The Time the Housekeeper Came to Clean

The house after I gave it a top to bottom cleaning /photo by Kevin Pieper



I faced a truth about myself a long time ago.

I’m not the world’s best housekeeper. Despite having chores around my mom’s house from the time I was old enough to remember (I used to have to stand on a chair to do dishes and dust those endless knick-knacks in the formal living room and my bedroom was my chore on Fridays), I never liked housecleaning and I am not good at it.

My mother always used to say it was because I’ve always had to work and didn’t have all the time she did as a housewife to concentrate on getting really good at it.

That’s partially true, but it’s also true that I just don’t like it. I don’t see a real purpose for having floors that shine like mirrors and a house that either feels like a museum or as clean as a laboratory.

I would rather always be doing something else, almost anything else.

That’s one of the main reasons downsizing to Our Little House fit our lifestyle. Dale hates home maintenance almost as much as I hate housework and having less of each allows us to do more of the things we actually want to do.

I don’t think I’m the worst housekeeper either. I can give the house a decent cleaning in two hours or less, even with six dogs in full time residence. Still, if someone is coming to stay, it takes me at least twice as long, if not three times longer to thoroughly clean and I still have many feelings of inadequacy regarding my ability to do a good job.

It’s time I not only don’t want to lose; it’s time I cannot afford to lose right now with a book contract signed and one in the works.

That’s why when I learned my in-laws were coming for a stay last week, I decided to do what many of my writer friends have done and that’s hire someone to come and clean for me.

I asked around the mountain and found someone who came highly recommended. She was also affordable.

Not ever having someone clean for me, I really didn’t know what I should do before she arrived, but pick up some clutter and make sure the dogs were out of the way. I didn’t clean the week before she came, although I did a little sweeping of the “tumbledogs” (those hairballs the dogs generate) each day as normal.

When she finished, I gave a cursory look around and thought the job looked more than adequate. I asked if she wanted to return every other week.

“Honestly, it was too hairy for me,” she said. “I realize you have dogs and all…”

Yes, this was a fact I disclosed before she agreed to come that morning and that’s why I was willing to pay her more (top dollar for wages in this region) than anyone else I had spoken to about cleaning. Also, isn’t the reason you hire someone to clean for you because you need someone, not because your house is already spotless?

Taken aback and feeling even more inadequate as a housekeeper, I handed her the check and told her it was nice meeting her.

“What does it mean when a housekeeper refuses to come back” I asked our neighbor, who is a very good housekeeper in her own right and has seen our house on its best days and also on its worst.

“I’m angry for you,” she said. “What a crock. You have dogs. What did she expect?”

I realized later that while this woman was experienced, she was not experienced with home cleaning, she was a commercial cleaner. Her full time job is cleaning rooms at a resort (most of them, if they’re like our hotel rooms, are barely lived in as we just use them to bathe and sleep) and the recommendation I received was from the owner of a beauty salon and an office building, hardly areas where you would encounter living, especially with pets.

Dale, who has always been the better housekeeper in the family, also noticed surfaces that were not dusted, a clock knocked completely off of the wall and hidden behind the television and an area on the floor that was not swept.

Later, he had a few more choice words for my hiring “help” when he couldn’t get the television or DVD player to work because the wires had been unplugged and rehooked wrong.

And so we resolved to pay closer attention to the chores, and we formally assigned them. He will continue to clean the bathroom (this has always been his chore as before we left the city and used harsh cleaners, my allergies could not take them) and he now has the weekly task on the floors, which hurt my back. I will continue my daily task of keeping the clutter down, sweeping daily and dusting, just as I did when I was a kid, only we don’t have endless knick-knacks to clean.

We both alternate cooking and dishes/cleaning the kitchen.

Even still, I found myself nagging on cleaning day as he made excuses. I won though, when I reminded him that he did not want me to hire someone else to help.

The one thing we need is a good, small vaccum that does well on laminate flooring in tiny spaces. Any recommendations?

Do you have someone clean your home or do you and/or your kids and/or spouse help?


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53 Responses

  1. Annette says:

    I think you ought to give the roomba vac a try. Let it go by itself. They say that the key to keepng pet hair under control is to vacuum alot. Just let it do it’s thing!

  2. Theresa says:

    This is the best site I know to help you get into a routine of doing things around the house, in a way that doesn’t stress you!

  3. Terri Alice says:

    We have 24 cats and 2 dogs. Floors are tile and some wood.
    I have a small Sanyo canister that does a fine job. Inexpensive, easy to move around and bagless.

  4. Heather L. says:

    I’m pretty sure that when we’re on our death beds, we won’t be thinking “I wish I had cleaned my house more.”

