Tuesday, October 6, 2009

In Which I Administer the White Glove Test

As a housekeeper, I swing from pretty good, to indifferent, to negligent, depending on the task. It's funny, though, how when I'm paying someone to clean my place, I morph into that big British lady with the beehive hairdo on "How Clean is Your House." The one who wears the lab coat? She lives in me. My housecleaner Fabienne was here today (oh blessed alternate Tuesday, thy name is Wonderful). She is a single mom, has a thick Hungarian accent, and is very sweet. She's also does a really good job cleaning. Really good. Except for ONE little thing. She doesn't seem to dust the tops of my dresser and chest of drawers.

I know, someone please organize me a telethon. It's just funny because, when I first met her we did a walk through of the house. She wanted me to tell her what I wanted done (everything) and what was really important to me (all of it, right?), so I did. We stood in my bedroom and I gestured around. I told her that I'd gotten a one-time cleaning service the week before, like one of those Happy Maids things, which I didn't like doing because yes I have read my Barbara Ehrenreich, but it was an emergency. Or I didn't say all of that. But I did say these words: "They didn't dust the top of my dresser, and that makes me crazy." She clucked in sympathy.

So while I've had Fabienne since June, and it's a happy relationship, I am UNABLE to stop myself from coming into my bedroom after she leaves and running my hand along all the surfaces. I don't have a lot of stuff on my dressers. I'm okay with some clutter in other places, but not there. Just a lamp, a few books, and whatever kid debris has alighted there. So after I've groped all the flat surfaces, I stare at my palm and scrutinize whatever I've turned up. A jeweler's eyepiece would come in handy here. Like, hmm, definitely a little gritty, with some actual dust. But that CFL lightbulb and the panda Webkinz have been moved. Did she just straighten? Or dust properly? Or maybe she ran a dry cloth over everything? Since I don't have the forethought to do this before Fabienne comes, I'm in an epistemological gray zone. What counts as dusty and what as cleaned? Reader, I know you're screaming, "Well just MENTION it to her." Yes, but this is hard. If I say something, she'll know that I'm feeling up the furniture as soon as she's left the room.

Also, it's really not a big deal, right? Because there's that feeling of ambivalence--the slightly apologetic posture you assume when you're having another person clean for you. I know people who say they feel "guilty" having someone else clean their house. I don't feel guilty at all--I feel like Fabienne and I are in a mutually beneficial relationship. I think she's got a pretty good business going. (Sidenote: we should all start cleaning houses--around here it is kind of hard to find someone to take you on. I talked to four women, including my old housecleaner, who didn't have space in their schedules for another house, even as a regular thing.)

It isn't that I think, "Ooh, I should really be doing this myself." It's not guilt that she's doing a job that would otherwise fall to me, or to Matt and me. It's something to do with the fact that it's our private space, and I'm asking her to enter it and sort it out, for a living. Like, if I owned an office building and I paid cleaners, I don't think I would feel one way or the other about it. But, with your house and your private life, something inside you always thinks, "Are we too messy? Are we messier than her other clients? And oh dear, I just realized the kids left all those crayons on the floor of the book room and she's going to have to pick them up." I will say, though, that over and on top of that slight apologetic feeling is a bigger happy feeling. Like, thank the lord for you, Fabienne, and do you mind that I'm hugging your legs?

So I do a fair amount of straightening before she comes. If you have a housecleaner, do you do this? I don't want her to have to contend with stuff all over the floors of the kids' rooms--Laura keeps her room tidy. Or to have to walk around laundry baskets in my room. I do wonder what the optimal amount of straightening is. I have heard of women doing an entire cleaning before the cleaning lady comes. But this is not me. Definitely not me.

That is all. Thank you for listening. It's hard out here for a pimp.


Michele said...

I would so love to be able to dust JR's dresser. The problem is that that man is a total pack rat. I can not tell you how many beautiful baskets and bowls I've put on his dresser to hold the flotsam that resides in his pockets.

A Lawyer Mom's Musings said...

"So I do a fair amount of straightening before she comes. If you have a housecleaner, do you do this?"

Becky, know you are NOT ALONE.

We ALL do this psychotic cleaning ritual before the people who are coming to clean arrive to do the cleaning. It's some sort of neurotic American psycho dance, I think. But whatever it is, you are not alone.

As for what you need, speak up. My clients (boss) speak up when they want something. As well they should: they're paying me. And you're paying your housekeeper. She's happy for the job, I'm happy for my job, hells bells -- we're all happy for our jobs. So rock on. Feel no guilt.

Aviva said...

My husband's excuse for not hiring a housecleaner, despite the fact that I have chronic health problems which means HE ends up doing the bulk of cleaning, is that he hates the pressure to pick up before she comes. :-)

I'm the only one in my extended family without a housecleaner. I'm 42, and I can assure you that even 40 years ago or so, when I was a little kid, my mom and grandmother would pick up before the housecleaner came over. And my sister does now, as does my SIL, and all my friends who have housecleaners. So you're just following in a longstanding tradition of cleaning up for the cleaning lady. :-)

Amy said...

What if you mentioned next time, "Hey I'm sure you were going to, but could you make sure to dust the dresser--it could really use it this time." Kind of like a gentle reminder? Maybe she didn't pick up on what you said last time and needs it put more bluntly. Is there any sort of a language barrier?

OR, you could write "Dust Me" in the dust on top of the dresser. That could work.

