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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I Knew He Would Finally Ask

Yes, I've waited for my son to initiate this conversation for a long while. Not the one about where babies come from, mind you; the conversation about why we don't have a cleaning lady. Believe me, if you have told me growing up that I would be discussing cleaning ladies with my own children, I would never have believed you. I was unaware that people outside of some very, very wealthy neighborhoods hired maids to clean their homes. I thought maids were primarily for hotels. Now, I know better.

If there is one thing that we don't have a replacement or equivalent to, that my children are regularly exposed to, it is cleaning help. It seems everytime we are on a playdate, the cleaning lady is there. I was around 20 when I heard of a cleaning lady. My first knew this word by 2 years old.

Son: (Statement) Mommy, every house on our block has a cleaning lady.

Me: (Acknowledged this fact with a nod) Ah ha.

Son: (Statement) Mommy, we should get a cleaning lady.

Me: (Question) What would a cleaning lady do for us?

Son: We wouldn't have to clean.

Me: (Question) Really? But what would happen if someone made a spill like this morning. . . and the cleaning lady was gone?

Son: I guess we would have to clean it up then.

Me: (Redirecting) I think we handle cleaning just fine the way things are. We do it little by little.

Son: Yes.

Me: Cleaning help costs a lot of money. Do you think this would be a good way or a bad way for us to spend our money? I think we handle the cleaning just fine.

Son: No. It would be a bad way.

Me: Why?

Son: We can save our money for other things.

Me: (Breathing a sigh of relief that this went well).

I'm not here to make a judgment call about cleaning help. If I was working full time, I'd probably consider it. But, I'm primarily a homemaker in addition to some small clients and I seem to handle the rigors of cleaning without too much stress. I didn't grow up knowing anyone with cleaning help, save a few older ladies who had a nurse to help them. Cleaning was just an activity my sister and I did with my mother, so I'm used to it.

We all have to make choices in life about where to spend our money. Seems my children understand and accept that, based on this most recent conversations. Adding cleaning help to our budget would definitely hurt far more than I can see it helping. I'd rather save for retirement now and hire the help at that point. The messes sometimes do go untouched for too long. But, for the most part I can keep up (save some piles of paperwork and filing that I can't allow anyone to touch anyways).

I don't find cleaning takes nearly as much effort as others find it to be. Perhaps only I think my house is relatively clean? But, in really my house is pretty clean, although it is no museum. Regular and consistent little effort keep everything under control. I always like to know how others keep things under control. Here are a few of my own:

1) I always try to clean up spills immediately, or more acurately I hand the child who made the spill a towel and then touch up the job they do.
2) I sweep up after every meal/snack.
3) I involve the children in cleaning while I am working on a bigger cleaning task. My children have become actually learned to clean windows and walls in a somewhat acceptable manner. Unforuntately, they often get too excited by process and go overboard with the water, which necessitates handing them a towel. (See #1). While they are occupied, I'm usually able to tackle a bigger task quickly.
4) We bought a very large capacity washing machine. We bought it for the utility savings, but the side benefits is that the time it takes to do laundry has been slashed. I can wash twice as much and when it comes to putting it away, sometimes more is less.
5) I hang clothing up, rather than stack in drawers. I find it easier to inventory things and less stuff gets dumped on the floor.
6) I've trained my husband to help out more than he was expected to growing up.
7) I tackle large tasks in small increments. For example, when the kids bathroom needs cleaned, I will work on just one thing, like cleaning the counter top and later return to do something else. It seems to make the job much smoother and oftentimes I will end up tackling the whole task, but it is less intimidating.
8) I try really hard to keep the clutter that I'd like to get rid of in one single area (although I'm currently failing in this regard). I find clutter is more depressing than mess. Takes more effort to tackle and cleaning help can't deal with it.

I'd love to hear your tips and comments.


Anonymous said...

Why is there so much *value judgment* going on here? Some people need or can afford cleaning help, and some don't. Don't label them as bad people or spendthrifts.