  5. Alisa Bowman says:

    That’s nuts– the house is supposed to be dirty. Crazy that she didn’t want to clean your house because of the dog hair. She could have charged extra, I suppose.

    • Kerri says:

      Thanks, Alisa. While we think she is affordable, she is also charging top rates for this area. My husband just thinks she didn’t want to work for her money.

  6. I would have been frustrated and insulted as well. I’ve always cleaned my own house, and I used to joke that I knew my friends were making “too much money” when everyone started hiring housekeepers, but I get that it’s a good decision for many people. I’m sorry it didn’t work out for you.

  7. mat says:

    We split the cleaning duties at our house. The wife and I alternate nights for dishes, I vacuum, she dusts, I help with laundry.
    We constantly remind our son to pick up his toys (since they’re all in a cube unit in the living room) and he’s pretty good about cleaning off the coffee table when we have light breakfasts with Saturday cartoons.
    Our experience has always been that any vacuum starts out well, but deteriorates. We used a hand-me-down Rainbow (outlandishly expensive) for years until it became too complicated for me to fix (and too expensive to send out). I’ve heard a lot of good things about Dyson–even refurb’d Dyson, so that’s probably going to be a future purchase. Every now and then, has a good deal on them.

    • Kerri says:

      Thanks, Mat. We invested in a good vaccum in the city years ago, a Kirby, that was “outlandish expensive!” It was still going strong when we moved, but was big and heavy and I knew I wouldn’t have carpet here, so I didn’t think I needed one. Small and lightweight that can handle non-carpeted surfaces and dog hair is what we need. Thanks for your thoughts.

      • Thomas says:

        You might try a carpetsweeper they work on wood or laminate floors as well. they have cheap ones at Walmart or Lowe’s, but I recomend looking at Lehman’s Non Eletrical website. There are also rechargable ones too.

  8. Vida says:

    HI Kerri,

    So totally understand where you’re coming from regarding housework… hate it myself but can’t bear to live in a dirty/untidy space. Like you, small house and 4, soon to be 5 dogs tracking earth into the house all day. My Dyson vacuum cleaner saved my life, it is the BEST vacuum cleaner I have ever used and abused. Bagless and super powerful and they even have a special model for animal hair/fur. It was pricey but is going on three years now with no problems. Before this I used to destroy vacuum cleaners annually. Now, if I could get a good steam mop (not available in Greece) to complement the Dyson I’d be REALLY happy. Good luck!

  9. Laura says:

    We have a cleaner that comes every other week. She is responsible for the bathrooms and the floors. We pay her for two hours. If she has extra time she wipes down the kitchen cabinets and cleans the kitchen sink. We live in a small house (1100 sq ft) and have decluttered extensively so dusting is not a big deal for us. We put everything away before she comes so she can concentrate on doing the tasks I hate to do! It works really well for us and is very affordable. I am very happy to spend time with my kids on the weekends instead of cleaning. The kids are responsible for keeping their rooms tidy, especially the night before the cleaner comes.

    • Kerri says:

      That sounds like a great arrangement, Laura. I always wanted a cleaner in the city, we had 1,100 sq. ft. there too. But after Dale went to work nights, it was pretty much impossible.

      • Kerri says:

        And I’ve always said I think it’s more important to spend time with your kids than making sure the house is spotless anyway. I think they’ll remember the time you spent with them much more than if the house was clean!

  10. Carol says:

    Cleaning time has been discussed in the past, so I decided to see just how long it would take me to clean my cabin, soon to be our little house. I can clean it, really clean with windows and everything in 2 hours. A regular cleaning takes about 1 hour. 1/2 hour if I have a good book I’d rather read. We’re so remote that a cleaning lady would never be able to find us so that’s not an option. In the past, I hired a cleaning service for my large home and did absolutely nothing before they came for the estimate. I told them this is it, price it and clean it. Had the same ladies for 20 years. Great job. I was lucky.

    • Kerri says:

      That’s how long it takes me if I’m focused, 2 hours. Much longer if I’m doing outside and inside windows, cleaning the shelves in the fridge, tops of the cabinets, etc. You were lucky, from what I understand, it isn’t that easy to find good cleaners.

  11. I once had a housecleaning service come and clean our former home when we were having a graduation party for my daughter. Despite the fact that I did cursory cleaning a few days prior to their service, they still said the house should have been priced as a “special case” because of our animals- two cats and one dog in a two story house. That was the last time I actually hired someone to clean our home and since then we’ve moved into a larger house.

    Sometimes I think it would be nice to pay someone (if they’d be willing) just to do our downstairs, which includes kitchen, living and dining room, breakfast room, master bedroom and bathroom. Our upstairs gets such light use that it isn’t that much to keep clean myself. Haven’t fully decided on that yet.

