Why I Feel Bad About My House Cleaner

Megan McArdle linked to my last post about my guilt about having a house cleaner. She understands, but says that one should not feel guilty, because the house cleaner makes good money from doing the work and because house cleaning is good, honest labor.

I have five minutes before class, but I thought I would explain my guilt.

1. It’s good for us to do some manual labor. It gives us some empathy for people who have to do that work all day.
2. It’s good for us to not consume so many resources and create too large of a mess. The environmental reason.
3. Just because someone is willing to sell themselves into slavery, it does not make the institution a good one.
4. While I have no problem sending my shirts to the dry cleaners, I am very uncomfortable with sending all my laundry, especially my underwear. When the cleaning lady does the toilets, it makes me way more uncomfortable than when she vacuums my rug. All butt-related tasks should belong to the owner of the butt.
5. Just because you’ve really busy, it doesn’t justify house cleaners.
6. House cleaning is a job with no possibility of advancement, no health care, no social security.
7. House cleaners are subject to abuse, since they work in the private sphere rather than in public.
8. House cleaners are often resented by their employers, since they seem to make a lot per hour. (Mine gets $55 for 2-1/2 hours of work). People forget that they don’t get vacation days, sick leave, health insurance and other benefits.

I could keep going, but I have to run to work.


47 thoughts on “Why I Feel Bad About My House Cleaner

  1. Here are a few thoughts on your points:
    1. Manual labor is pretty unavoidable, especially for anyone with small children.
    exercise. We have housecleaners every two weeks, but my husband and I each do a solid 30 minutes of stuff (dishes, kitchen counters, swiffer floor, trash, pick up kid debris if there’s any energy left, wipe table, set up Roomba in dining room) every night. (By the way, everybody should have a Roomba.) We live in the bug belt, so none of the dining room and kitchen activities is optional–we’d be invaded if we slacked off. On Saturday mornings we do unpacking work (we moved three months ago, but you know how it is). Then the afternoon is devoted to mowing the yard and then leafblowing the driveway and walks. We are blessed with about 8 live oak and pecan trees that rain leaves, acorns, twigs, branches, and green nuts down on the yard. I suppose we could outsource the yard, but the exercise is good for us. Plus, we were quoted $45 a week for the mowing. We couldn’t really do that on top of the $235 a month for Merry Maids.
    2. Does anyone who buys a 3000 square foot home intend to clean it themselves? I have renewed respect for those 1950s house (now dubbed “midcentury modern”) that were built so that one woman could take care of them, and still have time to host the Garden Club. Reading home magazines, I often think that no one would go for the designs who was actually going to have to take care of these things.
    6. Everybody who pays their taxes has to pay Social Security. The self-employed (like my dad when I was growing up) pay double–the employer share plus the employee share. The self-employed tend to be particularly hostile to tax increases, with good reason.
    As to advancement, if a cleaner gets faster and more efficient, she can make more money. She can also bring in an employee, or maybe even go into home organizing if she has the language skills.
    7. Cleaners can’t be abused as readily as nannies, because they have many, many employers, and can fire one employer without losing their entire income.

  2. While I was pregnant and totally immobile, my mom and my MIL paid for someone to clean our house. It was a lovely gift–and they kept it up until Lyra was almost six months old. It was sooooo nice to have the house *clean*. I still had to straighten and organize and do laundry, but it was great. Nevertheless, I had a lot of mixed feelings about it. Except when I was sick, there was no physical reason why I couldn’t clean. As a middle-class female, that’s MY job (at least, so says the little voice in my head). I don’t have a problem outsourcing dry-cleaning, because I don’t have the equipment or the chemicals. But I have similar trouble with the idea of paying someone else to do my laundry or to mow my lawn or rake my leaves.
    Rationally, I know this is ridiculous, but the guilt-voice isn’t especially rational. And, as soon as it is financially feasible, I’m planning to hire someone to clean again. Hiring someone to do household tasks is buying leisure and, assuming that you aren’t engaging in an exploitive relationship with your employee, you are helping someone else earn a living.

