll be able to pick it up again because I think this family member will eventually tire of the task and my spouse does not support hiring a "stranger" but I hate cleaning my own kitchen and it's such a relief in my life knowing someone else can do that one task for me. I just don't feel any more weird about it than I feel when I pay someone to cut my hair, pay a mechanic, or chat with the cashier at a nearby family owned restaurant. I'm privileged well more than most of these people but their business success is at least helped by me spending the money there. I think it's okay to recognize the divide without insisting we all don't hire out any work whatsoever.

undine said...

Interesting post and comments. I'm surprised that so many academics have hired people to clean. I've never had anyone because I've never been able to afford it and would just clean up ahead of time anyway. Anyway, basic cleaning is something that gets done around my house when I'm taking a break from writing (or spouse is--he has always done half the work), so it's not a big deal. When I'm washing the floor or whatever, though, I always wonder if other academics hire someone to do it, and your post goes a long way toward answering that.

flacius1551 said...

-I don't see why paying someone to clean your house, as long as you pay a fair rate and don't act like Scarlett O'Hara, is more exploitative than eating in a restaurant, and presumably most of us do plenty of that. Most restaurant workers do not get benefits, and many of them don't even get a net wage, but are in effect working for tips. People who take work in that setting are also disproportionately from particular social and demographic groups.

-When I was a kid and needed money I cleaned houses. I was happy to have the work at the time when there were no other options. I am happy not to be doing it now. But if I needed money I would do it again. The woman who cleans my apartment (600 sq feet) at the moment has five children at home and this job constitutes good work for her. This is someone who's employed by other people I know and we all pay the same rate. Presumably if she asked us for $5 more an hour, we'd pay that, too. While neither she nor we act outside of structural constraints on her labor, we are also not completely constrained by them, either.

flacius1551 said...

-Historically, the middle class had people come in to help them in most of the West and single men often lived in settings where someone else came to "do" for them. It's really only the advent of the "labor saving" technologies that made it possible for people like us to think about getting along without household help. My understanding is that historical research demonstrates that as those technologies developed, the standards of what constituted an acceptable level of "clean" also changed.

-Finally, given the hours I work during a week, I don't want to spend my nonexistent free time cleaning if I don't have to. As others note, we outsource all kinds of work for better or for worse with greater or lesser levels of satisfaction with the result. Should I stop buying vegetables and start growing all of my own and then canning them because farm workers are typically exploited in the U.S. and I live in a part of it with a short growing season? If I did all that, I wouldn't have time to earn my salary. To some extent I feel like the amount of my salary both allows and obliges me to outsource.

In the end it comes down to what you're comfortable with, but I don't see this is as solely an ethical question, as has been implied in some responses.

Anonymous said...

That's an interesting point about wages for the value of the work.

The going rate for (legal) housecleaning in town is $20-$25/hr... so more than our RAs make to do RA work.

Nanny work we can get a college student at $8-10 part-time, but a cleaning professional is a lot more than that.

So I would have a hard time feeling guilty.

Anonymous said...

Oh-so-late to the discussion, but when I lived in Puddletown I paid a woman who lived down the street to clean my house. I also bought tamales from her, and did some free emergency backup childcare a few times for her 8 and 5 year old children.

I struggled mightily with this at first, until it was pointed out to me that as the undocumented parent of two US citizen children, there was very little that she could do to support her kids that wouldn't jeopardize their family, and that my politics wouldn't buy their clothes or school supplies. She didn't want charity.

I did, though, call the hoity-toity cleaning service that's all the rage in the West Hills to ask their rates, and that's what I paid her. She told me later that most of her clients took advantage of her undocumented status to pay her what amounted to well less than minimum wage. That's just evil.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

I'm with those who think that cleaning is just a service like dry cleaning, restaurant service, raking leaves, etc., and so I have no problem paying someone to do it.

(And, honestly, the point that flacius1551 makes influences me too - it's only really recently, globally speaking, that people have come to be able to expect to clean their houses on their own, and I do think that with the advent of those "labor-saving devices" standards have changed. I remember a great story I read somewhere about the advent of electricity, too: when someone's grandmother - I want to say in Appalachia or somewhere - finally got electric light in her house, the first thing she said was, "It's so DIRTY in here!")

I personally think that $3120 a year would be WAY reasonable to spare me the effort of cleaning, but that said, I also know of people who have cleaners come in less often (like every other week), if we're simply talking about it being too expensive (but then, given where I live, someone would be hard pressed to spend 3 hrs a week cleaning it, I think).

But I also think there's a really big difference between saying "I can't afford to pay what I think the job deserves" and saying "I wouldn't be comfortable hiring a cleaner," and those need to be kept separate. If you're uncomfortable hiring one because of the pay, then pay more, like many of the people here mentioned.

I also think the gendered thing is a huge part of this and that Comrade Svilova is definitely on to something. Like I mentioned, I grew up with a SAHM who did ALL the cleaning/cooking/interior house care (except actual repairs). By rights, I should have grown up believing this was women's work, but in fact, I didn't; I grew up thinking someone should do this work for me! (Should add that my mom never made me or my sister do chores because she was on the mindset that she'd just have to go round after us and clean everything up again, and she'd rather do it herself and do it right. Not advocating that approach, just offering it in explanation for why I never felt like house-cleaning was something I was supposed to do.)

Anonymous said...

Well, I don't think I can contribute much to the questions about gender, but as datapoints I:

(i) do my own house-cleaning (and am male and live alone),

(ii) have never been able to afford to pay someone else anyway, even in the shiny new job, but

(iii) almost certainly wouldn't because it's tied up with my sense of being able to cope like a grown-up in a big way, perhaps because one past long-term partner of mine really couldn't manage this so I had to try for us and I could never keep up with her. Being able to keep the place clean by myself has become a success marker. Also,

(iv) it's like crack for procrastination addicts. Nearly as bad as blogs...

Notorious Ph.D. said...

TenthMedieval, reason #4 is PERFECT.

takingitoutside said...

Lately I've been thinking about getting someone to clean part of my small-ish one-bedroom condo, but for health reasons, which I haven't seen anyone mention yet. I'm allergic to dust and mold, so if I get someone, s/he would be vacuuming and doing the bathroom for me. Similarly, my grandparents have someone come in every so often because they can't safely cart cleaning equipment around their apartment. Hiring a cleaner is the same as hiring a nurse or any other service person. You're hiring someone with skills you don't have or to do something that would take up time you don't feel you have.

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