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August 16, 2011

The Help!

By Sarah

Cleaning After fifteen years of wonderful employment, my house cleaner, Rita, is fulfilling her dream by packing up, leaving this godforsaken state with its interminable winters, and heading south with her daughter to North Carolina.

I'll miss Rita. I'll miss our conversations and her tips on how I should clean my house. ("To dust the ceiling fan use the small attachment on the vacuum," she'd say, watching to make sure I did it right.) Okay, so Rita didn't clean ev-er-y-thing. She scrubbed the toilets and that's worth more than $20 an hour right there. I can count on one hand the number of days she missed work in almost two decades.

Plus, I learned stuff about the neighbors. Like who had pot growing in their basements and which ones insisted that Rita dust the forty picture frames on her wall, whose checks bounced. This is news you can use. There were some weeks when I was on deadline and Rita was the only adult outside of Charlie to cross my path and I was damned glad for the company. She read my books and gave me a thumbs up or a thumbs down. She brought fresh vegetables from her garden and also crystals.

Rita's a witch. No, honestly. She was born on October 31 and she used to work for a local company Wicca that made Wicca products. My dog, Ben, had it out for her, though my other dog, Fred, who's about as psychic as a brick, never cared. The cats, I swear, scattered in her presence.

If it hadn't been for Rita, I never would have had a career. Rita kept me from wasting my time on vacuuming and washing the floor. I know Sara Paretsky insists on cleaning her own sinks, but I'm not Sara Paretsky. I'm German and I cannot work in a dirty house. Because of Rita, my family stayed relatively healthy. I owe her a lot.

My new cleaning woman used to work for my next door neighbor Trish - who died last year - and the only upside to that is Trish was the messiest person, ever, so I know that when Jasmina walks through my door she won't be shocked. Unlike Rita, Jasmina's religious, a Muslim in fact, which means that this month she's cleaning during the blasted hot August temperatures without a sip of water because of Ramadan. I find this cruel and unusual punishment.

Also, Jasmina gets down on her hands and knees to wash with a rag. She wipes windowsills and - gasp - windows. She straightens up, something Rita refused to do, and vacuums only half as much. When she is done, she says, "Sarah. You come and inspect, eh?"

Bosnia She is Bosnian so I know there's some funky stuff in her past. But I don't know her well enough to ask. Rita would go outside for a smoke after the vacuuming and talk. Not Jasmina. She works straight through. Rita used to wear headphones that played NPR and we'd spend way too much time having political discussions. Jasmina barely speaks English.

There's something peculiarly intimate about inviting another human being into your home to whisk away the stray pubic hairs and sanitize the toilet seats. It's wrong, like SaraParetsky says. I know that. But I also know that when I come down the stairs and see my gleaming kitchen and sparkling living room, I feel inspired to walk the straight and narrow.

That is until SOMEone lets a few brownie crumbs drop onto the floor. Or the dog drools. Or the husband tracks in mud. The daughter spills the yogurt. The cats deposit the bleeding mouse.

In the meantime, there is bliss and order and the smell of orange oil. And all is right in the world. Orange

So, who cleans your house?




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Martha is her name, and she's been keeping the house from looking like Colombo's raincoat for 16 years now.

Her English is on a par with my Spanish, but we manage to communicate the important stuff. Sometimes her daughter comes with her, other times another lady, but what amazes me is they're in and out and gone in around three hours, and the kitchen sparkles, bathrooms can be used for surgery, my desk looks like something out of 'Office Beautiful', and the entire house smells like a lemon rainforest.

I owe my clean house to Nancy Martin, who said getting a cleaning lady was the smartest thing she ever did. She was right. A team comes every other Monday. Of course, we scramble for the half hour before they come, wisking away the clutter, but by the time they leave most of the house looks great. (They don't do the bedrooms nor our two offices.)

Why did we wait so long to go for this?

The only drawback: I don't like the smell of their cleaning product. It's not lemon or orange ... but you can tell it's some kind of "soap." (I did ask if they could use something else and was told "No.")

To say that Marilyn cleans our house is akin to saying Norman Rockwell played with paints. (I know, I could have picked a different painter, but I'm in a Norman Rockwell mood, so give it a pass - at least I didn't pick Thomas Kincaid: barf).

She is part concierge, part secretary, part vent-a-friend, part third parent to the kids.

She is our utility infielder - although as a Pirates fan, I'm not sure I know what a real one looks like any more. Sigh.

I could not get any work done if she weren't here. She is a member of the family. And now, to assuage my free-floating guilt, I am going to clean my bathroom. The little one - okay it's really a half bath, but it still counts.