The Dental Maven said...

I guess I'm a statistical outlier because I NEVER straighten up before the housekeeper arrives.

Michele Renee said...

I know--sprinkle a little bit of powder on your dresser. That way it is obvious that things really do need cleaning there.
I had a cleaning person for a little bit and actually it was too stressful the way I had to clean up beforehand and then we got mad when things weren't as perfect as I'd expect for paying someone.
I have a bug man who comes over regularly and I clean up for his visits. Wouldn't want him to thing we get any pests due to stuff on the floor, etc.

gretchen said...

I totally clean before the cleaning lady. Or at least I would do that if we still had a cleaning lady. But when we can afford the regular cleaning lady again, I feel sure I will clean for her. There is a clear and serious reason for this. If one doesn't put away the junk that's just lying around, one will never find one's things again, because the cleaning lady will tidy them where she thinks they might belong, which is seldom where they do belong. So one spends a couple of days after alternate Tuesday searching for one's belongings. I also have a theory that if she's spending less time doing mundane stuff that I can easily do (like dishes and laundry), she will have time to do the really unpleasant things I hate to do. Like toilets and baseboards. And dusting the dressers.

Kate said...

The cleaning ritual makes sense to me. It seems like tidying up before she comes would assure you that she's not wasting her time/your money on picking up toys. Instead, she spends her time doing the things that really matter to you. Like dusting.

I second Amy's idea about mentioning the dresser in a "oh, by the way, I'm sure you know, but would you mind..." type of way. Totally harmless.

Jenni said...

Oh, yes. My cleaning lady hasn't done the fan in my living room in FOREVER. She does all the other fans, but not the one in the living room. And she even TURNS OFF the fan, like maybe she's going to do it and then does not do it. And I feel so silly to ask about it because she's been doing our house for three years and does a great job and what am I some sort of clean fan fanatic? I go from feeling like a jerk for complaining when I pay someone to clean my house for me and feeling like of COURSE I should say somethign because I pay someone to clean my house and they should do a through job of it. Sigh. Poor me.

Sara said...

Fabienne with a thick Hungarian accent? You are getting more than your money's worth right there! Hee! Sadly, I've never had a housekeeper in my entire adult life. sigh!

I like the dust bait idea, sprinkling some powder or something (make it look like an accident,) maybe not so much as an 'I caught ya!'but as a reminder. Having cleaned houses myself, I know you can get into a routine, maybe even a routine of missing the same thing over and over, 'cause you're in the zone.

I believe when I was living at home we also cleaned before the cleaning lady. I'm trying to think back to when I *was* the cleaning lady, if that would've mattered to me, or whether I would've been offended by excess mess? Like the mess from the ferret cage in the kid's bedroom...Or the hedgehog that bit me...or the litter of kittens in the same kid's bedroom.

All the same, I did whatever the hecks I was told. It was my job after all. No big whoop.

Fabienne with a thick Hungarian accent...are you kidding me? You're kidding me, right? That is too wonderful.

Keely said...

I tidy before the cleaners show up but it's because they charge by the hour, so if they can actually ACCESS the floor they're supposed to be cleaning it works out better.

Though I also feel that weird uncomfortableness. Like I should be inappropriately grateful, even though I'm paying her for a service. Perhaps there some kind of residual 'class' association, even though the woman who cleans my house has a better job than me. she just likes money.

melondonkey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cassie said...

I do the straightening thing too. Or at the very least I heap everything from the floor on top of the beds.

You're so right. It IS hard out here for a pimp. But damn, it feels good to be a gangsta.

Fantastic Forrest said...

I like the idea of spilling just a bit of baby powder on one of the surfaces to call it to her attention.

Loved your reference to Ehrenreich. We listened to her book on CD on a recent family trip. It was a real eye opener for all of us. Sure lays it on the line. Anyone who doesn't think there's a class/caste system in this country is blind.

A Day That is Dessert said...

I have very high expectations when someone else is doing the cleaning; I also move things a bit/declutter beforehand.

chnault said...

I've been fortunate to have had some fantastic household help at times when I desperately needed it.

I also had one who scolded me for not being more organized...odious woman. I had a 5000 square foot house on Lake Michigan at the time (poor me)that literally required constant care (think bead board, wood floors, sand and 6 kids).

Sold that house and now I rely on slave labor for any help I need.

Elle said...

The reason you get the white gloves out is because you want value for your money, isn't it? You could do a crappy job of cleaning yr own house without laying out any cash. So, I do not judge or tsk-tsk you for inspecting the goods.

How to speak to her failings, I think as with any other employee ... just praise what is good and then in passing point out what you would like stepped-up -- I am so glad you are here working with us, thank you, I was [hostessing/taking a header on the kitchen tile weeping in agony/hung over] the other day and it was such a pleasure to have a [tidy/clean/sparkling] [vestibule/kitchen floor/commode]. Thank you, Fabienne. [now you do the thing where you are sincerely holding her, treasuring her, with a deeply appreciative look or maybe a brief & warm clasp of her forearm.]

Then, later in the day, breezily say, in passing, as you hand her a package of those microfiber cloths that you think these will "catch the dust better, you know, in the bedroom where I am so fussy" and roll yr eyes heavenward at the tyranny of dust and maybe yr OCD, her call, whatever, but keep it light.

I am sorry, I can not shut up. Good night!