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For years Chris has told me that we should hire a housecleaner. Before you read too much into that, it’s not that I’m a terrible housekeeper. I’m just, like everyone, busy. It’s also not that he is an unhelpful husband. No, I managed to marry one of those rare, neater-than-his-wife husbands, the sort of husband who will come home from work and start vacuuming without being asked because someone traipsed sand across the carpet.

Years ago, when we started homeschooling, I gave up on cleaning the house on weekdays. I once wrote in an essay for prospective homeschoolers, “Let dust turn to velvet atop the black piano.” I got very good at letting velvet form on my piano. It was enough to work with the kids during the day, to make meals for everyone, to keep the laundry chugging along. I saved housecleaning for the weekend.

Which meant, in theory, that most Saturday mornings, Chris and I would wipe down the kitchen, vacuum, dust, mop and generally rid the place of all the marks the kids had made. But many Saturdays, what would actually happen is that we’d both start cleaning, but then I would have to leave to drive a kid to a birthday party. Or to buy a present for a birthday party. Or to buy presents for Christmas. Or to shop for groceries because friends were coming to dinner. Or to shop for groceries because I’d ignored groceries all week, along with the dust on the piano.

And often, Chris would stay home and clean the house. He’s a keeper, I tell you! But it’s no wonder he wanted to hire a housecleaner.

I have several friends who have housecleaners. This seems like a perfectly reasonable decision, to hire someone to do a tiresome chore so you have more time to do things you would rather do. Many of these friends seem to have fun weekends. They hike. They go to museums in San Francisco. They stay home and sew.

So why did I have misgivings about hiring a housecleaner myself? For one, I didn’t like the idea of the kids growing up in a house where someone else cleaned—where they didn’t have to learn how to clean themselves. Of course, this would be a better argument if I actually followed through on making the kids clean. Yes, they clean their bathroom every few weeks (but not until their sink grows a layer of pink sludge around the drain) and I make them clean their rooms (which usually means making beds and putting clothes away, and rarely means dusting and vacuuming.) I suppose the message isn’t that they don’t have to clean because the housecleaner will do it; the message is that they don’t have to clean until a parent goes nutso and hollers This sink is disgusting and no, you can’t use my bathroom!

Second, I have this old-fashioned notion, probably spun from a childhood reading Little House books, that I should be able to clean my own house. Chris and I built this house, on a lot left by the 1991 firestorm that ravaged the East Bay hills. We chose every tile, every damn cabinet pull. If we cared that much, shouldn’t we be able to keep it all clean? It seems like a basic form of self-sufficiency, like the ability to cook our own meals. When I hear about people who can’t cook, who have unused stoves and every meal from a restaurant I get a what’s this world coming to dread that surely reveals how close I am to fifty. What’s this world coming to if we can’t mop our floors and scrub down a toilet once in a while?

I can’t really comment on the state of the world, but I can comment on the state of my house. And it’s gotten grimier over the years. Not super grimy—if you’ve visited you would probably say that my house is quite clean, probably because I am very good at the art of the fifteen-minute wipe-down-the-obvious-surfaces-and-shove-everything-else-into-the-closet routine. Or the house is clean because my husband cleaned it. But in general, things were slipping. The dust had grown thicker. The showers had grown slimier. It was a good thing there were no longer babies crawling on my kitchen floor.

I talked to my friend about her housecleaner. The cleaner comes every two weeks and stays for three to four hours, depending on whether she has help. She cleans the house, washes the sheets and remakes the beds. (Clean sheets! Every two weeks! What nirvana!)

But instead of asking for the housecleaner’s number, I started thinking. Four hours every two weeks. I could do that.

I made a plan. Every Tuesday afternoon I would clean for two hours. One week downstairs, the next week up. Mr. T is twelve. He saves his computer time for the afternoon anyway. He doesn’t need me.

And so I began. I load up my iPhone with podcasts—Writers on Writing and Spilled Milk are favorites—and I tie on my cleaning apron, which is like a maid’s holster with cleaning spray dangling on each side, where the guns should be. I get my guns loaded, I start up a podcast and start scrubbing. And it’s bliss.

Bliss! For two hours I ignore my inbox and my to-do list and I simply clean.


