dirty dancing

I don’t want to inspire jealousy in anyone or anything, but I finally found the trick to keeping the house clean.

Hiring someone to clean it.

Surprise joke! You never saw that one coming, did you? Holy shit. Blindsided by humor!

During our last year in California the beau and I paid someone to clean our house every two weeks. We had a little disposable income at the time and we chose to use it on a housekeeper. I was so embarrassed by this that I never told anyone about it, until I told the internet just now. I 100% support anyone who is able to hire out a few chores because it’s a sanity-saver, and yet my midwestern-blue-collar-bootstrapping roots made me feel so, so guilty about it. Still, that year was so much nicer than the usual simmering tension about who was going to scrub what.

Fun topic alert: when I was around 10 years old my parents nearly separated over cleaning. There may have been other grievances involved, but the biggest issue my dim young mind picked up on was the cleaning. My parents both worked full-time trying to make ends meet but the work of running the household mostly fell to my mother. It wasn’t just that she had so much to do, it was that she had to drive it, too. My father seemingly wouldn’t have noticed the laundry was dirty if he’d fallen asleep on a pile of it. At some point she decided it would be easier to angrily perform every task herself while muttering and slamming things around. This dynamic is the root of every flaccid sitcom spat: How can you expect me to read your mind? / Why do I always have to ask?

I grew up and began enthusiastically playing my mother on my own domestic stage. I recall yelling at my first live-in boyfriend because he didn’t know how to clean the floor, then wrenching the mop from his dumb hands and doing it myself. Somewhere along the way, with the help of therapy, I had a come-to-Mr. Clean moment and grew a bit of self-awareness about my role in perpetuating unhealthy relationship stuff. I also started wearing cardigans and reading about feminism and thoughtfully smoking a corncob pipe, which would be a true sentence if I took out the part about the pipe. Constructed gender roles are bullshit, you know, damn the man and the woman who cleans for him right?

By the time I moved in with the beau I was playing the Cool Girl and got caught in the classic Cool Girl bind of trying not to show I cared about something I actually cared about. I liked having a clean house but it was more important that I remain chillaxed. Besides, we were enlightened, egalitarian individuals, he and I. We could just hash it out in a measured, respectful manner, as measured, respectful people do. All we needed to do was chat about which party would tackle which responsibility, except I couldn’t help but notice that I was the one starting all the chats, and when I suggested that he start some chats now and again, he countered that I was just better at the chatting and also that cleanliness mattered more to me than it did to him, and ohhhh okay is that how we’re going to play this now, son. You shall taste my bitter wrath and it’s not, like, going to taste good! At all!

I should just tell him what I wanted done and he would do it, he said. But I didn’t want to nag. I didn’t want to have to act like… a nagging mother, reminding him to clean his room. I didn’t want to have to ask! But he didn’t notice things were dirty like I did, he said. And so we went like this, round and round. Until that year with the housekeeper, when we would instead spend our free time lounging on piles of $100 bills and sipping scotch and laughing and laughing and everything was easy and there was never any fighting.1

Then we moved, and we didn’t have the money to spend on a housekeeper anymore. We had to take the cleaning back over ourselves. And this time we had a bigger apartment. I mean, it had two bathrooms, which seemed excessive. One toilet for each ass! Why. That’s double the porcelain to wipe down. Cleaning the new place seemed so much harder than it ever did before. So I made a schedule, and it ended up being the best thing I ever did. Outside of the time I rode a dolphin over a rainbow to rescue a baby bear from an orphanage. Don’t worry, there were fireworks.

I picked a day of the week and designated it cleaning day. Every other week we’d do a light clean, which constituted bathrooms and sweeping. Every other other week we’d do a heavy clean, which constituted bathrooms, sweeping, dusting, and vacuuming. The light cleans took 45 minutes or less, and the heavy ones maybe an hour and 15 minutes. We would decide before we began who was doing which chores, and just go at it.

