Monday, 23 January 2012

Home Hygiene

I have always done my own cleaning. Not very often, mind. Once every month or so keeps the funghi at bay. But, each time I've worked out where I keep the dusters, boy do I let rip! Skirting boards. Pelmets. U bends. With my portable radio in one armpit and a sheaf of Miele nozzles in the other, I stalk the vicarage assaulting cobwebs and secretly binning any infant possessions that can't be kicked to oblivion under the beds.

But uncooperative lungs have prevented me terrorising the family filth since mid December and even the Vicar is noticing the dustballs that skim in his wake. Sensibly, he seeks out a cleaner for a day to tide us over. I am excited because someone else can fidget the grime out of my daughter's shell collection. And I am nervous because I'm not sure I can cope with someone toiling over my bacteria while I lie on my day bed. What if she forgets to tame the muesli-like stuff under the sofa cushions? (We don't buy muesli. How does it get there?) What if she lifts the lid on my mortifying laundry basket? What will she think of the strange thing growing out of my kitchen floor cloth?

I spend the dawn hours readying the house for her. I swab the top of the kitchen cupboards in case she judges me. I perform violence on the black mould in the bathroom and I haul the laundry basket out to the garage. Then I agonise over etiquette. Should I offer her coffee when she arrives or would she spend expensive minutes consuming it?

The bell rings. She's very young. She has a sick baby at home and apologetically places a bag of prescription medicine on the hall stand. She only wants £8 an hour. I beg her to accept coffee. I beg her to accept tea. I trail after the Miele flex proffering biscuits. I am about to suggest that she sits down with a Jammy Dodger while I make a start on the dusting.

For three hours I sit hunched on my pillows feigning work on my laptop while she labours. She apologises if I pass her on the stairs. I apologise if I'm in the room when she enters. She dusts the doors. She dusts the shower rail. She dusts contours of the house that I never knew existed. She eliminates the sofa muesli, but leaves a pound coin that she finds embedded there on the coffee table.

I am stressed with gratitude. I try to overpay her, but she declines. She shoulders her heavy bag and sets off back to her sick baby. I go and lie down. I am exhausted. Watching someone else perform chores that should be mine is far more wearing than performing them myself.

Next month Mr Sheen and I will be a partnership again. On the other hand...it is satisfying to have a bathroom mirror unspotted by the flying fall-out from flossing and to tread uncrunchy carpets. And we all have to do our bit to resuscitate our local economy. So perhaps it's my fiscal duty, not extravagant sloth, to invite her back, even after my lungs are restored. Perhaps it's my fiscal duty, not extravagant sloth, to make it quite a regular fixture. She can earn some extra cash while I can concentrate on intellectual pursuits such as Twit...er, my career.

Next time, though, I'll give the house a thorough dust and vacuum before her arrival so that I needn't feel quite so exhausted with guilt.

Lend me your views. Can a home-based, only-part-time career mother with school-aged children and a flimsy bank balance justify a cleaner, or should I invest in a clean floor cloth and shoulder my rightful domestic duties?

46 comments:

  1. I used to have a cleaner when I was working and later, when my son was little. Like you, I fretted about the muck the poor woman would have to wade through and was forever tidying up before she arrived.
    I had my last cleaner about five years ago and when she retired I breathed a sigh of relief and decided to just do the cleaning myself. It's not perfect but Mr Sheen, Mr Muscle and I make a rather happy threesome.

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  2. I have a cleaner. I took her on when I got a pay rise and it's such a relief to have her. But, I am at work when she comes and rush around beforehand tidying up a bit and cleaning the kitchen so I don't feel ashamed. :)

    I hate it if she comes when I'm at home because then I feel guilty that she's labouring and I'm not. So, if I was in your shoes, it would be tricky if your part-time job is home-based and you can't be out.

    Other than that as I hate loathe and detest housework, my cleaner saves me from becoming a Tasmanian devil of fury and resentment every week. :)

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  3. I have very strong views on this subject so as you asked... We live in a capitalist society that works by people concentrating most of their time on one job that thay can do well in order to earn an income. After we secure our income we then pick and choose what other tasks to undertake (either by capability or desire) in order to live a nice life. I cannot afford a cleaner so I clean my own house (occasionaly) because I can. I can afford bread so I choose to buy it from the baker even though I could make my own. I cannot sew so I have no choice but to buy clothes from a clothing manufacturer.