  3. Re: #1, I second the comments above. I’ve got two young boys, and between fixing bikes, building toys, putting together furniture, repairing the house, etc. I spend plenty of time practicing and teaching manual skills.
    More importantly, re: #3. “Just because someone is willing to sell themselves into slavery, it does not make the institution a good one”. It’s hard to imagine a more insulting and offensive way to trivialize the horrors of slavery. My housekeeper drives over in her Honda Accord and makes $150 for less than 4 hours of work. How dare you compare that to slavery?
    #6 “House cleaning is a job with no possibility of advancement”. My housekeeper is saving money to bring her children to the U.S. (she’s a legal permanent resident). She also takes classes at the local community college, as well as English classes at night. I guess that doesn’t count as “advancement”?
    #8. “House cleaners are often resented by their employers, since they seem to make a lot per hour. …People forget that they don’t get vacation days, sick leave, health insurance and other benefits.” See also: electricians, plumbers, house painters, contractors, carpenters, etc. I honestly have no idea why this should make me feel guilty.

  4. It’s a relief to hear Mrs. Coulter lump lawn care in with house cleaning. One thing that has always enraged me about the anti-housecleaner argument is that people are somehow OK with outsourcing lawn care, but lay on the guilt about indoor cleaning. I can’t help but see the gender bias in that argument.
    This discussion reminds me of Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, where she rages against people who hire cleaning services … and in reality she’s really raging against the class bias that has historically been inherent in this relationship. I just don’t see that as applicable, especially in a world where we run into our housekeeper Jadwiga at Target on a regular basis. She makes $120 for 5 hours’ work. (It would take me a whole weekend to do what she whips thru in one short day.)
    OK, so I’ve made it clear that I disagree with Laura’s general points. But there are still two things that make my uneasy about our cleaning lady. And they are:
    1) I sense that, in hiring a cleaning lady, I’m not really buying back my own time as much as I’m avoiding a HUGE, life-long argument with my husband about him actually doing his share. And so perhaps I’m really outsourcing that argument onto women who don’t have enough cash to hire a cleaning woman? That feels icky.
    2) It bothers me that my children haven’t yet learned how to clean well. I had this drummed into me as a child, when my mother commandeered entire weekends for both my sister and I and scrubbed scrubbed scrubbed. Having an obsessive-compulsive mother may not have been the most fun childhood, but I definitely know how to remove mildew.
    The kids have *not* gotten the message that they don’t need to clean. We clean up every night (even when Jadwiga us due in the morning), we do all our own laundry, no one ever says, “I’m just going to leave that for Jadwiga.” But the girls have never truly participated in a full bathroom scrubbing. Nor do they know the sensation of having to choose between fun and cleanliness. So I would bet that, once we can afford for me to cut back my hours, the kids and I are going to get roped into more. At least for a while, so they know how.
    As a pathetic aside, note that I am willing to go part-time to do my own housecleaning before I’m willing to have the fights it would take to make my husband do his share.

  5. sometimes I really hate it when I linked to by the big people. I have three minutes to answer the last dude.
    I wasn’t comparing housecleaners to slaves. I was merely pointing out that just because someone is willing to do something, doesn’t make it right.
    Your housecleaner isn’t working a job where she can work up the ladder. There’s no management in her job. While she may be saving up some money for some other goal, she’ll never be anything but a housecleaner. Many housecleaners don’t speak English. Their job doesn’t even help them improve their English, so that they can get a better job somewhere else. They might be advancing someone’s else lives through their work, but there is no advancement for themselves.
    I’m not trying to say that you should feel guilty. I’m only explaining my own guilt.

  6. “. . . she’ll never be anything but a housekeeper.”
    My husband (an immigrant from Central America)has family members who have, over the space of ten years, turned an occasional cleaning job for one or two families into a significant business. They now employ scores of people, and have revenues of well over a million dollars a year. No room for advancement? Interestingly, I suspect that any given client of theirs thinks they’re a little mom and pop operation struggling to get by.
    My husband sort of followed in their footsteps, and started cleaning houses and businesses in the city where we live. That’s now become a part-time business that allows him to contribute significantly to our family’s economic well being, while giving him flexibility to pick up the kids after school and do the grocery shopping. (I’m an Ivy League-educated professional who does the full time outside of home work in the family.) He’s not able to offer benefits to his employees, but he pays them well over minimum wage and a lot more than they’d be making at Wal-Mart.
    This is one of those industries where there no doubt are many exploited workers out there, but plenty who are making a very good living. Lots of us can’t tell the difference because we lack knowledge about the economic and cultural underpinnings of the industry. But the opportunity to grow a business is as significant as for carpenters, plumbers, small store owners, etc. There’s a certain amount of condescension in assuming that, because your house cleaner is doing manual work and maybe doesn’t speak English that well or isn’t white, she’s not able to make a successful business from it.

