cleaning service vs. do it yourself

Frankie_in_zone_7April 8, 2007

Over the past 20 yrs I've battled with either having a cleaning service or doing it myself. My husband and I are both professionals and can afford to have a service (in the relative sense--money spent there can't be used for something else). However, it's very hard to organize myself or the family for "cleaning" day (stuff picked up, etc). Obviously "clutter"--mail, papers, clothes--are part of it, and I don't control my husband or even teenager in this regard, so it would turn out that on the morning of cleaning service day, I would end up doing several hours of whole-house picking up. In all fairness, my husband handles a large amount of our family affairs in other areas, so it's not so much an unfair time distribution, it's that picking up seems endless and so personal--and I've used the "all your stuff is going into a basket" approach before. It's not just picking up, it's the day is typically a set day and seems often there are conflicts (services will let you switch days, but even that is a hurdle for me). So sometimes I've just tried to clean a room at a time, or one aspect at a time, and do without a service. I appear to hate housecleaning myself, although I did used to think, if only we could all do it together--but that has never worked. I prefer to be outside gardening and so I can clearly tell that, no matter how "fast" you could clean your home, I seem to not want to spend even an hour or 2 on it. I've read Speed Cleaning, and practiced "just do it" on small areas at a time. For a cleaning service, we've tried every 2 weeks and also just once a month with the idea was that "WE" would partially clean by ourselves on an alternate week--but we never did well at that I found that within 2 weeks house was dirty again, and somehow psychologically, I felt like I was cleaning "right before" the service was to clean, anyway, so always felt like the house was clean for a week and dirty for 3. ( I'm no clean fanatic--just talking cat fur puffs, stuff spilled on kitchen floor, and the usual). Anyway, I came to the conclusion that if I were to have a service, I might decide to pay more and use every 2 weeks so things would be pretty clean most of the time--but then the family would have to "pick up" twice a month--and on the cycle goes. I go back and forth between trying to tell myself that it's not that hard to do 30 min of cleaning maybe every day and a bit more on weekends week and be free of cleaning-service day panic, vs. wondering why I'm trying to work 55-60 hours a week at a job and then go home and clean house.

I don't expect complete problem-solving or wondering how come we never got ourselves organized to take care of our home. Plus, I'm trying to stay out of the chore wars game and figure out what part of my own clutter and systems and housework avoidance are making things harder, rather than blaming it all on someone else. It's not out of the question for me to try to re-design a system that requires my husband's help, but...might be better not to hinge success on that. Just wondered, have some of you landed on one side or the other in terms of how you either focused on how to use your time to get everything "picked up" and organized around a cleaning service, or on the flip side, did your own cleaning a bit at a time so that you did not have to have the major clean sweep? And what drove you to one solution or the other?

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I think the trick is to separate de-cluttering and cleaning in your mind. The cleaning service cleans; you de-clutter. You don't have to do anything before they arrive, but they can do a better job if they don't have to work around your stuff. So if you can't get the pick-up done before they get there, don't worry too much about it. They can clean the toilet anyway.

Once per month is not often enough, IMO, to have a cleaning service. At least every two weeks is necessary to keep the house relatively clean. You still have to clean up messes as you go along - there's just no getting away from that. The cleaning service just keeps it all to a basic level of cleanliness.

I don't have a cleaning service right now. My home was in much better shape when I did.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2007 at 7:55PM
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susan makes a good point, and that is the day or morning before my cleaning lady (she's in her 20;s) is de- clutter day. My current cleaning lady folds all the laundry and puts it away folded like Macy's, plus all the floors are done, and the usual cleaning. Its true it doesn't stay clean till she's here again, but it allows me to keep down the clutter, and throw stuff out. Plus her Mother wears the same size I do, and its a pleasure to be able to give her dresses, etc. and know Mom is developing a great wardrobe. I have finally gone to weekly because I charge more per hour than she does, and if I am here doing floors, I am not at work.
When my kids were little I would spend my days off cleaning house. I don't have that energy now.
With both spouses working it makes no sense to spend lots of time doing heavy cleaning. We both pitch in with the daily stuff though. Knowing the cleaning lady comes on Tuesday is a great motivator.
I don't mind cleaning, but it takes time, and the cost/benefit ratio isn't there as I get older.
Until I hired my first cleaning lady and saw her wash out the wastebaskets and use a broom covered with a rag to clean dust off the ceiling beams, I don't think I really cleaned that well myself anyhow.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2007 at 8:11PM
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Both DH and I work - we have a cleaning person but she doesn't do our laundry. I do pickup on the morning she's coming before I go to work, but if I don't get things into their proper home, they go onto the beds. We make the beds every day so find that putting stuff on top of them allows the cleaners to do their thing.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2007 at 9:07PM
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Could you keep things under control with some designated "put stuff away time" each day? Trying to pick up all the scattered stuff in the house before cleaning it is almost as daunting as the actual cleaning.

