Is paying for housecleaning classist?

Transactions between those who obtain cleaning services and those who perform them are laden with class issues. I have often been unpleasantly surprised by comments coming from people who I thought were progressive feminists or humanists: “My place is such a mess, I’m so glad the ‘cleaning lady’ is coming,” they declare, apparently without consideration of the human implications.

At a very basic level, I can’t understand how you can call yourself a feminist if you deliberately choose to subjugate another human being, usually a woman with less economic advantage, by hiring her to clean up your mess.  I once remember a coworker saying defensively, and somewhat forcefully, “I work hard……. I deserve it………. I just can’t do it ALL, you know.”    I have also heard comments to the effect of “well, I am contributing to ‘their’ income,” or “‘they’ appreciate the ‘extra’ money.” The reality is, what domestic workers make will not even begin to cover their and their families’ basic needs, never mind extra money. I have to admit, I have a hard time not judging when those classist comments are made.

To personalize the issue, in the past, I have worked helping older adults with household duties that they couldn’t perform due to disability or illness. This work didn’t feel oppressive as I did it, or as I reflected on it. On the contrary, I felt good about doing something that allowed older adults to live in their own homes in dignity and to help them do things they were no longer physically able to do. I don’t begrudge help to people with mobility difficulties or who are otherwise physically unable to care for their own homes. I contrast those scenarios to the domestic worker jobs that I did to make ends meet before and while I attended university. I remember feeling resentful when I was hired to do childcare and tutoring but was left with the mess people couldn’t be bothered to clean up, the aftermath of dinner parties, and other acts of drudgery.

So, would I get someone to clean my home? The blunt answer to that is “no.” Simply put, I don’t think I could live with this inequality in my own home and this would not be the kind of relationship I want to have with another human being. I think of the sinking feeling I have when I see cleaning personnel washing the floors in public places.  In one’s own home, though, the inequality transaction becomes much more personal.  I am very interested to know how others feel about this ‘behind closed doors’ issue.

I was simultaneously touched, intrigued and horrified when I read Barbara Ehrenreich’s account (in her book, Nickel and Dimed) of her brief employment experience with a cleaning company. I loved her profound comment about whether or not the privileged homeowners knew or appreciated that their floors were washed with fresh  “human tears.” With her depiction in mind, I can easily imagine how cleaners must despise or at least resent the material privilege and entitlement that they see. It isn’t a stretch to imagine how tempting it must be to dip those privileged toothbrushes in the toilet bowl!

I am not naive enough to believe that there is enough meaningful work to go around for all.  Rather than hire someone to clean up after me, what I would do if I had that much spare change is to direct it to women’s literacy, affordable housing or employment programs, so that less women would have to clean up after other people for a living. That is my anti-oppressive, anti-classist wish.

24 Responses

  1. CP

    My straddler mom had to break down and hire someone because while she’s dying of liver disease she just physically couldn’t do the work—she pays a living wage rather than the lower fee offered because she was already struggling enough knowing someone else now had to clean up after her (she’s a total workaholic anyway). In addition to those with mobility issues that brings up something I’ve often wondered about, what about paying living/liveable wages for domestic work and treating them as partners in the household rather than “the help”? Is this even possible? I know we both work 2-3 jobs (that’s 4-6 for our household) and there often just aren’t enough hours in the day. Offspring help sometimes but even they end up maximizing minutes for homework (schools overload them routinely) and now they’re getting their first jobs outside the home as well. In our case we couldn’t afford in-house assistance at any price but I’ve often wondered if I could pay a living wage, wouldn’t that be better all around? My Mate might be less stressed: when I walk in a room, I survey the scene but to me, piles and dishes don’t talk to me crying out to be attended to. I can easily prioritize and deal with things when I have time but that’s not her reality. It’s insane coming home from a physically, mentally and emotionally demanding job only to be confronted with a stressed out mate coming home late too and freaking out that there’s a dish in the sink from the morning when we all left. I dunno. Anyway, I wonder about that scenario.

