Jessie Raymond: Helping hands set good example

We finally did it: We hired someone to clean the house.
This was a move my husband had been suggesting for years, mostly as an alternative to having to pitch in more himself. But I wouldn’t consider it.
I’ve always had this idea that people who hire house cleaners are not like us. They buy furniture new. They own the kind of rugs that must be insured. To them, “winter” is not a season, it’s a verb meaning something you do somewhere much farther south.
Their houses do not need work. They do not raise pigs. They do not occasionally let a goat into the house just to watch it do laps around the kitchen island.
In other words, they are not fun people.
But asking around, I discovered that a lot of fun people — though they are sheepish about it — have household help. It’s not because they are above domestic labor; it’s because they lack either the time or the knack for doing the job well themselves.
I can relate.
Besides feeling that it was somehow beyond our social standing, I had two objections to hiring cleaning help, the first being financial. But I recently picked up an online writing gig, and the income is just enough to offset the cost of someone coming in a couple of times a month.
Second was the moral piece: It seemed wrong to pay a stranger to do work that we should, as I see it, be doing ourselves.
I’ve had a change of heart.
Cleaning the house does not inspire pride or joy or anything resembling a positive emotion in me. I don’t like it, and I’m not good at it. I assumed I would get better over the years, but I’m 46 now, and there is no hint of Heloise growing within me. Plus these days I just don’t have the time.
(OK, that part’s ludicrous. In spite of my regular job and the increasing amounts of side work I do, the house is actually slightly cleaner than it was when the kids were little and I stayed home. Now I just have a better excuse.)
Look, people who hate to cook order takeout or go to restaurants. Do I judge them?
Bad example. Yes, I do. But only because I like cooking and I’m pretty good at it. Really, there is no shame in paying someone else to do what you can’t or don’t care to do yourself, whether that’s painting your kitchen, doing your taxes, growing your vegetables, or waxing your nether regions. Similarly, it is not a personal failing to pay someone else to vacuum behind the fridge (assuming that’s something people do).
The new cleaning lady has only been here twice, but what a difference she has made. She has accomplished more in 8 hours than we’ve done in the 8 years we’ve lived here.
Even more impressive, she has raised the cleanliness bar — which sounds like a kind of soap but isn’t — and now we can never go back.
The night before she comes, we pre-clean. We’re not worried she’ll disapprove if we backslide (OK, maybe a little). We just don’t want our crap to get in her way. It’s a lot easier for her to vacuum and mop if the floors aren’t littered with peanut shells, discarded scratch tickets and empty beer cans. (This is just an extreme example; the house only looks like that once, maybe twice, a year.)
So we run around filing papers and clearing the stairs and stashing toiletries. Her imminent arrival alone puts the house above our normal Good Enough As Long As No One Drops In Unexpectedly threshold.
Also, we don’t want to undermine her efforts. For instance, she had this brilliant idea — where she comes up with stuff, I will never know — to polish our bedroom furniture. Because the gleaming wood looks so pretty, we’ve stopped piling unmated socks on the dresser and leaving loose change on the nightstand. We put stuff away.
Now that we have someone cleaning the house, I assumed we’d have more time for the things people with house cleaners do, presumably checking on our overseas investments, running our fingers through piles of loose diamonds and looking down on the common folk. Instead, we’re putting a lot more time into keeping the house presentable.
What do you call it when you pay someone else to clean for you, but you end up working harder at it than you ever did before?
Looking around the house, I call it money well spent.

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