I don’t write a whole lot about my job working as a part time housecleaner because of the stigma attached to a job like this. As a college educated person with a very high IQ, who used to make a living as an editor/columnist for a long-defunct medical journal and moonlight writer of book reviews for publications like Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, sometimes it’s hard to reconcile just how low I’ve fallen on the social status ladder. I’ll spare you the details of how that came to be, because it’s not very interesting and has a lot to do with self-sabotage and being trained to be a victim by my abusers (and has a lot to do with the economy and the geographic region I live in as well). I’ve written about all that before anyway. This isn’t about that.
This isn’t supposed to be a depressing post though. Framed the right way, I actually have a very interesting and even fun job, albeit one that doesn’t pay much and fluctuates depending on time of year.
12 Reasons Why Cleaning Houses for a Living May Be Underrated.
1. It sure beats sitting in a call center all day getting screamed at for things totally outside your control and where you are required to put up with and “handle” the abuse thrown at you. (I did that too and had enough after 4 years of it)
2. You’re constantly busy, and the scenery is ever-changing, so you never get bored. No interminably long afternoons spent watching a never-moving clock.
3. You’re constantly moving and it’s a great way to keep in shape. I was able to cancel my gym membership.
4. Sometimes you get tips, especially around the holidays. Some of the tips can be good.
5. You sometimes get really nice stuff other people want to get rid of: I’ve taken home small furniture, a crystal vase, books, an antique mirror, original paintings, clothing, leather bags, and shoes, various homemade baked goodies, and a homemade quilt (which got eaten by my dog, well I hope he enjoyed it).
6. I work alone most of the time, and as a socially awkward, introverted person who never could decipher office politics and the kiss-up games most offices require you to play to move ahead, this works well for me.
7. Once you start having your own clients who request you only, you begin to establish a kind of relationship with them. They look forward to seeing you and it feels good that your giving them a clean house (and sometimes providing them with company) makes them happy.
8. I’m not required to work evenings or weekends, and sometimes I’m off as early as 1 or 2 o’clock. Sure you don’t make as much on slow days like that, but it’s nice to be home early, as long as it doesn’t happen too often.
9. Although the novelty of this has worn off, it can be interesting seeing the types of homes people have and the way they have decorated them. Some of the houses are impressive indeed!
10. The work is mentally easy and I can let my mind wander while working. It is physically hard work though, and sometimes at the end of the day, I’m very sore! A hot bath with epsom salts usually helps though.
11. The pets are awesome, and are the best part of the job (even though they shed and make messes). I could write other stories just about the different pets I meet. Maybe I’ll do that sometime.
12. It’s also a great job for an aspiring writer because you meet so many different kinds of people (they’re not all snobby rich people living in gated communities, though we have those too). You have a front row seat to a lot of family drama and eccentric types and other things sometimes that make you go hmmmm or WTF! It’s a great opportunity to study and observe human nature and that hones your skills as a writer. You also learn a lot about people.
Some of the things I hear and see make pretty good stories, so here are five of them.
The humorist and memoir writer David Sedaris used to work as a housecleaner in New York City, and used some of the things he experienced during that stint as fodder for his uproariously funny essays.
1. The Lonely Lady and the Surprise Birthday Lunch.
A well to do older lady living alone, whose husband died last year, seems to want company more than having her house cleaned. Although she talks way too much for my taste, she’s a sweet lady and last year threw me a surprise birthday party just for the two of us! She said she needed an extra hour and I thought, oh no, she’s going to want me to clean out her refrigerator or organize her closet or something (trust me, you do NOT want to see this woman’s closet–she’s almost a hoarder and never throws away anything).
When I arrived she asked me at one point to stop what I was doing and come into the sunroom. It was a beautiful warm sunny day and the table was set beautifully, with flowers and greens everywhere. She had prepared delicious chicken salad with vinaigrette and fresh tomatoes and basil, another tossed salad, sweet ice tea, and an amazing lemon cake with lemon buttercream from an expensive bakery (with NO cream cheese icing, thank God!) To top it off, she presented me with $50 in cash! That was a good day. And even better, she didn’t ask how old I was. I really think the woman is just lonely and felt like having company and I got the honor.
2. Schizo Santa Claus and the Cup of Hair.
It’s not coffee in that mug, but the words say it all.
There’s another guy, a Vietnam veteran who looks like Santa Claus who probably suffers severe PTSD or even schizophrenia. The man is very strange and his house is a disaster and it stinks too. He always wants to go back to sleep after you clean his bedroom. He collects beautiful, antique chessboards and has them all over his house. He seems to be somewhat of a hoarder too and it’s hard to move around in the tight, cluttered rooms.