    1. Cari Gulbrandsen
      Cari Gulbrandsen

      Thanks for your comments, CP. Considering that domestic work will always exist, I like your ideas of how to humanize the transaction. I really appreciate the way you and your family members have a conscience about it. I can also understand that many families are working multiple jobs to stay afloat and hire home help to keep things manageable. I think the way the person that is hired is treated and viewed within the home could go a long way to alleviating the class conflict. Some ideas that come to mind are contributing to health insurance for domestic workers or somehow contributing to other benefits. I imagine it would be awkward, but even a conversation between employer and employee so that the cleaning person has some idea that they are valued as a person beyond the services that they provide would be a step in the right direction. I am sure awkwardness on both sides prevents these conversations from happening. As another reader alluded to in the comment below, there is nothing worse than being utterly invisible and nameless.

      I once joked with my now adult son that one reason people have kids is that they make great housecleaners! On the more serious side, it always took more time and coaxing to get him to pitch in, but it was time we could spend together and it showed him directly that he could contribute. I am pretty proud to have a kid that helped with cooking, grocery shopping and some cleaning and now has a solid work ethic as a young adult .I will admit this took a lot of training, convincing, bargaining and patience on my part. As an adult, this capacity to pitch in has earned him a lot of positive feedback. I am proud that he didn’t become entitled, spoiled or a snob. Maybe I will hire myself out as a housecleaning boot camp coach! In my current 2 adult household, we often forego expensive outings in favor of staying home and “power cleaning” complete with music and coffee or a glass of wine afterwards. I am not suggesting that everyone will have time to do this, but my hope was to encourage thought about the human aspect of the housecleaning issue.

      The bottom line is that many will continue to need domestic employment in order to survive, and that may include me again in the near or distant future. I have followed a social movement called Domestic Workers United since its inception and am really impressed with their focus on bringing dignity to care work. This is one way to look at it. Domestic work is honest, hard work, regardless of how you are treated while you are doing it. The organization has really personalized the class issues by featuring lived experiences and personal stories.

    2. Cari Gulbrandsen
      Cari Gulbrandsen

      One more thing, CP. I also like your idea of making a living wage a priority, especially since so many workers have to piece together different jobs in different locations. Anti-poverty groups are fighting for living wage in the region where I live. There is a wide gap between wealthy and poverty in this region, and somehow, those that could make the policy change aren’t understanding why living wage is so important.

  2. Nicole Braun
    Nicole Braun

    Hi Cari,
    This was just great. I cringe when I hear people talk about the “cleaning lady.” Having cleaned houses myself despite having two advanced degrees, I am well aware of the level of invisibility one experiences when in the role of “cleaning lady.” I cleaned for one family where two children would make a mess right after I cleaned up, and the mother would say things in a rather absent way, “girls, the cleaning lady needs to get her job done so please let her do her work.” But then the kids would stare through me and continue their mess-making! They would refer to me in the third person rather than speaking to me. I do have a name. I have friends and students who have cleaned for people as well, and their experiences about social power and what goes on behind the scenes in wealthy homes is quite unsettling, sociologically speaking. I have wrestled with this issue for a long time. I also know people who clean others houses but then hire someone to clean their own! Have you read Judith Rollins, Between Women: Domestics and their Employers? I have a feeling you will love the book. It is on Amazon for a penny but shipping is 3.99. Thought-provoking book, though.

    1. Cari Gulbrandsen
      Cari Gulbrandsen

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Nicole. I am starting to think that paid domestic work is an official part of obtaining higher education. I know of so many people, myself included, who rely, or have relied on it to make ends meet while studying and waiting for career opportunities.

      The scenario you described was all too familiar. How insulting, and what a sense of entitlement, not to mention a classist example for the woman to set for her children. I think we have so much work to do in terms of educating and raising awareness of who is doing domestic work. We have even more work to do around privilege and entitlement. Lately, I have been reading more about privilege as an aspect of difference that has been largely ignored in feminism. Some authors have mentioned denial of privilege is what allows things to continue as they are. One question I have asked myself is when I am in the situation of doing domestic work, how exactly do I want to be treated, and what kind of relationship do I want to have with the employers. While I have a lot to say about the class dynamics, I don’t have definite answers to these questions yet.

