Next to godliness

When I told a friend of mine a while ago that we’d decided to hire a cleaner, his response was “Why pay someone else to do something you can do yourself?” To which my reply was naturally “Why do something myself when I can pay someone else to do it for me?”

Ok, so there’s a limit to the household tasks I’m willing to outsource, but is there something fundamentally wrong or objectionable with paying someone else to clean up after you? Considering that I’ve never lived alone, cleaning, for me, always involved a large element of cleaning up other people’s mess, whether it was house-mates’ or children’s. It was inevitably a sore point, involving endless wrangling over rotas, job descriptions and quality control. If I lived alone I might be more inclined to carry out the tasks myself, but when you need to clean a three storey house, and doing so eats into the time that you could otherwise spend with your family, I feel no compunction in calling in the professionals. Besides, it takes our cleaner four hours to do something well that it would take me a whole day to do badly.  Plus, in a recent development which removed any lingering doubts I may have had about the idea, the Belgian government (back when there was such a thing) introduced a new system called Dienstencheques, or Titres-service. The idea is that you pay your cleaner pretty much the same amount as you would before, but it’s all legal and above-board, and the workers get benefits, paid holidays, etc.

As it is we tend to keep things pretty clean and tidy during the week (it’s not as if we drop food on the floor and leave it there, thinking “It’s ok – the cleaner’ll get that for me”). In fact, I’m quite the tidiness freak, constantly clearing up and putting away, organising and ordering, a place for everything and everything in its place. I consider “throwing away” (or recycling, as appropriate) to be part of this, and I’m always looking for ways to reduce the clutter by ditching items which have outlived their usefulness. One of the most frequent questions I ask my wife is “Have you finished with that? Can I throw it away?” Ok, that’s two questions.

So I consider that I do take an interest in, and some responsibility for, my immediate environment. But if I can get someone else to wipe the toilet bowl for me, I will.

10 thoughts on “Next to godliness

  1. sgazzetti March 20, 2008 / 11:49 am

    We had a cleaner who would come in every second week to do the heavy-duty stuff, and it was some of the best money we ever spent. Or didn’t spend, because she quickly flaked out, not appearing when she promised to for weeks on end, and then turning up at the least convenient time — during the six-month-old’s nap, e.g. — so we finally just called it off. When you’ve got little kids, and therefore almost no free time, that kind of outsourcing is completely worth it. We hated having to admit that it wasn’t working, and if we’d been able to find someone else to hire we would have done it immediately.


  2. rasman1978 March 20, 2008 / 12:38 pm

    I have this theory, that I’ve been meaning to blog about, that everyone falls somewhere on a spectrum of cleanliness. Everyone has a certain level of dust and grime that will push them over the “get up off the couch and clean” threshold. For some people, it only takes a little bit until they can’t stand it anymore. Others can stand quite a lot of filth before feeling the intrinsic motivation to do something about it. I’ve lived with people both higher and lower than me on the spectrum, and it’s a huge source of tension. A secondary part of my theory is that where you fall on the spectrum is very closely tied to your parents and/or the house you grew up in, and that attempting to change your level of cleanliness, either up or down, as an adult, is futile.

    Personally, I think that outsourced cleaning as an excellent solution. It removes the responsibility and blame from the whole equation.


  3. tinafrench March 20, 2008 / 5:03 pm

    Go for it, I say. Wish I could hire someone even just to do the bathroom!


  4. jane March 20, 2008 / 9:23 pm

    I’ve been considering this myself. I keep things tidy but there are some tasks I just don’t want to do and would cheerfully pay someone else to tackle. Getting this rolling is on my 2008 To Do list.


  5. Karen MEG (Pomtini) March 25, 2008 / 2:47 pm

    We’ve had a cleaner ever since we had kids (comes in every 2 weeks). It’s the one “luxury” I’ve allowed myself to keep since deciding to stay at home. But it’s now more of a necessity. I spend most of my time actually just picking up after the kids so that our cleaning lady can actually clean.

    Because I’m determined to untangle the term “house” from “wife” … much to my husband’s chagrin (I kid, but he knew from the get-to that one thing I do not do, at least not well, is clean).

    Good for you!


  6. Peter March 25, 2008 / 8:29 pm

    While it’s handy to have someone else to wipe the toilet bowl, consider that the Belgian ‘Dienstencheques, or Titres-service’ (you posted the link) is almost equal to forced, institutionalized abuse of legal cheap labour.
    (Many of the unemployed get these ‘no is not an option’ offers – even if you’re well educated or had an office job..)

    Those poor people (on a temp basis, without a classic Belgian full employment contract) are getting only 6 euro an hour for often very dirty or very heavy work.

    I sure wouldn’t want to work for 6 euro/hour, especially given the overall high price level in Belgium.


  7. simonlitton March 26, 2008 / 5:50 pm

    Peter – I agree that it’s not an ideal system, but surely it’s an improvement? Before this came in our cleaner had no end of trouble with various benefits/social security agencies. I’m not aware of how the unemployment system here works – do you have to accept any job you’re offered, regardless of your qualifications?
    Obviously, many unglamorous jobs are never going to be very well paid, however much we think they should be. What to do? We try our best to make it up with seasonal bonuses…


  8. Peter March 26, 2008 / 9:22 pm

    You know Simon, Belgium has (in an effort to get the ‘appropriate’ unemployment figures) gone nuts when it comes to ‘processing the unemployed’.

    You have to accept any job you’re offered, quite often a ridiculous ‘Dienstencheques, or Titres-service’ at 6 euro an hour or a temp position where ‘you’re called when needed”.

    I’m sure you wouldn’t be able to live a normal life being payed these kind of sweatshop wages.

    I’m all in favour of providing real jobs, but these disgraceful “6 euro jobs” are only intended as a tax gift to those who really can afford to pay regular labour.

    A friend of mine (ex-Unilever, not exactly on the production line) received these demeaning offers he was almost forced to accept.

    The concept may sounds OK, but this Belgian approach is a true disaster for those workers who need a real job to pay the rent.


  9. CuriosityKiller March 28, 2008 / 11:15 am

    Amen to that. I’m hiring a part timer to come help me clean my apartment because I’m constantly cleaning after mom and making my apartment presentable at all times when I teach. It’s a never ending task – and it’s keeping me from doing more productive work…

    Even if I have a kid, I would need a housekeeper to help with the chores so I can actually focus on the kid. I don’t know how other people do it. Hats off to them.


  10. V-Grrrl March 28, 2008 / 5:39 pm

    Two working parents? Absolutely makes sense to hire a cleaner.

    E is an engineer and an “everything in its place” kinda guy. He finds family life a bit torturous. He wanted to hire a cleaner at one point but I objected, partly because I wasn’t working and thought having a cleaner was silly under the circumstances, but also because he wanted me to be home with the cleaner when he/she cleaned. This would mean I’d have to spend a day getting ready for the cleaner (picking up stuff, putting it away) and then a second day “baby-sitting” the cleaner. Forget that!


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