Sometimes you have to confess that your mother was correct. She shook her head when my husband and I moved into a massive old Victorian in need of repair. “You’ll never have time to appreciate the house,” she forewarned. “You’ll spend the entire day cleaning.”
I laughed it off, enthralled by the acres of hardwood floors, fireplaces in every room, and magnificent woodwork seen only in houses of a particular age (this one dated from 1890). We had just moved from a 900 square foot home that required a team effort of only 20 minutes to make clean enough for company, and I couldn’t imagine spending any more time than that. We assumed we’d just acquire a Roomba, we reasoned.
Within a few weeks, I conceded to myself that she was correct.
Within a few months, I confessed more openly.
I quickly became the dull person who moans about how long it takes to clean the house.
We’d spend a whole weekend cleaning, scrubbing, and declaring that this time we’d get clean and organized and keep it that way.
We tried several methods, including one room each day, x amount of minutes per day, refrigerator lists, apps, and paper calendars with chore lists. But, because there was always more to be done, it became futile to make an attempt. So we’d let it go. Then something would jolt us into action: relatives visiting, entertaining guests, wasting half an hour hunting for something we’d misplaced, and we’d devote a whole weekend to cleaning, scrubbing, and vehement declarations that this time we’d get clean and organized and keep it that way.
We required professional assistance. But simply thinking about it made me feel guilty. What would the general public think? When I was a youngster, my mother cleaned houses, and I occasionally assisted her. We’re not one-percenters by any means; I’m a freelance writer and Airbnb host with a full-time rental on the third floor of our house, and my husband works in HR and is basically an everlasting college student. We share a car and like to browse at secondhand and thrift stores rather than expensive boutiques. Thoughts of a housecleaner evoked up images of affluent individuals with flashy careers and large wages. Who were we thinking we were?
Ashley Whillans, assistant professor at Harvard Business School, tells NBC News BETTER that emotion isn’t rare. Her study on how people handle time-money trade-offs has revealed that those who spend money to save time are substantially happier than those who spend it on material objects. However, very few individuals – as little as 2% in an experiment – would spend a windfall on a timesaver.
But why is that? It’s all because of that nagging guilty sensation. “We found that shame actually does diminish consumer chances of buying time — and the advantage you receive from buying it,” Whillans says of ongoing study. Another probable explanation, she claims, is that people regard time as abstract and money as physical. “Material purchases you can make right now [while] saving you time in the future.” We constantly believe that we will have more time tomorrow than now, despite the fact that money is as precious [at any time]. It takes some mental gymnastics to consider investing a tangible resource now in a way that will save time in the future.”
I guess I’m a mental gymnast because I couldn’t get the seductive call of aid out of my brain, so we took the risk. With a craigslist post and phone screenings, my spouse used the HR method. Meanwhile, I contacted a woman whose card I discovered at the hardware store’s cashier and invited her over. She was the one, after all. She took us on as one of her first clients because she has a love for helping others and a desire to start her own full-time cleaning business. Her hustling appealed to me.
M and I sorted out the specifics; she’d come on Friday mornings once a week. At first, I didn’t tell anybody (apart from our neighbors, of course; we live in America’s biggest concentration of Victorian homes, so we’re all singing the same housecleaning blues).
After that initial cleaning, something remarkable happened. I looked around at the glistening floors, polished furniture, and gleaming kitchen counter, all of which had previously been obscured by the dust that pervades these ancient houses and was scattered with the debris of a bustling existence. And I was able to take a deep breath. I thought living in a house that needed continuous cleaning was stressful, but I didn’t know how much until the anxiety was gone.
It was amazing to see how my viewpoint changed. Rather than worrying about the impossibility of ever catching up, I could now see the toothpaste splatters on the bathroom mirror or the balls of dog hair tumbleweeding across the floors and shake it off; instead of fretting about the impossibility of ever catching up, I could think, “M’s coming Friday, she’ll take care of it,” and return to my own work.
For the first time, my husband and I settled into a comfortable pattern of tidying up. We don’t consider it M’s responsibility to clean up dog toys, do dishes, or fold laundry, so we make it a point to have the house clutter-free and ready for her by Thursday evening. That deadline, along with the assurance that that’s all we have to do and that the hard lifting will be handled by a pro, means there’s no risk of things piling up — and a significant reduction in bickering over who does what.
According to Ellen Delap, a qualified professional organizer and president of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals, this method is a distinct advantage of working with a cleaner. She told BETTER that the timetable “gives you that little additional boost that many of us require.”
According to Delap, soliciting outside support is a team model. “You’re just growing your team,” she adds, whether it’s sending out laundry, hiring an organizer or cleaner, or employing food preparation plans. This frees up your time to do what you do best.