      I do remember when I was a nanny in my early twenties, the difference it made when some of the local moms invited me for tea, or when some of the families included me in family celebrations or occasions and got to know me as a person. One employer took the time to write me a lengthy reference for my university application. This made a difference to me in how I felt about the work, even though these gesture didn’t necessarily have an economic impact. Interestingly, at the time, I was completely unaware of class differences or class conflict, at least at a conscious level.

      Thank you very much for the book recommend. That sounds like a book I would like to read.

  3. Carol Frey

    Hi Cari,
    Nicole Braun passed this article on to me. I do appreciate your thoughts on this subject. I am a cleaning lady. This was not my plan in life, but it just kind of ended up that way. At 38 I found myself single with a 4 year old and living in a very high rent county. The Florida Keys. I was attending college and bartending. I had a set schedule that didn’t allow a lot of flexibility for school and my son’s needs. So I quit the job and started a cleaning business. The Keys do not offer a diversity in career choices. What started out being just a quick fix has turned out to be a 12 year successful business.
    Over the past 12 years I have had over 112 clients. Commercial, residental, foreclosures and construction clean-up. I have had staff, but for the most part I have done most jobs on my own.
    I started at $15per/hr and am now up to $25-30..depending on the job.
    I am now 50, married and my son is 16. And I am over this business. But not for the reasons you have mentioned. I’m just tired and really want to do something more creative.
    My experiences have been both good and bad.
    There have been those that have treated me as if I were beneth them. They were almost always the ones that did not work and were very wealthy. As soon as I was able to replace them with someone else, I did.. With pleasure. I have some great stories that I plan to compile in a book one day leaving out the names and inserting the hypocrisy in a satiracle fashion.
    But, for the most part my clients do respect me and treat me as CP suggests “as a partner in the household.” Most of these people are middleclass or even working class that just don’t have the time for domestic duties and are willing to pay for it to get done.
    I’m thankful there are those out there. I have made good money and have a very flexible schedule.
    I read Nickled and Dimed, also (thank you, Nicole) and those girls were with Merry Maids or some kind of corporation cleaning service. Something I would never work for.
    If I have ever found any discrimination being the cleaning lady it hasn’t been from women as much as it’s been from husbands who are home alone while I’m cleaning and think they are gonna get to “get it on” with the cleaning lady. Needless to say that dog didn’t hunt. 🙂
    As far as expecting someone to clean up after your mess…I have no problem cleaning up after someone, but the problem I do have (major pet peeve of mine) are the ones that leave their toilet bowl with their business in it for me to clean up. That to me is disgusting and it only takes the person one minute to swirl that brush in the bowl. Sorry for the visual, but I don’t thin a lot of people understand the importance of this.

    1. Cari Gulbrandsen

      Hi Carol.

      Thanks for your reflective response. I love your sense of humor about your experiences.

      I appreciate the way you highlighted both the positive (having your own business and flexible hours) and negative aspects (sometimes being treated as “less”) of your experiences. I wish you all the best in finding your next enterprise.

      I think it is so important that the world hears about domestic work from the perspective of those of us that have done this work. I think this will go a long way to making our contributions, opinions and experiences more visible. Hopefully, if there are listeners/readers out there, we can will promote some empathy. Sadly, there will always be people that just don’t care, but I think consciousness is growing.

      Yikes, I had no idea that you had to contend with husbands with wandering eyes. Ugh – and how would such an offer ever be attractive……? Good old Arnold S. must have put some funny ideas in to people’s heads. I so admire that you used humor to describe it, although at the time these incidents happened, I am sure it was quite repulsive!

      On a more serious note, I haven’t given much thought to the vulnerability of women who go in to private homes in terms of their personal safety, but now that I think of it, that is another concern to add to the list. Your post made me think of this dimension of the issue.

      I encourage you to write a book. By the sounds of it, you could write a very startling expose. You think people would be embarrassed not to flush, and I am sure there are many other unsavory details!

      Thanks again for joining in on the discussion. I feel the solidarity building with each post.

