Friday, November 12, 2010

Cleaning Lady's Worth Is Beyond Measure

We’ve had company for dinner three times in the past two weeks.


So … before this we went for months with no guests (not including my kids, grandkids or Harold). Do you want to know why?

My house is clean!

Several weeks ago I decided to hire a young woman to clean my house once a week.

I’ve thought about this for a long time. It’s like I had to justify it in my mind. So many women I know work full-time and keep such lovely homes. If they can do it, I can certainly do it.

But it’s like Joan Rivers said: “I hate housework. You make the beds, you wash the dishes and six months later you have to start all over again.”

Most weeks, I’ve designated a half-day to clean the house. Sometimes it ends up being Sunday afternoons. That feels awful, because I have this innate sort of belief that Sunday is for doing whatever I like, whether it be reading, writing, hiking, visiting or whatever.

Then I discovered that some women have cleaning ladies.

My stepmom, Rosanne, was a full-time schoolteacher. She was a superwoman. She loved to cook and was always trying new recipes. She kept up with her friends and family members. And somehow her house was always clean. I always wondered how she managed everything, and then discovered she had a cleaning lady come in once a week.

A teacher friend grew accustomed to having a housekeeper when she lived overseas, in a country where it was taken for granted. She has a woman come in every weekday morning to clean up. Another friend has a cleaning person in monthly. Whatever it takes.

In many of the British novels I read, the family has a housekeeper, and no matter how poor the family is, they still pay this person to clean or cook or both.

Right now I’m reading a biography of Isak Dinesen, the Danish storyteller (“Out of Africa,” “Babette’s Feast”). In her old age she worried about money to pay the taxes on her home. Despite this concern, she did not scale back on her household staff, which included a cook, housekeeper and gardener, plus her personal secretary.

Dinesen loved to hold dinner parties.

I used to be a cleaning lady myself. When I lived in New York, I cleaned for several families. More recently, I worked as a housekeeper cleaning condos and hotel rooms at Massanutten Resort. It’s work that keeps you moving, burns calories, helps pay the bills and blesses others.

When I walked my potential cleaning lady through the house, we talked specifically about her tasks. At one point, she said, “It may take a few weeks to get it clean. I noticed it’s a little … dusty.”

Such a tactful young woman. My weekly buzz through the house included picking up and vacuuming, cleaning kitchen counters and appliances, and mopping the kitchen floor, plus laundry. Many weeks, that’s about all I had time and energy for.

That meant dust, crumbs and dog-and-cat hair accumulated on books, shelves, lamps and knick knacks, under and behind furniture. In my “picking up,” I focused on the big stuff in main rooms, while piles of paper and books accumulated elsewhere.

I did not realize how this was cramping our social life. We always talked about inviting people over, but stopped short of actually picking up the phone to do it.

It’s not that I feel the house must be immaculate. I think people feel more comfortable in a lived-in home. But somehow having a clean house has freed me to invite people. The first weekend after the cleaning lady started, I called some friends I’d been wanting to spend time with.

That was Friday. Then on Sunday the husband spontaneously asked a family at church to come for dinner. Then on Tuesday he had a friend over for dinner.

No, I don’t have a lot of money to throw around. The woman’s rates are good, though, and she uses eco-friendly cleaning products. She lives nearby. She can sure use the money.

The way I figure it, it’s a way of sharing what I have.

And as we sat on Sunday evening with our friends at the candlelit table, finished with the meal, lingering over a bottle of wine and good talk, I knew it was the right thing to do.

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