In the past few weeks I’ve learned that almost everyone I know that’s not a full-time SAHM (and even a few of those, too) have a weekly cleaning lady. I was pretty surprised to learn this, mostly because some of these women live in miniscule grad student apartments and live on a miniscule budgets and still they employ housecleaners. One friend explained to me that with no dishwasher and no clothes washer/dryer in her apartment, she simply had to get help with cleaning.

Ok, so I’m not dissing my sisters who use hired help, but I am just a bit surprised. Because how much time does swishing a toilet and washing some dishes really take? Am I missing something? Or is life just too busy for the average working woman to change her own sheets?

So do you have a cleaning lady? Why or why not?


Jana is a university administrator and teaches History. Her soloblog is

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Yes. Because I am a slob. It has saved our marriage.

  2. Tanya Sue says:

    Yes, but only once a month. I have progressive arthritis in my body and hands (but am only 32), and it hurts to try and hold onto things. I would rather use my body for something more meaningful to me than scrubbing…like making jewelry.

    Also, a friend hired them for me when I first started having joint problems. It was one of the only ways she could help me and it makes us both feel better.

  3. Caroline says:

    Yes, they come every other week. I am organizationally (and sanitarily) challenged, so it’s been pretty crucial for me. I feel a bit guilty about hiring other people to clean up my crud, but I guess I rationalize it by thinking that my time is valuable to me – more valuable than the money I pay to these women.

  4. Sue says:

    I do, once a week. I hate cleaning bathrooms and mopping floors, and that’s what she does. It’s cheap to have help, so why not. I’m self employed and I have three kids. I can spend a few hours cleaning bathrooms, or I can spend them with my kids. Easy choice to make. Heaven knows, there’s still plenty of constant, daily cleaning and laundry to do.

  5. tracy m says:

    No, and we never have had, but I tell you what: As soon as we get ahead a little and can affort it- bingo! I’m getting someone to come in and do the jobs I hate- mostly mopping the floors, dusting and cleaning the bathrooms.

    Taking care of three kids and running a business from home takes everything I’ve got, and to pay someone to do those tasks I hate sounds like heaven.

  6. Eve says:

    I have to admit that while there are cleaning tasks I do not love (mostly the bathrooms), I would have serious reservations about hiring someone to clean my house. For one thing, I would feel weird about having a stranger clean my most personal spaces, spaces to which I’m reluctant to admit close friends. For another, I don’t think I’ll ever get Barbara Ehrenreich working for the Merry Maids in _Nickled and Dimed_ out of my head.

  7. Bored in Vernal says:

    No, but I have to take exception to Jana’s description of housecleaning. “Swishing a toilet and washing some dishes?” I don’t think so! It’s exhausting, thankless work which is never finished.

    I never had a housecleaner because I could never afford one. I really don’t know if I would have hired someone if I could have afforded it. On the one hand, cleaning myself has taught me organizational skills and how to involve the children in work. On the other hand, I could have used the free time and mental sanity in the difficult years.

  8. Dora says:

    Back in the good old days, we had a woman come twoce a month. As one roommate put it, “I work 50+ hours a week, and the last thing I want to do on a precious day off is scrub the floor.” But then we had to deal with things not being put away in the right place (and spending a lot of time searching for things), then things not being put away at all, then unreliability issues. So, we now just cobble along on our own, and we’re still living.

    However, the last time I had a service come out to help me do some kitchen spring cleaning (and let me just specify that I did a lot of prep work!) I didn’t feel that I got my money’s worth. It was a very cosmetic, and not hygenic) cleaning. This was very much in my mind as I read _Nickel and Dimed,_ already mentioned by Eve. Since then, I’ve come to the conclusion that more personal responsibility is not a bad thing. From doing my own housework, to where I shop, and what I throw away. Of course I would love to have someone come twice a month and do the work I should (but better), but sometimes it’s good to not get what I want.