    The cleaner is a professional worker and you pay her to do her job. If I had the money I would have no qualms about giving a cleaner work to secure her own income so that she can choose to spend it on her bete noires. We need to respect cleaners and not regard with embarrassment that they are doing such a nothing job we should have done it ourselves. She provides a service and you pay for it - that's all.

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    1. You are right. My embarrassment is totally irrational. I'II think it's because there's an intimacy about having someone muck you out which is hard to get used to and because, although it may not sound like it, I have always taken pride in cleaning my house and feel I'm copping out. Nothing to do with lack of respect or underestimation of skill (her work was worth far more than she charged). I'd feel the same if I paid a better writer than me to ghostwrite my blog.

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    2. I didn't mean to imply that you disrespect the cleaner in any way. And I totally get it about the other things. See my comment below - I was totally letting off steam before thinking clearly. Next time I'll have a coffee first and come back to comment later.

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  4. I had an allocated cleaner when I lived/worked in a boarding school. She came on a Tuesday. I spent Monday night clearing up in anticipation. I even cancelled her on days when I just couldn't reveal the turmoil that lurked beyond my front door. Ridiculous behaviour from a grown woman, but there you are!

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  5. I've just reread my comment as I was feeling bad about it and I probably didnlt need to give the lecture about how capitalism works - I'm sure you know already, sorry. I just meant treat the cleaner as you would any other professional service provider. I wish I'd slept on my first comment now as it is rather too ranty, on reflection. woops.

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  6. I assumed all vicarages came with a staff.

    You can't have a houseowner/cleaner relationship without it screaming DIFFERENT SOCIAL STATUS and that is where your guilt and embarrassment is coming from. If you find a cleaner who is conscientious and trustworthy then treat her like royalty, because I'll bet you all the money in my pockets she doesn't feel like it.

    Her Up North worked as a cleaner for a time (not in a private home but at a hotel) and always took great pride in doing a good job, presentation being everything in the hospitality industry. It was low paid and hard graft, and her employer was a tight-fisted git, but still she maintained professionalism.

    PS my favourite Mr Sheen will always be Martin.

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    1. You've put your finger on it. A Guardian reader took umbrage when I said I'd assumed redundancy would propel me into a future at a Tesco check out because, they claimed virtuously, that's as valid a career as any other. Of course it is, but who would choose an £8-an-hour job as a lav cleaner/till operator unless circumstances demanded it. And I feel guilty that circumstances do demand it of so many while I enjoy a much better paid and much less demanding career and get them to pick up the slack.

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  7. I had a cleaner when my boys were small as you can not have toddlers in the house and mop at the same time. If I had the money we still wood, it was brill. I never felt the need to tidy up before she came, but sis always make sure I was not around when she was due

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  8. Lovely post. We had a cleaner when I had a real job and could afford to pay someone else to clean the loo. She became one of my all-time best friends (have texted her twice this morning, as it happens). I have v happy memories of her complaining about ironing my then baby girl's Sarah Louise frilly dresses while I passed on all the local gossip...

    Now I am wondering if I could justify hiring someone to clean the guinea pigs' cage out for me. That is the next job on my list, once I've stopped faffing on the internet.

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    1. Dear Maid-I too have said guinea's.Bet your children promised to clean the hutch too ALWAYS!!!!

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  9. Personally speaking, I would not like to have a cleaner in my house. I friend of mine asked me to clean for her, when I was out of work and the boys were young. I went in once a week to re polish her pristine house (she lived alone, no kids), but it was weird, cleaning for a friend, and it was never something I wanted to do long term, so it didn't last very long!

    My middle sister (I am the eldest of 3 girls so I never know quite how to describe the next sister down, she's my baby sister really but not my baby sister cos she isn't the youngest - Oh hell!!!)

    My middle sister - employs a team of cleaners to come in and do spring cleaning for her once a year. I think she pays about $300 for the privilege, but she does have a huge house...she also worries about what personal bits and bobs they may uncover and snigger about...

    I don't think having a cleaner will ever be for me

    Lou :-)

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    1. I am slightly inclined to the same view. Had dreaded issuing orders and, worse, pointing out any oversights. Am not good at being forceful and authoritative (except to my kids)! But there was no risk of with either with this supersonic Romanian girl. I actually quite enjoy cleaning - it's just that I rarely have the time to dedicate the necessary four hours to do it properly so once a month might tide us over and I could skirt round the edges in between.

