Friday 13 November 2009

Do you have 'Cleaner Dis-enablement'?

What is it with us Brits?

I'm a fairly mature individual - at least, I like to think so. I run my own home (mostly). I have successfully produced and managed to sustain two gorgeous boys. Husband and I have a happy marriage. When I worked in paid employment I was successful and was able to manage a team of people to achieve the end result I was after.

So why is it then, that when faced with dealing with someone who is cleaning my house - someone who I am paying a very decent wage to clean my house - I am seized by a crushing embarrassment and find myself totally unable to have a proper working relationship with them?
It's not as if I'm new to the idea of having a complete stranger come into my home and clean up after us; it's been at least 16 years that I 'recycle cash into the economy' (well, I had to come up with some way of rationalising it and dealing with the guilt). And yet, in all that time, I've never managed to crack it.

Some of them have been good, and some haven't. Some have stayed with us for years and have become pseudo aunts to the boys. Some haven't. But with none of them have I ever felt able to say - in the way I might with a colleague in the office - "I think this needs to be done again." Instead, when I spot the cobwebs in the corner of the ceiling or under the cupboard during their visit, I won't mention it, because that would be rude and of course they're going to deal with it. Aren't they?

But no. They finish up, put on their coat, I'll ask them about their life, sweetly hand over the cash, wait until they've left, and then... do it myself. Muttering about it, yes. Cursing, perhaps. But I'll still do it - and then not say anything the next week, simply handing over the readies for a repeat of the whole process.

For goodness' sake, what's all that about?

Don't answer that question, I know. It's the guilt. Unless you're from a very upper-class or moneyed background (and I'm not), we're just not used to having people in our own home 'serve' us. Indeed, the very word 'serve' is part of the world 'servant', and we've not been comfortable with that for some time in the UK. Or is that just me?

This is top of mind for me right now because our latest cleaner has just called in sick - again. She's probably managed only a 50% hit rate since she started with us a few weeks back. On the one hand I find myself thinking "It's just not good enough, I need someone I can rely on, I'm paying good money, I really should find someone else." On the other hand I also think "Oh, but you should be grateful! She's being good enough to clean up after you, a job that you don't want to do, don't you think you should give her a bit of leeway?" Which is all very well, but she's actually not very good at her job. Now, if this were an office-based workplace, those two facts - low attendance and poor performance - would be enough on their own to merit at the very least a discussion and if a decent explanation were not given, possibly result in a warning.

When you're dealing with a person who has the keys to your house, however, the goalposts tend to move a little. In my case, somewhere outside the stadium. So whilst I know I should sit down with her, ask her what the problem is, and explain that I need someone who, whilst allowed to call in sick every now and again, shouldn't be doing so every other week, and who notices the cobwebs / soap scum / water marks on the shower door, I also know that I probably won't.

She is cleaning up after us, after all... And god, does that make me feel guilty...


  1. PM you've just posted about my life! I'm so with you, I've just sacked ours, but only because she suggested it first...I am a complete and utter wuss when it comes to this - why? Why? I suppose because I'm embarrasses too - but about what? I work too, it's a job like any other. Oh dear, will you do a self-help post to solve all my problems? There's a love.

  2. I'm a terrible wimp as well as I've sort of outsourced the problem. I have a cleaner through an agency so when there's an issue (like this week - why did she only clean the kitchen & bathroom? Answer - because she thought that the instruction 'clean the downstairs flat' only applied to the bits of the flat below my 3 paltry stairs!) I speak to the agency and then leave them with the dirty work of addressing the cleaner directly.

    I know. Wuss.

  3. I definitely suffer from this. I found it hard even to tell my cleaner not to use my entire stash kitchen roll for the polishing (it doesn't help that yellow dusters don't seem to be sold in America); I just hate to be seen as critical of anything she does.

    I think it is that thing of them being in your house, with your keys, cleaning your hairs out of the want to keep them on side.

  4. My cleaner (of about 12 years) asked for a pay increase this year and I actually had the spine to tell her no. (I give her an increase every year as it is.) I was shaking the whole way through but I broke down her pay into an hourly rate (which was exhorbitant, and she knew it). I also told her that if she left after three hours it wasn't very fair to expect the same payment as when she stays for four. She wasn't very happy with me but she knew I was right. I don't drink gin but I think I had a stiff one after that. And it wasn't even a fight.
    I sort of wimped out by telling her that I would ask around to see what the going rate was. She didn't bring it up again because she knew she was onto a good thing.

  5. Oh oh oh!!! You have said exactly what I have been feeling every Wednesday (or maybe Tuesday, or Friday, because he (yes, he's a he in our household which makes it worse - asking a MAN to clean up after you??!) turns up when he likes and not when I like) for the last however long. I tidy for him and I clean up after him, and I pay him... I don't even do that for the one I'm married to!

  6. I know that the day we are at that stage, and it will come, I will be useless too. I will probably be cleaning before them... :)

  7. We don't have a cleaner these days - can't justify it financially at the moment, sadly - but, when we did, I also had this problem. It was added to by the fact that our cleaner for a good few years was my aunt. While I could ask her to put up with more than a stranger - the barky dog didn't phase her, and I didn't really have to tidy up before her - I could only occasionally ask her to do extra, and never ever point out anything we wanted her to do differently.

    I recently admitted to her that I used to rearrange the mugs every time she'd been, so that they were in the correct (to my mildly OCD mind) order and that, when she'd spent ages cleaning the herb jars and organising them into alphabetical order, we would re-order them into cuisine order instead (Italian, British, Indian, Chineses, Thai...). She thought it was hilarious that I couldn't ask her to do it 'our way' and save the trouble!

  8. Ah well, you're a step ahead of me. I have total Cleaner Dis-enablement'. I've never been able to bring myself to get anyone in to clean - even when once we agreed that we would when the husband was away overseas for 3 months. I can't bear the thought of anyone commenting on the state of my house. Maybe that has to do with living in a relatively small community, but I felt justified when I met someone recently who was talking 'out of school' about the state of someone's place she used to clean.

    Anyway, doesn't everyone just run around and clean up before the cleaner comes anyway?

  9. We too are not in a sufficient financial state to employ a cleaner when we can do it ourselves, although I would love to put my feet up for a while.

    But when I was a cleaner, back in my student days, I found it terribly embarrassing and intimidating to say the least. The women were lovely but I felt I was never good enough for them even when I worked twice as hard as I would at my own house.

    I would suggest being honest with them and build respect for each other then a working friendship may evolve.

    Good luck, and feel free to visit and clean my house anytime ;-)

  10. I'm still trying to get up the guts to tell our cleaner that those babies bottles that she washes religiously every week - the empty ones on the side - are actually pre-sterilised and now have to be done all over again... Never mind pointing out the cobwebs in our bedroom ;-)

  11. You've just exactly described what happened this morning when "our" cleaner, came round. I say "our", I can still count on one hand the number of times we've had a cleaner, plus she was actually a stand in. I feel bad even asking her to do the basics, let alone anything grim like clean the rubbish bin in the kitchen. And I leave extra cash (ouch). I don't know what my problem is because normally I don't have any trouble telling people what to do! ;) I spent all this morning going on about the fact that I wouldn't have a cleaner if it wasn't for just having a baby. (Even though he's, ahem, 17 months.....)

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