  9. jana says:

    I have to admit here that I did employ a housecleaning service for about 6 months. It was at the height of my depression and it was a lightening feeling to walk into a fresh-smelling home. But then I started thinking about it and realizing that they were at my place for 2 hours, tops. And in that time they swished toilets, swiped floors and vacuumed carpets. Not much else. They charged extra for dishes or laundry or sheets, which I didn’t pay. Eventually I felt that I wasn’t really getting my money’s worth and I also felt that I could certainly do what they did myself.

    Perhaps my problem was that I didn’t hire the right cleaning service? Maybe. But I think the real problem, at least for me, was the guilt of having someone else do my dirty work, when it was such basic stuff.

    Ok, I’m with BIV when she talks about the hard work of keeping a large household functioning, but this wasn’t what the hired folks were doing. Their jobs were pretty superficial.

    So my kids are old enough to have chores. They do the daily litterbox cleaning and some basic tidying. They mop the kitchen and bathroom floors on the weekends. Admittedly, our house is often a bit messy and we do have some cobwebs in the corners. But we eat off of clean dishes and sleep on clean sheets. The laundry is done once/week and we each swipe the shower while we’re waiting for the water to warm up.

    I grew up in a house with a weekly cleaning lady and I never had to vacuum my own room or change my own sheets (though I did do my own laundry). I liked that the cleaning help gave my Mom some relief during the years that she had a passel of young kids and later when she was working full time. But I’m still not sure it’s for me. Or maybe what I’m really wondering is what, if anything, I’m sacrificing by doing my own cleaning?

  10. Tatiana says:

    I don’t now but I have in the past and would like to again.

    Part of it is that when you work outside the home, your home is your second job. Working two jobs is just hard. It’s quite difficult to mentally focus and do a good job on both. I tend to put all my mental energy into my day job, and then I sort of camp out here at home at night. =) So I just want it to be liveable, so I can relax here, and feel comfortable. I don’t want to take control, take charge, and beat it into shape. I do too much of that at work. =)

    When I had an ideal situation, I had a lady who would come once a week, and in 3 hours she would scrub like crazy, mop, vacuum, do laundry, change sheets, change litter boxes, dust, wash windows, and leave. My house was so clean all the time! The bathrooms were spotless! It was awesome! She was so great. But, wow, nobody else ever cleaned that well. Still, they’re worth it!

    Now I have a robotic vacuum cleaner, and I turn him loose on Saturdays while I’m doing dishes and laundry. He does a good job just on the floors, so that helps a bit. The rest mostly sort of doesn’t get done between visits of my friends from out of town, which happen maybe 4 times a year. =) Then I go crazy and scrub and clean and vacuum everything for weeks before they arrive.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I don’t, just because I can’t justify it financially or emotionally–I’m a SAHM, for heaven’s sake, and I can’t pull it together enough to clean my house?

    However, I am in the midst of a difficult pregnancy, and we are seriously considering hiring some help. In fact, that’s all I asked Santa for. I think I could justify it for the pregnancy, and maybe the first weeks or so after the baby, before I’m really back on my feet. I think it would be a life saver right now.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I work full time outside the home (usually) and do not have cleaning help. But I DO have a very wonderful husband who helps a TON around the house. When he is out of town I start to feel like I need to hire someone to help. Then he sweeps back in (literally) and whips everything into shape and all is once again right with my world.

  13. Eve says:

    There’s the perpetual problem of time to clean, but I also wonder if part of the issue isn’t (a) the amount we own and (b) our cleaning standards. I don’t think there are easy answers to the questions of how much we should own or how clean and organized our houses should be, but I think an increase in either, or both, is going to make our lives harder. And the more stuff we own, and the more people (especially kids) there are in our houses (with all of their stuff too, of course), the exponentially harder it becomes to maintain the same cleaning standards.

