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I nearly fainted the other day when Gill informed me that she and her flatmate are hiring a cleaner — a woman to come in, once a week, to do the cleaning chores they hate/won’t do. I think there’s a societal comment hidden somewhere in there, but I’m not sure quite what it is. Let’s see — young woman, (well-educated,employed but debt-ridden) hires someone even more destitute (likely EU immigrant woman) to do her dirty work for her. Well, somebody has to keep the English economy afloat and provide jobs for the flood of immigrants from even more destitute, perhaps war torn countries. I feel we’re running in circles here.

When the kids were small, I had a housekeeper once a week. Each week, for one entire hour, my house was spotless. Then she left. It took my little whirling dervishes (after they were released from the room in which I had locked and gagged them for the afternoon) all of fifteen minutes to paint something they weren’t supposed to paint, clog a toilet, dump 1,300 pieces of Lego all over the family room, and spill their peanut butter and banana snacks on the carpets. It was hard to see value for money with that arrangement. And the worst part was, I cleaned up before the cleaner arrived. I was too embarrassed to have her see the hellhole that was my house on a regular basis. With three kids under the age of five, cleanliness was not my goal. Survival was.

But I understand that Gill and her flatmate work full-time (and then some) and have neither the time nor the energy to clean. The fact that they really don’t have the money either is a moot point. For them, hiring someone makes perfect sense.

Many of my friends have cleaners. I understand that, when both parents in a household work, having a cleaner becomes almost a necessity. Times have changed. (I don’t have anyone now–preferring to follow in the footsteps of my late aunt, the 85-year-old spitfire. She climbed wobbly chairs and ladders to wash windows until her death — not from a fall — and stubbornly refused to have help except for the most difficult of chores.)

Some cleaners are good; some, not so much. I always pity the cleaners who have to clean for fussy, meticulous people. What they really want is a customer like myself…something of a disorganized mess at times, who doesn’t stress out over the small shit, someone who would be too embarrassed to ask them to redo something. I know some people who stay at home while the cleaner is there to keep an eye on them. I see their point, but that’s asking for trouble.  Do they really want to watch someone spit on their silver forks and then polish them til they shine?  Or place dishes the dog has just ‘cleaned’ directly into the cupboard without running them through the dishwasher first? I’m just sayin’…

Some homeowners give the cleaners the key and leave for the afternoon, trusting things will be done properly. Then there are the sneaky types who leave a spot of dust or a string so they can tell later if that spot has been cleaned. The more tech savvy among them use ‘nanny cams’ to catch the cleaner watching videos and eating their stash of chocolate. I think in Gill’s case, she is using a minimalist approach: hoping for the oven to be cleaned so it isn’t a fire hazard and the windows to be clean enough to see the monsoonal rains that will come any day. It will be easy to see whether the job is done or not.

I think Gill remembers fondly our cleaning lady. She was an older woman with grandchildren of her own and she took a shine to Gill and her siblings. She knitted them slippers for Christmas, brought small treats for their birthdays, and became a family friend. We’d stop for tea in the afternoon and chat about our lives. Very civilized. It also meant that I had to maintain a certain level of cleanliness lest she think I was a terrible homemaker and mother. When she left our employ, we cried. I suspect the only tears Gill will be shedding over her cleaner are tears of joy that she personally didn’t have to clean the bathroom or oven.

And really, it all comes down to the jobs you hate. If I had a cleaner now, I’d hand her a basket of tools for the jobs I wanted done. In that basket, there would be a chopstick, a toothbrush, a knife with a sharp edge, and a pair of tweezers. The chopstick would facilitate her removing the lint from the outside filter for the dryer. Until I happened to notice the filter this morning, it was clogged with enough stuff to provide a family of five chipmunks with a comfy home for the winter. My house would likely have burned down when the lint caught fire, but the chopstick worked wonders. Fortunately none of the neighbours passed by to inquire why I was jabbing my vent with a chopstick.The toothbrush is for cleaning the grout between the tiles of the ceramic floor. The knife is for removing the sprouting  piles of birdseed that wedge themselves between slats on the deck. (And no, regular readers, this is NOT the same knife with which I scraped the deck paint prior to repainting.) The tweezers are for removing The Pig’s (the beagle) hair from the rubber seal around the washing machine door. Anyone interested in applying for the job?

I thought not.

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