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  10. Oh dear. One of the next posts I had in mind was going to be about why I think more women should employ a cleaner. It looks like I might be outnumbered. I have had one myself for a number of years, sparked by miscarriages and a pregnancy I wanted to protect and then I sort of needed him / her more than ever. I think they are a lifeline and the provoking of my intended post is the amount of writing about PND. I think you should get as much help as you can,if you are isolated with childcare. and I think a good tidy up before they come is essential because you don't want to pay good money for that. I find involving the whle house in the tidying pays off! Watch this space. Well done you for saying it out loud though!

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    1. Please do go ahead and write it since I need all the persuading/dissuading I can. The main obstacle that I can see (apart from my domestic pride) is money. If I had a cleaner I'd have to cut down on other essentials like Bendicks Bittermints.

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  11. Before the baby was born, I firmly stated that we would never have a cleaner, even if we could afford it. It was irrational because I have worked as a cleaner in the past and was glad for the work. Seven months into the chaos that is parenthood, I'll eat every word of that declaration.

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    1. It's good to hear the view from someone who's done it. I think most cleaners are glad of the work, however hard and unappealing that work may be. You've almost persuaded me!

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  12. A word of advice: never audition for one of the Upstairs roles in Upstairs Downstairs.

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  13. I think that you know my views on this subject. If you can afford it, give the job of cleaning your house to someone else. We had a cleaner until recently (tightening belts here) and I used to get the hell out of dodge when she came, which I think she preferred - she found it just as easy to mop the floor and clean the loo with my nearly two year old in tow as I did you see. So now I do (or don't) do my own cleaning and she has become a good friend AND she has me over once a week to speak Spanish with her while my daughter rearranges all her knick knacks .

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  14. Oops. I just wrote a comment and lost it... anywackers, I think that you know my answer to this one. If you can afford it, give someone else the job of cleaning your house. We had a cleaner until recently (currently belt tightening) and I used to get out of the way when she was here - which I think she preferred. It turns out that she found mopping the floors and cleaning the loos with my nearly 2 year old in tow just as easy as I do you see. Now I do (or don't) clean my own house, and she is a good friend who has me over once a week for Spanish/English intercambio while my daughter rearranges her knick knacks.

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  15. My theory on housework is, if the item doesn't multiply, smell, catch fire, or block the refrigerator door, let it be. Clean one room and only let people in there. In my house if we have casual visitors there's always someone in the bath so the toilet's out of bounds and the dog is shut in the kitchen for their own safety! Never fails.

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  16. Dog, hmm, clue! We must do lunch, Singing Angel. Remind me of your address...!!

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    1. Or did I mis-lead you?!

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    2. Red herring, eh? Well, I'm going to impose vocal auditions on everyone in the parish, particularly those who own a dog(s) and only one loo and I shall winkle you out, you teaser!

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  17. oh my lord,
    keep the cleaner, keep the cleaner!
    I miss my cleaner so much!!!!
    oh you have got me all upset now!

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  18. Keep the cleaner! I wish we had a cleaner. Instead I have an 18 month old who likes to scatter single grains of rice around the house - including in the knicker drawer. That's my excuse anyway...

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  19. If we have the money when baby number 2 comes then I will DEFINITELY be investing in a cleaner. Those raisins and peas don't pick up themselves.
    I've had one a couple of times before (pre-kids) but then got rid of them because I found it too much of an invasion of privacy and I felt one of them didn't clean to the standard that I do (yes, really!). And having someone come to clean my home did make me feel fairly uncomfortable from a social perspective, but I am determined to get over myself and just enjoy the clean!

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    1. The money's the rub. And then you get to thinking of all the things you could order from the Boden catalogue if you just did the dirty yourself. Once a month has got to be the answer. Just enough to keep the worst filth at bay and preserve the authorised overdraft limit.

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  20. I had a cleaner pre being a stay-at-home mother. I used to frantically clean the house the night before she came. When I finally wised up and understood I was paying her to do this, and left the mess, she resigned, telling me the house was far too messy to do it all in 3 hrs!!!

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    1. I think it's reasonable to tidy up beforehand, otherwise it wastes expensive minutes of the cleaner's time. But if she was protesting about normal dust and grime I'd say her loss was your gain.

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  21. I have had cleaners. The only time it really worked was pre children when the imminent arrival of the cleaner allowed the two of us to agree to tidy up the night before.