    Personally, I’m a bit of a neat freak. The first couple of years I was married, I felt that I had to clean the entire apartment top to bottom every weekend. (My husband was working full time and going to school full time, so I felt–and still feel–that I need to take primary responsibility to keep the house running.) It exhausted me and took time away from the schoolwork and teaching preparation I needed to do. I finally got to a good equilibrium with cleaning, a weekly routine of grocery shopping, dishes, laundry, sweeping, vacuuming, bills, and tidying that’s enough to keep my house at a level I feel comfortable with but doesn’t take too much time and energy away from my schoolwork.
    My bathrooms are gross until my husband gets around to them, and I hardly ever dust. Sometimes I don’t vacuum for weeks, and I hate to grocery shop so I usually put that off as long as I can. Oh, well.

    Occasionally my husband talks about having a large house. I always say I never want to have such a large house and so much stuff that I can’t take care of it myself. Then he says we’ll hire someone. Then I say no. I don’t want to feel like I live in someone else’s museum. In my view if I own more things than I can take care of, then I need to get rid of some things.

    Also, it’s fascinating to me to watch people of my parents’ generation now getting rid of all the stuff they worked so hard to buy so that they can live in smaller, more manageable houses and condos and afford to retire. I’m in favor of just skipping that middle step where we acquire all of the stuff.

    All of that said, I know sometimes household help is esential–during and after a difficult pregnancy, or during a bout of depression or when you have a bunch of small children.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I grew up with a working mother, but luckily, she married a man who thought housework was important enough that HE would do it, too. Also, since they both worked, and we were either at babysitters’ homes or at school, the house wasn’t destroyed everyday. I have noticed, as a SAHM, that the only reason I have so much to clean is because we’re HERE all day.

    DH has offered over and over to get me a cleaning service, and I still have refused. Some of it is guilt and some of it is money, but the most important reason is probably because I can’t bring myself to have a stranger clean my toilets when I know how to do it myself.

    Yet, I could change my mind. So I definitely won’t dismiss it entirely…

  15. Anonymous says:

    I have a cleaning lady because I have arthritis and it is very difficult for me to scrub floors and bathtubs. When we were home I hired some of my granddaughters to vacumn, and scrub bathrooms and floors. Now that we are in Russia we hire a woman who supports herself cleaning for people so I feel like I am helping her and she is helping me. It’s a good trade off in my mind.

  16. dangermom says:

    No, I have weird hang-ups about hiring people to clean up my messes. And I’ve read “Nickel and Dimed,” books by housecleaners, and that book of essays about exploited international workers, none of which did anything to get rid of those feelings.

    Besides, I’m a SAHM in good health with two kids and a not-large house. I have no excuse for not doing my own housework except procrastination and lack of organization, neither of which are exactly virtues.

  17. TheSchofs says:

    no, I decided that it is my responsibility to clean my own ish, and taking care of meaningless clutter. When my house becomes out of control then I know I need to re-evaulate my life along with my families and simply slow down.

  18. Ann says:

    I had someone come and clean my house after bout of depression that lasted about two years. After I was mostly out of it, I looked around and realized that my house was filthy.

    My mom sent me $200 to hire a cleaning service. A crew of five spent two hours and did a terrific job. The owner was an ex-marine.

    I work full-time, and nobody (nobody) cares what the house looks like except me, so it’s really tempting to hire a cleaning service. On the other hand, if as a family we spent X hours every Saturday cleaning, it would only be a couple of hours and the house would be ship-shape most of the time, and the little guy would have at least SOME concept of what it means to work.

  19. Seraphine says:

    I don’t hire cleaning help. Instead, I choose to live alone and just let my house turn into a mess when it’s the end of the semester, etc. I’m slowly learning how to be better at maintaining it (and not letting it turn into a disaster) because if it’s too much of a mess, it does affect me. But I’m also learning how to be okay (and not feel guilty) with things being less clean and organized.

