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Will a Housekeeper Simplify Your Life?

Will a Housekeeper Simplify Your Life?

By Patti Tokar

You come home from work or shopping.  You open the door and a fresh, clean scent greets you.  Cabinets gleam.  Counters shine.  The kitchen floor is pristine and yes, clean enough to eat on.  The carpets all boast a fresh vacuuming and the bathrooms are downright brilliant.  There is no dust to be seen on your softly glowing wood furniture.  Is is a dream, or did your housekeeper come and clean the house this morning?  Maybe a little of both.  

Many women secretly yearn to hire a housekeeper, (aka a maid, a cleaning lady, or a cleaning service),  to clean their houses.  Their motives are as varied as the women themselves.  One may just want someone to help her to keep up with all the work.  Another doesn't really care for housework at all and is glad to let someone else do it all.  Yet another woman may long to have a clean house but she lacks the time or the organization to properly keep the house even presentable.  A housekeeper, well chosen, can work well for any one of these women.  

"Ah," you may sigh!  "How simple my life would be with a housekeeper.  All that free time!  No housework."   Well, I must reply that it doesn't exactly work like that.  In actuality, hiring a housekeeper, like most things, is just a trade off of one set of problems for another, different set.  It's up to you to decide which set of problems you find easier to deal with.  

What are some of the issues involved in hiring a housekeeper?:

Probably the first and most important issue is deciding how much you want the housekeeper to do.  If you don't ever want to do any housework and you are actively living in your home, then you will probably need someone to come in at least several times a week.  (If you have kids, you may even need a live in maid!)  If you have the energy and time to do the daily straightening, dishes, small clean ups, bit of floor sweeping, etc. then you may do well with someone who comes in once, maybe twice a week.  If you don't have children or are seldom home, or you still plan on keeping up with most of the daily housekeeping chores, then you will do well with an every two weeks, every three weeks, or even a monthly cleaning schedule.  For most of the housekeepers that I have spoken with, every two weeks is the most common cleaning schedule requested, with weekly cleaning a second choice.

Along the same lines, the best advice that I can give you is to actually do the cleaning that you would like to have done.  This will tell you if your expectations are realistic and give you an idea of how much time it will take to do the cleaning the way you like it.  Do keep in mind that if you hire an experienced housekeeper or a commercial cleaning service, they will probably do the job in about 3/4 of the labor hours that it takes you.  Much less than this, and they likely are cutting too many corners to perform the job to your satisfaction.  I had an experience recently where the housekeeper kept insisting that she finished cleaning my house in less and less time, the last time in 2 hours.   Since I had already discussed with her the many areas she was missing, including the showers and bathtubs, all the corners of the kitchen floor, all areas that needed to have something moved a bit, such as under the kitchen garbage can, and she also missed most of the dust, I was able to fire her without a lot of  agonizing.  I already knew that to do the same job thoroughly and correctly took me six hours and I knew what to expect the house to look like after a cleaning.

This brings us to the next issue.  How much to pay a housekeeper .  I'd recommend that you try to pay by the hour.  In actuality, most housekeepers want to be paid by the job.  Virtually every commercial cleaning service that I spoke with charges by the job.  In my area (northern Indiana) the going rate for bi-weekly cleaning a 2500 square feet home with 2.5 bathrooms is about $40.00 to $65.00 per cleaning for an independent individual and about $80.00 to $100.00 for a commercial cleaning service. [Editor'sNote: These prices are outdated and should be increased by about 20-25% for 2016.] Throughout the rest of the article, I'll try to give pros and cons of each to help you decide which would work better for you.

How do you choose a housekeeper?  For best results hire a housekeeper who considers cleaning homes their main profession and has been in business for a number of years, has references, and is bonded.  Chances are, with a good service you will never need to use the bonding for a theft or breakage claim, but the fact that they are bondable gives an added degree of assurance.  Experienced cleaners know which cleaning products work best and they have developed routines to help them be more efficient and effective in their work.  They also have realistic expectations about what type of work will be expected of them.  (The recent housekeeper that I finally fired was very new and probably had the idea that housecleaning involved a bit of light dusting and a touch of vacuuming.)  Oh yes, with any person, be sure to call references.  Ask them if the person shows up for work every time, on time.  Ask them what services are done and how thoroughly they do the requested work.  Ask them if they are satisfied that they are getting good value.  Ask them how long they've used the person.  Ask them if they've had any trouble with breakage of furniture or equipment, or scratches, stains, etc. caused by improper cleaning.  And if you can do so, ask them how much they pay the housekeeper. If it seems awkward to ask how much they are paying, try asking the reference how much they believe you should expect to pay the housekeeper.