Are you familiar with FlyLady? Her system at first seems geared towards people who do their own cleaning, but the principles help anyone get their household and housework more organized.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2007 at 10:48PM
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Some people work till 6 and then commute. In the SouthWes and West that commute can range up to over an hour. By the time you get home and make dinner you are lucky to be able to do anything. Its important to make time for spouse, & family, and work in some exercise or reading. We are probably all doing the best we can. Martha Stewart isn't scrubbing her own floors either.
We are remodeling our kitchen and have just 4 walls being drywalled. No sink, etc. so, the prospect of putting this place back together with boxes of dishes all around seems far into the future.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2007 at 2:59AM
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I tried the cleaning service route. I had a two person crew come in once a week. They spent around 3-4 hours on the house. Like you, I spent several hours the day before picking up. I clearly separated the cleaning from the picking up, but realized they couldn't clean around all of the crap.

I was so frustrated. My house looked nice for about 30 minutes and then we were back to normal. The problem was with our daily habits. We were defeating ourselves. I started the Flylady program and we learned to deal with the clutter, pick up after ourselves, put things away promtly, etc.

If I was working long hours, I would have someone come in and mop, dust and do the bathrooms weekly, but if the suff isn't put away daily it seems like it isn't worth the money or the effort.


    Bookmark   April 9, 2007 at 3:49AM
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These are all really helpful thoughts. Even though I have read bunches of cleaning/organizing books and tried different things, I feel I am at a different point in life now and want to see what I might be able to change (in me, anyway)or re-think.

To some extent, giving up a cleaning service is an immediate big relief--like letting your belt out a notch--because you're off the hook for picking up. Then, I find we let that go too much. So that does speak to the point about being determined to de-clutter continually apart from cleaning.

The other point made is that, unless you can get everything picked up at the same time, you do "waste" some of the cleaning service (like we would close off a room or 2 for that day). So that's an aggravation/tension-producer, and what might be needed is more limited or focused services if available.

I do know that my goal has never been to have spotlessly clean house, but to have a "clean enough" house so that I feel less stress when I look around and so I will be more likely to have friends over, for very casual gatherings, because that is a goal I do have. What's interesting about that is that it's the clean as you go stuff that may contribute more to that, rather than the cleaning service.

I have tried some systems of daily small chores but not kept up in the past. Again, I think I/we do maybe learn and grow over time, and I have wondered if I'm truly hopeless (!) or if I am finally learning how to decide what it is I really want and then do what it would take to achieve that.

I have another anecdote that I wonder if any of you can relate to. Our house has an open entry that leads into a small but cozy seating area by a fireplace. The kitchen-family room is separate and double-doors between the 2 can be closed, though when we're at home we leave them open for spaciousness. This was, perhaps, an improvement on our previous home which had no such separate area that might be used to visit with or bring in someone who just dropped by for a minute. Well, recently my daughter had a couple of friends drop by to wait for another friend, while my husband and I were eating supper in the family room area; the kitchen was a mess, my daughter had had her books and stuff spread all over and I thought, terrific, the separate living room space earns its keep! and she could visit with them there. Lo and behold, she comes to us after a few minutes wanting to bring them into the family room because they feel "lonely" there! I understand this dynamic completely--and it's a joy for her to feel she can bring friends into our home--it's just that it points out a dilemma of family home organization--you can't really avoid visitors coming into your "main" living space, so have to deal with how messy or dirty that area is. And, I feel like since the family takes over this space, it is hard to have this area suitable for drop-in guests. This would seem to be an growing issue for all the open kitchens and family/great rooms--Which I like--so again points out how you kind of need to organize this space so you can manage it on a daily basis and not have to set aside a big chunk of time for a frenzy of cleaning.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2007 at 10:53AM
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Frankie you are NOT hopeless! You are working many hours. Add clutter and cleaning and it sounds overwhelming! Less clutter is going to make everything else seem easier. Can you identify types of clutter( paper, meal prep, clothes), the main culprit(you, dd, dh)or time it occurs the most(morning rush, meal meltdown, after dinner collapse)? I think if you objectively observe over a period of days it might help you come up with solutions. Can you institute pickup for 10 minutes a day? The three of you working 10 minutes each adds up to over 3 hours a week. THat's alot of time. Maybe you all work at the same time. Or perhaps the last one to bed picks up the tv room. Maybe you pick a particular room to focus on. I TRY to pick up the main rooms before bed, fluff pillows, fold throws, pick up remotes,straighten the stack of mags, etc because I hate to start the day "in the hole".