If Peggy didn't come every other week, we'd probably be up to our eyeballs in clutter. Not to mention dirt. Like Lorraine, we scramble around, ridding the surfaces of newspapers and magazines, ridding the bathroom counters of hairdryer, brushes, and razors, etc. etc. We don't have near neighbors, so I don't get any gossip, but she reads all the TLC books (loves Elaine's Dead End Jobs series) and keeps my husband in banana bread.

Anna cleans my house - once every three or four weeks or right before we have guests. I ask her to do only the jobs that I absolutely abhor - dusting and bathrooms. The rest my husband or I take care of. She is a good friend and we barter for her services. Oddly enough, we never had any help with cleaning until after the five kids had left the house. Seems backward somehow. Much less mess now but I value my free time more and can't see myself wasting it dusting...

I not only clean my own house, I also clean at the farm, and do yard/garden work at both places.

No wonder I'm not writing!

When my middle daughter was a baby, and I had my own business selling insurance, I did have a cleaning service, once or twice a month, just for dusting, vacuuming and mopping. For awhile it was Steve's cousin, in between college and job. When she got a real job I started doing it myself again. When the girls were home they had chores, again: dusting, vacuuming and mopping. They also did their own laundry, from the age of six. But they've been out of the house now for years. So it's me again.

My mother, bless her 81-year old soul, "wipes up" her kitchen floor and both bathroom floors, every single day. Her home is spotless, always.

I'm convinced that's one of the many reasons she looks like she's in her late 60's.

I used to do it myself until I figured out that the amount of money I could make in billables (I am a contract attorney) for the several hours it took me to clean was far greater than what it costs to pay a cleaning lady. Now we have Elena, God bless her. The days she comes are my favorite days- I come home to a clean house. I love that feeling.

We pay a service that sends someone once a month, which is plenty for our wee place and just two people getting it dirty. The best cleaner they've sent so far has been a man. I know, lol! The last one was an interesting young woman who also cleans surgical rooms at a hospital and says she really loves it, blood and all. Naturally, my writer-ears perked up.

Not wrong if you pay fair wages and treat with respect, as I know you do.
It's good, honest work, not appreciated enough. (Nickel and Dimed author said people wouldn't talk to her about her work as a maid, but would discuss waitressing). I always made friend with the custodians, because I worked late in my classroom, and was amazed when they told me many teachers wouldn't even return a "hello."
In the condo, I had help cleaning, mostly because vacuuming was a problem with the dust allergy. I'd have to wear a dust mask and leave for an hour or so after. It made more sense to have someone come while I was gone. I couldn't stay and visit, so once I retired, I'd go to a favorite restaurant and hang around until they needed the table. I had two wonderful cleaners, first and last, and in between a fair one and then her daughter (who was best at cleaning the check off the refrigerator door).
Now, with cork floors and BEAM vacuum system, I clean for myself, getting the exercise that Terri said was one benefit of the work; another was flexibility to set hours according to the needs of her children. Sometimes I miss having someone do a truly thorough job, but I can control the products used in my environment. No choking fumes in Better Life http://www.cleanhappens.com/

The no-water rule for Ramadan! When one of my students told me that, I was amazed. No food would be hard enough, no water would be impossible for me, especially when I was teaching and talking all day. I asked what one would do if unable to comply for medical reasons, and he said they would make a donation to the poor. Then I stumped him with "and if the person was poor?" We decided that accepting charity would perhaps be a blessing given to the giver of the charity . . .

Ah, Susan and her crew come on Friday. They stay for three hours, I think, and power through the whole thing. They could take me or leave me, I think--there's no real connection.

Adorable Sylvia comes of Tuesday,,and on Friday, she watches over Susan. And takes care of everything. (Two little words. Ironed sheets.)

It's kind of funny, yes, but there you have it. She's from Jamaica, and when Jonathan had his heart surgery, we hired her to come take care of him while I was at work. They're great friends now, and when Jonathan got better, I told Sylvia that we couldn't live without her. So, she stayed.

I absolutely do not know what I would do without them. And yes, I do clean up BEFORE they come. It's a big incentive.

I clean the house. All of it. Sometimes my little helpers will hang their own clothes.

We had a cleaning service for awhile. Paycheck rightsizing took care of that. Molly does love the years I spent cleaning restaurants, although she does not like traditional rag mops. I do. Sorry Swiffer Wet Mop, you just don't get the floor clean.

We deliver pizzas to the overnight office cleaning crews in some office buildings. St. Louis' Bosnian population is well represented in the cleaning business, as are a mini UN of other emigres. We had a driver from Bulgaria. We never delved to deeply why our Eastern Orthodox driver would not deliver to Bosnian Muslim women, but it was probably better for all involved.