  4. Greymont

    It seems our economy, and most Western economies, are becoming more and more service based. People now perform services for others that were once unheard of. You have “walk the dog” services, food buying services, gift buying services, security services, pool cleaning services, gardening services, etc. Sometimes these are performed by people from another town but sometimes from people in your own neighborhood.

    Do you think all such services are classist? If not, what makes house cleaning services such?

    My view is that it largely depends on the circumstances of the service provider and the respect paid by the purchaser. Are the providers well organized? Are they providing these services willingly? Are they well paid?

    I recently had my house cleaned by a husband and wife team just before listing it for sale. They charged over $50/hour/person and I gladly paid it. I don’t think class was a factor at all.

  5. At one point in my life I considered hiring domestic help. I was working two jobs and going to school full time. I just could not bring myself to do it, though I can easily understand how families might find themselves in circumstances where it is necessary. I guess you just treat the person you hire as well as you possibly can. The thing that I have found irksome over the years, however, is the “progressive” folks I have encountered who are really not in the kind of situation where it can reasonably be said they require domestic help. Then, they paid as little as possible for the help, all under the table. I grew up in a blue collar family of six and there was simply no way my parents could have afforded to pay for someone to clean. Maybe we will always need domestic help, but I don’t think it follows that we have to have the kind of random “system” we have at present where those who most need the help can least afford it and where deregulation ensures the lowest possible pay.

  6. Susan Naimark
    Susan

    I’m glad to see the back-and-forth on this topic. My husband and I pay someone to clean our house once every 2 weeks. We pay her well, and have a person-to-person relationship with her. I’m friends with her on FB, which she asked me to do so she could show me the house she has renovated in her home town in South America – with the money she earns cleaning houses. We helped her son apply for the Dream Act so he could legally work and go to college. We did NOT pay anyone to clean our house when our own children were growing up – it was an important communal lesson, that we all had our chores that contributed to running the household. It was only after they grew up and moved out, and I became self-employed, that we decided I should spend my time on my paid work, and pay someone else to do the basic cleaning. I clean up BEFORE our housecleaning person comes, so that she is not picking up dirty clothes or working around stuff left around everywhere. If I’m home when she comes, we always chat about what’s new in our lives. I don’t think I am sentimentalizing our relationship, but I do think it is respectful.

  7. Sally Thomas

    I am happy to see/read this discussion, as this is something I have thought about for most of my life. I was born in 1943 in a small Arkansas town. Our family is white, and my mother always (typically) had “maids,” who were always African-American and poor. We called them by their first names, regardless of their ages, and they always called me “Miss Sally.” Then my father died, we moved to a city where my mother could find secretarial work, and we all shared all the household duties.

    Then there came in my own family when my husband and I were both working in jobs that required long hours, followed by a time when I quit my job and went back to school, which required even more hours on my part. It was then that we hired a one-man cleaning service. It was a white guy, and it felt like dealing with any other business. We paid what he asked and added a tip. After I got out of school and had a job we didn’t need his services any more.

    Now, throughout my 60s, I have had occasional need of help with heavy-duty cleaning — maybe twice a year. I always feel somewhat guilty that I can’t seem to get it all done myself (even though my husband “helps” some), and I struggle with hiring a less-privileged person and with what I ought to pay her. Here is what I worked out. I have a friend from church who is African-American and very low-income. She sometimes has pretty steady work, but even then looks for work on the side, so I started asking her if she would help me out. I pay her a little more than I myself have been getting paid as a fill-in CPA in a small firm – $25/hour, then I add a tip. We turn the music up and work together on everything and have a great time telling stories and getting caught on each other’s lives as we clean the windows and blinds, etc. I feel like the luckiest person in the world — to have the means to hire someone to do things that are getting harder for me to do, and for having such a great person to help me who is also happy to have the work and extra money. And I believe that this relationship feels comfortable enough for both of us, despite the underlying awkwardness of the differences in our wealth/income overlaid with the racial implications. It says a lot about my friend’s sense of self, great well of good will, and forgiveness (or acceptance?) related to my greater economic prosperity.