I personally have cleaning help and have always had cleaning help (weekly), but honestly, if I didn't work or have little needy kids around (both being true right now), I would clean my own house top to bottom, since no one cleans my house as well as I do.

concernedjewgirl said...

I may not be the comment that you are waiting for but:

I do have a cleaning lady to HELP clean. I work full time and have a long commute which adds quite a bit of stress to life. I also have a wonderful spouse who is shall we say not the cleanest man on the planet (although he really, really tries). Since my effort needs to be tripled just to keep up we decided for the sake of my sanity and our marriage that we will get some help. She comes once every two weeks.
What does this mean for me: I keep the house tidy, orderly and tackle the dreaded clutter. I try to file and my husband is really good about that so it works well. Dishes are done, laundry is done and put away and generally everything is in its order. Bathrooms are kept up so as not to look like a barn.
What does this mean for my cleaning help: Every inch is dusted, vacuumed and the floors are washed everywhere including the movement of couches, tables, etc. Bathrooms are sparkling, everything is vacuumed, and beds are turned over. If need be general tidiness is kept up.
In general I do find it to be a great expense because of our location cleaning help is not cheap, even for coming twice a month. However in our particular case, I view it as a marriage savior and a sanity savior. I do agree with you that cleaning help doesn’t help when there is a spill or when something needs to be tackled right away. Of course there is also the fact that I pre clean before the cleaning help comes. The reason for that is so that she is not busy putting away clothing or organizing my desk space and is busy dusting, cleaning windows, and other important areas that I do not get to.

Thinnking said...

IMHO I don't thing the "cleaning help" question is really money, it's about preference.
I believe this is one of those that is really in the "eye of the beholder" (and I am not sure that is the right expression). My mother didn't mind washing dishes, but didn't want to do laundry, so we had help. My wife doesn't mind doing laundry (yes I help...I bought her a large capacity washer/dryer...kidding! I do help!)but doesn't like to mop or vacuum, so we have help. Some women have told me that they are willing to give up a personal luxury like manicures/pedicures etc. in order to have cleaning help. I think that many people hire cleaning help not because they couldn't/wouldn't/shouldn't do it, they just prefer to have someone else do it and perhaps save money in other areas.
I could mow my lawn, I prefer not to and therefore either need to figure out if I can currently afford to hire someone to do it or need to find a way to cut costs somewhere to be able to afford to pay for it (my lawn guy doesn't take credit card).

tdr said...

I work 32 hr/week and have no cleaning help. My house is very dirty. Embarrassingly, unhealthily so. I work my tail off at home and at work and part of me would LOVE to hire cleaning help. If I could afford it, I would do it every once in awhile (especially before Yom Tov) just to get back to zero every once in awhile.

However, I chalk the dirt up to my as yet inability to rally the troops to do their bit rather than our lack of cleaning help.

My mom worked her tail off as a public school teacher and had cleaning help on and off. We were solidly in the middle of middle class (dad was a social worker). To me it was never a "class" thing. People who worked hard needed the help. End of story.

None of my friends have cleaning help except for the ones who work full time (and more than full time).

I have had weekly cleaning help in the past and here is what I observered:

1) My kids totally took clean (straightened) rooms for granted and made no effort whatsoever to clean up after themselves. It was "oh just let so-and-so do it - it's their job."

2) Erev Shabbos, when I think the ideal is for the whole family to prepare for Shabbos together by working TOGETHER to get the food cooked, house in order, etc. was just a time period for the kids hanging around while mom cooked --something they couldn't help much with anyway.

3) I hated being an employer.

4) For all the money I was paying I found that my bathtub and toilet did not even get cleaned weekly! That really ticked me off -- if the cleaning lady isn't cleaning the bathroom, what is she cleaning? I mean, isn't that the one room that obviously needs *cleaning* attention every week???

5) Even when I hired what seemed to be a very good outfit -- they still did a lousy job.

Bottom line, I found I could do it better myself and it sure cost a LOT less. But I certainly wouldn't begrudge anyone who could afford it. I'm exhausted and stressed out from working hard and trying to be there for my kids. If I could afford it I certainly would hire someone to clean once in awhile.