  20. David says:

    Doesnt anyone try to teach their kids some responsibility any more? An eight year old can do a decent job cleaning the bathroom. I dont mean to offend, and hope I dont, but this entire thread sounds like the majority of the people that read this blog are teaching their children that its ok to buy their way out of doing any serious work.
    Doing intellectual work is all fine and good, but a person that cant/wont/refuses/doesnt even know how/ to get down and dirty and do tough physicl labor ends up being totally one dimensional and looses their grasp on what society is really like. – Again, this is just my opinion.

  21. Anonymous says:

    I actually agree with you on most of this –it’s the nitty-gritty that my 5 year old, 3 year old, and 2 year old can’t do yet that is the problem. However, I am definitely planning on making them learn how to do the “nitty-gritty” as they get older (they do little things already now).

    But for me, a SAHM, it’s easier to have the time to do housework. I’m sure working moms are stressed to the max as it is, and as others have posted, they have various reasons for hiring a cleaning service, even if it’s for just a brief time. I’m sure it doesn’t mean they aren’t teaching their kids to work…

  22. Eve says:

    David, on the one hand I’m sympathetic to your concerns about upper-middle-class isolation from routine physical work. On the other hand, though, no one has suggested that children shouldn’t have chores or has said their children don’t–and many of us either don’t have children or have only very young children.

    Although there are exceptions, in the vast majority of families women are more involved in the routine physical labor of maintaining a household than men are. So perhaps your comment could apply with equal–or greater– force to husbands. Greater male involvement in household work would set a better example for children to take responsibility for cleaning up after themselves (especially boys), make their involvement more likely, and make the need for cleaning services less likely. Women are often overwhelmed with household work because when they enter the workforce full or part-time, their husbands rarely make a similar shift in taking on more of the domestic labor. In many situations greater husband involvement is the perfect solution to the problems you point out.

  23. David says:

    My comment was totally indifferent to gender. To blame men for these problems is a cop-out. Ever hear of communication? That can happen in a family.

  24. Anonymous says:

    I had a cleaning service during the time I completed my masters degree. I don’t have children or a husband to help out with household chores, so the outside help was greatly appreciated.

    I wonder if there is a happy medium regarding keeping your house clean with outside help while requiring children to complete household chores to teach them the value of work and being responsible. Perhaps children at the appropriate age can clean their rooms (not just picking up, but dusting, etc.) and do the daily dishes while outside help completes tasks like dust the baseboards and deep clean the kitchen floor, etc.

    I guess I don’t see that it has to be one or the other.

  25. tracy m says:

    My five year old vacuums and loves to do his laundry, which I have taught him how to do… even my three year old can sort his dirty clothes into color piles… My kids are learning chores and responsibility. I also have a 7 month old, who obviously only contributes to the mess.

    I don’t have the option of living alone, I have an awesome husband who does more than most men to help out, and I run a business from home… Hiring someone to mop my kitchen and clean the bathrooms would be a santiy saver and while I am not entirely comfortable with the socio-economic implications, I have to maintain my sanity so I can tend everything else I am responsible for. If having clean bathrooms helps me do that, then do be it.

  26. ducks says:

    I have been married for 25 years and for the last five I have had a cleaning lady come in every other week. I never hire from services and would do it myself rather than have a stranger come into my home. I currently hire a relative who is in need of the extra income. I trust her and she does a good job. It works for both of us. Previously I hired an acquaintance whose husband was out of work.
    Although I have had children at home during these times, I never have the cleaning lady clean any of their spaces, only the areas I take responsibility for. One of the big reasons I started hiring someone is because both my husband and I work. Saturdays would find us spending most of the day on cleaning, yard work, laundry, etc. I wanted that time to do other things. It has worked for us. I do make sure and pay taxes on the household help, as well. It is easy to overlook if you are paying someone outside of a service.