  8. Jeanne Burns

    Thank you for writing! I really appreciate seeing this discussion. The first time I had my house cleaned by someone, it was a gift to me because I was going through cancer treatment nearly 20 years ago. I wasn’t able to work so had to be home. I was *so uncomfortable* the whole time, I felt like I had to help. (I’m a class straddler myself). At time time, I wasn’t aware of how deeply my class upbringing had impacted me.

    I married into wealth fifteen years ago and when we met, my spouse got her house cleaned regularly. We’ve been on quite the journey in the last fifteen years, including the decision to have people clean our house. At first it was just a cleaning of our apartment as we moved into the home we bought twelve years ago. We transitioned into getting half of our home cleaned every other week, but I wouldn’t agree to it without some rules.

    1. We had to know their names and treat them like people.
    2. We had to make sure they were paid a decent wage.
    3. We had to give them a very nice end-of-the-year bonus.

    We use a locally-owned group (the owners live a few blocks from us in the richer part of our neighborhood).

    I didn’t need to read Nickel and Dimed to know what hard work cleaning is–I’d done work like it at a nursing home and a fast food place. But I did read Ehrenreich’s book shortly after it came out. And then there was a play based on the book that my spouse and I went to, and after that we started giving the cleaners very large tips.

    All work that pays a living wage is good work. I don’t think the act of hiring people to clean your house (or mow your lawn or clean your car or shoveling snow or waiting on you in a restaurant) is classist. I think how you treat and pay those you hire determines how classist or not your actions are.

  9. Diane Kramer

    I would also suggest hiring an independent housekeeper versus a cleaning service. I use a housekeeper who works independently because I can’t really know how the management of a service treats their employees and how much they’re really paid.

    I do my best to respect my housekeeper as a valuable employee. This translates to not only how I treat her, but also how I pay her. I pay a living wage or more, give a Christmas cash bonus and gift, paid vacation, and annual raises. I even pay if I’m sick the day she’s scheduled and I have to cancel. I pay even if we’re on vacation and cancel her for that week. I was interviewing a new housekeeper once and when he quoted what he would charge, I told him it wasn’t enough. I paid him more than his estimate. Imagine his surprise. One of our first housekeepers was so astonished I was willing to give her paid vacation, she asked her other clients to do so. She’d worked for one man for 15 years and not only did he not give her paid vacation, he’d never given her a raise. So she decided to replace him with someone else.

    Also, I don’t think I’ve seen the issue of immigration status mentioned in any comments. I don’t ask about it and I pay cash when this is preferred. I don’t speak Spanish and I don’t expect the housekeeper to speak English. I can use google translate or speak to my housekeeper’s English speaking daughter if needed.

    Last. Might there be something classist in asking if it is classist to hire a housekeeper but not an accountant to do my taxes? Does that not assume something “less than” about housekeeping but not accounting? Is it because we assume any of us can do housekeeping, but taxes requires skill? I think my housekeeper has considerable skill in doing her job. How about yard service? Or paying someone for a manicure or pedicure? The reality is we have a service economy.

    In short, I think it’s about respecting both the person and the job by treating the person respectfully and paying well. I can’t imagine telling my housekeeper “sorry, I’m going to have to let you go; it’s been judged classist to keep you on. You need to find a different kind of job to pay your bills!”

  10. Polly Trout

    Is paying for house cleaning classist? Like most things, it depends on how you do it. Here’s how not to be a classist jerk: 1. Hire a self-employed house cleaner, not someone working for a predatory corporation. 2. Pay a professional, living wage. 3. Treat your contractor like a human being who IS doing meaningful work. If it needs to be done, it is meaningful work. Just because it is classically unpaid or “women’s” work, doesn’t make it not meaningful. Cleaning — like caring for children, the sick, and the elderly — is very important work because it helps us create healthier and more joyful homes and families.

    The first time I hired a house cleaner 12 years ago, it was from Merry Maids, and I was shocked to learn on the first day that although I was paying $25/hour, she was only getting minimum wage. The next time I went to Craigslist and found a couple who ran their own business; 100% of my money went directly to them. After my divorce I couldn’t afford to hire them anymore but I still see them once a month when they clean the nonprofit I work for — where they give us a nonprofit discount as a way of supporting our work. We have become good friends and I have enormous respect for the hard work they do, their professionalism, and the fact that their family business pays the bills while they focus most of their energy on their real passions: music, art, and spiritual practice.