  7. the best argument i ever heard justifying hiring housecleaners was basically – if a person eats dinner at a restaurant and thinks that is okay, why is it not okay to hire housecleaners?
    in other words, every argument that can be made about why one shouldn’t hire housecleaners can also be applied to the prep cooks, the table bussers, and the dishwashers in restaurants.
    it definitely gave me a different perspective.
    i’ve had housecleaners come since my son was born. i could not imagine what our house would look like, or how intolerable my life would be, if i had to take on the weekly cleaning as well as everything else. and no, my husband would not do it. so that’s a non-starter.

  8. Amy P,
    Does the Roomba work in a room where there is a fair bit of clutter (chairs, several biggish toys around the walls, etc.)? Our son is just learning to feed himself and the crumbs are multiplying. Also, does it get hair? And will it go from hard wood to an area rug?
    Sorry for not having an opinion on any ethical matters, I’d just really like an extra 15 minutes to sit in the evening, but I’m leery of new labor-saving devices.

  9. MH,
    The room you describe (chairs and large toys) is exactly the sort of thing a Roomba can handle. I’m not totally sure about hair or an area rug, but I suspect it manages pretty well. You do need to set things up so that it stays in the area you want it to clean, since it can get confused if the space is too large. It’s also thin enough that it gets under furniture that would be a pain to vacuum under with a conventional vacuum. We’ve had ours for a long time now and it’s starting to give out, but we’re definitely going to replace it with a newer model. If we were to run it in the dining room every night, plus an extra room during the day, I think we’d be doing very well.
    If you do buy, you will initially waste a lot of time just watching it. There are Roomba fan sites, and die-hard Roomba groupies can dress theirs up in lady bug costumes! Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
    It’s funny that aside from the Roomba and its relatives (the Scooba, etc.), housework hasn’t changed much from our grandmothers’ days. I personally long to own the robotic lawn mower, although it sounds like the set up for a really gory horror movie.

  10. There are many good things that come out of me having a house cleaner. I get to work and have more times with the kids. These are very good things. But those good things still doesn’t mean that the cleaning lady is getting a good deal in life.
    If house cleaners are no different than restaurant workers, if they make decent wages, and if their jobs actually prepare them for running a home based business than that makes house cleaning a good thing for both people. I’m just not sure if those things are true.
    House cleaners are different from people who bus tables in a restaurant. The table bussers have the opportunity to move up the ranks of restaurant workers to waiters to maitre d’s. They progressively work up to fancier restaurants where they make more money and have more job satisfaction. My grandfather was a maitre d’ at the Waldorf Astoria and enjoyed a lot of satisfaction from managing the waiters and dealing with the clients. House cleaners don’t have those opportunities.
    Laura GP, I wonder how many housecleaners have been able to start their own business like your husband? If there are many, then that’s cool. I’m just not sure about the numbers.
    I’m also not sure how well the cleaning lady does with all this off-the-books money. They are subject to random firings. They get too tired to do the work for prolonged periods of time. They aren’t getting any benefits.
    The house cleaner also lets the men in this house off the hook. I’m not teaching the boys how to vacuum. They are watching two women (the cleaner and me) do all the cleaning. I’m not training good feminists and my future daughters-in-law are going to hate me.
    But these are qualms, rather than huge worries. I do have a house cleaner. She does seem happy to have the work. I pay her on time and don’t complain that she didn’t clean the light fixtures in the kitchen. She makes my life of work and kids more doable. But I can’t deny that there are questionable issues here.

  11. I’ve also heard good things about the roomba.
    If there’s any question that MM’s new commenters are dirt bags, check out the guy who thinks that women shouldn’t be professors, because they waste their time worrying about matters such as morality.