  27. Tanya Sue says:

    Over the last hundred years or so, we have gotten to the point that we have to pay people to do some things for us-because we don’t have time to do it all. At one time in history, families made their own clothes, grew their own food, made their own furniture, etc. Most families can no longer do all of these things due to time constraints. I think cleaning is going in the same category. We can all only do so much which means we pay people to do the things we consider appropriate (like making our clothes) or in this case cleaning.

  28. AmyB says:

    I’ve never used a cleaning service, but I have to say that it sounds appealing to me. I do use a drop-off service for my laundry and have my groceries delivered to my house. I work six days a week, so it would nice to not have to spend so much of my free time doing housework.

    In response to Tanya Sue, I don’t necessarily agree that we don’t have the time like people used to. I think in this day and age we have much more leisure time than our ancestors did. We also have different expectations and things like going to the gym, lots of extracurricular activities for kids, tv programs to watch, etc. We have more resources now and live in a culture in which many people are happy to pay others to do their dirty work. I make no judgment on that, I just think that “we don’t have as much time” isn’t the simple reason.

  29. tracy m says:

    Amy B- but we don’t. Really, we don’t. Once upon a time, all family members lived together, all helped out, dad worked on the farm or from home like mom and the kids. There was no such thing as being gone for 12 hours a day between work and commute. Extended family was around to help mom with babies and kids, and kids helped around the house/farm and played on their own.

    Today, if you let your kids play alone, CPS will be knocking on your door. We live 1200 miles from the nearest family member, my husband is gone all day, we do not live walking distance from the school, and even if we did, I couldn’t let the kids walk alone- see the aforementioned CPS note. I also run a business from home. I have three kids five and under. There is no way I have as much time as the wife on the farm who had her mother and her sister and husband around or just up the dirt road.

    Granted, we do have luxuries- TV, computers, etc… and those things do take up time, but for most of us it’s negligible. My kids are not even in outside-of-home activities… and I have no time.

    Not trying to argue for my limitations, but we do live more isolated lives, and the stressors are different than our ancestors. Not saying I want to trade, just saying Tanya Sue has a point.

  30. AmyB says:

    I think your points are very valid, Tracy. The perspective I was coming from was that we have different expectations. A farm wife, for example, fully expected to be in the kitchen the entire day preparing the meals. People worked all day long and simply expected that they would have to work sunup to sundown on the land, sew clothes, make all the food from scratch, etc. We expect that we shouldn’t have to do that now.

    However, I think you are right. We have so many demands placed on us and we live in a frenzied world, often much farther away from immediate family who could help out.
    It’s comparing apples to oranges to compare our lives now to lives of those a hundred years ago.

    I’m still thinking a cleaning service sounds really good to me right now. 🙂

  31. Mary Ellen says:

    For three years, I did weekly housecleaning for my landlady in exchange for reduced rent. She wasn’t very flexible; the cleaning had to happen on Saturday mornings and I could only vacuum when she wasn’t home. I always wondered if she was sloppier in the kitchen because I was going to clean up after her.

    I’m not sure if working as a house cleaner makes me more or less inclined to hire help. I’m not working, so I keep enough of the household entropy in check. When I need a hand, I ask my husband to pick up the slack. And if it’s something neither of us cares to tackle, it stays undone.

    We have had a couple of fights about me not wanting to be the ONLY one to take out the trash or recycling and he’s taken more initiative thereafter.

  32. Andrea says:

    In response to Eve’s first comment, I totally agree – after reading Nickel and Dimed I looked at cleaning services (and their painfully ironic monikers) differently. However, Ehrenreich does say that those women who ran their own cleaning businesses made much, much more money than those in a service – as a way of pointing out how much of a last resort cleaning services are. Which is to say that hiring someone who needs the money (and paying taxes as required) can do more good and even be more economical than using a service. Plus, did you read about how they taught the workers to clean? Ugh – it was seriously all about making things like toilets look good, not be truly cleansed.

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