Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Be Careful of What You Wish For

Note: This time of year the issue of cleaning help seems to get a lot of conversation, or yelling, as the case may be.There are obviously a lot of aspects to the issue of cleaning help, but I present the following as one aspect that doesn't get a lot said about it.

Cleaning help in the house has raised some strident backing and forthing over the years. Some believe that it is wasted money, that it is strictly a luxury. Some believe that it is a sign of laziness on the part of the balabusta of the household. Others, obviously, take the opposite position.

An acquaintance settled the matter in her household, and I approve of her methodology. Her husband decided "reasonably" that since they no longer had little children living in the house--in fact, no children living in the house-- that weekly help was money that could be spent elsewhere. When the regular cleaning help retired he announced that they would not be looking for a replacement.

Okay, facts on the table. Both husband and wife work full-time outside of the house. The square footage of the house is around 2300 square feet. Other than the extra bedrooms (more on that later) the other rooms in the house are used by both husband and wife. The wife concurred with the husband's decision but with the following proviso: the husband would take on the cleaning responsibilities for everything that the cleaning person had been doing. The wife would continue to do all the tasks she had been doing.

Yup, a lesson learned. On Monday night the husband returned home from work ready to have dinner and to relax a bit. He was greeted by his wife with the monthly cleaning schedule. She explained that some jobs are done every week and some only every month or so, and some before a yom tov. Wasn't he lucky--some of the monthly jobs and yom tov jobs were on the calendar for this week. The wife took care of her chores and then headed for bed. The husband had not yet managed to get out of the front half of the bottom floor. The scenario repeated itself the next night, and the next and the next. And then two of the married kids were coming for Shabbos with their children, and the wife handed the husband the amended cleaning list. And then Shabbos was over and all the extra bedrooms and bathroom were on the to do list as well.

In short, having had to suddenly take over the cleaning chores that had been handled by the cleaning person, the husband finally learned just what that person had been doing, and what it took to take on those chores in addition to the rest of "real life." At one point the husband griped "you could be helping me you know!" to which the wife quite calmly replied "And who will take on the chores that I still have to do even with cleaning help? Maybe you could help me when you get a free minute."And have I mentioned that both husband and wife in this scenario are not youngsters any longer?

And yes, you guessed it, there is now cleaning help in this household. A lesson learned.

In short, I believe that we ought to take the issue of cleaning help out of the public discussion venue and put it back where it belongs--between husband and wife. To blithely put cleaning help into the category of unnecessary luxury or forbidden to those who get a tuition reduction, for instance, is to be blind to the individual circumstances that surround that cleaning help.


tesyaa said...

Why did the wife concur with the husband's unilateral decision? Why didn't she explain the facts to him instead of demurely agreeing, then surprising him with the list of chores? In a good marriage, shouldn't a couple talk out such decisions? It sounds like she relished the idea of playing this trick on him.

She sounds like a witch, but perhaps you haven't given all the details.

Rae said...

Tesyaa--yeah, talking it out should have been the first step. Maybe they did, but we aren't told that. But here's the thing. Sometimes talking doesn't help you. A husband--or wife--may not be interested in hearing anything but what they are saying (and why is that different than other people in the world you interact with?) That's why we have the saying "experience is the best teacher."

Miami Al said...

Yeah, wife comes own looking horrible and adversarial, while husband comes out looking like a dunce. Reverse this and it's a VERY sexist story.

Weekly cleaning could be done by both spouses in 1-2 hours/day. Whether they would prefer it gets done by an outsider or by them is a family decision.

Life is full of tradeoffs. Families need to decide how to deploy their scarce resources.

Adult spouses should act like adults and make decisions jointly, this was anything but.

Reader said...

A couple of empty-nesters are presumably married long enough that the wife knows talking it out may have been pointless. I will give her the benefit of the doubt on that.
I use more cleaning help than one would think necessary based on the size of my home, how many kids, etc, because my husband is a huge slob. Like he can make a mess to rival three toddlers. I could bicker with him, rail against the horrible example this sets for our children, and I could lament that a grown man acts like this, but I choose to let it slide and just pay for extra help. I consider it an investment in shalom bayit- besides, a bit of extra help costs far less than what the couples therapy bill would be without it
However, I do periodically remind my husband how much we're paying for help, and how that money could go to better use on other things we might like- a vacation, going out to eat a little more often, a concert, you get the idea. It actually has spurred him to improve a bit. I used to employ daily cleaning help, but now we've been able to cut back to 3 days a week. I do hope to eventually wean ourselves off completely, but that is a long way away. Judge my husband if you will, but it is what is, he's wonderful in every other way, and this is how we manage it for the time being.