  12. I think you’re right to feel guilty, Laura. Your choice is sending at least two pernicious messages to your children: 1) that domestic work is less noble than intellectual or public work; and 2) that this less noble work is the realm of darker-skinned people.
    Also, I’ve been struck as I’ve followed your story over the last year or so at the extent to which your working has–intentionally or un–brought a lot of upper-class signaling into your life. I was a lot like you two years ago: PhD, working independently between kids, absent husband with a very demanding job. Then you went back to work, and I had another baby. Now (from what you occasionally share on the blog) you have a cleaning lady, vacations, new clothes and handbags—-all markers of wealth. Contrary to what you suggest, these things are not typical of middle class families (at least not in my community). It’s this apparent if perhaps chimeric class divide that fuels conflicts and resentment between working and at-home mothers, as well as the other very real cultural divides that put our interests on opposite sides of some intractable dilemmas.
    I confess to some mild disdain for families who hire servants for their domestic tasks. It’s a source of satisfaction and pride to me that I maintain a sustainable lifestyle, with a small enough house and yard and few enough things and children that I can care for them all properly myself.

  13. Cates, not every cleaning person is of color. Ours certainly is not. And our house is 1500 square feet, but it still doesn’t clean itself.

  14. Thanks for the Roomba tip. I think I’ll risk the money on one. We don’t have a cleaner, not because of ethical or financial barriers, but because when I read Nickled and Dimed, I was struck by the fact that the rag from someone else’s bathroom could be used in my house. Basically, the same reasoning that keeps me from Taco Bell.

  15. Interesting. Cates, you’re the second commenter who has made mention of our increasing financial fortunes. I’m thinking about that.
    Actually, just to clarify things. The reason that we had our first vacation in ten years this summer and that I finally bought a handbag has nothing to do with my job. I’m going to make a grand total of $[removed info] for the next year. The reason we can afford a vacation and nice sweaters is because my husband has been rapidly working his way up the ladder at an investment bank in NY. The only reason that I can afford to do this job is because my kids are finally in school full time (no daycare) and because we don’t need my income to eat. So, resent me because my husband makes good money, not me.

  16. laughing at the the dirty rag story. I remember that story, too. BE had an article in the Atlantic about the maids and it was a big influence on me.

  17. Laura:
    I think you see a difference between restaurant workers & housecleaners only because your background & culture includes one but not the other. (i.e. you see the career path for table-bussers but not for housecleaners). My guess is that the exploitation and career path of table-bussers is not significantly different from the exploitation of housecleaners.
    Re people who are pointing out that you’re not “middle-class” any more. We do need to resist the tendency to continue to believe that we’re middle class when we’re not, because it leads to delusions about how others can cope with different life situations (health problems, loss of jobs, work, daycare. It’s also not fair to assume that someone who points out that we have the markers of affluence are resentful. They just have different values. A person can make a lot of money and still think it’s wrong (or feel guilty) about buying a handbag (or hiring a housecleaner).

  18. A rather formidable SAHM-blogger was recently asking rhetorically whether cooking your meals, taking care of your children, or cleaning your house were responsibilities that you are comfortable handing over to someone that you don’t respect. In context, she was defending SAHMs from the charge that they are spending their time unworthily, but you could just as well steal the argument in favor of people who do these jobs for pay. If I have a babysitter I want her to be energetic, safety-minded, and smart as a tack. Likewise, I’d like a cleaner to be efficient, honest, thorough, careful, and hard-working. Through a lot of these discussions (on MM’s site, mostly) there is a pervasive lack of respect for the dignity of labor, and an unhidden (and quite undeserved) sense of white-collar superiority.

  19. I don’t really want to get into my particular class status right now. I might do it in another post, but I’m not sure if it’s a good idea to about talk in detail about our finances on the internet. I should probably delete that info about my salary.
    My particular class status aside, I have read statistics somewhere that the use of cleaning ladies have increased in middle class homes. If I come across the numbers, I’ll post them.
    Sorry, if I was a bit snippy on the earlier comment.