    When I had toddlers, I found that the cleaners were making piles of stuff and sort of cleaning round the mess: but the piles got bigger and bigger and things got sort of lost in them. In the end I found it cheaper and more effective to pay for child care and do the tidying/cleaning myself.

    Now the children are at school all day and I am not in paid work and I would not have a cleaner. I just find that it is the tidying up/putting away that makes most of the difference to the way the house looks and runs (and that noone short of you could do), and that pushing a vacuum cleaner and a duster round takes a fraction of the time.

    I do pay to have supermarket stuff delivered: saves me houyrs every week, and money as no impulse buys. And If I went back to work I would pay to have laundry and ironing done, or for someone to come and do the repetitive routine stuff every day (that 45mins where I clear upbreakfast, make beds, straighten every room and sort out dinner).

    Oh and if you do have a cleaner, then from the years when we did I would say make sure they are taller than you. Otherwise, you will see where the cleaning stops!

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  22. Good point. Almost everybody is taller than me! You see laundry and ironing don't trouble me at all for I do the former as little as I can get away with and the latter not at all.

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  23. You are not only a lazy slattern; you are a failure as a mother, a wife and the first lady of the parish. It is common knowledge that housework is a direct expression of love for your children. Moreover, as the old Newnham rules stated, if you neglect your womanly duties your ovaries will shrivel up and you will not be able to bear any more children for your husband. And the effort you put into beautifying the vicarage is comensurate with the esteem in which you hold the church and its congregation. So grab those anti-bac wipes and get going!

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    1. Just thinking of a witty rejoinder to that ...back in a minute!

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  24. You are definitely justified to have a cleaner. It is a hard job that takes a lot of time and you should be concentrating on your job and family. Last year I travelled to Argentina and rented buenos aires apartments to stay in. I was worried that I was gonna have to clean them up but then I was told that there was a cleaning lady that was going to come every day. I felt so relieved!
    Amy

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  25. May I present a view from both sides? As a well paid business person, I employed a cleaner. I worked long hours and spare time was precious. I always tidied up the night before but never cleaned - there's no point - you are paying someone to clean, and that's what they expect to come and do.

    Now, having taken voluntary redundancy and chosen an alternative lifestyle worlds away from my previous one, I clean once a week for a friend, and I love it. Truely! Never thought I'd say it. But I'm pretty damn sure she cleans round the night before. She has a child and a cat but rarely does the place need a "real good fettling" - and that's not natural with kids and pets, is it??

    Us 'ere cleaners EXPECT your house to be (a bit) dirty / dusty / smelly / etc. If we come regularly, it won't be a stincking pit, and we will keep it to a standard. It is far more satisfying to start with a grubby house and leave it clean than to close the door on a clean house which is now even cleaner.

    From both sides again, I know how vital my cleaner was to me. She was treated as a professional who did an outstanding job and earned good money. I paid for quality and got it. As a cleaner now, I know how panicky my friend gets if I can't make it - she relies on me.

    We cleaners do not judge you, we wouldn't dream of going through your personal things and we enjoy our work - so from someone who knows, if you have a cleaner who you trust, cherish her and let her get on with doing what she does best - cleaning your home, so you can enjoy it and not feel guilty. She doesn't feel bad, so neither should you.


    PS This is only posted as Anonymous because it's the quickest way of commenting. My name is Mary and I live in Derbyshire!

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  26. We have a cleaner. Thank God. Otherwise the housework would never get done and I wouldn't be able to blog! She somes once a fortnight and is a lovely, loyal person. She's been cleaning for over a year now and we have become chums in a way. I like to chat with her while she performs violence (loved that) on our bathroom mould!

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    1. What a nice image! Our bathroom is a bit intimately sized for chatting and this cleaner speaks no English.

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  27. I'm one of those weird people who enjoy cleaning. I could never imagine having a cleaner even if I was suepr rich.

    Glad to have found yoru blog, it is a great read. Mich x

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  28. Latest news is D-Cam likes the idea of tax breaks for families who employ cleaners. The man is intent on stratifying society even more deeply. Perhaps a whole generation of students will take up cleaning jobs instead of paying their way through university by lapdancing.

    Sorry, rant off. Just heard the debate on the radio and immediately thought of this blog post! :)

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  29. I agree, watching someone else clean is exhausting. I once had my SIL clean for me, since I was unable, I totally overpaid her because I felt guilty just watching her do my job.

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