Monday, August 25, 2008

Something Lost, Something Gained

For a little while today, I thought we'd finally be getting a cleaning service. I got my fiddle out this weekend, to see what Pumpkin thought of it (she was a little bit scared- which says something about how long it has been since I played and makes me sad). I found some sort of dry mold like substance on the part of the case that had been sitting on the carpet. That, and the fact that my allergies have been pretty bad lately, finally spurred me into action. I dug up the coupon that had come in the mail for an environmentally friendly cleaning service and took it with me to work today. Not only did I call them, but I also sent in a request for an estimate from a competing environmentally friendly cleaning service (it is a sign of the times that I easily found two such services).

I brought my info home to Hubby tonight- it would be about $105 per visit for a biweekly service, and $120 per visit for a monthly service. He balked at the price. He (correctly) pointed out that this was close to $1500 a year (at least) for something we could do ourselves. He mentioned all of the other nice things we'd like to do with that money (travel, save up for a rooftop deck so we can actually see the little bit of blue water view we have, etc., etc- it was a long list).

We're right back where we've always been: ambivalent about getting a cleaning service, but falling behind on doing the cleaning ourselves. We had written up a schedule that involved each of us spending one night per week cleaning, plus some monthly chores to be done on the weekend. We've been sticking to that schedule (mostly), but it is clearly not enough. Our house is not clean enough to keep me healthy. And don't even talk to me about our long term to do list- I've been trying to knock "tidy office" off that list for months.

So tonight, while Hubby gave Pumpkin her bath, I vacuumed the guest room and Pumpkin's room and dusted Pumpkin's room. After I made Pumpkin's lunch, did the dishes, swept the kitchen, and spot cleaned the floor around Pumpkin's chair, I went back into the guest room and finally found homes for enough knick knacks and other stuff to make it possible to easily dust the shelves. I cleaned the floorboards. I dusted. I rewarded myself with a beer while I worked.

It didn't take that long- maybe 30 minutes. But that was 30 minutes I could have spent reading, or working on the scrapbook I want to do for Pumpkin, or... well, you get the idea. "Clean the guest room" was not high on my list of things I wanted to do tonight.

Hubby will no doubt pick something to work on tomorrow night, while I give Pumpkin her bath and get her down. It is not like I am bearing more than my fair share of the burden of chores. But I feel like I've lost just a little bit more of the part of my identity that isn't tied up with being a mother. Pre-Pumpkin, we used to do our cleaning in a big blitz every other weekend, leaving our weeknights and most of our weekend time free to spend on our hobbies. Now, the hobbies are showing signs of neglect along with the house. It has been so long since I went to my session that I'm almost embarrassed to talk about it anymore, and as I mentioned above, it has been so long since I got the fiddle out at home that Pumpkin didn't know what to think when I finally brought it out. I manage to keep up with the one book per month that I read for book club, but not much more. I don't do the kickboxing or yoga that I did pre-baby. In fact, I don't do much for exercise beyond taking Pumpkin for walks and chasing around after her. It is only thanks to the wonders of breastfeeding that I lost all of my pregnancy weight, but I know that I am out of shape even though I still fit into all my clothes.

It is not all loss. I've gained a lot, too. It is harder to put what I've gained into words, though. A much younger coworker was asking what those of us who don't watch to local football team do on Sundays. I told him that before the baby was born, Hubby and I would often go to the beach, go for a long walk on the beach, or go rollerblading, and then stop off at our local pub for beers in the afternoon sun. I said that now, we spend our weekends with Pumpkin. The young coworker clearly thought that we were worse off now, but I do not. Spending weekends with Pumpkin is a lot of fun. But I can't really explain why, and how that more than compensates for no longer stopping off at the local pub for beers. 25 year old single men don't really understand why it is so fun to watch your toddler tote her baby doll around wrapped in a blanket, saying "bay-bee" and putting the doll down for a nap in various locations.

I like the identity I've gained- I'm Pumpkin's mommy, and that is wonderful in a way I can't fully explain. But I am still struggling to figure out which parts of the pre-mommy identity need to be let go to make room for the mommy-ness. Somehow, I thought I'd be doing better at this almost 17 months after Pumpkin was born.

And how can I explain to Hubby that the cost of the cleaning service may in fact be worth it, if only to allow me to reclaim a little bit more time for non-mommy interests? More importantly, how do I convince myself of that?


  1. I actually have a suggestion for that. In the same way that your hubby added up the dollars it would take to have a cleaning service come biweekly or monthly a year, I suggest you add up all the hours it will take to clean using the schedule you developed and see how much that comes to a year. The next thing to do is figure out how much your time is worth per hour (this was easy for my hubby and I because we are consultants, so our rates can be broken down hourly). If that's not enough to show the cost/benefit of a cleaning service, try adding in all the intangibles that don't directly relate to money that you are missing by spending that time cleaning, or by not cleaning well enough. That would include time with Pumpkin, time spent on hobbies and your health.

    Can you tell that my hubby and I went through this? For me, it was after I got diagnosed with all my allergies and when I got a raise one year. I started the conversation by saying that what I wanted to do with my raise that year was hire a cleaning service. Then we charted out the money versus time. Now that we have the baby/toddler, it's even more worth our money.

    It's easy to see dollars on cleaning versus dollars on other things. But to me, time is worth so much more than just money. And it's been worth every penny.

    I hope that helps. And good luck!

  2. Anonymous7:52 AM

    We went through the same conversation and decided to forgo gifts/celebration/trip for our tenth wedding anniversary and get the year of cleaning service instead. I don't know if we will continue past the one year, but so far we are very happy with our decision.

  3. We pay $95 biweekly to an independent contractor. She keeps the entire amount, unlike most agencies that pay workers ~25% of revenue.

    She brings her own cleaners and mops (which she leaves at our house) and uses our rags.

    I have zero guilt about hiring her. She is replacing the work that a disabled woman cannot perform and what a healthy man refuses to perform. The guilt should be his, not mine.

    I have heard that line before about how "we should be able to handle it ourselves". In practice, it meant "you can do it yourself while I watch TV or read or do whatever the hell I want to do while pretending to not notice all the work you do."

    Just hire the cleaning lady and lose the guilt. Biweekly seems to be ideal for most families for cost and cleaning effectiveness.

    That still leaves a light DIY cleaning for "off" weeks. It is good for you to stay in practice and show your kids how it is done. Yet, things won't be a total disaster if you miss the DIY cleaning session.

  4. I forgot to mention that she does not clean the entire house each week. She hits all the common areas, the kitchen, the baths, MBR and kid's room. She rotates the other areas. She blows in and out in 5-5.5 hrs a visit. She determines when she comes and when she thinks she is done.

    She is easily 2x as effective as a 'civilian' at housecleaning. Factor that into your cost-benefit analysis.


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