JS said...

I won't even begin to question daily cleaning help.

I do wonder though what is the "norm" (if there is one) in Orthodox homes when it comes to who manages expenses, whether both spouses are aware of what the expenses are, how chores are distributed, and whether both spouses understand what all those chores entail.

What I took away from the story, maybe erroneously, is that the husband manages the expenses, the wife handles all of the chores, the wife requested the cleaning help to help her manage all these chores, the husband wanted to cut back on expenses, the husband had no idea what chores his wife handles, and the husband had no idea what cleaning the house entailed.

Then I read Reader's comment and it seems she manages the expenses and handles all of the chores and hires cleaning help to help her out.

Is it that rare for couples to actually sit down and go over expenses, what each person does for the household, and divide up those tasks evenly?

Reader said...

Js, we do go over finances together. I didnt mean literally reminding bcc he doesn't know, I mean reminding him as a way of nudging.

Anonymous said...

I think the wife was entirely reasonable. When our cleaning help (for 1/2 a day once every two weeks) raised his rate (yes, you read that correctly the help was a man), my husband said no and ever since he has done all the work the cleaning man used to do including toilets and scrubbing the kitchen floor on his hands and knees.

Orthonomics said...

I wouldn't recommend this methodology for an issue in marriage or in the workplace.

AztecQueen2000 said...

Miami Al:
Where you you get 1-2 hours a day for 2300 square feet? It took me four hours a week (not counting laundry) to clean a 400 square foot studio. Besides, who realistically wants to come home after a day of work and scrub toilets and ovens?

Anonymous said...

Aztec Queen: A 400 square foot studio should not take 4 hours to clean, and a 2300 square foot home certainly can certainly be done in 10 hours a week if you know what you are doing and excluding the once or twice a year projects like windows. The toilets you mention are not a big deal. A toilet can be cleaned properly in 5 minutes. The oven does not need to be done weekly. If something spills in the oven, you wipe it up as part of the post-dinner clean-up just like you would wipe the counters.

Miami Al said...


I might have jumped the gun. I thought it was implied that the cleaning lady was there 1 day/week. That's 8 man-hours of cleaning. With Monday - Thursday to do the equivalent, that would be 2 man-hours/day to do the same deep cleaning.

I have no idea how long it takes to clean the house, I don't really care. I do know that if you are paying someone to clean for 8 hours/week, you should be able to do it yourself in 16 hours at first, getting closer to 8 as you get faster...

Realistically, nobody wants to do any domestic chores, that's why you can pay people to do them or do them. As I tell my children, taking care of your house is part of being a responsible homeowner, and party of why I take them with me when I do routine maintenance at home, because it takes longer with them asking questions, so they see responsible ownership of property.

This is the hyperbole in any conversation of Orthodox Jewish life. If you have 4 or 8 hours of cleaning help 1-4 times/month, you get whatever level of cleaning that gives you. However, it becomes this silly comparison where you imply that for a "small cost" you have an immaculate home like in a magazine, vs. hours and hours of cleaning yourself.

Like everything in life, you do it, or you pay someone to do it. That's the tradeoff.

Anonymous said...

I don't think Al that it is a silly comparison. What nobody mentioned and that is a key here is that time of day will affect efficiency. A cleaning person working from 9 to 3 during the day (and with nothing else to do BUT clean) is going to be more efficient than someone who has already put in a full day at another job, already done some other chores--not cleaning ones--around the house and then goes to tackle cleaning. No matter what you tackle at night after a full day, you are going to take longer to do it because you are physically and mentally tired. That goes for cleaning too.

tesyaa said...

I'd say the extra time it takes the homeowner to clean due to fatigue, vs. the extra time spent supervising the cleaning help is a wash (pun intended).

Miami Al said...

I allocated 16 hours to do the same as 8 hours or less of cleaning.

I think I am fairly addressing fatigue.

I'm not anti-cleaning help, I'd way rather have 16 hours of good free time than not, but it's a luxury and should be seen as such (and appreciated) not a "punishment" for one's spouse.