Choosing the day of the week for your cleaning service is an important consideration.  For at least the first several cleanings, you should stay home and give periodic supervision.  After that, I find the local practice varies. Probably the  most common practice is to wait for the cleaning person to arrive, then leave for work or errands and have the person lock up when they are finished.  Sometimes the person has a key or the code to the alarm system and lets themselves in.  Sometimes the owner always stays home while the housekeeper cleans.

Set some house rules.  Will you allow the housekeeper to have snacks from your pantry while she works?  Will you allow her to turn on the TV or radio?  A former housekeeper, who was actually quite good, had a habit of listening to soap operas while she worked.  We had several TVs in the house and she turned them all up full volume while she was there.  Just something to get used to, although once she changed the channel to a soap opera in the middle of a cartoon program I was recording for my son.

Who will provide the cleaning equipment and cleaning supplies?  The commercial cleaning services and many of the experienced housekeepers provide most if not all of their equipment and supplies.  Most non-commercial housekeepers do not provide the vacuum sweeper.  The experienced housekeepers tend to have strong preferences for specific cleaning products.  If cleaning supplies are not provided, expect to spend as much as $5.00 to $10.00 per cleaning on cleaning supplies.  You will probably quickly find that most housekeepers are not frugal when it comes to cleaning products, paper towels, trash bags, etc.  

How will you handle breakage, damage, or even theft?  Are you insured? (check with your insurance company).  The ideal solution is to hire someone you trust, who has a clean background, and is bonded.  A commercial cleaning service is very likely to be bonded and insured.  It is also a good practice to make sure that loose money, valuable items, and irreplaceable items are put away during each cleaning time.  Why tempt fate?  There might even be items that you ask the housekeeper not to clean.  In my house, we have two crystal chandeliers that I absolutely love.  They are a little delicate and I clean them myself.  This especially works because I enjoy the slow, full-concentration work required to clean each component of the chandelier.  It also saves a bundle in cleaning wages!

Keep in mind that even with a housekeeper, that the daily cleaning will still need to get done.  Someone will have to load and unload the dishwasher, clean the stove top and counters, make the beds, sweep the floors or at least the traffic areas, spot clean the bathrooms, do the laundry, and pick up toys, clothes, books, magazines.  I find that I enjoy these chores more when I know I can just straighten up and spot clean and that in the next week or so, the heavy-duty cleaning will take care of itself.  I also find that I have more time to do periodic chores like cleaning out closets or sorting out bookcases and toyboxes.  

Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of having a housekeeper is one that brings a smile:  having a housekeeper forces you to clean the house each time before she comes to clean.  Now, this is not as crazy as it sounds.  To get the best quality of work for your money, your home should be clutter-free and tidied up before each cleaning.  This would include clearing off countertops, picking up magazines and books, general straightening up, and anything that will streamline the housekeeper's cleaning process.  If she can't get to it, it probably won't get cleaned!  So I find that it is a wonderful regular discipline that the whole house needs to be tidied every two weeks.  The house stays neater overall.  

A housekeeper will need regular supervision.  After each cleaning visit, I walk through the house and do odd spot checks.  I also make a list of areas that are missed or areas that need extra attention.  After the first few visits, your list of missed areas should be fairly short.  If you are finding many, say, seven or more missed spots each time, then you are either not communicating well what your cleaning needs are or you do not have a very good housekeeper.  