    By the way, as someone who was lucky enough to get to stay at the Little House for a visit with you and Dale, I have to say that I think you’re way too hard on yourself with regard to your housekeeping. Your Little House, as well as Belle Writer’s Studio, were spotless (and hairless) when I was there, to the point of making me feel embarrassed that I don’t do a better job keeping my own house clean, with much more space and fewer pets!

    • Kerri says:

      Thank you for saying that, Kathy! When this woman came, it had only been 2 weeks after you and I had cleaned well again (not to mention the daily sweeping) once since. I’m glad it was clean enough that you want to come back! 🙂

  12. I saw one of those funny eCards the other day that I immediately posted on my FB feed. It said, “Dull women have immaculate houses. And, honey, I come from a long line of fascinating women.” There is also a body of research that supports the idea of creative people being messy and that a certain level of chaos is needed for some people to create. My house always has interesting projects on the go, which isn’t super tidy. Here is a NY Times article on the subject

  13. debbie riedel says:

    I also do home cleaning & been recomended several time’s. I take a cloth spray windex on it wipe the knick knack’s off ,spray the shelve’s table etc. I have 2 dog’s & 11 cat’s & my favorite cleaning tool is the swiffter extended wand ,u can do ceiling fan, shelve’s any thing . in a quick hurry I take them on the floor & gather up the hair , shake it out & go again. the shark is a blessing & I do have real & laminated floor’s . good luck !

  14. Kate says:

    Yeah, like most relationship disasters, it’s pretty funny in retrospect. My home may be grubbier now, but it’s MUCH happier.

  15. Kate says:

    Many years and a divorce ago, my sister-in-law (husband’s brother’s wife) cleaned for us. I can’t remember if she did windows, but she did my husband. I should’ve known something was amiss when hubby oh-so-considerately suggested we hire her.

  16. Deirdre Brackett says:

    If you visit the website…you will be amazed. She is like a personal coach for how to get the chaos out of your life…you’ve actually done much of the work yourself with your downsizing, but she has so many cool tools to make housekeeping easier and fun! I love her..even though I still have lots of clutter and have a long way to go, I’m working on it through this website and its help!
    I had the same issues with a part time house keeper!

  17. Maureen says:

    I SO feel your “pain”. We had a gal clean come in to clean every 2 weeks after my mother moved in with us (my SIL payed for the service). Having never hired an actual house-cleaner (and yes, we have dogs) I did my best to de-clutter before she got here so all the surfaces would be easily gotten to. After complaining (nicely, I HATE to complain) about the inadequate dusting (embarrassingly enough, I could write my name in the dust left on several shelves) she quit, saying that her ‘allergies’ couldn’t handle the dog hair and that the house was just too dirty. She also responded to my complaint about water rings on a painted table that maybe I needed to, “use a coaster”. I’m kinda glad she fired herself before I had to;)

  18. I think you should not let what this woman said get to you. A commercial cleaner would not be used to housecleaning at all. And people who do not have dogs do not understand how much fur there just is everywhere even if you cleaned the day before.

    • Kerri says:

      How about if I cleaned the minute before, Brette? I even wrote an essay once about this for entitled “The Tumble Dogs.” 🙂 I sweep and turn around and they’re back, staring me down for the showdown! LOL Thanks, I will not let her comment bother me.

  19. Allie says:

    I like the Bissell Pet Hand Vac Combo. You do have to clean it regularly, but it works very well. I am a housekeeper and the service and response you received is deplorable.
    For your peace of mind, consider putting yourself on a cycling schedule an reward yourself for accomplishing your goals. Pretty soon it will be habitual.

  20. Lindsay says:

    I think it is extra hard to make yourself stay inside and clean when it is so nice outside. During the summer our house frequently looks like a tornado hit it : ) We have 4 kids, ages ranging from 2 to 12 and the 3 oldest do chores for allowance, much of which is cleaning up after the youngest : ). Honestly, I couldn’t keep up with everything if they didn’t pitch in. And also, I try not to stress about it too much. It’s just going to get dirty again lol : )
    As for laminate floors, we have a shark ‘vac then steam”. It does great on our laminate and tile, esp with dog hair. We have 2 very hairy dogs. Then it has a nifty attachment to steam mop the floors. No smelly cleaners needed, which I like. I think we payed around $150 for it maybe and it was well worth it.

    • Kerri says:

      Those Shark Vacs sound like something to look into. I think I can steam clean laminate. Thanks for the comments and suggestions!
      And you’re right, it does just get dirty again! 🙂

  21. Kim says:

    Pfft. Silly woman. Don’t give it a second thought.

