Why I Felt (But No Longer Feel) Guilty About Hiring A Housecleaning Service

Emily cleaners

I decided to stop feeling guilty about being a “bad homemaker” and just own the homemaker that I am.

So, I hired a housecleaning service, and then, in true Millennial navel-gazing fashion, I had an existential meltdown about what it says about me that I hired a housecleaning service.

And because I’m a woman who spends a buttload of time thinking about gender and obligation, I worried about what it said about me as a woman that I hired a housecleaning service.

And then, in even truer Millennial navel-gazing fashion, I wrote about it on the Internet.

*****

I hired a housecleaning service because I have never been good at cleaning.

Eye roll.

But seriously, I’ve never been good at it.

Oh my god, shut up already.

Yes, I am physically capable of scrubbing down a bathtub, Cloroxing a counter top, or Swiffering a kitchen floor; I’ve just never been good at prioritizing those tasks. I make the same list that includes the same chores as everybody else, but the chores never make it to the top where they actually get done. Reading one less book, going to one less yoga class, or working fewer hours never seem like a good enough tradeoff for a cleaner home.

In short, I am a lousy homemaker.

And that’s where it gets gendered; “homemaker” is a distinctly feminized word these days, and the responsibility of homemaking typically rests on women’s shoulders. I carry a lot of guilt and anxiety about the cleanliness of my house. I am embarrassed when people come over because I feel like I should be good at prioritizing cleaning. If I don’t outright like it (not a bit), I should at least derive enough pride from the spotlessness to outweigh any irritation I feel about doing the work. But I don’t.

There’s this thing that women do—hold up—there is this thing that I do, (own your shit, Emily, own your shit) when faced with a decision potentially fraught with gendered baggage. I ask myself “Do men have to deal with this?” If they don’t, that usually signals some sexist bullshit and I try to find a way out of whatever silly obligation (high heels, for example) I feel pressure around. (It’s not entirely my fault I think this way, self-appointed feminist spokespeople from Sheryl Sandberg to Caitlin Moran have advocated for some version of the same gut check.)

So I asked myself: Do most men feel the same social guilt about an uncleaned home? Do they feel the weight of it as a personal failure? When friends come over to a couple’s untidy house, who is secretly held accountable? Not the men. Men are not expected to be good homemakers (or rather, they have their own sets of non-cleanliness related “manly” expectations to live up to). And because it seemed so clear that bad-homemaker-guilt was a primarily lady-burden to bear, I started to pick that mantel up off my shoulders and discard it into the pile of other sexist garbage.

But then, and we’re doubling back now, so stay with me, I started to wonder if maybe the women were right on this one. What if, on this particular question, the guys should feel more ownership over their homes? What if they should feel invested in caring for their things and spaces? What if they should be held equally accountable for the homemaking?

What if I was ditching ”homemaker guilt” when I should actually start owning this because the ladies are right on this one? Why do we women always bend our behavior toward a male standard—we try to interview like them, we try to negotiate like them, we try to modulate our voices like theirs—instead of making them bend toward us? Especially when we’re right? And obviously, I’m using “we” and “them” loosely here, because clearly I have the tidying instincts of a 19-year-old frat brother who thinks folding laundry is a waste of time because, bro, it’ll just get unfolded again later.

We should care about the cleanliness of our homes. All of us. Homemaking is important. We should make our spaces warm and inviting to guests. We should treat our stuff with a respect. We should aspire to that, not feel burdened by it.

*****

And so I hired a cleaning service. Once you decide that homemaking is a worthy goal, there’s more than one path to get there. We all choose which tasks we do ourselves and which we outsource (consider: ordering takeout, changing tires, installing Internet, doing taxes, getting manicures, mowing the lawn, childcare) and I’m in the very lucky position of being able to decide that this element of homemaking is something I would rather outsource than do myself.

The service I hired pays a living wage (I checked), and I tipped well. I went to yoga, and yes, I felt like an asshole the whole time.

But when I returned to my house and it smelled lemony and the floors were shining and it emanated that cared-for-ness that I always admired in other people’s houses, it was totally worth it. I decided to stop feeling guilty about being a “bad homemaker” and just own the homemaker that I am.

Role Reboot regular contributor Emily Heist Moss is a New Englander in love with Chicago, where she works in a tech start-up. She blogs every day about gender, media, politics and sex at Rosie Says, and has written for JezebelThe FriskyThe Huffington Post and The Good Men Project. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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