5 things to ask before you get a cleaner

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Yep, I’ll admit it, we have a cleaner.

Although – you do, too, don’t you? Or else you know lots of people who do.

It used to be this big, slightly embarrassing luxury – as if by admitting you employed someone to do your dirty work, you were effectively saying that housework was ‘beneath’ you.

But now? Every other person seems to have one. Cleaning, so it would seem, is big business.

For years before we eventually buckled, I debated with myself. Yes, plenty of people had cleaners, but did we really need one? Were there better things to spend money on? Should we be rearranging our lives to fit in more cleaning?

I know that the decision is not always an easy one. In the light of that, here are a few things I think it’s good to consider before taking the plunge.

(Oh, and a sidenote. I hate referring to ‘the cleaner’. Would you mind if I personalised this, and referred to him/her as a nice, gender-neutral Charlie? Thank you. On with the show.)

What will Charlie actually do in your home?

Besides the obvious answer, I think it’s good to personalise this, and ask yourself exactly what jobs would be helpful and easy to delegate. Vacuuming all the floors could be helpful – but requires you to tidy everything off the floor prior to Charlie turning up each week.

I don’t know about you, but in our house that task feels akin to climbing Everest as an asthmatic with three children on my back, one of whom is carrying a large and inexplicably heavy teddy bear. It ain’t gonna happen.

Instead, we ask our Charlie to clean the bathroom and toilet, because there isn’t enough there to get properly messy in the fortnight between her visits. She also mops the floors of rooms which stay fairly tidy, or at least don’t require two months’ heavy-duty decluttering in order to get to them.

In other words, she doesn’t vacuum the lounge or most bedrooms. We do this ourselves, in the two-minute window of opportunity between having successfully convinced our children to tidy their things, and one of them deciding to empty out a large box of Lego.

Where does Charlie fit in your time/money budget?

I think this is a better question to ask than ‘Can you afford it?’ because that question is loaded with complications. Just because you can afford something doesn’t mean it’s the best use of your money – and, for those of us lucky enough to have some disposable income, what we can afford is largely about what we choose to afford, which reflects our priorities.

One person saves their disposable income for a decent hair cut – another isn’t fussed about their hair, but enjoys nice meals out. We make choices. It’s not usually about ‘affordability’.

So, in that case, it’s helpful to acknowledge the wider picture of how we’re using both money and time. Are our lives busy with worthwhile things, and is there a little money spare to pay Charlie? Or is our money already tied up in worthwhile causes, but there’s a little time spare with which to adopt a new cleaning routine?

We’re really fortunate that our Charlie is a gift from my parents. When we adopted the twins and I wrote about how manic it was (this post, I believe), their response was to gift us Charlie. We are so grateful. (And did I mention how we’re in desperate need of an all-inclusive holiday to the Maldives?)

Do you need Charlie because your family members aren’t doing their bit?

I think there really can be lots of good justifications for employing Charlie. If you can afford to give someone a job, help them reach a good income, while also spending your time doing things you’re gifted in (if cleaning isn’t one of them), then that’s great.

But if it’s in desperation because your family still won’t get the message that there are certain responsibilities which come with being a member of a household, then getting a cleaner is not the answer to these problems.

Spouses and children alike can be totally ignorant to what needs to be done around a house in order for it to function well. Decide what your children are able to help with, according to their age, and plan some ways to encourage them in this. If it’s all left to one person, then it’s not fair on them – but it’s also not fair on your children, who are growing up without important life-skills.

Viewing housework in terms of investing knowledge, experience and skills in your children as they move towards independence really helps to divvy up the tasks. And I’m not even being sarcastic.

Getting your spouse to help – well, this is important too. I’d suggest starting with spotting what they do notice, and do well. Often men and women simply see ‘mess’ differently. My husband gets tetchy when the washing up pile is growing – whereas I can’t stand a cluttered hallway. Actually encouraging each other in taking particular areas of responsibility can be far more effective than trying to make them see your point of view.

If everyone in the household is playing their part, and yet you’re still struggling to keep on top of things, then yes, Charlie will be a great asset to you all.

Do you have realistic expectations of cleanliness?

I ask this because twenty years ago, most people didn’t have cleaners. And their homes were fine. Yes, maybe people had more time, and the Internet hadn’t fully absorbed our lives like it has now, but they were busy in other ways, and yet managed to keep their homes clean without paying a Charlie.

In a similar way to how we all have much cleaner clothes now we have washing machines than when people had to hand-wash (and, understandably, did it less often, with a higher threshold of dirtiness before something was worth the effort), I wonder whether we are becoming unrealistic in our idea of cleanliness.

As we visit our friends’ homes, and admire their gleaming, sparkling oven hood, or the impossible whiteness of their tile grout, are we becoming envious of that kind of ‘perfect’ lifestyle? Because you know it’s just a veneer, right? It doesn’t express anything of how that person’s life actually is, under the surface.

Is it really necessary to have a home which is that clean? From a hospitality point of view, no one wants to enter a home where E-Coli is rampant, but then again maybe a shelf full of week-old dust isn’t going to kill anyone. And maybe it will even help others to relax in your home, rather than feel bad about the state of theirs.

So if employing Charlie is going to help us keep our houses clean to a level that makes them safe and healthy for anyone who enters, then this is good. But if we want Charlie so that our houses can maintain those near-impossible show-home standards – well, maybe we need to check our motivation.

Finally, how can you be a good employer?

It’s a question that not many of us have to answer, as most people aren’t in a position to employ others. But when we sign Charlie up to come and clean for us, how are we going to treat them well?

How will we speak with them, encourage them, build a relationship with them? How will we shine a bit of Jesus’ light into their lives?

How will we pay them? Will we continue to pay them for weeks they’re off sick, or on holiday? Can we bless them at Christmas?

There are no right answers here as everyone’s situation will be different, but it’s worth thinking through these practicalities before they’re a reality.

Over to you – do you have a Charlie? What do they do? How did you make the decision?

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  1. Great post, and I loved reading it on the new-look blog!
    We have a lovely Charlie who has brought nothing but benefit during her five years with us. Even when (until very recently) I had no income at all due to staying home with our son, employing Charlie was an excellent use of our child benefit, freeing me up to volunteer and generally make myself available to my family and others. Now that I have started a little job, Charlie remains a huge help in the balancing act that is family life!
    I think as Christians we have an opportunity to be outstanding employers too. Charlie will pick up on the fact that we follow Jesus – hopefully we talk about him anyway, but even if we didn’t, s/he will figure this out due to spotting Bibles and other Christian paraphernalia lying around. We can therefore be salt and light in the way we behave towards Charlie – leaving things tidy, paying Charlie even when circumstances at our end like a puking child or decorating work means we have to cancel the job, being extra generous at Christmas and birthdays, taking a friendly interest in Charlie and his/her family, etc. My Charlie has often talked about employers who make things tricky by asking her to clean in houses that are effectively building sites, cancelling without paying, superiority etc. It seems that the rights of a Charlie are very murky when it comes to pay and conditions, so many Charlies are solely reliant on the goodwill of their clients. Let’s be the ones that stand out!
    The only downside is my son not learning how to clean, because Charlie does it. He has to tidy his room for her, but that’s as far as it goes. Hmm!

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