There is something unexpectedly satisfying about wiping down surfaces when you aren’t in a rush to do something else. I polish the Provencal tiles in our kitchen, the ones that we ordered sixteen years ago and that I still love, until they glow. I wipe prints and spatters from the bathroom mirror I found in an antique shop. I dust family photos and smile back at them.


We bought these things. We made these memories. It feels good to honor them by keeping them beautiful.

I laugh out loud when Molly and Matthew discuss apple varieties on Spilled Milk (Brown Snout! Cat head! Grannywinkle! Magnum Bonum! Hunge!) This must only make me look more like a deranged maid–me with my spray cleaner holster. I vacuum and mop and work up a sweat. When I’m finished, the floors smell of orange peels.

My house? It’s looking good.


I’ve kept up this plan for a month now. One Tuesday I had an appointment for a haircut and I got grouchy that I had to postpone my cleaning time. Surprise of surprises, I enjoy cleaning if I’m not feeling anxious about getting other things accomplished. Or feeling bitter that it’s Saturday and we’re not walking around Lake Merritt.

I find myself putting things away more often, because who wants to clutter your shimmering counters? I wipe down the kitchen sink, to maintain the Tuesday gleam. I glance around my house and smile, and take photos, instead of thinking, Damn, I really need to dust this place.

Chris is not a slacker; he finds other things to do around here: washing cars, painting baseboards, pruning trees. But I think he likes our new cleaning lady–although maybe she should get a cut of what we’d have paid that other housecleaner he wanted. This cleaning lady would take a shoe allowance.


The house is clean and I am happy. So, come on over! Just not on Tuesday afternoon.

16 comments… add one
  • Jennifer Mar 8, 2014 @ 9:34

    I have cleaned houses for others since 2002. I can go into someone else’s place and work 3 -4 hours. Being in someone else’s house with an agenda and paycheck waiting are motivating.

    When I’m at my house, however, I get distracted and “tired” after about 30 minutes. I need small bites over several days to get it all done. Otherwise, EVERYTHING I look at “needs doing.”

    After finding a cleaning schedule on Pinterest, I now do about 30-60 minutes worth every day and get the whole house every week, including oddities like the fridge and light switches on “swing day.”

    “This shower needs work. It will get done next Thursday, per the schedule.”

    I walk away without guilt.

    • patricia Mar 10, 2014 @ 8:33

      I imagine it would be hard to have to clean your own home, when you clean the homes of others professionally, Jennifer. Glad you found a system that works for you! Doing a little every day makes me crazy, because it’s too easy for me to miss a day when life gets busy. But I guess you just start back up the next day, huh? It’s all about figuring out what works for you.

  • Eliza Twist Mar 9, 2014 @ 22:32

    Congratulations! You’ve managed to do what I have not. I’m getting quite used the the idea of having a housecleaner, but I can relate to your learning experience in that having a regular rhythm of the house being clean has taught me similar things to what you are currently applying. Maybe when our boy is older I’ll take back the reins, for now we have a few hours of sanity on Tuesday afternoons when our place is pretty darn clean. And both my husband and I are quite content about it. The good news is that our boy does in fact help with the cleaning, in fact pretty consistently since he was strapped on my body as a wee babe he’s been involved in the weekly clean. I agree with your philosophy about kids and ownership and cleaning, but in our case it really comes down to how many waking hours we’ve got in a day and just what will fit in them. And…your home is lovely!

    • patricia Mar 10, 2014 @ 8:48

      We have to do what works best for us, don’t we, Eliza? I have lots of friends who have housecleaners, and it seems like a perfectly intelligent thing to do. The bottom line is that we both have clean homes on Tuesdays, whatever the means. 🙂

  • Gabriele Allen Mar 10, 2014 @ 0:44

    I enjoyed reading your essay ‘Clean’. Your contemplations about the ‘controversial topic’ of do it yourself or outsourcing housecleaning made me smile and I share your experience. I like cleaning for the same reasons you discovered and describe beautifully. Yes there is something satisfying about cleaning when it is a valued activity and yes it feels good to honor our things and the place we call home by keeping it beautiful.
    There is also an energetic aspect to it. I recently began to study a Feng Shui course which explains the importance of keeping living and workspaces uncluttered and clean for unobstructed flow of energy. There you go! I was so happy that I can now justify what I have always felt, and I don’t have to feel bad about my desire to keep my house reasonably clean. I also often put my headphones on and listen to lectures while cleaning my house and when the house is in order I have more energy to deal with the many other things on the never-ending to do list.

