Last year, a close friend of mine and I put our brains together to figure out how to get housecleaning done more regularly, and more efficiently, in our respective homes. We decided the best method was to parcel it out, one task a day, rotating bigger seasonal chores, and then we would always be on top of it.
After nine months, we were both struggling to keep up with that plan. She has three little kids and a husband in graduate school, and devotes considerable time to serving her church. I have two toddlers and a small writing business, and am the wife of a pastor and Army Reserve chaplain.
Yet my husband describes me as fastidious, and stubborn. I’m not one to throw up my hands and give up. Instead, I grind my teeth and dig my heels in deeper. When the kids are in the bath, I pull in the laundry basket to fold clothes. When I pass the washer and dryer, I throw another load in. At night when I’m bone-tired, I force myself to mop the kitchen, knowing how good it will feel to wake up to a clean floor the next morning.
But this year, I started to bump up against the realities of my physical, emotional and psychological limitations. I’m already scheduling my workouts at 5:15 a.m., for Pete’s sake.
My husband told me about opportunity cost. The microeconomic theory is best expressed in this way: Small-business owners (like me) may think they’re saving money by cleaning the office (or house) themselves, but in reality they are losing money by not spending time working, whether it’s finishing a job or looking for new work. Or, in my case, even resting my brain so I think and write better.
Have you ever thought about what it costs you to do your own housecleaning? Once I did the math – if I spend the kids’ nap time cleaning, I lose between $50 and $100 an hour by not writing – I started to get on board with my husband’s suggestion to hire a cleaning service.
And I remembered what my sage English adviser told me in college: Every working woman should get a cleaning service.
It felt weird, but I started asking around for recommendations. Soon, I found a wonderful fellow mom whose housecleaning business is her side gig. When she did the walk-through of our house and told me what she would clean – the toothpaste-splattered bath mirrors, the grit-covered basement stairs, the sticky hardwood floors – tears of relief sprang to my eyes. Help was on its way.
I scheduled her that day to come the Monday after our next drill weekend, which my husband spends with his soldiers on base. Solo parenting while often on deadline is particularly heinous for me, and I knew it would help to have the house righted after one of those weekends.
I told the friend who was my cohort in planning our cleaning not to tell anyone I was doing this. But I couldn’t help myself. I mentioned it to a professor I was interviewing for my alma mater’s magazine. She seconded my adviser’s advice. Then I posted about it on my alumnae Facebook group and found out that a former classmate of mine, who has a toddler and runs a tree-cutting business with her husband, has one. (She wrote me this: “When I hit the trifecta of a cleaner and a babysitter here while I’m working, I am always like, CAN YOU BELIEVE HOW MUCH IS GETTING ACCOMPLISHED IN MY HOUSE RIGHT NOW?!”) Then, I told another friend, who has a toddler and a side photography business, and she confessed to having a cleaning service, too.
Later, someone started a housecleaning thread on a Facebook parenting group that I’m part of. One woman wrote, “You guys, I paid for my home to be cleaned for the first time today. Trust me, that I understand the privilege implications here. But this is a game-changer.” Other parents chimed in about how their cleaning service had saved their sanity – and even their marriage.
Turns out I’m not alone. We all feel uncomfortable about using a cleaning service. The first time my sweet house cleaner came, all I could talk about was why I needed the help. Why did I feel the need to justify? “I get it. I get it,” she kept saying. I’m self-conscious about this decision, but in reality, I’m investing in another woman’s business. And that seems pretty pro-woman.
We started with visits once a month, and I’m not sure we’ll keep this up forever, but while we have two joyfully destructive toddlers underfoot who can’t help clean windows, this seems like a no-brainer. After the house cleaner left the first time, and the house was clean – everything at the same time – I wanted to cry again. Instead, I took a nap when the toddlers did.
The truth is, despite what many have told us, we can’t do it all. I can’t be present and engaged with my kids, write articles while they nap and have a clean house and warm meal ready for that night’s dinner guests. When I try, someone gets the worst of me as I lash out in stress and exhaustion and anger – and it’s usually one of the people I love the most: my devoted husband, my exuberant son, my sweet daughter.
That, to me, was the real cost of not getting help.
Roberts is a freelance writer. She can be reached at lindseymroberts.com and she tweets @lindseymroberts.
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