Thursday, February 4, 2016

Taking back the house (cleaning)

So last summer, between working two jobs, farm chores, and traveling out of town for doctor's appointments (bad hip), I found that housecleaning had fallen way down the page on my list of to-do's. Most weeks I just didn't have the time or the energy after those long, sweaty shifts at the winery or two-and-a half-hour drives to the orthopedist's office. 

And so for the last four months, I've had a lady coming in once every two weeks and doing the heavier cleaning for me. That's always how it is when you're busy. Over the years I have found that the more hours I've worked, the more stuff I've had the tendency to hire out for others to do. I'm not sure if this is a strictly American middle-class phenomenon, but it can include everything from having the house cleaned, to eating out because you have no time to cook, to paying someone else to raise your kids, pay your bills, do your taxes, mow your lawn or prune your hedges.

A few years ago I even heard there was a service starting that would build your raised beds, then tend, care for and ultimately harvest your backyard crops for you. It's true.

I can make no judgements on people who have "satellite staff" to do the stuff they can't, because I've obviously done the same when I needed to. When I worked full-time as a teacher I had a gardener (who mowed the lawn), an after-school day care provider, and every Thursday the pizza joint downtown delivered a Large Pepperoni With Extra Sauce to my home because I just didn't feel like cooking. 

Anyway, here in the present day, after a third of a year not doing much housework, I've realized I not only miss the money I've been spending on a housekeeper but -- get this -- I actually miss cleaning my own home. Who knew? The time you clean your home is actually a close-up time to tenderly preserve and care for your property investments -- your home and furnishings.  I feel the same when working in the garden, which celebrates and cares for our land. House cleaning celebrates and cares for our home.

Tools of the trade.

Plus when you hire out, there's also the issue of the cleaning you do before the cleaners show up. No underwear under the bed, used kleenex on the sofa or personal bills left on the counter for all to see. We have some pride, after all. When I was doing it myself, this was a non-issue.

But watching the folks who did our housecleaning the last few months has given me a new appreciation for the work itself, and how we tend to under-value it when we're the ones doing it. When I resume these duties, I will definitely be doing it in a more mindful fashion And so, here are a few rules I think are essential to respecting the important task housekeeping is:

1.  From now on, I'm putting house cleaning on the schedule rather than playing catch up, or doing it in fits and starts that I try and squeeze in here and there. I've spent some time figuring out how much time it takes to clean every room and I'm going to schedule it the same way I schedule work. After all, if you hire someone to do it for you, they come in at an appointed time and go off a checklist until everything is done. Why shouldn't I do the same?

2. I am starting to purchase the correct products for what I'm cleaning. There is no reason to be on my hands and knees scrubbing the shower if I can buy a perfectly good shower brush with telescoping handle and save myself a lot of pain (think of the money I'll save on Aleve!) not to mention time. Ditto for floors. If the floor cleaner (whether that's a vacuum, broom, microfiber mop or something else) is not up to scratch, it's me who will end up working harder. I'm going to give myself the gift of good tools and products. If they're not in the local store, I'm getting them online. My cleaning lady would.

3. Recognize my limits. There is no shame in hiring out what you cannot do. I still intend to have our housekeeper come in on a quarterly basis and do a deep cleaning, which I might find difficult to do physically. I'm getting older. My new motto is this: if it's painful for you to do, bring in reinforcements, even if it's only a couple of times a year.

I'm looking forward to getting back into the routine of cleaning my house, but with a new perspective, having watched how the pros do it for a few months. Hopefully I will be able to do at least as good a job as them, perhaps even more so now after learning some of their techniques and learning to respect it for the important job it is.

I may never love housecleaning the way I love my job, but I do love my home, and that makes any work I put into it totally worth the effort.


  1. Wow! This post is sure timely. My cleaning has gone by the wayside too because of the onset of arthritis and a hip problems as well.

    I need to set a schedule too. I think I actually did more cleaning when I worked full time. I knew I had a short window to complete the cleaning, so I set aside time every Saturday. Now that I'm retired, I always seem to put it off for tomorrow, but of course there is always another tomorrow!

    I am looking forward to hearing about which tools work for you. I love your plan and think I will adopt it for myself. Scheduled time, good tools for the job, and a cleaning service quarterly for the heavy work.

    There are times when I can go into a meditative state when I am cleaning, and I will try to do that more often. It makes the job more pleasant and the time go quickly. It is also good exercise, which I need to remind myself.

    Thanks for this post. I needed it!

  2. I also wanted to add this. When I was working full time, I had a cleaning service. At some point, I got tired of spending the money, so I decided to do my own cleaning and pay myself.

    I had the money automatically withdrawn from my paycheck and put into an employee savings account. By the time I retired, 25+ years later, I had over $40,000 in that account!

    1. WOW Molly! What an incredible idea. You are right, the money spent really adds up. What a smart thing to do. And here I was just thinking of spending some of it on a dinner out on the nights I clean lol! You're much smarter and more practical. I will keep you up on what I buy and how the different products work (got a couple of mops/brushes on the way now) main goal will be to take pressure of my hip and back, so we're in the same boat there.

  3. When we moved to this house in 2007, we hired a cleaning lady. I realized that I could either maintain and clean this house, or I could continue to make progress on its renovation, not both. She was here every other Monday, and our house sparkled when she was finished.

    In November, she retired. I am still trying to figure out how to clean my own house. It would be easier if my husband didn't work from home. He likes to clean, but he's not so good at it. I have proposed that we do what she used to do, and hit the house hard on a specific day every other week. He's not into that so much. We gave a try at a house-cleaning morning over the weekend. The place is clean, but it's not ... We will eventually come to a negotiated agreement, but it's not looking so good right now.