  11. Cari Gulbrandsen

    Wow -thanks to all for your contributions to this discussion. I am really inspired to know that there are folks who look at the human aspect of the transaction. So many valuable points were made in all of the posts. Lots of ideas were identified for how to make the transaction respectful if you do hire the services of a cleaning person. One point I really liked was about the service economy and the need to recognize that many depend on the income if they have made cleaning a small business and their livelihood (vs. corporation).

    I liked Sally’s idea of hiring someone to work alongside you. Even the idea has a nice humanistic, community feel. That got me thinking about how, in our individualistic society, we could build more community connections by trading services, and having that economy alongside the one where you pay for services. Some exchanging goes on, but the full capacity of this can’t be realized because we are all so short of time.

    Diane, that is a good point about immigration. I don’t think we can ignore that the issue is racialized and that those who are doing most of the low paid work, including some domestic work, are disproportionately women, women of color and low income women. There seem to be many stories of abuse by employers who are in a position of power knowing that their employee doesn’t have citizenship yet. The politics around that are a bit different in Canada because of where we are situated geographically. A big issue in Canada is that even those who have achieved citizenship have difficulty getting their qualifications from their country of origin recognized. It is sad to think that many of those rendered invisible who clean our cities, public places and homes are so capable of making other contributions.

    My original post was prompted by my annoyance in response to hearing arrogant, clueless comments about housecleaners made by people who were very open about their sense of entitlement. Rather than physically attacking them with mops and brooms, I decided to write about the issue and to see what others are thinking. There are a lot of issues of power and feminism mixed in to this for me. I am someone who likes to torture herself thinking about how the barista where I order coffee doesn’t get paid enough and who won’t get a services at a manicure salon because of the toxins the women who work there get exposed to. And the list goes on… (Despite this, believe it or not, I still manage to find some fun, joy and humor in the world) Based on all of the comments, I think you all have a collective, compelling point – whether it is classist to hire a housecleaner or not depends a lot on how the exchange is handled and whether the person is adequately compensated.

    One thing is for certain. You have all given me a heartening reality check and faith in humanity!

  12. Raymond Paquette

    This is an important and useful discussion. Diane brings up a really important point, which is (forgive me if I get it wrong):

    What class assumptions are implied in this question that Cari asked? Why do we not ask if it is classist to pay an accountant, car mechanic or other service provider? Child care? Teacher?

    I surprised myself, because my first answer was that those are skilled service, people hiring someone to do something they could not do themselves. Then I realized that this is more about which skills and labor are valued, and less about whether or not people can do the task themselves.

    Something that has not been brought up yet. I agree that how you treat someone who provides service for you makes a huge difference. And it is heartening to read the stories here about how to do it right.

    We have someone clean our house, and I believe that we treat her very well. But, the fact that we are in a position to do this, and that we get to make decisions about how she gets treated and paid reflect a class and power imbalance. I can work for a different society, but I can’t change this class and power imbalance alone. So, I guiltily but consciously participate, while trying to make this particular situation as fair as I know how.

  13. Johanna Halbeisen

    I used to clean houses for some of my living. I cleaned for some people I knew in other contexts and had to listen to the guilt and other feelings they had for hiring someone to clean their houses. I had one employer/friend, the only one, who would pay me for one week when she was gone, rather than making her vacations be an unpaid vacation for me. I did my laundry at another house. The first year I did it was right after I was a teacher in a day care center. Although my housecleaning pay wasn’t any big amount, I found myself in a rage that whole year because I was making more per hour to fold someone’s laundry and wash the floors than I did taking care of children.

    The biggest class thing for me was epitomized in a song Paul Kelly wrote, Other People’s Houses. It was from the point of view of a young child going with his mother on Saturday to clean other people’s houses. “The houses had so many things in them, yet still so much space.” I’ve never been able to live in a place with ‘so much space’. Actually, living alone, I have more space for myself than most of the people in the world, but the daily comparison with these large houses was hard. I’m white and middle class, but there was still a fair class difference in my face every day.

