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She’s already in the master bedroom. I hear something heavy drag across the carpet, then thump to the floor. Hurried footsteps, a soft pufft, and the smell of bleach permeates the house. She’s too quick, I worry. I’ll never make it out in time.
The kids are half-dressed, tired, and angry. I woke them from their naps and hurried them out of their bedrooms. We’re leaving as quickly as possible, and I don’t even know where we’re going. All I know is, we need to get out of the house, now.
No, this isn’t a story of a burglary or axe murderer.
But it is a story of a home invasion of sorts. One that I welcomed and planned for, but one that still makes me feel a bit uncomfortable.
I’ve hired a house cleaner. And I’m avoiding her because when I’m forced to witness her scrubbing the mysterious stick off the dining room table, I struggle not to feel a deep sense of shame.
Shame because I couldn’t hack it as a stay-at-home mom who can stay on top of the mess. Shame because I’m spending money on a house cleaner when I should be handling it on my own and probably donating that money to a charity instead. Shame because millions of people around the world can manage to keep their crumbs off the floor, and I only notice them when our dog deems them inedible. (She’s become snobbish about Cheerios. What’s the point of even having you, Sadie?)
I first began thinking about hiring a house cleaner during a late night nursing session a few months. We had moved into a bigger house with our three children–the youngest of which was six weeks old. But we had a big mortgage, two kids in preschool, and mounting expenses. The least I could do to keep our bills down was clean the house myself, right?
And I had been trying, oh how I had been trying!
I spent every spare moment scrubbing toilets, wiping down counter tops, vacuuming up copious amounts of dog hair, and trying in vain to keep the laundry pile to somewhere between a mountain and a molehill. The resentment and frustration grew, and it wasn’t long before I became a mom who said no to play-doh and markers, and yes to screen time–at least it meant they weren’t making a mess!
When Libby needed to nurse and I was locked down on the couch for twenty minutes, I would scan the living room and think of my growing to-do list, waiting for her to hurry up already so I could start cleaning.
Something had to give.
I thought about just letting the house go and choosing not to care about the dog hair and jelly fingerprints that coated most surfaces. In theory, I don’t mind this. I’m always delighted when I go to friends’ homes and they’re refreshingly untidy. It makes me feel more at home. (Go figure.)
But in reality, when my home is chaotic, it weighs me down. I feel cluttered and disorganized. I function better–and happier–in a neat(ish) space.
I couldn’t give up having a clean home, yet I couldn’t manage the work myself. So I finally admitted to myself what I had secretly known for a long time: I needed help.
My husband and I talked it through, looked at our finances, and ended up booking a house cleaner to come every other Friday. Ms. Diane arrives at the tail end of nap time, and I do my best to get everyone out of the house. Logistically speaking this makes sense since she has to clean each room, but in reality, it’s because I still struggle with the shame of letting someone else clean up our mess.
But despite the shame, here’s what I’ve come to realize: I love having a house cleaner. She’s inexpensive, efficient, and thorough, but beyond that…
She has allowed me to let go.
Let go of the image of perfection I had wed myself to.
No one can do it all; it’s ok to outsource.
Let go of the image of having a pristine home all of the time.
Here’s the irony; it wasn’t until we had a regular house cleaner that I became ok with a slightly messier house. I realize now that I don’t have as much ownership over that problem, so it bothers me less to see dog hair pile in the corner because I know that I’m not the one who will ultimately need to clean it up. It will be taken care of soon enough (by someone much less angry than me).
And because I’ve let go of these unrealistic expectations, I can now put more of myself into things that are more important. I let my kids get out the play-doh, and I don’t fuss at them when they scatter the crumbs. We have more time to make pillow forts because I’m not trying to vacuum under their feet. I still expect the kids to complete certain chores and daily cleanup, but they’re no longer scared to make a mess. We’re all a bit more carefree now, and it’s wonderful.
So while I’m still a bit chagrined when I see Ms. Diane bending over to scrape dried-up Cheerios off the dining room floor, I feel mostly relieved, happy, and grateful. This blessed angel woman has salvaged my sanity from our previously-overflowing and oft-smelly garbage can.