Coming clean

I have a cleaner. As soon as I write that, I feel compelled to make my excuses. I know I’m lucky to have her. I treat her well and pay her more than I need to. She tells me she gains satisfaction from a job well done and, having seen her in action, I believe her.

I never contemplated paying someone to clean the house until I returned to work after maternity leave. I took her on partly because I was exhausted, and partly to save my relationship from corrosive bickering about whose turn it was to vacuum the stairs. Her hard work allows me time to do my job, be with my family and volunteer for a local charity.

So why do I feel the need to justify myself? If a single man working long hours were to hire a cleaner, most people would regard it as a pragmatic decision. They might even applaud him for caring about the state of his house. If I engaged a handyman to put up shelves, nobody would express a view. But a woman who employs a cleaner attracts criticism.

In my case, the snarky comments have come mainly from other women. (When it comes to berating women for their choices, sisters are doing it for themselves.) Some of my friends seem to regard it as a badge of honour that they occasionally wield a mop. One woman, who doesn’t go out to work, earnestly suggested that it was bad for my sons to grow up thinking that someone else would clean up their mess.

Well, yes – but it’s not as if the cleaner’s fortnightly visits absolve my children from wiping up their spillages or tidying their room. You might re-frame it this way: isn’t it good for them to see that cleaning is real work with an economic value, just as valid as their father’s office job, rather than something their mother fits in at the end of the day when she’s tired?

But cleaning is women’s work. That’s why a depressing number of men refuse to do it. That’s why it generally attracts low pay. That’s why the cleaner’s wages come from my salary, not my male partner’s. And that’s why I’m regarded as contracting out my duties and abdicating my household responsibilities. Absurd.


10 thoughts on “Coming clean

  1. Michelle

    I have no problem with you hiring a cleaner – you’re providing employment and refusing to be an annoying Mary Martyrpants. If I had the cash, I’d do the same! But why on earth does it come out of your salary alone? Does your partner not live in the house? Why did you agree to this?

    1. bristolbetty Post author

      Michelle, I take your point. I’m not sure I ever agreed to pay the cleaner. The straightforward explanation would be that I often work from home, so I’m normally here when she turns up. And in my partner’s defence, he earns more than I do and makes a much bigger contribution towards our household expenses. I couldn’t claim that I’m in any way hard done by, but it’s interesting that I’m paying for cleaning and childcare rather than footing the Council tax or telephone bill.

  2. Expat mumma

    I live in a country where is is normal to have a cleaner or maid or nanny and a lot of the people I know have all three and they live in with them.
    When I first moved here I was very awkward about having others clean my house as I don’t work outside of the home. I do have two wonderfully active kids that I spend my days running around after and swimming with. So for me it’s nice to know that my house is getting properly cleaned twice a week instead of half arsed by me while trying to wipe jam off my kids hands change a nappy and think about having a cup of tea at some point.
    I think judgments on people having cleaners are done far too quickly and in my mind if everyone could afford one they would have one.

  3. WallyMummy

    I have a cleaner and I actually don’t mention it unless I’m asked directly about it! lol 😉 Which no-one ever does ask, so basically it’s my dirty (or rather clean) little secret! So silly in’t it! x

  4. makesureyourtreatedfairly

    why don’t you and your partner, pool your finances and both have an equal share
    all income into one pot, all expenditure out of same pot[including cleaner as its a household perk]
    then both have a little bt of spending money so you have a bit of freedom to spend money on what you like. like nights out, clothes presents etc

  5. pantomum

    I have a cleaner and she is a Godsend to me – I work from home, hate housework and get distracted when cleaning by the little things (‘oh look, I remember when my child made this’, or ‘does he really need a whole village made of pasta on his windowsill?’), whereas she comes in, tidies and cleans with impressive military precision and goes. And then I don’t get upset at the three kids coming in and slinging their school bags on the newly clean floor just after she’s left…

  6. Georgie

    Actually, I think it’s great to have a cleaner. Look at it this way – you are signalling that this work is important, it’s worth paying for, it’s worth doing well, and it’s not “just a woman’s job, something she can fit in alongside her full-time job/childcare etc”. It wouldn’t cross my husband’s mind to do the housework more than once every six months, I refuse to be a martyr, and therefore since the house is ours – the mess is ours – the responsibility is ours – we will pay for someone to do that essential job. Just as we pay someone to fix our car. That’s all it is…

  7. Emma

    I would love a cleaner but t’other half doesn’t want strangers in the house and I wouldn’t like working with a cleaner around – would either feel compelled to chat or help! Good post, though, for the argument that cleaning is valid work which should be financially valued.

  8. minimalist mum

    What would you rather be doing: scrubbing the floors or spending time with your kids?
    I live in Brazil where having a cleaner is the norm and it also took me some time to get used to it but now I simply appreciate the extra time it gives me to do things I enjoy (and on the 6 days she doesn’t come in I still sweep my own floors 😉


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