    I might ask the people who hire housecleaners, individuals working to support themselves and their families – do you pay into social security? Do you give paid vacations? Sick leave? Or do you just pay for the hours the person works in your house?

    1. Cari Gulbrandsen

      Thanks for sharing your experiences, too, Johanna. I think it is critical to look beyond just the hours of work the employer is paying for – there is much more to consider than the hourly wage when we think about social justice for domestic workers.

      I am glad to hear that someone thought of paying you for vacation time, but disappointed that she was the only one that thought to do this.

  14. Cari Gulbrandsen

    Thanks to all for the recommendations for resources and reading material and also, my heartfelt thanks for sharing your stories. Much appreciated!

    1. Cari Gulbrandsen

      Several more compelling points made! Benefits, pension and social security (their absence, that is) for housecleaners are vital issues related to class. Even if a worker makes an hourly living wage cleaning, they are very vulnerable to loss of income if they become ill, and time off is expensive and often out of the question if you don’t have paid vacation time. Recently, I have worked with seniors who have very low incomes or are homeless. The eventual result of a lifetime of work without vacation, health insurance, employer sponsored savings plans or paid sick time (or other perks those with more privilege take for granted) is a very precarious existence in old age.

      Raymond, you have a good point about the stigma attached to work that isn’t valued or doesn’t garner the respect the work or the person who does it deserves as a human being. The people who care enough to think about issues of classism involved in paying for housecleaning aren’t the people that we have to worry most about. My concern is that we are the minority. Hopefully, we can all take this conversation out in to the world with us and get more people thinking about it.

  15. Jessy

    When I moved into a larger place this autumn, friends who helped us move, friends who visited after the move and my in-laws all said “you’ll need a cleaner, of course.” This wasn’t as clear to me. I do not work full time and am able-bodied. I didn’t see why I shouldn’t be able to continue cleaning up after myself. There are new additional annoying chores that come with my nice big place. There’s a load of stainless steel that will streak if not properly cleaned regularly. There are hard to reach windows that require more creativity and extra time and attention. I have to vacuum ever day or every other day because we have two pets. These are all responsibilities I’ve collected and they come with so many blessings.
    I was not raised in a household with a cleaning person. In the past, I’ve worked as a domestic worker with children and cleaned for those families as well – as I saw it as being part of child care. I’m living abroad and so far as I know, hiring a cleaning person here is super cheap. That freaks me out. I see no reason to hire a cleaning person, but it seems that it’s a given here in our neighborhood.

  16. Jeffey Jacobson

    I strongly disagree with what this (not Kendra) author and I am offended by her language. It does not respect the private arrangements we make with our housecleaner, whom we totally respect as a person and in some ways as a friend. I feel like she is judging our lifestyle. Ours and our housecleaner’s too.

    Housecleaning is not fundamentally different from any other kind of work. How is picking up someone’s personal mess, different from making them food? Or making their clothes? Or healing their body? One seventh of our entire economy is medicine, and much of what you pay your doctor for is far more personal.

    It is only exploitation if you force someone to take a wage that is too low to live on. Sadly, that is the case in many low skill jobs, but not is not the case in our house. The flat rate we pay our house cleaner started out being effectively more than the average US wage, and she has given herself a raise by becomeing more efficient. Because she is a skilled specialist, she gets the job done much faster and better than I could. It’s more economical to pay her, then go out and earn the money to pay her. That is the essence of a market economy.

    We have five people in the house and frequent guests. Having the housecleaner come in every three weeks keeps us from having to fight over who does what, who’se slacking, etc. Before all the housemates, we had a business in the house, which was even more intense.

  17. Chris

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with hiring cleaning help if you can afford to do so. I know quite a few people who have trouble cleaning & organizing. Basically, we’re talking about hiring someone to do something you’re not very good at.
    The amount you pay, like anything else, depends on the law of supply and demand,and in the case of services, the education and skills required, and if the tools and supplies are included or not. Obviously, not a lot of education and skills are required, so that is why the pay is less than what you would pay a doctor or mechanic.
    Pay can be negotiated. If the person wants to do the job, fine. As long as there is agreement, I have no problem with it.

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