I clean my own home, which currently is in a state of clutter...except for the kitchen and bath, which have to be clean or I hesitate to bring friends in. That doesn't mean I don't have produce(like the ever-growing zucchini)on the counter, it just means that the produce is clean. I'm not sure I want anyone to create order out of the chaos that reigns occasionally---more in the winter when there is more stuff to hang up or put away---because they might put it where I can't find it! And the husband already does that when he does the dishes :o) Still, the thought is tempting.

My grandmother, Winnifred, always said people with clean houses have nothing better to do.
I say people with clean houses have a maid.
I clean by the room and every room gets a going over once in a while or when company is coming.
Enter at your own risk if I'm costuming a show. Seriously...I use the arms of the sofa for a pin cushion.

Oh, how I wish I had someone! The cleaning chemicals bother my asthma and even though Dear Hubby promised to take care of the bathroom for me (I have yet to see that happen), I have to do it all.

Therefore, it doesn't get done as often as it should.

Now that his job situation is settled, I'm hoping to convince him to get someone to come in. Would be soooooooo nice.

Nelly from El Salvador used to come every week and then, when I had 3 babies pre-preschool age, twice a week. Now I clean my own house but recently Nelly's taken to calling once a month to say, "Miss Harley, you need I come tomorrow?" And it's always when I need her, if only for her carne Asada and rice, which she cooks for the children like no one in the world. she also revives plants, walks the dogs and tells me I'm pretty, and so will surely find a man. she also tells the gardeners, in Spanish, that they should be doing a better job. I think I need to bring Nelly back on a weekly basis if i'm ever to finish another book. Sarah, you've inspired me.

I just got my first ever cleaning lady a couple of months ago. I still feel guilty, but it's heavenly. Her name is Vicki, and she has, I believe, five kids, so I know my house will never look dirty to her. She didn't even blink when she asked how I clean my hardwood floors, and I said "on my hands and knees". She leaves clutter where it is and vacuums or dusts under it and puts it back, so that's incentive to pick it up before she comes. I remind my husband and daughter she's coming, so he will pick his boxer shorts up off the floor and Mary Kate will make a path in her room for vacuuming. She also lets the dogs out and they get to be out of their crates while she's there, so everybody is happy.

I still can't believe it on weekends when I remember I don't have to spend a full day of my two days off cleaning. I do a happy dance every other Thursday when I come home from work and see the lack of dust and clean floors and bathrooms. God, I hate cleaning bathrooms.

It really is a gift. It was the first "treat" i bought myself when I got a book contract. Of course, now there's tuition....but a clean house is even more of a blessing. After all, I work here, too.

And doesn't it make everything feel "right"?

Pam - have you tried this....


It's the most amazing stuff....

Dana comes every other Friday (unless she forgets, which happens once in while). Sometimes she does an amazing job and sometimes not so much, but she is a single mother going through a nasty divorce so I cut her a little slack.....

I love coming home from work after she's been there to at least a clean kitchen and bathrooms.

It's heaven...

I do the cleaning...whenever my dad is away for a period of time (he makes stupid commentary, but cant be bothered cleaning up after himself). Which means that the fun begins tonight as he just took off for El Paso this morning.

I do my own cleaning and have to do some serious talking to myself to get it done. The kitchen is always clean because I love to cook. The bathroom stays pretty clean although I would love it if someone else did the tub and toilet!

That was one of the few crappy things about leaving my husband all those years ago, he loved to vacuum and clean house . . .

Aah! I love the smell of cleaning products in the morning.
To me, who is the primo cleaner of the household I liken the scum and dirt battle to a General's strategy at war with the enemy..dirt.
The bathroom always beckons with the little soldiers of cleaning products..the Lysol scrubbing bubbles, the Heavy Duty Fanstastik..reminiscent of a musical..The Fantastiks. And there lies the trouble, my friends. I approach cleaning with an emotional vengeance and find it therapeutic after doing paperwork, bills, etc.
The battle of the Vacuum cleaner is the major resistance. My DH wielding the vacuum as if it was a weapon. The contest to end all contests as to who can deep clean better than the other.
A independent cleaning service? What? And miss all this weekly drama? Not on your life, friends!!