Dave said...

The only times I have ever hired a cleaning person (or cleaning service) have been when moving.

After packing and moving everything (for local moves), paying a couple of hundred dollars to have the empty house cleaned in two hours was well worth it.

And when moving out of state, I've used cleaning services to get the house ready for sale.

Lion of Zion said...


maybe your son is just looking out for your best interests. he sees you working so hard and he is worried about you.

you just hope he doesn't remember your line about not hiring help to save money for more important things when he wants that new video game!

"I've trained my husband to help out"

you make us sound like (pavlov's) dogs :)

the only thing keeping us from getting some cleaning help is that i refuse to leave a stranger in the home unattended.

Anonymous said...

by the way

Your tip #7 is always tempting and I have tried such a method in the past (thinking back, I didn't *always* have help as a claimed in my previous comment). My problem was I never had a really clean bathroom - by the time I got back to the floor the counter was all dusty and toothpasty. Then when the floor was clean the shower was yucky. Yes, over the course of time maybe everything was getting cleaned but there was never that moment when you looked at the bathroom and sighed with pleasure (aaaaah) at its beautiful cleanliness...

Ariella said...

As nice as it may be to ascribe what your son says to his looking out for you, I would very much doubt it. My basis for saying that is also being the only one on the block and probably within the whole area without a cleaning lady. My children also sometimes suggest we get one. Their motivation is the hope of getting off their "jobs" of cleaning the house for Shabbos. When I was working longer hours I did have one briefly, but she spoke no English, and I found the whole situation very frustrating. But I do want to stress that I think that it is not necessarily a woman's duty to clean the house herself on top of a full-time or even demanding part-time job. If she can afford it and needs the break, then she should get the cleaning help. But for those who really can't afford it, that's a different situation.

Child Ish Behavior said...

My mother's reason for never having cleaning help went directly to the economics of the situation. All the cleaning help eventually steal something of yours. You will leave money or some other item around and it will be stolen.

I always thought this rational was very funny. So what if a few things get stolen as long as you get to sit around, be lazy, make a mess, and still have a clean house.

A while back I even wrote a humorous post to that effect. I called it Stealing Help.

Esther said...

I agree with the comments above that if someone prefers and can afford help with the cleaning they should get it. I think the point at the beginning of your post, though, was the ASSUMPTION that everyone has this kind of assistance. When we had our first baby not long before the holiday season, I asked our Rebbitzin what I was supposed to do on Yom Kippur? Her immediate response was "hire someone". It really had never occured to her that many women have to figure out how to deal with daily life and Shabbos/yomtov without their non-Jewish housekeeper to do everything for you.

The best arrangement I've seen was my best friend in high school. Her parents worked long hours, and they had a live-in housekeeper while the kids were young (and they were quite able to afford it.) However, the kids were still required to do regular chores, so that they felt some responsibility to the family and would be able to take care of their needs as adults.

aml said...

SL- I don't think your methodology would work for me- it seems like you'd be cleaning all the time. I would rather do it and be done with it.

concernedjewgirl- I totally concur. I JUST had this conversation with my husband. We can't do it all- kids, professionals, graduate school. Something's gotta give and it has to be the housekeeping b/c everything else is just too important. We can keep thinks pretty much picked up, but the cleaning part escapes us. We need someone to come in every couple of weeks and clean the bathrooms, floors, etc.

child ish behavior- I don't think we're at all lazy, we just have our priorities and a finite number of hours in a day.

Lion of Zion said...


i too am afraid of theft, which is why i wrote above that we don't have cleaning help. but i don't think every cleaning person is a thief.

as far as the rationalization you mentioned goes, i know a store owner who told me that he factors worker theft as a benefit into the benefits package.

concernedjewgirl said...

If you are nice to your cleaning help and pay them on time then they will not steal from you. If you don’t trust them then they should not work for you. Not all cleaning help do not speak English, although the ones that do are fewer I will agree to that.

I agree completely, there are some things that you just can’t out source.

ProfK said...