I also think that having a service come twice a month would be the minimum if you want them to do the majority of the cleaning. Not all...the majority. That still leaves you with swishing and swiping every once in awhile. Can you make it easier? Keep a toilet brush tucked behind the toilet or a roll of paper towels and some cleaner under the sink. I have a light cordless vac that is a godsend. I can zoom around the floors picking up furballs, grit and crumbs with very little effort. I can probably do the entire first floor of our house in less than 5 minutes. This is NOT deep cleaning just an effort to keep things from getting out of hand.
You 'll get so many great tips and observations here. Good luck, you can have the home you want.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2007 at 12:03PM
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My extremely well organized and clean SIL works part-time and still has a weekly cleaning service. She maintains the house herself, but they do dirty jobs she doesn't like, such as cleaning the stove and oven, washing walls,etc. She made a rotating list of things for them to do each week. The only thing is, she feels uncomfortable leaving them alone in her house (she was robbed once, by strangers when no one was home), so she stays home when they come over. They always schedule their visits and they only stay 2-3 hours, so she doesn't mind. I would love a cleaning service like she has.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2007 at 6:32PM
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Decluttering is the harder job. Cleaning itself isn't all that hard but when you add it to decluttering, it can be overwhelming. We have a weekly cleaning service because it forces us to pick up our stuff. It's the predictability of that weekly cleaning that drives us to tame our clutter.

BTW, at least in our area, the less frequently they come, the more services charges per cleaning, because they know that few households keep things up in between. That means that weekly cleaning doesn't cost twice as much as every-other-week cleaning, but IMO we get twice the benefit.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2007 at 7:30PM
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I remember the first week after I canceled the cleaning service. I felt like had been set free! I realized how stressful it had been to try and get ready for them. Once I started with Flylady's routines, it took us around six months to consistently be picking up. We first started with 15 min. in the evening and we would stop when the timer went off. After a few months, it was ten minutes, then five. Now, I just say "Let's zoom this room." and we are done in nothing flat.

We don't have any entertaining spaces in our house which are kept differently from out living spaces. It just doesn't fit how we live. Our town is very casual and people would probably think it strange if you ushered them into a formal living room, rather than the kitchen table. DH now works from home and we have clients stopping by daily. With the routines I've mastered over the past 5 years it takes me only a few minutes in the morning to do my little "jobs" and the house is ready for what the day brings. But it goes directly back to not having clutter or letting things get dirty in the first place. Wiping down the bathroom only takes a minute if you do it everyday, while if you wait for once a week it will take way more time and you have a dirty bathroom in between.


    Bookmark   April 10, 2007 at 2:23AM
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I agree w/ Susanjn, about the idea being that you are just moving stuff out of the cleaner's way so she can move faster. And if you can't do it one time, well, they can still clean, it just might take longer.

I used to say to my cleaning lady, "If I haven't cleared my dresser, you don't have to clean it." Took the pressure off.

In fact, I got a cleaning lady BECAUSE I wanted the discipline of having to pick up the house once every two weeks for the cleaning lady. She came on Wednesday, so Tuesday night everybody had to pick everything up and put it away. Sort of the same approach that livingthedream mentions.

The first few times were really hard! but I found that, since everything got put away at least once in those 2 weeks, there was less each time. And, I was more likely to insist that the kids pick up their toys (the LR is their playroom, pretty much), and that I had to clear off the dresser, much more often.

It just changed our (my?) whole mindset about when I needed to pick up.

And I agree w/ livingthedream about the overwhelmingness of combining the "picking up/decluttering" with the "cleaning." Since I only had to pick up, I could do it.

Now, we don't have a cleaning lady anymore. So if we want to vacuum, or dust, we have to pick up stuff first. That means twice as much time, and twice as daunting an *idea.*

I need ot get better at staying picked up, and cleaning one room a day. But it doesn't always work that well for me. I get home at 7:15, and the kids go to bed at 8:30 or 9. It's hard to clean during that short family time, and I can't really vacuum the living and dining room after 9pm, bcs that's when they're trying to go to sleep, and the noise is just too loud. After they're asleep, it's too late (I live in an apartment and have downstairs & upstairs neighbors).