When we bought the house and moved again the schedule evolved. Dusting was added to the “every week” list. Over time the designated cleaning days have shifted from Wednesday to Saturday to Thursday. It’s a bummer to do more work after you’ve already worked a full day but the way I see it is that Monday-Thursday are kind of a bust, anyway, in terms of days, so why not stack your miseries where they lie. I’ve now started doing laundry on Thursdays, too, which pretty much means that the weekends are free and clear for nose-picking and face-punching and naked burpees and whichever other activities we may deem essential.

Having a schedule like this, of course, requires diligence and a partner who’s probably not in school or working swing shifts. It also requires a partner who is willing to agree to such an arrangement in the first place. Working together is fortunately one thing we have got down pretty well, at this point. And now that the cleaning machine is in motion, it pretty much stays in motion without effort from either party besides the obvious. It sucks while we’re doing it and we complain loudly while we’re doing it but then it’s done. It works for us, and for that I am glad.

What I like best about this setup, besides a reliably tidy house, is that I don’t have to be the ridiculous woman stereotype anymore, crying in a can of Comet. I still sort of drive the process in that I am the one to announce that the cleaning begins now but I have accepted this as part of my unique contribution to the household, just like how the beau handles cooking dinner every night and leaving his used floss on the coffee table.

Don’t get me wrong, though, I would still hire a housekeeper in a New York minute.

Do you clean? Have you ever cleaned before? Isn’t it awful?


1 I’m lying, of course. It was piles of $50 bills.

12 Responses to “dirty dancing”

  1. Not even gonna lie, working for myself = I can clean in the middle of the day if I want to. Which is literally the only time ever that I want to clean, especially when it means I can justify not doing some kind of work that I don’t want to do. So for the last 2 weeks our house has been crazy clean and it makes me really happy. When I wasn’t working for myself, our house was just always filthy and we never had groceries.

    • That is awesome. I work from home and I have to admit I have no urge to clean during the day — only to surf the internet. Go you.

  2. M leaves used floss on the coffee table too. That shit is just gross.

    This is still an un-going argument, for us. Adding in the kid and all the kid related junk, we will probably hire a cleaner when we finally move. I cannot wait.

  3. Back when we lived in Toledo, Derrik and I did our laundry at parents’ houses rather than paying the exorbitant fees to use the apartment building units.
    I came home from work one night and found that he had neglected to put away the clothes in the basket after he had brought it back from his parents’. I aggressively started folding the laundry and muttering about wrinkles. Derrik got home roughly halfway through the basket and informed me that not all of that laundry was clean; there were clean and dirty clothes in this particular basket and it was separated by a layer of pants.

    A layer of pants.

  4. The cleaning battles here wax and wane. They are currently under control as I am home full time and clearly have nothing but time to scrub the tiles. That’s not sarcasm, I actually do have lots of time to scrub the tiles but I freaken don’t feel like it. So our house is about the same cleanliness as when we both work full time but I’m doing about 90% of it. And when we are both working again, I think a cleaner will be entering the picture. Which gives me MAJOR GUILT considering we will also be hiring someone to take care of our kid at that time. But your anecdote is the reason why.

  5. I loved this post. I hope you’ve read Arlie Hochschild’s “The Second Shift” (and if not, it sounds like you might love it) about just these issues. Such an ordeal to work out and always so interesting to hear how another couple handles it…. especially hilariously written!

  6. Yes! Why do I always have to be the one to bring it up? AAAAARRGH! I got to the point of deciding to make a schedule – in fact, making it is still on my to-do list – but the thought of having to nag to actually get it done is too overwhelming. And he agrees to do it in theory but then when it’s time to actually do it he’ll whine or give me these annoyed, I’m-too-busy-for-this eyes and it makes me so MAD!!! Hmm. You seem to have struck a nerve. Perhaps more counseling is in order.

  7. I had a schedule with my ex, but it never worked for his side of the chores. I suspect the problem was not the schedule. Anyhow, I agree with you on trying to do the chores M-F, and save the weekend for other, more fun, stuff. I quite like my usual pattern of cleaning on Thursdays, which is (usually) the day I don’t work my office job. I clean before taking my shower, and then things are done and clean over the weekend. Of course when I am travelling more and switching my day off around, everything gets thrown off.

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