Why even make cleaning help an issue? It is, as was mentioned above, a purely personal preference. For working women, such as myself, a cleaning woman is a question of where to "spend" the precious resource of time. I still clean all week--wash down kitchen counters after every meal, sweep the floor, do the laundry--but my help is a tremendous time saver for me--my 6 "free" hours once a week allows me to do other things that I consider equally important.

Re the "bad" help that does not clean correctly or that steals, my mother once told me that bad employers generally are what make bad employees. I set up a schedule with my help, I demonstrated how I like things done and I treat them like human beings. I'm also realistic in my expectations. If I can't put my house into pristine order, including all the "odd" jobs that need to be done occasionally, in 6 hours once a week, what makes me think that she could do better? I don't. I ask for what is possible to get.

It all boils down to a question of economics--what is this help worth to me as opposed to what else I could buy for the money?

SephardiLady said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SephardiLady said...

This post is not about why someone should not have cleaning help. I repeat, this post is not a post about why somone should not have cleaning help. Perhaps someday it will move more into the need than want category. But right now it is hardly a need and would be more of an inconvience than a convience.

It is really a post about the world through the eyes of our children. What do our children see as "normal?" Where do they see themselves as "different." This is one area.

I don't know a single person growing up that had cleaning help unless you count in some elderly widows who had a nurse to help them. Cleaning help was simply something I never knew about and therefore I never thought about it or considered it an option.

My children have a different view. They see cleaning help as something that "everyone" has (which may or may not be true). Cleaning help is regular conversation around these parts. So I expected this conversation would come up and it has.

I have never once said to them that having help is a negative value. I have helped them understand it is a choice and that when you say yes to one thing, you likely say no to another thing. Also, I have pointed out to them that the messes they don't want to deal with would still be there cleaning lady or not. They will still have to clean up their toys and spills, even if Mommy decided not to clean the bathroom and mop the floor. So, their workload isn't decreasing anytime soon.

That's all. If cleaning help is something that works for you, that is great if you are meeting your other needs. On the other hand, it isn't something I feel we need and I'm just letting my kids know that. (And, yes, I do believe my neighbors benefit from this help for the most part).

Anonymous said...

I guess my reactions are what they are because we're so different! For example:

1) I grew up in the 70s and 80s in NJ and I knew lots of people with part time cleaning help

2) I have a bunch of kids (b"h), and I can assure you that they don't notice which friends' parents have cleaning help and which don't. If they notice, they have never said a word about it, unlike your son. They might notice cute clothes, video games, etc, but cleaning ladies?

3) My kids don't wonder why other people have some things we don't have (and vice versa), because they know that that's life!

triLcat said...

I'm wondering what I'll do when my daughter realizes that we live in a pig sty and none of her friends do...
My husband and I both have ADD and have extreme difficulty with organization. In addition, I have fibromyalgia, which makes it hard for me to do even basic things like washing the floor...

Even when we had cleaning help, it didn't deal with the huge clutter problem... I'm thinking of hiring a de-cluttering/organizing service. I wish there was one of those "clean house" shows in Israel... I'd be willing to be exposed on tv if it meant that we could actually afford to have someone help us.

I am thinking of moving to all hanging space for clothes. I think it might help quite a lot.

SephardiLady said...

Tessya-We have lived in apartment complexes before a house and have regular help. . . probably his first introduction to cleaning help outside of an apartment was when he noticed the help while we were in other people's homes (he even asked me two years ago if I was a cleaning lady).

Anonymous said...

I would very much like to comminicate with the owner of this blog. I am someone who has had many a conversation with people regarding finances in the frum world and the need to educate people about them. I would love to get your insights and ask you a few questions. My email is Feel free to email me when you have a chance. Thanks for your great work, this is the first time I enter this blog!

Lion of Zion said...


"If you are nice to your cleaning . . ."

the proper way to treat the "goyta" should be a different post

"Not all cleaning help do not speak English"

i'm not sure where you live, but from my experience (in brooklyn), english-speaking domestic help is very expensive, if you can even find it. the only exception are babysitters from the islands, which not everyone wants.


