Some Light Housekeeping

Imagine it’s Monday night. After a (hopefully) productive day, you walk into a home that smells like the floors were just mopped with Fabuloso. You can tell the carpets and rugs were just vacuumed because of the shaded gridlines. 

The fridge, microwave, and stove are almost too bright to look at because they’ve just been wiped down with a stainless steel cleaner.

The kitchen counter looks perfect. There are no crumbs under the toaster oven. The spice rack is in order. The dish soap and hand soap containers are full. The wires for the blender, instant pot, and egg cooker are all tucked away nicely. 

You take off your shoes and place them on the shoe rack. Monday is the only day this happens. You open the coat closet to hang your jacket and bag. You don’t even think about throwing them on the couch today. That would ruin how perfectly clean and organized everything is.

You head to your room to change into something more comfortable. On your bed is a grid of folded clothes. They are separated by category: T Shirts in one pile, underwear in another. Pants in one pile, sweaters in another. The balls of socks are tossed together to form a molehill in the middle.

After changing, you go to the bathroom. As you’re doing your business, you look left and see your reflection in the glass shower door. The shower floor and walls are bright white. No little hairs on the floor, no scum on the tile, no mildew on the fixtures. It’s all either bleached white or shiny silver. 

You look right and the vanity is pristine. There are no spots of toothpaste, bits of food from flossing, or watermarks on the mirror. All of your toiletries are standing up in a basket. The sink and counter are spotless.

You head back to the kitchen to grab a cup of water and a snack. You open the fridge and find all the food in its proper place. The squeeze bottles are in the door. The produce is in the drawers. The poultry is on the bottom shelf. The packaged food is on the second shelf. Dairy items are up top. 

You’re at ease. There’s nothing for you to do except relax.

If you walk into a home as clean and organized as this everyday, you can stop reading now... 

If this isn’t your reality, but you would like it to be, I’ll let you in on a little secret. Afterall, this is the experience Dia and I share every single Monday night. 

No, we are not a couple of serial killers with a severe case of OCD.

We have a housekeeper. She comes every Monday to clean our home and do our laundry while we are at work. It’s the best. thing. ever.

How We Got Here:

Dia and I have an amazing marriage and I could not imagine a better partner to walk through life with.

But... 

Completing household chores has been a point of contention in our relationship ever since we moved out of my parent’s place. I take full blame. I cannot help but keep score when it comes to completing tasks around the house. 

I try really hard to be “the perfect husband”, but when it comes to cleaning, I turn into the annoying college roommate that constantly complains about how seemingly uneven the workload is. 

When we moved into our first place back in the summer of 2016, we were both so enthusiastic about keeping everything clean and organized. The motivation wore off quickly. 

So we came up with a system. We started by writing a list of all the tasks that needed to be done around the house. Then we categorized each task into a frequency: daily, weekly, and monthly. 

Here’s a sample of what the list looked like:

The list was much longer. I even made a sub-list for some items. For example, I made a 10 step checklist for how to clean the bathroom and kitchen. Yes, I’m a freak. Get over it.

After we came up with an all-encompassing task list, we needed to divide and conquer. This part was really fun. 

I love negotiating with Dia. She is super creative and has a knack for “expanding the pie”. I’m pretty sure she got exactly what she wanted by simply offering to take me out for ice cream after the negotiation. I conceded way too quickly to all of her demands just to get my sugar. 

Sidenote: Dia doesn’t like ice cream. So whenever she offers it up as a dessert option, I try to reduce the time between her offer and actual ice cream in my mouth. Otherwise she might change her mind.

Back to the negotiation: Together, we quickly decided I’d take most of the daily responsibilities, and Dia would take most of the weekly and monthly responsibilities. 

This is what worked best for our respective schedules. I have a 10 minute commute and Dia has a 60 minute commute. We both work 9a - 5p. The commute alone, gives me an extra 2 hours per day to handle all of the daily responsibilities. Fair enough.

Back To Keeping Score:

I hate admitting this, but I get frustrated when I hit all of my daily responsibilities for the week, and Dia fails to do laundry or clean the bathroom. 

MOST of the time, it’s not her fault. 

First, our weekends are busy. We’re at that stage of life where people are constantly getting married, having babies, or simply inviting us over for pizza or burritos. We don’t say no.

Second, it feels weird for me to do nothing while Dia is scrubbing toilets or mopping floors. So I ask her to just delay cleaning and come cuddle with me on the couch so we can continue watching our favorite series. 

But then during the week, I turn into a complete asshole when I don’t have any clean underwear, or my towels smell funky. 

I end up making some passive aggressive comments like, “I wonder if anyone will notice the chalk on my unwashed gym shorts I just pulled out of the laundry basket”. -or- “I hope I don’t smell like a wet towel AFTER taking a shower...”

I feel like a jerk writing this, especially since she’s carrying our child right now. But, whatever. It’s my truth. I’m imperfect. And this is an integral part of the story. 

It’s also worth mentioning that I drop the ball too. There have been many times where I loaded the dishwasher after dinner, but forgot to turn it on. There have also been many times I couldn’t make breakfast or lunch for us in the morning so we both went to work hungry and ended up buying an unsatisfying slice of pizza or a random sandwich for lunch. 

For me, my shortcomings always seemed less inconvenient. I could hand wash any dirty plates in a pinch, and we could always order takeout for lunch. Not having clean underwear or a way to dry-off after a shower is harder to solve for immediately.

At some point during all this I read these quotes and it has made all the difference. 

“Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.” 

“It’s silly to try to escape other people’s faults. They are inescapable. Just try to escape your own.” 

– Marcus Aurelius

I finally got to a point where I was tired of making my wife feel guilty for not doing her responsibilities. Especially when our social lives and my desire to be with her doing nothing were the main things preventing her from getting her part done. 

I was judging her for not holding up her end of the agreement. It was an ugly feeling. So I started looking into outsourcing her tasks.

Gathering Information Phase:

We first reached out to our network. 

We sat and thought, “Do we know anyone who has a particularly clean home? Or has anyone told us they’ve used a housekeeping service before?”

We shot out a few text messages and got some good feedback around pricing and services offered. 

Did anyone have a housekeeper willing to share?

No one we knew was extremely happy with their housekeeper. They either didn’t do “enough”, require constant oversight, or they wouldn’t show up consistently, etc. 

We didn’t want to inherit the same problems, so we looked online.

Amazon Home Services. Task Rabbit. Care.com, etc.

We hired two separate people from these online resources. We were hoping to build a relationship and start paying them directly, off the online platforms, to save some money.

Both of them were not interested because they didn’t live close enough to make the trip frequently for less money. They were also kind of expensive. They charged high fixed fees based on the service provided. We were more interested in just paying someone hourly. 

The Perfect Solution:

Dia’s mom, of all people, found someone for us while she was here on vacation. I don’t know how the conversation went, but the problem was solved. 

The person she found for us was a housekeeper who already worked on an hourly wage. Jackpot. 

Before she started, I made a list for her to operate from.

When we gave it to her, she had the weirdest look on her face. Understandable. We just gave her an operating manual for a job she can do in her sleep.

For her first few visits, we stayed in the apartment with her. It felt really weird. Someone was cleaning our home around us as we watched TV or sat on our computers. 

I couldn’t help but think, “if she’s cleaning... and we’re doing nothing... we could just be cleaning...and save money”

I had to stop myself, “No! This is not about the money. This is about me not being an asshole to Dia.”

Training Wheels:

After a couple of visits, we would go out as soon as our housekeeper arrived. We told her, “We’ll be back in an hour or so.” 

We even tried to lead her into temptation. One time we stuck a crumpled $20 bill between the couch cushions. Another time we put $55 in small bills on Dia’s night stand next to her watch. Another time we left jewelry out in the bathroom.

She never took the bait. Each time she put all of the “valuable” stuff she found on the kitchen island. We felt guilty, but she gained our confidence. 

After a few months, she asked us if she could come once a week for a flat fee that worked out to a little less than what we were paying her hourly. 

Up until this point, we’d just text her when things got bad. We probably asked her for help about 2-3 times per month.

We ended up saying yes. We also decided to give her a key to our place so she could come while we weren’t there. After thinking about it for 30 seconds, we realized we don’t have anything valuable that she can actually take from us. 

Value > Cost:

After seeing the benefits, both tangible and intangible, Dia and I agreed: paying a housekeeper was worth every penny. If we had to tighten up our budget in the future, housekeeping would be one of the last costs we would cut. 

Personally, I’d rather sell my car than go back to the weekly bickering fueled by righteous indignation over something as petty as fairness in household chores.  

“How much does it cost?” is almost irrelevant. 

“What’s it worth?” is a better question. 

The cost of housekeeping: 

  1. Money

The benefits of outsourcing housekeeping:

  1. More time to do nothing with Dia
  2. It’s done right every time. No half-assed efforts
    • No more forgetting wet clothes in the washer overnight
    • No more leaving clothes to get wrinkled in the dryer overnight
    • No more mountains of crumbs under the toaster or kitchen island
    • No more moldy towels
    • No more having to buy new underwear at the last second
    • No more playing the matching socks game
  3. Most Importantly: Any negative feelings I have about these items not being completed up to standard are shifted away from my lovely wife and are instead geared towards someone I’m fine being upset with.

Getting Over The Initial Hump:

I grew up in a culture where being cheap was a good thing. In my family, it often seemed like the only thing. Don’t buy groceries without coupons. Don’t buy clothes unless they’re on sale. Don’t pay someone to do something you can do yourself. 

My parents’ generation would routinely brag to their friends about how little they spent on something as opposed to how much. Their scarcity mindset drove most of their decisions.

I reflect on my upbringing as I go down the path of building my own family. The truth is, I judged my parents for being stingy when I was younger, but the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree. I am just like them when it comes to money. It’s hard for me to part with it, especially for self-indulgent expenses like outsourcing our housekeeping.

I see my parents enjoying the fruits of their labor more and more these days. However, I do think they missed out on decades of enjoyment before they started to treat themselves. 

As I navigate my marriage, I know one thing for sure: If I have the capacity to remove a point of contention with a little bit of money, it’s worth every penny.

But it’s hard. 

I still have all the common objections when I’m faced with a decision like this.

The first time I found out someone I knew hired a housekeeper, my immediate thought was, “Must be nice.” 

When I was faced with making the decision for our home, I kept reverting back to, “It sucks, but I can just do this myself.”

At the end of the day, I’m really glad we decided to stick to the decision of outsourcing our housekeeping and laundry. I’m looking forward to bickering with Dia about more things neither of us want to do and ultimately outsourcing them. 

Next up for us is grocery shopping. Thank you ShopRite for online ordering + delivery.

What’s one thing you can outsource where the value added to your life far outweighs the dollars spent?

Sunny Shakhawala

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