November 9, 2014

In which I tentatively express my not-quite-fully-formed thoughts on having a cleaner

I have a cleaner. A few years ago, I never thought I’d say that. I thought cleaners were an extravagant luxury; only posh people have cleaners!

It took a long time for me to start questioning that view. It started when I got my first proper job away from home; I just couldn’t figure out how people were meant to work full-time, cook, clean, sleep and still have time to relax or socialise. As I learnt more about feminism, I realised it worked in the past because usually there was at least one person in the household who didn’t go out to work — their full-time (unpaid) job was housekeeping.

Society has changed in that it is no longer unusual for all adults in a household to go out to work, but our attitudes towards domestic labour have been left behind; it is still devalued and we still don’t consider it something worth paying for. We somehow believe we should be able to do it alongside our real’ work. Not only is this unsustainable for most people, it’s also pretty demeaning to what can actually be difficult and skilful labour. The elephant in the room here is that cleaning is still overwhelmingly done by women, and it is a sad fact that any kind of work that is primarily done by women gets devalued.

When my mum fell ill, I began spending a lot of time travelling away to visit, and found keeping on top of everything even more difficult. So I hired a cleaner to come for a couple of hours every other week, and it was such a good decision. She is awesome. Every time I come home and the flat is clean and beautiful, I am so thankful. She is a skilled professional, and nothing I could do would even come close.

I’m aware that I am incredibly lucky to be able to afford a cleaner, but this is partly because I choose not to use other services that others might. Some people go to a hairdresser; I choose to cut my own hair. Some people use computer repair services; I fix my own computers. When it comes to cleaning, some people prefer to do it themselves; I choose to hire a cleaner. I’m not sure why we consider it standard to outsource certain areas of our life, but doing the same with other areas is seen as extravagant.

The reason I express these views tentatively is because I’m aware I’m seeing all this through a privileged white, middle-class lens. While I am pretty confident on feminism these days, my understanding of class and racial oppression has a long way to go; and it is undeniable that, as well as usually being women, cleaners often also come from the oppressed end of these axes, and I am sometimes unsure if I am contributing to this oppression. I know how easy it is for privileged people to make basic 101 errors, so I welcome constructive criticism and will try to learn.

I guess what I’m saying is that I believe cleaning should be considered on a par with any other service that people are willing to outsource to professionals, but I’m aware we are not there yet, and so I think anyone employing the services of a cleaner should consider what effect they may be having. Cleaning does not exist in a vacuum, if you will…

Anecdotally, the cleaners I’ve spoken to generally enjoy their work; it allows them to be self-employed and in control of their time, as well as providing a sense of satisfaction from happy customers. For a lot of people, I think cleaning could be a really convenient and flexible job option if only it was given the respect it deserves.

Updated Sep, 24 2020


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