  20. I think that BJ articulated the point that I had hoped to make about lack of knowledge about the industry far better than I did. Laura M, your dismissal of the idea that many house cleaners can make a business of it disregards the fact that any cleaner who contracts with you directly (as opposed to an employee of a cleaning company) already is running a business. If they are working at it for 40 hours or so a week, even without any employees, they are likely netting considerably more than $25,000 per year. Lack of benefits and risk of firing are very real issues, but they are not unique to house cleaning (and, indeed, are issues you may face in your own profession). And don’t discount the client management aspect of the job. My husband and I often chuckle over the similarity of the client management challenges we face, he as a cleaner and I as a lawyer.
    Sorry to hijack, and I don’t mean to undermine your very valid point that many workers who are employed by others — particularly those without very good English language skills — are underpaid and exploited. But I can’t help feeling that your dismissal of the possibility that house cleaners can (and often do) make a decent living of it reflects an unintentional devaluing of the work itself.
    And I’m sure there’s still plenty of work for the boys to do – why don’t you have them pick up their own piles, or clean their own rooms?

  21. On a different and more personal note, I never learned to clean house properly growing up. I spent many a miserable Saturday scrubbing at mineral deposits on the shower or vacuuming under my mom’s very, very close supervision, but I never got the big picture (and neither did my mom, either), a sense of all the small and large tasks that need to be done periodically to prevent a house turning into a ripe petri dish. I hire help 50% because I can and it makes my life easier, and 50% because all the little things would simply never get done. It’s a pretty big job just dealing with the yard, daily housekeeping, dealing with periodic tasks like changing bedding or steam-cleaning upholstery, and dealing with clutter. A cleaning service is great, but it will only get you so far.
    A large chunk of the problem is the fact that we have so many more possessions than previous generations. My kids have easily ten times as many toys as my siblings and I ever had.

  22. One more thing: there’s been a lot of talk on MM’s site about whether or not housecleaning is skilled labor. I certainly think it is. I own about half a dozen housekeeping manuals (I like to read more than clean, alas), and really competent housekeeping requires an encyclopedic knowledge of materials and their upkeep (I think few people would get granite or stainless if they knew what they were getting into). Hopefully, by the time I have a home of my own in a year or two, I’ll be savvy enough not to wreck anything through carelessness.

  23. Laura, I get your guilt, totally, but here is my rationalization, such as it is. (Not that I have a housecleaner; I guess I could afford one, but it feels like too much work to get one and then prepare for her (him?)).
    I would rather spend money on people than products. We already have too much crap. I don’t need more crap, and I certainly don’t need a Coach bag (sorry 😉 to make my life complete. At least when I’m paying someone for a service (like the guy who’s been mowing our lawn, or the guy who was doing our kitchen remodel), I know the money’s going to them, not to some soulless corporation and its wealthy shareholders.
    I just wish sometimes I could pay someone to *grade* for me. 😉

  24. I’ll cast another vote for the Roomba. it should be ok with area rugs as long as they don’t have fringes. And it performs what was the critical role of a housecleaner for us, which is forcing us to pick up the clutter off the floor (since the housecleaners can’t do that, because they don’t know where anything is supposed to go).
    Laura, are you sure it was Ehrenreich in the Atlantic and not Flanagan?
    More substantive comments at my site..

  25. I just recently started paying our PT babysitter, who has a degree in physics and is a licensed A/C repairperson, among other talents, to do the deep cleaning of our house at $20/hr, every other week, on her business’s books.
    No guilt here; it frees some weekend time for some of our pursuits, which are usually arts-related. There’s plenty of rice grains to be washed for our Zen experiences. Our house is a bit bigger than I would like, but designed to 1960s housewife standards since it was, indeed, built then.
    She’s not oppressed, here legally (Canada), and prefers the manual labour right now while she writes her book. Just as not every middle or upper class person is one way or another, so not every cleaning person is one way or another.
    I do however give the toilet a good swipe before she comes; I sort of agree about the bums. 🙂

  26. Man, do I hate this debate, not the least because I have never ever read a man (even a daddyblogger) blogging about his guilt for using, or superiority for not using, a cleaning service. And yet, here I go, lobbing another log on the blaze…
    My house is a total disaster area. My children are growing up with a laissez-faire attitude toward cleaning, and that’s okay with me. If my daughter grows up to be the kind of woman who never feels a pit of dread in her stomach when she invites another woman into her living room, I’ll be pretty happy.
    I personally would never use a house cleaner, which has a lot to do with the fact that I worked for a janitors union that had an extremely large female membership. Most women who work as commercial cleaners either started as “domestics” or still do side work. The treatment that they would talk about was pretty incredible. I would rather live in a dirty house, than involve myself in a system that allows women to be treated like that, regardless of what my personal motivations and/or relationship to my cleaner might hypothetically be.