The man sheds; his wiry gray hair is all over everything. The first time I went there I thought he must have a pet, maybe a wirehaired terrier, but no, the hair belongs to him.
He keeps a mug of his sheddings on the bathroom vanity. You cannot touch it, you are not allowed to throw it away. The first time I went there I didn’t know so I threw it away and he started to panic. I had to dig through the trash to find the hair and with a pair of plastic gloves, retrieved it to its rightful place in the mug on the bathroom sink. I have no idea why he needs this, and I don’t want to know either. Maybe he’s knitting himself a wig or a sweater. Who knows.
3. Contact High and the Stoner House.
The other day I went to clean a one-time house (not a regular client). The door was answered by a guy in his early 20s or maybe late teens, who was obviously stoned. He told me his mother was up in Maine having chemotherapy treatments but would be returning the next day. He showed me around the house and told me not to worry about cleaning his room, he would do it himself.
Two of his stoner buddies were there with him, and they all sat in the living room smoking out a bong and watching some anime movie.
Soon he came upstairs and told me he had spoken to his mother on the phone and she told him I had to clean his room after all (I know he had not been on the phone; obviously he decided he didn’t feel like cleaning it).
His room reeked of pot smoke and there were bongs and pipes on almost every surface and little piles of weed. I got a contact high just from being in there. Later I overheard a telephone conversation where his mother told him his two friends had to be gone when she arrived home the next day. I guess that was the last time he could party!
I got a $25 tip from him when I was leaving. He said the house looked great. I hope his mom agrees.
4. The Elderly Couple Who Refused to Move Downstairs.
At another one-time job, the middle aged son from New Jersey had come to try to talk his elderly parents, one who was wheelchair bound, the other with advanced Alzheimers, into moving into a downstairs bedroom. He wanted to close off the stairs because of the danger of falling, but the father, the ambulatory one with Alzheimer’s, wouldn’t have it. The old man walked around in nothing but a diaper, and his bowed legs looked like toothpicks but he scampered up and down the stairs like a first grader jacked up on Red Bull. He kept insisting he didn’t mind carrying his wife (who weighed at least twice what he did!) up the stairs. Yikes! This feisty codger had to be watched closely!
The son told us that since he was unable to move in with them (because his job and family were back in New Jersey) and they had bought and paid off the house and refused to move or go into a nursing home, that he would have to hire a full-time nurse and cook to take care of them both in their house. His concern and love for his disabled and elderly parents was touching and so was the old couple’s abiding love for each other. They were actually the kind of old people you’d call cute. In fact, I’d call them them freaking adorable.
5. The Malignant Sociopathic Bible Thumping Narcissistic Bitch from Hell.
There was one customer that couldn’t keep a regular cleaner, because of what a horrible and mean person she was. In the short time I cleaned her house, I didn’t see one redeeming quality. First of all, the lady was a control freak. She was told on a number of occasions to have the sheets ready when we got there, but she wasn’t having any of that. She’d deliberately wait until we were about to leave before taking he sheets out of the dryer. When called out on this once, she demanded to have the name of the person in the office who said that, even though she had been told again and again to have the sheets ready. Basically she was calling us liars.
She’d keep you in her house as long she could (knowing full well we had other assignments that day), standing over you watching everything you did and making you do things over and over even when there was no need. Her washer and dryer happened to be in the master bathroom so she’d wait until you had just mopped the floor in there before retrieving the sheets for the beds, leaving her shoe marks all over the mopped floor so you’d have to mop it again. She’d also push into you on purpose on her way to the dryer, and then in a sarcasatic-sweet voice, coo “I am SO sorry!”
One time someone else cleaned her house because I was sick that day. She said this woman waited until the moment she came in to clean the kitchen and suddenly decided she just had to start rearranging her kitchen cabinets at that moment!
I finally had enough of this nasty character the day she blamed me for her vicious dog growling at me. She had a golden retriever, and usually they are very sweet dogs, but this one was anything but. I was coming up the front porch stairs and the dog was there, not tethered to anything, growling and baring its teeth at me. The woman came out and stared at me with black malevolent reptilian eyes.
“What did you do to my Ginger? She NEVER growls at anyone! You must have done something to upset her.”
That was the last straw. I told the office I would no longer clean this woman’s house. Shortly after that, she canceled service.
Did I forget to mention the woman’s house was filled with Bibles and plaques of Christian sayings and Bible verses and ceramic angels? Oh, and her husband called her “Mom” and seemed terrified of her. Also her grown children never visited. I wonder why!
If you like these stories, there are others. I can post them in a later article, if there’s enough interest.