"I'm also realistic in my expectations"

i always laugh when i listen to parents complain that they go through one babysitter after another, when they are not willing to pay a realistic wage for the work they expect her to accomplish.

SephardiLady said...

yacov-I will contact you tomorrow iy"h.

aml-There are many valid methods of how to tackle a job. I freeze up when the job gets too big. I do feel like I'm cleaning all day, but I've found it is easier for me than tackling a bigger project.

Anonymous said...

Please, I am tesyaa, not tessya. Otherwise at least one of my sons family will have to change his name. I like being tesyaa, it fits me just right.

Anonymous said...

I mean, at least one of my sons. They don't have their own families yet, and at the rate they're maturing, who knows when. They are a big reason I need cleaning help!

Anonymous said...

My Rav, prior to Pesach, made the point that in the old days - and maybe not so old days, houses were much smaller and cleaning was intense but limited to very few rooms and could be accomplished in less time. However food preparations were much more difficult and time consuming. Today American homes are extremely large - by everyone's standards - and food preparations are much more easy. Pesach or not, this is the case in general. And maybe you led a very sheltered (in small quarters) childhood, but cleaning help is a way of life in the suburbs.

As for cleaning assistance - what is the message to our children? Simple- you need help and can afford it or you need help and can't afford it or its not your priority. But to lose sleep over what to tell your kid? Remember the line about jumping off the Empire State Building???? I really think that there is no hidden message here to your children regarding help.

That being said, at times I think this borders on a shalom bayit question as well - and also a quality time issue. Is your time worth it? As far as I am concerned absolutely. After 120 years will our children look back and think about the Shabbat dinners that were so memorable and rich or how miserable and irritable their parents were from working so darn hard and how they were worried more about cleaning a toilet than enjoying Shabbat and how they fell asleep at the tish.

SephardiLady said...

To anon above-For starters, I don't loose any sleep. As I mentioned above, my son has just noticed these things. At one point he thought I was a cleaning lady because I do the same things that the cleaning help he sees does, so he started calling me the Cleaning Mommy. Cute.

I grew up in a small town in a large house. Income levels there are just not very high and I just don't think there is much of a market there for cleaning services, save janitorial services for businesses and maids for the small number of motels. People had cleaning help: us kids. :)

Ezzie said...

It is really a post about the world through the eyes of our children. What do our children see as "normal?" Where do they see themselves as "different." This is one area.

I don't know a single person growing up that had cleaning help unless you count in some elderly widows who had a nurse to help them.

Isn't the answer to this rather simple: Far more families now have wives/mothers who work at least part-time, and having a cleaning lady is not only cost-effective, but a huge weight off? In the 70s/80s most mothers were home and had more time/were expected to clean. Now, that's simply not the case - they are professionals, teachers, whatever. They're not as practiced and it would take them much longer. They get home at 2 if not 6. Etc. etc.


SephardiLady said...

Ezzie-I actually went to Merry Maids website and they still have no presence where I grew up. They are down the road an hour where the more affluent live.

And, yes, mothers were working part time even back then, although they tended to only return once the kids were in school until 2:30 which was in 1st grade (kindergarten was a 1/2 day only at the time).

Cleaning help is somewhat of a culture thing, and certainly something that has been marketed heavily to the middle class. I get brochures at least once a month from cleaning services. But we live in a metro area. My mother has not been marketed to. If she wanted cleaning help (and I think she should consider it because it is getting harder for her), she would probably have a hard time finding regular help because she would be the only one on the block seeking help. I imagine she could always beg the janitor that cleans up offices in my father's office complex.

Anonymous said...

A daughter of Israel should never have to clean a toilet.......

SephardiLady said...

If you aren't kidding anonymous, then I suggest the sons get busy.

Anonymous said...

(same anon as anon 7:15PM)

Will it put you at ease to say it was a joke?

Or shall I worry you by saying that this is really something that a shabbos host once said to my wife?

SephardiLady said...

I'm sure that a Shabbos host has said that before. :)

Thinking said...