  27. Another data point: my cleaner has two school-aged daughters. She and her husband are legal immigrants; he works full time (some kind of skilled labor) and she cleans a few houses for between $25-30/hour during the day and finishes before her kids get home from school. It’s a mommy-track job for her – no different from the “mother’s hours” jobs the SAHM crowd takes when the kids hit school. Except my cleaner earns a lot more and goes back to Brazil for a month every so often without having to negotiate with a boss.
    I don’t feel guilty in the least. I would never hire a larger firm, due to the probability of exploitation (and dirty practices!).
    I view a cleaner as a necessity – not because cleaning is beneath me, but because it is very important work. A clean house is a prerequisite for my mental health and well-being, and I respect my cleaner’s ability to do a thorough job. Our income has increased substantially recently – but we employed her even when it cut into the grocery money.
    All the facets of running a modern household are overwhelming while working; cleaning is the easiest one to farm out and the one I’m worst at. I still must tackle the tidying, laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, bill-paying, and paper-managing parts of the household.

  28. I HAVE to write a post on handbags. Totally amused that this keeps coming up as an issue. My bag, for the record, is from the Banana, which I got on sale for $40. Prior to that, I used a diaper bag or a backpack to hold my wallet. Sometimes I used a plastic bag from Shop Rite.
    Yeah, Elizabeth. Just googled it. The BE article was in Harpers, not Atlantic. This article had a big influence on me. Off to check out your blog.
    Laura GP, I wonder if your husband has had a such a positive experience with housecleaning, because he’s an educated man. Do you think he gets more respect because of his gender? I’m also not sure that most house cleaners are netting more than $25,000 per year. Maybe they are. Just not sure.

  29. A private housecleaner would be. A cleaner I employed in suburban Maryland did my two-bedroom home in about two hours (after she’d been doing it a while) and I paid her $80 per visit–a very reasonable sum in those parts. If she could manage to do three houses a day at that rate, that would be $240 a day. If she worked 20 days a month, that would be $4800 for the month. There are a lot of ifs there, but at that rate, even after taxes, etc., she’s already way outearning Laura.

  30. Wow. Housecleaning in the wealthy suburbs sounds pretty lucrative. Why don’t any of us do it for a living, then? Has to be better than grading–no whiny students.
    Laura, sorry for piling on about the bag thing, but I swear, at my university there’s a cult of the purse/bag/whatever it’s called, and it drives me insane for irrational reasons. My students all have purses/bags (no one carries a backpack any more), or they write their compare-contrast essays about the difference between Coach and Prada bags, and even my colleagues get into it. Last spring, the graduating office assistant was given a $250 Coach bag, which she cried in joy over. I just don’t get it!
    I never buy purse/bags. My mom will get me one for Xmas now and again when she notices mine is getting worn.
    Obviously, I am just strange. 🙂

  31. The rates do seem to come as a shock. When I used to contribute to a DC mothers’ list-serve, I would occasionally write a polite note to people who complained that they couldn’t get anybody to clean their house for $10 an hour, explaining that that isn’t the going rate. Given that in the DC area nannies (who come from the same employment pool) tend to want at least $500 a week with the taxes paid and perhaps medical insurance, too, there’s no way that anybody would clean houses for $10 an hour. It’s physically much harder work than nannying, plus there’d be the hassle of materials, transportation, juggling a dozen different employers, etc. It was always fun to see the entitlement on display on that list-serve. My personal favorite was the mother who objected to her nanny’s rather moderate personal meal breaks, and seemed to think that she should be able to dock the nanny for the time she spent eating while caring for the child. (I think Mrs. Coulter can vouch for this one.)

