Yesterday I spent eight hours cleaning my house and I didn’t even get to the third floor (the finished attic of a 125-year-old foursquare). It’s just as well, though, that’s my older son’s room and at the moment it is carpeted with Legos. I don’t really want to follow through on my threat to vacuum up hundreds of dollars’ worth of the best toy ever invented.
I get a little insane when I clean. I start organizing drawers or cleaning tile grout or windexing every single picture frame. Mopping doesn’t get every last bit of dirt — only hands and knees ensures that — and when you’re down there, you see how gross the baseboards are too. Keyboards are disgusting and require Q-tip administration. Did you know your bathroom candle deposits soot you can’t see on your white tiles? I didn’t, until a generous application of Bar Keepers Friend created black rivers down the shower-stall walls. An old house like mine has plenty of “patina,” a lovely word for generations of dirt and grime. My two boys provide plenty more patina too.
So it’s a good thing I don’t clean very often. In fact, until this year I hadn’t really cleaned my house for about 10 years. Someone else did. And that was a much better idea.
When my first son was born prematurely we were just overwhelmed with the NICU and his care, so we hired a cleaning person for what we thought was a temporary engagement. It was so truly wonderful, though, we were loath to give it up. A few years went by.
Then our first (and still all-time favorite) cleaning person had to let us go; we were too far to drive and she had more local clients now. We went without for a while and argued about cleaning or just didn’t do it and generally it provided family stress. We eventually gave in and found someone else.
Then my husband got laid off and we gave up the cleaning service again. He was to clean the house – and by his definition that is clean the floors and bathroom. Not exactly mine but it was good enough and I was so happy with my working mom situation (every working mom needs a house husband; it is the bomb) that marital peace was restored.
Then he went back to work and we bought a business and I kept working and we had another baby and we finally admitted that nothing — nothing — would be a better use of our money than paying someone else to clean our house. I often told my working-mom friends who were lamenting housework stress that there was nothing I wouldn’t give up for my cleaning money. Nothing, except maybe highlights.
And then I left my job.
You’d think that to economize and make up for the lack of my income cleaning would be one of the first things to go. Not so. My husband actually traded in his Jeep for a used Honda sedan but we still had our cleaning person two times per month. We stopped saving for college (or for anything actually) but I still wrote that check. I stopped getting highlights, but . . . just kidding. Some things are sacred.
So it wasn’t until this January, a full 18 months or 36 house cleanings later that we finally ended our relationship with Maria and I began to clean my own house. The first couple times it was fun. And then it wasn’t.
Housework is one of the top sources of marriage stress and I’m sure that’s no surprise to anyone reading this blog. A study of how women spend their time by Real Simple magazine and the Families and Work Institute found that women spend 16 percent of their time on housework, and on their long list of tasks, cleaning is the job they hate the most. But in the same study, 45 percent of women said they wouldn’t hire household help, even if they could afford it.
I’m sorry, what? If you can afford it, that’s the first thing you should hire. Even if you can’t afford it, consider what you’d cut out to have someone else clean your house. A Starbucks every day is easily $90 per month; that’s what we paid Maria for three hours of cleaning. And while it wasn’t clean to my insane standards, the floor and the bathroom and kitchen sink were clean and the house smelled fresh and comforting and this all happened while I was away at work and the boys at school. (And if dinner was in the Crock Pot, well, that was just working-mom nirvana.)
Don’t even start on how it would feel weird to have someone in your house dealing with your dirty bathtub or changing your sheets. It might, at first. But then it will feel awesome. Hire an independent businesswoman and you’ll feel even better. It’s not a big-business service employing (mostly) women for minimum wage, it’s a woman-owned business and it supports her family.
Paying someone to clean my house was the best money I ever spent. And when I return to work sometime next year, it will be the first investment I make. After fresh highlights.
P.S. In an attempt to make cleaning more enjoyable, or at least more interesting, I’ve been researching homemade and eco-friendly cleaning products. I’ll report later on how well they worked. For now, check out my pinboard for inspiration.