    I’ve had a gal over to help me clean once a week during school season… I realized at the end of the school year that she really wasn’t doing that great a job. I’m torn over whether to keep using her this fall; on one hand, any help is good, and she’s cheap; on the other, what’s the point if I’m not happy with her thoroughness?

    • Kerri says:

      That’s what I thought, Kim, if I don’t like them, cheap really doesn’t matter. Thanks for the comments. She’s a distant memory now and I’m sure one day, I will look back and laugh. 😉

  22. CJB says:

    I have hired cleaners for the house before. Generally I will do this as a present to myself around the holidays. 🙂

    Yes, you should always pick up your clutter before they arrive. They don’t know where you generally keep your __X__ so don’t expect them to put it away. This includes books, dishes, and laundry unless specifically agreed upon in advance.

    Have hired spectacular and have had not so great. I ALWAYS do a thorough walk through before paying and they leave. I ask for touch ups. One lady was short – and she didn’t clean the top of the fridge. OH, I have a step stool! That sort of thing.

    A few things that “should” happen.
    – Cleaner should visit the house to see the condition prior to agreeing upon a price.
    – Provide you with a list of the things she would and would not do. Dust – yes, windows – no, type of thing.
    – No electronics should have been plugged / unplugged or rewired. Only shifted so that it can be dusted. Now if the wires fell off – see below:
    – Anything knocked, fell, or disconnected, you should have been notified immediately whether it looked damaged or not.

    Try again – but ask for a RESIDENTIAL cleaner and check one reference – even visit the home of the reference if you are comfortable.

    • Kerri says:

      Wow, thank you for this detailed list, CJB. We really live too far out in the country to hire a “service” where we could specify a residential cleaner. We just would have to find someone who is good and self employed. Nope, this woman was horrible and certainly not worth the money she was charging for the going rates here.

  23. Sue says:

    I’ve never had hired help as I always worked at low paying jobs and felt it would take all my profits. Although that might be worth it! 🙂 A lot of people I know that had help complained they didn’t do a good job so I know it’s hard to find someone.
    My mom was a terrible housekeeper. She started off ok but somewhere down the line of 7 kids and a messy husband just stopped cleaning. My sister and I also used to stand on a chair doing dishes! Some of us kids went opposite my mom and, while not obsessive (unless you ask our kids), really like to keep it clean. And some are not so much on cleaning.
    Like you, I love that there is less cleaning in a little house! It’s one of the best things.
    I do most of the cleaning at the little cabin. My husband is working back in the big city and has a couple more year’s before retirement so we keep an apartment there. I used to do the cleaning when I went to the city but I don’t go much anymore since I retired. He does most of the traveling back and forth and he has taken over the apartment cleaning. Which is a fact I love!
    It’s much more fun to do other things than clean! The outdoors is always calling and do are the books.

    • Kerri says:

      Well, I figured since I don’t “treat” myself to things such as manicures/pedicures and I don’t have a shoe or clothes obsession, this could be a treat that made me feel good. Not. I almost cried when I was telling my neighbor about this. Then Dale went on and on about what a bad job she had done anyway. I guess he was telling the cleaning lady where he works about this woman and she offered to do our house for less than half (which I would never ask anyone to do). I predict he will take her up on her offer if I have to keep nagging him about his “chores.” 🙂 Kind of like when the air went out in my Blazer and he couldn’t find the stuff for it until he had to drive it! 😉

  24. Kelly says:

    I bought a Shark Navigator, and it picks up after our 3 kids, 2 dogs, 1 cat, and 4 kittens (!) beautifully. I have always hated doing floors, and now I get a weird kick out of seeing all the hair it picked up. Good on tile, too, so I assume laminate would be the same. Good luck!

  25. Deb Berning says:

    I used to be self-employed as a residential house keeper for mostly elderly folks most of whom had pets. I can’t do it now due to permanent injuries to my hsoulder but you expect hairs in houses with pets. I never had a problem. But I never unplugged items unless directly asked to in order to clean. She wasn’t a good residential cleaner, I agree with your hubby on that. Only time I do a good cleaning is when my MIL comes to visit. She hates cats so I have to do a complete cleaning which takes a month or so. This includes washing curtains and such in the rooms she’ll be in. Our upstairs has jsut cats in it so I only vacuum up there about every few months or so. No need as they occupy it. I did more or rather kids did when they were still at home. Why do it, no one cares? I have more important things to do esp. since I have been watering my garden weekly since end of March and it never ends as we don’t get that stuff called rain.

    • Kerri says:

      And there’s that, Deb. Dale doesn’t seem to mind that the house isn’t spotless and the dogs don’t care either, so it’s easy for me to pick up that book instead or spend time outdoors. I used to be a little more obsessive with it, when the kids were home, no one did anything until the house was cleaned on Saturday mornings. Now, I say, “Let’s go!”