    Bookmark   April 11, 2007 at 10:19AM
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Ughhh...I lost my cleaning lady to illness in December. I've been struggling with this myself since then. I 'feel' as if we should be able to do this ourselves...heck, we have 2 pre-teens who should be able to help. Also, I don't want them to grow up thinking they will have a cleaning service all the time (they need to learn how to clean a house!)

That being said..everyone is so busy and so tired. I feel bad for my kids because they don't have a lot of 'downtime' On top of that, we are all pack-rats which makes everything twice as hard.

I don't have a solution, my house is a mess. I am considering getting a service once a week with the hopes that it will encourage us to keep the house picked up more since there is only 1 week between cleanings. It's pricey though...and I am enjoying not having any 'decluttering' days!

    Bookmark   April 18, 2007 at 1:07PM
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wdaveo, could you have smaller chores that the kids do? Stuff like wiping the counter or table down after meals, or once a week they swab out the toilet and wipe the sink?

And then leave the really big stuff to the cleaning lady, and use the small stuff to train them.

Maybe now and then you can have them do a bigger cleaning for training purposes.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2007 at 2:49PM
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I've been in the same spot as you...I have 3 kids and have a list of three sets of jobs that rotate weekly. Several of the jobs relate to Thursday night which helps prepare our house for the cleaner who comes Friday. For example, on each list is one common room (office/extra TV room, family room, entry hall) and the child responsible for that room must check that room and make sure it's sufficiently straightened up so that the housekeeper can clean. (Of course, this is really supposed to be done several times during the week but, as with others, the kids are so busy and I'm pretty lax so it's evolved to just Thursday night or if guests are coming. Still, no fighting about who does what: it's all right there on the 'job list' that rotates every week so it's seen as 'fair'.)

My kids also have to pick up the stuff on the floors of their bedrooms Thursday night. I have one who just keeps her room neat but two who don't. I've threatened that their room won't be cleaned if they don't (meaning they'd have to spend their Sat. stirpping/washing sheets/remaking bed + clean the rest of their room). Haven't had to do it yet but I would...

I also started up with Fly Lady about 9 months ago and, while I only do some of what she suggests, one of the things that stuck is the 'hot spot' (I think that's what she calls it.) Places where things just pile up (like paper by the main phone, the closest flat surface to the main entry, etc.) I now will notice when these hot spots are getting cluttered and just clean them right away. (Smaller task = more managable) Finally, I took her advice, bought a timer and, when motivated (I try at least once a week) will set the timer for 15 minutes and attack a room that has gotten somewhat out of control (like my bedroom). It's amazing how much I really can get done in 15 minutes. As a result, no part of my house has really gotten out of control (more than about 15 minutes away from being decluttered or organized) at any one time.

I hope this helps!

    Bookmark   April 22, 2007 at 12:07PM
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I appreciate the different viewpoints. For some reason, these resonate more than just books even though many of the ideas are the same--it's just different to hear them from "real people".

I think it boils down to my having to come to grips that no matter what system is used do your big or heavier cleaning, you still have to do the de-cluttering and the spot/daily cleaning yourself or no one, you or a cleaning service, can manage.

I think I have become sort of undisciplined about that--the "busy" syndrome, but also am trying to "avoid" some of these things, maybe because I felt a bit overwhelmed, and also I am still doing myself in from time to time by buying more stuff, or cooking a more elaborate dinner, or trying to have a too-complicated decor (houseplants/trees is one recent example that created unexpected mess and takes too much time)or wardrobe, or making too many trips to the grocery store-- and then wondering why I can't keep up. So it may all come back to "simplify, simplify!" So, one thing I am doing is embarking on a new attempt at that, and at realizing that it really does take time to just do the basics--my laundry, cleaning up the kitchen at night, keeping after the "hot spots" and daily mail, etc.--so that I can't afford to have any part of that be elaborate at all right now and need to watch out for how easy it is to sabotage myself in those areas.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2007 at 10:07AM
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Frankie, that's one of the best posts I've read in a long time. Your observations really resonate with me--you're not alone in your reactions, and hopefully you won't be alone in taking control of all those things (15 minutes at a time!).

