I scrubbed a lot of toilets to put myself through college. Okay, technically I took out a couple of giant loans to put myself through college, but I did also work as a maid. Years earlier, it was one of the first jobs I did as an independent adult. A friend’s mom ran her own cleaning business, and I would occasionally fill in when my friend didn’t want to go. I come from a blue collar background, and I have a real chip on my shoulder about being good at Doing Things. I use shop tools, I do my own minor repairs, I sew, I pitch my own tent, etc. Also I am extremely good at swearing. It seems incumbent upon me to establish my credentials before I embark on a discussion involving socioeconomic class.
The first reason I don’t have a maid is that I’m paranoid. The thought of letting someone else wash my dirty clothes is unsettling. The thought of someone else folding them and putting them away is barely tolerable. Sometimes my mom washes my clothes, if one of us is visiting the other, but I’ve trained my husband not to do it. I just don’t want anyone else seeing or handling my dirt. There is a strong image of someone holding up my workout top and making a disgusted face. Nope. Nope, nope, nope. I have a total double standard. I don’t care about cleaning up after other people, but I don’t want anyone else cleaning up after me. I also have a thing about letting strangers into the house. It creeps me out. It’s stressful for my animals. It’s stressful for me when I think of trying to train someone to do things My Way.
Another reason I don’t have a maid is that I can do a better job, faster and cheaper. It’s exactly like cooking dinner. I like my own cooking better than what’s available in about 80% of restaurants. I can feed 12 people on what it costs the two of us to go to a restaurant. (A giant pot of soup, a couple loaves of nice bread, and a fruit crumble). I enjoy cooking. I can’t claim to enjoy cleaning – does anyone? – but I don’t mind it. Almost every task takes 5 minutes or less. I spend roughly 45 minutes a day cleaning my house, mostly in short blocks. According to my time log, in 2015 I spent 167 hours cleaning house, 194 hours on Facebook, 309 hours on personal hygiene and getting dressed, and 674 hours reading. Why cleaning house is such an ordeal for people is beyond me, but then I’m experienced. I have a system and I move quickly.
I don’t have a maid because I think it’s a BS job for anyone to have. I’ve never met anyone who cleaned for a living who wasn’t fully intelligent and hard-working enough to do something else. (Including me; I’m a Mensan, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who has cleaned for a living). You know how much you hate housework? Imagine if that was all you did 40 hours a week. Then picture the shambolic misery of, say, the restroom at your local movie theater, and imagine that your whole career was to be trapped in there, trying to maintain basic sanitation and prevent the spread of epidemic disease. I mean YIKES. It’s unfair. Part of why being a maid/janitor/custodian sucks so much is because so many people are sloppy, because they know someone else will clean it up. “It creates jobs.” Yeah? What if it was a job to be a human welcome mat and let people walk on you? Someone would always be hard up enough to have to do it.
I don’t have a maid because I have ROBOTS. A Roomba costs the same as a Wii and less than a Playstation. In fact, it’s cheaper than most upright vacuum cleaners, and in my experience, it does a better job. A Braava is cheaper than a low-end stand mixer or an iPod Touch. Whether they are expensive depends on one’s perspective; they are certainly cheaper than marriage counseling! Many people won’t get one because they know it would only work if they unclutter the house first. We mistake ‘moving clutter around’ for ‘cleaning,’ which is merely removing dirt from surfaces.
I don’t have a maid because my husband is a good roommate. I married him that way. By no means did we share the same housekeeping standards when we crossed the threshold together for the first time. We have had arguments about it, one of them involving me pretending to be R. Lee Ermey. We talked about our concerns before we got married, since we have both been divorced and we knew a happy, long-term marriage is a rarity. My biggest worry was that I would have to choose between doing all the work myself and resenting it, or living in a frustrating personal environment and resenting it. We’ve changed our division of labor several times, as we’ve moved and had schedule changes over the years. It’s one of the many things we discuss frankly, in the same way we discuss money and travel planning and holiday arrangements, all of which can be awkward. Not as awkward as swallowing our emotions, trying to read each other’s minds, or settling for compromises that leave both of us unsatisfied. The marriage default is to get into stalemates over unresolved power struggles. We know this, so we work hard to keep the communication channels open and create a space where we both can be happy.
I don’t have a maid because I’m “caught up.” I follow a weekly schedule. I used to have more monthly and quarterly tasks, but gradually it dawned on me that most of those things could be turned into weekly micro-tasks and rolled into my routine. I’ll never have to spend a weekend cleaning again. I can’t bear spending two solid hours on cleaning; it feels like I’m wasting my life. It’s wearying. I can fritter away the same amount of time in small pieces, like when I’m waiting for something to heat up in the microwave, and barely notice I’ve done everything already. We keep a minimalist house; there is no clutter to clean around. Our garage will never be on a magazine cover, but the work bench is fully functional and in regular use. We don’t have a “honey-do” list. If you come to visit and call to say you’ll be here in half an hour, I’ll be ready with a smile, having done nothing more than empty the compost and wipe the dog hair off the couch.
It’s funny to me that people fantasize about having a maid, when they don’t fantasize about having a financial planner or personal trainer or interior designer or, heck, a massage therapist! Any of these professionals can create a lifestyle upgrade. In fact, it would probably be cheaper to hire an interior designer once than to pay for regular maid service. A professional organizer or a couple of cleaning robots (battery-powered scrub brush: $15) would also go a long way. That being said, a maid service is probably cheaper than most people realize. (Exactly what I don’t like about it). Especially if it’s a splurge that is only indulged once a season, it’s probably within range for a lot of families. Get rid of the clutter permanently, bring in a team to do a deep cleaning, and get some robots to carry on from there. Most of us probably already have appliances that do most of the work; we just resent loading and emptying them. The key question is, what kind of environment do we want to live in on a daily basis? How many different ways are there to make it happen?
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.