  32. I agree with those who said hire a cleaner directly rather than through an agency. The reality is there will always be a need for hired workers in the home, the question is how they are paid and treated. For example, the elderly and those with disabilities often hire people to clean and cook, and unless our society suddenly can provide extended families to help all these folks, the need will be there.
    Also, why do we assume that all people who hire cleaners are rolling in dough? One article in Hip Mama magazine (which at the time was put out by poor mothers) I never forgot was an account by a young mother of how she scraped up the money to go to a therapist once a week to cope with the stress of being a poor, single mother. For some reason one week she hired a cleaner instead (perhaps the therapist was on vacation?) and found that the housecleaner was what she neeeded, not 50 minutes of “processing”.

  33. “So, resent me because my husband makes good money, not me.”
    Of course not, Laura, you’re far too likable to resent. (I will reserve a spot of envy for the bag, or at least the idea of a nice new bag.) I enjoy your blog very much, and I have really appreciated your candor over the past year as I’ve contemplated my own (similar) options for the future. Thanks for your gracious hosting of a venue in which I can offer little candor in return from the other side.

  34. 1. It’s good for us to do some manual labor. It gives us some empathy for people who have to do that work all day.
    Indeed. That doesn’t mean we need to do all the manual labour.
    Again, if that’s your problem, why not grow all your own food and weave all your own fabric and then sew all your own clothes as well?
    2. It’s good for us to not consume so many resources and create too large of a mess. The environmental reason.
    Perhaps. But this strikes me as a reason to feel guilty about having children and consuming resources at all, not about hiring a cleaner to clean up after them in the second place.
    Let us imagine that due to your own fault, your child requires medical treatment (eg you accidentally brought back an infectious disease from a trip and he caught a really bad case). Would you then feel guilty about hiring a doctor to care for him? Would you think there was something morally degrading in being a doctor?
    3. Just because someone is willing to sell themselves into slavery, it does not make the institution a good one.
    This is irrelevant unless you are enslaving people to clean your house. In which case the moral thing is to stop enslaving people.
    4. While I have no problem sending my shirts to the dry cleaners, I am very uncomfortable with sending all my laundry, especially my underwear. When the cleaning lady does the toilets, it makes me way more uncomfortable than when she vacuums my rug. All butt-related tasks should belong to the owner of the butt.
    Actually, having cleaned toilets for pay, I find them less disgusting than cleaning kitchens (this obviously depends on the relative levels of dirt, a clean kitchen can be a better job than a really dirty bathroom). Getting grease off things I find a worse job than cleaning a toilet. Toilets are all ceramic and you can just flush all the nasty stuff away.
    I would also not take the butt rule too far. I have earned my money at times cleaning the butts of the disabled. If I was ever disabled that badly I would want someone to do the same service for me.
    5. Just because you’ve really busy, it doesn’t justify house cleaners.
    Nor does it justify buying clothes rather than raising your own cotton/wool/flax, weaving the cloth and sewing your own clothes.
    Nor does it justify buying food rather than growing it all yourself.
    Nor does it justify buying a house rather than building one with your own hands.
    6. House cleaning is a job with no possibility of advancement, no health care, no social security.
    Then provide health insurance and a career plan to your housecleaner. That should get rid of those feelings of guilt nicely.
    If they are paying taxes they should be building up social security. You should check that they are paying taxes.
    7. House cleaners are subject to abuse, since they work in the private sphere rather than in public.
    Well for heaven’s sake stop abusing your housecleaner then. If you are not abusing your housecleaner (and I don’t think you are the sort of person who would do that), why feel guilty about it?
    And if this is your objection to hiring house cleaners, do you also feel so guilty about buying food (often grown by people in the private sector), or buying clothes (again, making clothes is a private sector job). And how about buying cleaning products? The people making those are private sector workers. And I wouldn’t be surprised if your house was originally built by people in the private sector.
    8. House cleaners are often resented by their employers, since they seem to make a lot per hour. (Mine gets $55 for 2-1/2 hours of work). People forget that they don’t get vacation days, sick leave, health insurance and other benefits.
    Well personally I resent my dentist. I go to one whenever I am feeling rich and they fix that feeling. I don’t know how much of the work they recommend is truly necessary. And they certainly make a lot per hour out of me.
    Does that mean that hiring a dentist is something to feel guilty about? Or that my mum, who loves her current dentist, should feel guilty about hiring her dentist? Are you now going to feel guilty about going to the dentist because you now know that I resent it?
    I bet your sons are as ignorant of growing their own food or sewing their own clothes as of vaccumming. Why don’t you feel guilty about that too?
    Really, according to your logic, you have an absoutely massive set of things to feel guilty about. Forgive me if I skip it all.