    • patricia Mar 10, 2014 @ 8:59

      Hi Gabi! I’m glad I’m not the only wacko who finds pleasure in cleaning. 🙂 Your thoughts on Feng Shui are interesting. Sounds like having a clean house offers more than something beautiful to look at; it gives us more energy for life in general. Makes sense to me! I’m loving having a house that is routinely clean. I can tell it makes a difference.

  • Chris Mar 10, 2014 @ 8:49

    Where do I send the shoes?

    • patricia Mar 10, 2014 @ 9:06

      No worries. I have the credit card number memorized, sweetie.

  • Katie Mar 10, 2014 @ 20:12

    I hate cleaning most when I leave it till the weekend. I totally agree that when I give myself the space and time to do it, I actually kind of enjoy it. I was always a really reluctant dishwasher. I would whine and complain and do most anything to avoid it. And then I stopped using the dishwasher when ours was broken for a bit. And I realized that, when I expected to be standing at the sink for a little while, when I didn’t expect to be able to rush through it and on to the next thing, I didn’t mind the dishes at all. My husband still uses the dishwasher, but I have barely touched it in over a year!

    • patricia Mar 12, 2014 @ 9:33

      It’s all in the perspective, isn’t it, Katie? Thanks for sharing!

  • Nancy Carol Mar 11, 2014 @ 9:31

    I need to do this more often. I must confess; I do have house cleaners. I get so detail-oriented when I clean, it becomes borderline OCD. They keep me from making a two hour clean into an eight hour clean! However, my house was the absolute cleanest it has ever been when I was listening to “Pride and Prejudice.” Love those audiobooks!

    • patricia Mar 12, 2014 @ 9:35

      No confessions necessary, Nancy Carol. Between my friends and the blog readers I’ve connected with, it seems like the housecleaner/no housecleaner split is about 50/50. And yes, listening to something good while cleaning is a big part of the fun for me. I look forward to it!

  • What a fun change of subject! 🙂

    When I married my DH 13 years ago, he had a cleaning lady that would come once a week for about 3-4 hours. The house was impeccably clean. Once we had our second child, me being a stay at home mom and knowing how to clean, I figured we didn’t really need her anymore. I also began getting aggravated at having to leave the house for 3 hours with the little ones so she could clean. She began invading my space. The cleaning wasn’t worthwhile anymore.

    We got 4 kids now and our house is double the size of our first house. We now have 5 bathrooms instead of 2! Yes, poor me! I could really use a cleaning lady now but I can’t really afford one (or don’t want to spend the money on one!).

    I grew up in Brazil and I was used to a cleaning lady and really love the privilege of a clean house without having to work up a sweat. But when I lived in California, as a teenager, I learned to clean house because my Mom would not hire a cleaning lady that drove herself to work and brought her own vacuum cleaner. I guess that intimidated her. 🙂

    I think it’s important for the kids to learn to clean and know how much effort it takes to clean and keep a house clean. So we all do it together. My oldest is 11 y.o. and she knows how to clean a bathroom. All the others know how to vacuum and my DH, like yours, does a lot of the manly jobs like cleaning the fans, changing the light bulbs and mopping the floors. He knows that the last one is a great foreplay. 😉

    I really hate to clean but once I began I can’t stop until I get it done because I looooove the result. I think we are blessed that we got the house and the strength to clean it. Might as well enjoy it as we do it!

    • patricia Mar 12, 2014 @ 9:40

      I love reading all the stories here, Tereza. Who know that housecleaning would be such a great conversation starter? I’m laughing about your husband and his mopping. And I’m glad you’ve taught your daughter how to clean a bathroom. Keeping up with five sounds overwhelming!

  • Stacey Mar 14, 2014 @ 8:41

    I think I really needed to hear this. We are super busy, but really what are two hours instead of looking at the mess and wishing it would go away. I’m going to try this. You are right cleaning is the first thing to go out the window, and even though I also have the luck of having a cleaning husband he is more about the decluttering, dishes and laundry than the scrub, dust and vacuum sort.

    • patricia Mar 19, 2014 @ 9:03

      Exactly, Stacey. Two hours are so worth not having that little bit of dread about things being a mess. I’m surprised how much it helps my mood to live in a house with consistently clean surfaces!

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