I felt funny after writing it, and when I got a comment on the post I finally realized why. I was terrified that someone was going to call me out on my privilege for considering hiring a cleaning service. In short, I was feeling guilty about even considering this luxury. I hadn't put a lot of thought into why I felt this way because I didn't even know that I felt this way, but now that the guilt was sitting in front of me, it was time to unpack.
Why do I feel guilty about the possibility of hiring a cleaning service?
1. It smacks of class privilege to be able to hire someone else to take care of the tasks that I don't want to do.
2. Am I exploiting the person (probably a woman) who will come and perform this service? I certainly don't think that I'm better than her, but is some sort of hierarchy necessarily in place when you pay for this kind of labor? What does that mean for me as a feminist?
3. Shouldn't I be able to clean my own house? What does it say about me and my abilities that I have to outsource this thing that is seen as one of the most basic of daily tasks?
Then I did some reading on the subject and found out that I'm not the only one who has these kinds of misgivings on the topic. In particular, I really related to this post from Ariel Meadow Stallings at Offbeat Home and this post from the Happiest Mom. This post also gave a great breakdown on how we look at outsourcing and why we think of housecleaning differently.
With those perspectives in mind, I went back and looked at each of my potential problems.
1. It smacks of class privilege.
Yeah, it does. It's a privilege to be able to hire a maid. It's something that I can only do because I am gainfully employed, and that's a privilege afforded to me for a variety of reasons, some of them I control (hard work, networking), some of them I don't (race, gender, sheer luck), and some of them are a combination of my work and the social factors around me (educational attainment, passion).
But a lot of other things I do are a privilege, too. It's a privilege to live in the country I live in, where I am free to have a job. It's a privilege to have been able to go to school. It's a privilege to be able to drive a car. It's a privilege to be able to afford healthy food and to have the time to cook it.
Recognizing that I have privilege is important, especially when it makes me aware of inequities in the world around me. But I can't fight those inequities by trying to ignore opportunities around me. It is my job as a privileged person to ensure that I am working for a more equal world and that means not exploiting people with less privilege and changing my actions when I become aware of new ways to work toward that goal. (More on this with point number 2).
In short, being able to hire a cleaning service certainly is a privileged position, but so are a lot of positions I inhabit. Why is this one nagging at me so much?
2. Am I exploiting the person I hire?
Well, I certainly could be, just as I could be exploiting someone if I choose to buy clothes that were made in sweat shops. It's my job as a consumer to be responsible for finding a service that isn't exploitative. And I think I can do that.
The service that I'm thinking about using is a locally-owned small business that's owned by a woman who is also one of the cleaners. If I'm supporting a local business and becoming a regular and reliable customer of a place that pays and treats its employees well, am I exploiting? If so, wouldn't I be exploiting my hair dresser every time I get my hair done? Wouldn't I be exploiting the clerk at the grocery store every time I buy produce instead of growing it myself?
Yes, I outsource things. It's my job as a consumer to make sure that I outsource as responsibly as possible, but just being a consumer doesn't have to be exploitative.
3. Why do I have to outsource a basic task?
As I mentioned above, I outsource all kinds of things. I buy produce from the farmer's market instead of growing it myself. I buy clothes instead of sewing them myself. I buy canned spaghetti sauce instead of making it myself. I purchase books to read instead of letting my mind be my own entertainment. I buy things. I am a consumer.
So why does buying the service of cleaning feel different?
Because I've been told over and over and over again that it is part of my job as a wife and a mother and a woman for God's sake to keep my house clean. But I can't do everything. I can't spend the time that I want to spend with my daughter and my husband and my friends while also working and reading and writing and keep my house clean. I've been trying. I am failing. Does that make me a failure?
I don't think it does. I think it means that I need to look at this system a little differently. With my new job, I will have the ability (yes, privilege) of being able to hire someone to come clean my house a couple times a month. If that cuts down on bickering over what needs to be done when, if that gives me more time to spend with my daughter, if that gives me a clearer mind and less stress, why shouldn't I take advantage of that?
Do you/would you consider using a cleaning service? Is there any guilt associated with that choice? Is it different than other services you purchase?
Photo: Jos Dielis