Once a week, a cleaning services comes by my house and does what I refer to as ‘the heavy cleaning.’ Floors get washed, bathrooms get scrubbed and just about everything in the house gets dusted. In theory, these are all tasks that I could fit into my schedule at some point, rather than paying someone to handle. In reality, for my household, this is the only way that cleaning much beyond laundry and dishes will ever get done.
The same is true in other households with other services. I know a family who employs a dog-walking service for similar reasons, families who bring in landscapers, a couple that entirely rely on their handy man and plenty of other examples of people who rely on household help.
The Logic of the Decision
On the math side of the equation, the decision is easy: I can earn more in an hour working through my own business than it costs me to bring in maid service. Furthermore, the tasks that the maid service completes require about an hour and a half for them, but take closer to three or four hours for me to do.
Of course, if you aren’t going to spend the time you save by bringing in some household help on work, the math gets a little more iffy. You’ve got to determine the value of your free time and judge whether it’s more important to have that free time or the money you would otherwise get. In a lot of situations, it makes sense to choose keeping the money over freeing up some extra time.
This isn’t a choice that everyone has. In order to bring in help and not do everything for oneself, there already needs to be a cushion in the bank account. It is a luxury to have someone come in and handle chores that you might otherwise do yourself. Choosing to spend money on that particular luxury, rather than another one is a personal choice. If there was some other luxury I truly wanted — a certain vacation, a fast car — I could stop maid service tomorrow and start saving for that luxury instead. It’s a personal choice and my personal view of luxury involves not having to clean the bathroom.
How Time Changes Things
A hundred years ago, the average middle class household had some sort of help — and it was more than a cleaning service that came by one day a week for a few hours. Of course, there weren’t nearly as many labor saving devices as there are now: TV dinners, washing machines and so on. We don’t need as much help as we did.
But there are also other factors in play. I’m young enough that my grandmothers both had a lot of those labor-saving developments in place, but they also had someone to help them out on a regular basis. One of my grandmothers held a full time job, but the other ‘only’ worked in the family business, handling the books and other details from home. I don’t think the idea of not having help ever crossed either of their minds. From conversations I’ve had, that was pretty much the case with most of their friends, as well.
Now, though, having help isn’t quite as culturally acceptable, at least in my experience. It’s even more common to have both halves of a couple working full-time jobs, but less common for even such busy couples to have some sort of household help. But there’s not a clear reason why, even beyond the fact that the cost of household help has gone up.
We’ve Got to Talk About Gender
For my husband and I, the fact that I worked out of a home office was the deciding factor. There was a certain level of expectation from both of us that, since I was home, I would handle more of the cleaning around the house. This wasn’t just his thinking, because I felt that since I didn’t have to commute or anything like that, I should be able to handle more. I also, on certain levels, did want to know that I was taking care of my home.
On other levels, though, I just about went out of my head. I was incredibly stressed, feeling like I was doing all the cleaning without any help at all. We could tell that we were headed for a problem if we didn’t find a solution. In a way, hiring a clean service was the cost we needed to pay to take care of some emotional issues that might have blown up otherwise.