  35. Just want to put down a marker about cleaning our own space. We do it, and with my better half physically not up to it for the next several months, I am the one doing it.
    Don’t have any deep thoughts or generalizable principles on the matter, but did want to put in a data point from someone with a Y chromosome.

  36. Why I Haven’t Hired a Housekeeper

    Laura at 11D wrote about her pleasure in having a clean house but her vague sense of unease, even guilt, in relying on the labors of another to help achieve it. Then, because she was challenged not to feel guilty,

  37. Okay, one more comment and then I’m out. Laura M, you raise an interesting point about the maleness and better educational level. I’ll add to that some helpful contacts that come from having an anglo wife. A few caveats, though: my husband has two years of University under his belt in Central America, but no workable proof here that he even completed high school. I’d say his opportunities have come more from being a fluent English speaker (though his written English isn’t great) than from being a man, and immigrants without English skills that allow them to interact directly with anglo clients have far fewer opportunities than the immigrants who manage to learn some English along the way. Nevertheless, for those who do learn English, the numbers Amy P. sets out are pretty well on base. Of course, there’s no health insurance or vacation pay. Sadly, though, that’s not so uncommon in many areas of our economy.
    Now, I wouldn’t necessarily put “getting respect” high on the list of job benefits. Most of my husband’s clients are great, but there are plenty who take advantage. One client once told him she didn’t need cleaning done that day, and asked him to strip the wallpaper in her bathroom instead. But I’m a commercial lawyer, and once a more senior lawyer visiting from another office of my prestigious law firm made me help him pack up his dirty clothes to send them home. Now there’s some butt work.

  38. the bottom line, again, is that there is an entire sphere of underpaid & exploited workers that do manual domestic labor for us, from growing our food (agri-business farms)to cooking our food (restaurants) to cleaning our toilets & changing our sheets (hotels) that you just don’t hear the guilt about people using. why? i think it’s because it’s men who use these services as much or more than women.
    when i find a blog frequented by (male) business travellers who are wringing their hands with guilt over who exploited the cleaning staff are at the hotels they stay at, then i’ll start worrying about hiring the LOCALLY-OWNED – by a woman – house cleaning service we use. the majority of whose employees are white-skinned, btw.

  39. Restaurants actually are a very ripe area for exploitation and bad hygiene. I don’t know how things are these days, but Orwell has a very entertaining book called “Down and Out in Paris and London” where he chronicles life at the bottom in the two capitals. Some of his most riveting material takes place behind the scenes at a big Parisian hotel restaurant, where he works as a plongeur, the bottom ranking member of the restaurant staff. Needless to say, there are many violations of the health code and many abusive labor practices.

  40. If my students were writing compare/contrast essays about Prada & Coach bags (on a regular basis), I think I would go insane, and seriously consider cleaning floors for a living (I couldn’t do toilets, though).
    I too don’t get the bag thing. But then, I’m have a difficult time fitting accessories of any sort into my schedule.

  41. You couldn’t impress me with a real Coach bag, because I’d assume it was a knock-off. So, several hundred dollars wasted.

  42. House cleaning i is always in the lineup of housewives’ tiresome household chores. Full-time moms make the six o’clock alarm a welcome to another daylong cleaning routine. Eventually, one will find a room in total disarray again after it had just been completely vacuumed, straightened, and given the white glove treatment. Like a dog chasing its tail, one is stuck in the never-ending cycle and thankless job called “housework”.

  43. I was talking to my lead housecleaner yesterday. She told me that she was a mechanical engineer for 25 years, but left because she didn’t want to do it anymore. She said her and her husband’s retirement is in order and her kids are grown up and settled with land.
    That was a bit of a surprise. I’m hoping I didn’t lay on the lady-of-the-manor/noblesse oblige thing too heavily previously.

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