Supervision and feedback is also important because nearly every regular housekeeper will fall into a "just the path" mentality after a few cleaning sessions.  It's a human trait of habit or following a set routine.  Adding an extra chore now and then or pointing out an area that needs once in a while attention will help to avoid the blinders that can come with routine.  I myself have missed cobwebs (and more, probably) in areas that I clean regularly, just because I was in the habit of not even looking in the corner with the guilty cobweb.  That has me convinced that no matter how good your housekeeper, it is important to check the house and give good feedback and supervision.   Another painful lesson that I got on regular checking and supervision happened just recently.  The housekeeper that I had to fire (again, a perfectly pleasant and seemingly competent person) must have decided at some point that scrubbing the showers and bathtubs was not part of the expected plan.  Silly me, I did not carefully check and by the time I did check, the shower wall in one of the bathrooms had even started to build up ugly spots of mildew from her neglect.  Fortunately I had my faithful Steam Buggy to zap that mildew and it hasn't had the courage to come back.  

On subject of extra chores, I find that it helps to establish up front that I will be asking for non-routine work on a regular basis.  This way, the work is expected and can be built into the flat fee if that is how the housekeeper is paid. Of course with large extra chores, such as cleaning all the windows, shampooing carpets, waxing a floor, etc., your housekeeper should be paid extra for the extra time and work.  Try to be generous with your pay but not foolish.  You will be establishing a precedent that your housekeeper will expect you to maintain. 

How will you pay your housekeeper?  I'm uncomfortable with anyone who insists on always being paid in cash.  While there might be a perfectly legitimate reason, it hints that they hope to avoid paying income taxes on their pay.  This tells me right away that I have someone who may be less than honest.  If they'll cheat other taxpayers in general by not paying their share of the tax burden, who is to say they will not cheat me as an individual?  Just a thought.

One big headache that a housekeeper can cause is one that does not show up on time or does not even show up at all sometimes.  Remember, that you will be spending an hour or two just getting the house ready for the housekeeper.  You will probably start planning some of your calendar around your cleaning days ("she comes on Wednesday, so I'll plan the church club meeting for Thursday morning so the house will be looking it's best.")  You may even have to wait at the house to let her in before you leave for work or an appointment.  A housekeeper that is often late or frequently calls to reschedule her day can cause real problems in your household and further complicate an already busy schedule. A commercial service may or may not help in this area, since they simply come after they have finished their previous job which may or may not be at the same time each week.  However, if you hire a commercial service with several employees, the chances of a no show diminish greatly.

What about privacy?  It should be made clear from the start that all matters in your house are private and not to be discussed.  You may want to put away some items or simply have a room or two that your housekeeper does not clean.  Certainly, you should put away valuable jewelry and you should not leave cash lying in the open.  Why tempt anyone?  My general findings:  If the housekeeper likes to chat about her other houses and their owners, then you can be certain that she is chatting about your house.  If the housekeeper comes in the front door and makes a beeline for the cleaning equipment while asking if there's any cleaning she needs to pay extra attention to, then she is not very likely to mope about peeking in drawers and checking out the medicine cabinet - she's got work to do and is intent on getting it done.  She probably is not even all that interested in your private life. Use your judgment, but I am comfortable just being up front and asking the housekeeper to keep all things about my home confidential.  In the area of privacy, a commercial service might be a benefit since they tend to work in teams which doesn't allow for one person to dawdle in any area (or look through drawers while they should be dusting.)

Now lastly, I'll touch on an area that is harder to define.  There is something a little zen-like in cleaning your own home.  Caring for your home, keeping it clean and organized, can be a very meditative experience.  When I have the time, I really enjoy getting out the broom and the dust cloth and carefully and thoroughly cleaning my house.  Not that I really enjoy the work, but I enjoy the feeling of connectiveness with my home.  I enjoy the textile experience of touching and cleaning and caring for the furniture that I love and cleaning and caring for the floors and counters and carpets that I walk on and use every day.  While cleaning, I can listen to music that energizes and refreshes me and when that is combined with the slow, repetitive motions that housecleaning requires, I get a sense of spiritual cleansing.  When you have a housekeeper, it's easy to lose that feeling of connectiveness.  It's easy to let your home drift back to being just a hotel-like house in your mind.  It's hard to find other tasks, except sitting on the carpet with your legs crossed for an hour, that give that deep sense of meditation.  

So, will a housekeeper simplify your life?  Only you can decide.

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