Lucille Kallen -- Rose Marie's character in The Dick Van Dyke Show was based on Lucille, one of the writers for Sid Caesar's "Your Show of Shows"-- wrote a delightful mystery called NO LADY IN THE HOUSE. One of the premises was that all these talented high-power professional women were living in filthy dirty houses because they didn't have time to clean and God forbid that a man would vacuum or clean a toilet. This was MAD MEN era. Thank goodness, a lot of today's men don't see it as "women's work"

I do most of the cleaning in out house, including the toilets, because my wife earns most of the money. I also do 90% of the cooking because I am the better cook.

Right now, my wife is home 24/7 due to having broken her upper right arm last Wednesday, the day before her birthday.

It is challenging, taking care of a broke armed (and it's her right arm, so she can do very little using her left) sweetheart, two Canine Anerican Princesses and myself, but I carry on, because I am pure of hea1rt and virtuous. Also, nobody else is going to do it.

Pam, poster child for chemical sensitivities here, and never a problem with the Better Life products . . .
I have friends whose alter-egos do the cleaning, one had The Determined Storyteller, and the other has Old Hilda (inspired by a dressmaker's form) -- I say take whatever help you can get.

Also, I'm not getting enough sleep, hence all those spelling errors.

Adilia has been cleaning my home on Mondays for almost 10 years now. My mom raised me as a neat freak and taught me so well that it would take me all day to do what Adilia can do in four hours. Adilia is pregnant now, due in Feb, and I follow her around like a worried Mom. I won't let her lift anything, inhale fumes, or exert herself while she looks at me like I'm nuts. She's family! And she's my expert on Mexican witchcraft. The girl has taught me tons.

Dearest Husband vacuums twice a week and washes the dishes after every meal. I do the rest, with gratitude, although perhaps not regularity. A long time ago, I had a cleaning lady who came in every other week but never got comfy with anyone else in the house. For sure, I could not work while she was there! The house is clean enough, but I am sure it would be less cluttered if a cleaner were going to arrive on my doorstep.

Oh, no, Doc! I hope your sweet wife's arm recovers quickly. And that she has (or doesn't need) good pain meds.

I busted my right elbow, falling while on a walk, and it's no fun. Something as simple as brushing one's hair is suddenly so hard. And forget wearing makeup, after I stabbed myself in the eye with the mascara wand I just gave it up.

A couple, Jose and Rita. She is wonderful. He does the windows -- big, floor to ceiling windows on the balcony that get covered with the sticky muck known as "sea foam." I can't work in a dirty house, either. I need them both.

I do my own cleaning.

Cleaning is a relative word, right?

I hate it. I want someone, anyone, to come twice a month and really clean. I can keep it tidy and reasonably clean in between visits.

The work wouldn't be too hard on them. It's not like my house is the equivalent of Hercules mucking out the Augean stables.

When I got up today, I thought this would be a good day to vacuum. After reading this blog I have now cleaned the bathroom, dusted, vacuumed and washed the kitchen and bathroom floors. I even wiped down the baseboards. I even vacuumed the furniture (all 2 pieces) and flipped cushions over.

Now if only someone else would clean the toilet and bathtub . . . wait, I said that already.

I clean my house as well as work for a cleaning company to get through grad school. I only have to clean commercial places. My boss send me to a few homes in the beginning and I refuse to go anymore. For some strange reason it grosses me out to clean toilets in someone's home. One of the places I clean is the state police academy. It's rather interesting to see the caliber of students that come through. The rude ones? They can fire them now because they aren't going to get any better. I believe it's Zappos (the shoe company) that when you interview with them, you are also evaluated on how well you treat the security, janitorial, and delivery people as to whether you will get the job.

. . . not a good birthday present . . . the Universe is not always nice. Healing thoughts to her.

Referrals from friends can help find good cleaning people -- the Merry Maid type companies charge much and pay their employees little (read _Nickel and Dimed_ if you haven't).

I'm weighing in on the side of not feeling guilty. It took me a long time to get to the point where I'd hire someone, but when I realized one day that I had not mopped a floor in two months while on deadline, it was time. I use a service that sends a crew of two once a month--sometimes the same people, sometimes different. They are relatively well-paid for our area, and I tip well. I also listen to them talk about their lives, which is so interesting.

They are earning a living. I don't ask them to do anything icky. I pay them. They choose to come here and do this work, and it works well for everybody. So guilt? No. It's an honest living.

I love cleaning day SO MUCH. They are such professionals it all looks amazing when they are done.

I'll miss Rita. I'll miss our conversations and her tips on how I should clean my house. ("To dust the ceiling fan use the small attachment on the vacuum," she'd say, watching to make sure I did it right.) Okay, so Rita didn't clean ev-er-y-thing. She scrubbed the toilets and that's worth more than $20 an hour right there. I can count on one hand the number of days she missed work in almost two decades.

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