    Bookmark   April 23, 2007 at 10:36AM
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I think I have become sort of undisciplined about that--the "busy" syndrome, but also am trying to "avoid" some of these things, maybe because I felt a bit overwhelmed, and also I am still doing myself in from time to time by buying more stuff, or cooking a more elaborate dinner, or trying to have a too-complicated decor (houseplants/trees is one recent example that created unexpected mess and takes too much time)or wardrobe, or making too many trips to the grocery store-- and then wondering why I can't keep up.

OOOoooo - this sounds very familiar! Doing myself in by .... is definitely something I need to stop doing. I agree - simplify, simplify, simplify. So simple but not so easy.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2007 at 6:40PM
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I've always thought that we should be able to do it ourselves (me and DH) and couldn't justify the expense for a regular cleaning service (say every 2 weeks). I had a cleaning lady come only once or twice a year and I worked alongside her to do the "spring" cleaning.

I keep the apartment always picked up, floors "swiffered" 3-6 times a week, mopped 1-2 times a month, furniture dusted once a week, bathtub and tile scrubbed every 2 weeks, sink/toilet/counter twice a week, balcony once a month, kitchen 2-3 times a day. I may clean something small here and there throughout the year especially when I reorganize, but never could keep up with things like windows and curtains, walls and doors, vacuuming the couches, cleaning the light fixtures, or even the fridge or the oven.

Reading all of your responses helped me decide on the following plan (Oh! Forgot to mention there's four of us now: DD1 is 19 months and DD2 is 4 months old):

I'll have a cleaning lady come once a month and work alongside her to thoroughly clean one room each time in the greatest possible detail (rotating) while in the rest of the apartment we only dust, swiffer, mop, clean bathroom and sweep and mop balcony.

This way the whole apartment (732 sq ft, 850 including the balcony) will be cleaned completely 2 times a year (when I had her for the spring cleaning we were never able to do it completely in that one day - something was always left undone, perhaps for years) and it will be a tad less work for me to maintain.


    Bookmark   April 25, 2007 at 8:12AM
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Oh, and when we no longer have to pay for a sitter (in about 2 years) we can afford to have her over every 2 weeks so the place will be deep cleaned 3 - 4 times a year and it will be even less work to maintain... dream of dreams! And a bit later on, the kids will be old enough to pitch in and maintaining will truly be a breeze! Ok, time to wake up.


    Bookmark   April 25, 2007 at 8:23AM
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I was purging back issues of magazines and came across a quote:

"Getting rid of clutter in your home cuts housework by an average of 40 percent." National Association of Professional Organizers.

So I guess no matter WHO cleans your house getting rid of excess STUFF is a great way to make things easier.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2007 at 8:38AM
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I second that tre...

I constantly purge and it feels so good! In fact purging and reorganizing storage and display of items is my favorite form of entertainment. My photos are completely done, I need to buy some clothes and shoes because I hardly have enough things to wear and don't buy a magazine unless I've read and got rid of the previous one, same goes for all kinds of toiletries and cosmetics (I own 2 lipsticks, 3 if you count the chapstick, and one each of foundation makeup, face cream, eye cream and nail polish - I have 3 hand creams though, but my sis is to blame for that and I try very hard to use them up LOL!)


    Bookmark   April 25, 2007 at 8:51AM
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I love having a cleaning service. My biggest problem was finding one that provided me with a satisfactory service for the price they charge.

I am now on my third cleaning service. When I have been in between services I have not been happy.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2007 at 2:51PM
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Sorry i've kind of hijacked (spelling?) this thread, it just feels so great finding some more things to toss! I found I had 2 bottles of nail polish after all and tossed both (hadn't used in years, can't see myself using anytime soon). Also tossed one hand cream (out of three) and some paper nail files (sp?)


    Bookmark   April 25, 2007 at 4:59PM
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Mvastian, you should come cheer us on over on the hoarding (= declutter) thread.

We need you. Hijack away!

    Bookmark   April 25, 2007 at 10:15PM
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Second Celtic suggestion of moving your purging efforts to cheer the rest of us on over at the "Hoarding" post! Good work Maria. It does feel good to get rid of excess STUFF!

    Bookmark   April 26, 2007 at 9:12AM
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How about when you use something and finish put it back?? Doesn't seem hard to me at all. No cleaning service here. I wouldn't pay someone to do for me what I can do for myself.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2007 at 4:20PM
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*I* will cheerfully pay someone to do something I don't *want* to do for myself.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2007 at 4:23PM
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