Ask Laura: Is it wrong to hire a housecleaner?

Does using a housecleaner make me a bad feminist?

LauraEvery week, Ask Laura features responses to your questions about religion, relationships, and the mess they often create. You can submit questions to Laura anonymously at this form, or via Twitter (@lkoturner) or email ([email protected]). 

Dear Laura,

Not long ago, my husband and I moved to Washington, D.C., where he took a new job. My company is allowing me to work remotely. We’re generally clean people, although our standards are a little different — I’m fine to let the dishes sit in the sink for a day; my husband needs them all done before he can go to bed. We are at odds about whether we should hire someone to come and clean our house every once in a while (my husband’s idea) or if we should just both pick up the slack a bit more. I don’t want to pay someone to do something we are fully capable of doing ourselves, but my husband keeps pointing out that I’m fine with going to restaurants, having our clothes laundered, etc. I see the inconsistencies, but it just feels off to me.

What do you recommend?

Dirty in the District


Dear Dirty,

Also not long ago, my husband and I found ourselves in a similar predicament. I was the cleaner one, but resisted the notion of a housecleaner — it seemed anti-feminist, or too expensive, or something — until my husband showed me a new startup company that would clean your house for a fairly reasonable hourly rate. I agreed to give it a go, one time, and was pleasantly surprised when a young guy showed up for the job. Maybe the domestic cleaning industry is becoming more equitable, I thought. I thought back to my mother who, living in Scotland her first six months of marriage to my dad, cheerfully took buses to clean homes and swapped recipes with the ladies of the houses.

Five hours later, when I came home, I was less pleasantly surprised when he was still there. Asleep. In my chair.

That’s not to say a woman wouldn’t have fallen asleep, or to make any sort of assertion about gender. (A woman totally would never have done that. She would have been on to her next house, making money for her family or her car payments or whatever.)

But something about that experience freed me from the obnoxious idea that cleaning a person’s home is a special job different from any other kind of job. This guy fell asleep on the job. People have been doing that as long as jobs have existed. It was comforting, in a strange way. I mean, I wasn’t going to hire him again, but something about that situation opened me up to the idea of hiring a housecleaner.

So, back to your dilemma. You and your husband disagree, and you subscribe to the school of do-it-yourself. And I get it! It’s good to do things for yourselves, and know how to take care of yourselves, but I get the feeling that’s not the issue here. It sounds like there are a couple of things you and your husband need to talk about before you make a decision.

First of all, can you afford hiring someone to clean your house? If so, how often? What household-related tasks will you still need to keep up, and how will you do that? Talk those things through so that your expectations aren’t wildly different, which can lead to resentment.

Then, get at the root of your discomfort with hiring someone to clean your house. I’m going to take a guess that you, like me, may have had some difficulty with hiring someone in part because of what it says about you as a woman. We are expected to be the keepers of our own homes, aren’t we? I mean, we may not ever say it that way — it is 2015, after all — but how often do the husbands/boyfriends apologize that “the house is a mess”? Women are still overly (and unfairly) held responsible for the care of the private realm. We feel like domestic chaos reflects poorly on us, and interpret that guilt to mean that we must be on top of it all the time.

The job of a house cleaner is a strange mix of public and private — they’re hired based on referral or business card or other external recommendation, but they are tasked with the care of your most intimate stuff. That can feel personal. It is not. They’ve seen it all. It’s their job.

After Mr. Clean fell asleep in our house, I finally asked a friend of mine for a recommendation. Carmen comes to our house once a month, which is really reasonable for our needs. Her fee was a little more than I initially wanted to pay, but the peace of mind she brings to our home — not to mention our marriage — is worth every penny. We still both do plenty of work around the house, but we are happy to pay someone else to do the deep cleaning. So give it a go. It’s like a therapist, but cheaper, and with more tangible results.

Laura Turner
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  • Liz Aleman

    CARMEN is the BEST!!! She’s cleaned our house for years!

    • bakabomb

      MINE TOO!!! Nothing short of amazing how CARMEN gets around!

  • bakabomb

    “This guy fell asleep on the job.” Not necessarily. You claim to have been “surprised” on your return — five hours later — to find him still there. As though he should’ve been finished and gone before you came home. So did he finish the cleaning before he fell asleep? If so, you’ve got no case.

    And just perhaps this fella was working another job, wait staff at night, let’s say. If you haven’t walked a mile in those sneakers, you wouldn’t understand how he might’ve sat down and fallen asleep after cleaning up your house.

    • Elchupinazo

      That’s dumb. It doesn’t matter if he finished cleaning the house or not. If he did finish, he should have left. If he didn’t, what on Earth was he doing for five hours? I’m not saying that it’s anywhere near the end of the world if he fell asleep on (or immediately after) the job, and of course there are plenty of extenuating circumstances that could lead to him burning the candle at both ends. Regardless, that doesn’t mean she should feel bad about not hiring him again or being taken aback to find him asleep when she returned home.

      • bakabomb

        I didn’t suggest she should feel bad. What I said was that she didn’t consider important details and possibilities in her reply. And I merely raised the possibilities that she ignored, factors that might be significant in making a humane decision.

        This isn’t “Dear Abby”, it’s “On Faith”. In this forum, I’d expect an advice columnist to address the spiritual aspect — or at least the humanitarian aspect — of the questions raised in the column. I haven’t seen any of that in her columns, which leads me to wonder why they’re even run in this particular forum.

        But if she doesn’t see fit to address those aspects, I will. And it seems to me that we, as individuals, shouldn’t be treating our “hired help” like corporations treat their “human resource units” — disposable at will, without the least concern for them as people. It’s one thing to be “taken aback” by finding him asleep in your chair — Mama Bear was “taken aback” to find Goldilocks asleep in her bed, too. And the Three Bears chased Goldilocks right out of their house. But are we no better than bears? Shall we show no human concern for those who take on the menial jobs that we’d rather be spared from doing? Do we just fire them as if we were two-bit Donald Trumps? That’s the kind of question we’re supposed to be addressing here.

        • Elchupinazo

          Sure, but the question was “should I feel bad about hiring a cleaning service,” not “should I feel bad about firing a maid who fell asleep on the job?” In that case, your comment would have made for a very thoughtful reply, or at least a good segue into an actual answer.

          Instead, you’re picking apart an anecdote she used to illustrate a different point, that you needn’t treat or think of a housekeeper any differently than anyone else who provides a service in return for compensation. She even goes so far as to say “… that experience freed me from the obnoxious idea
          that cleaning a person’s home is a special job different from any other
          kind of job. This guy fell asleep on the job. People have been doing
          that as long as jobs have existed. It was comforting, in a strange way.”

          That’s a pretty humanizing angle, if that’s what you want. As fair as the spiritual angle goes, I cannot in any way see how it would be helpful to shoehorn one in where it makes no sense/adds no value to do so.