Just a thought:
IY"H your children will grow up and get married. The odds are that one of your children's spouses may prefer to have cleaning help then cleaning themselves and may even be willing to give up something else not to have to do the cleaning. How are you going to make sure that your children are open to that possibility?
As an aside, as a bochur I ate out at peoples homes 100's of times. I can assure you that both my friends and I, many of us who grew up with housekeeper at home, were no less likely to be willing to come over before shabbos to help clean or watch the children or clean up on shabbos then our friends who did not have cleaning help at home.This was based on our upbringing not our socioeconomic status.

Ezzie said...

SL - That's not what I mean. Within the (younger) frum community, you generally have two parents who work (or at least are not at home to clean). Particularly if they have kids, there is very little time in the day for a lot of things - having a cleaning lady gets rid of a big headache that people don't particularly enjoy in exchange for time, quiet, and peace of mind about a lot of the "little things". When you factor in that having those things taken care of allows a person to work a couple extra hours or opens up certain other jobs, it becomes cost-effective as well. (Note also that many wives in the frum community are PTs, OTs, SpEd teachers, and the like who get paid for the hours they work. My own wife can work a couple extra hours a week by doing things like having a cleaning lady or paying slightly more for a babysitter to come here - when the cleaning lady is $10-12/hr and the babysitter $7-10 an hour, and my wife gets $50-65 an hour, of course it's worth it.)

Anonymous said...

My parents had 3 people helping to clean our house - me, and my 2 sisters (our brother, 11 years younger than me, was too little to help for most of the years). We grew up in the 60's and 70's in Boro Park and later Staten Island. For every meal, we set the table, cleared the table, washed the dishes, wiped the dishes dry, and put them away. Every erev shabbat we cleared up, vacuumed all the carpets and floors, set the table for shabbat, and then got ready for shabbat. We also made our beds every morning (well, almost every morning). My mom did most of the cooking until we (my mom and I) went to college at which point I took over much of the cooking (all of shabbat) because I had a better schedule than she did, I was off every Friday while she had classes every Friday. But she did the bathroom (yes, we had one for 6 people ... now I have 3 for 7 people, my how times have changed) as us kids couldn't quite go that far.

As much as I hate to say it, my wife and I aren't following the same tradition. Our kids (5 of them, ages 3 to 9) hardly even clean up after themselves (toys, projects, school materials, etc), not to mention doing general cleaning around the house. Only recently they have started to half-heartedly set the table, and the 9 and 7 year old half-heartedly clears the table into the proper dishwasher for the meal (milchigs or fleishigs). It's a sign of the times, my parents never had a dishwasher until a few years ago, and here we have 2 of them! And, the kids complain about taking 5 minutes to clear the table into the dishwasher while we used to spend 25-30 minutes washing and wiping the dishes every night after dinner. It's funny, even today, 35-40 years later, I still prefer to wash dishes by hand and think they come out cleaner.


mlevin said...

Childish behaivor - I take an afront to your assumption that cleaning lady equals sitting being lazy. I work full time and on call 24/6. I would rather someone clean for me on a weekday, than spend my Sundays cleaning. I work hard and deserve some break.

I know this family who say they can't afford a cleaning lady. Their appartment is dirty. Dust and dirt... It's disgusting. They have many children and parents living in their appartment. Yet, they managed to afford Wii, children's camps, fancy shabbos clothes for all kids (not handme downs), going away to cemenaries and going away to yeshivahs and etc.

Commenter Abbi said...

I have to agree with tesyaa- cleaning help doesn't let you off the hook for cleaning. I still have to declutter and make sure things are cleared so my cleaning man can do the heavy cleaning I need him to do- the dusting, floor washing, bathrooms, etc. I touch up, sweep and do all the laundry during the week; but i love coming home when he's done to a sparkling home. Even if I wasn't working p/t, i have no idea where i'd get 5 hours straight to clean the house like it should be.

It's also a shalom bayit issue- my husband has absolutely no time to help me. And my oldest is now 5- the most i can expect is getting her and her 3 year old sister to put their toys away. No one's of sweeping/laundry folding age yet. I just can't, and won't, be the only one taking care of the house.