On Privilege and House Keeping

That’s right y’all, we’re gonna talk about the privilege of cleaning houses for a living!

Okay, not really.

I actually have a story that brought up a lot of questions for me, especially regarding why it is that cleaning houses for a living has always seemed so odd to me.

Disclaimer: Occassionally, I clean houses with my mom, who has been making a living doing this ever since I can remember. I have nothing against it, and I know that a lot of the opportunities I had and continue to have are because of the labor intensive work my parents both do. This is not meant to disparage this profession. If I’m being totally honest, this is me taking an opportunity to rant šŸ˜‰

So, the story. Sometimes when I go clean houses with my mom, my aunt, and a couple other lovely ladies (we’ll call them Becca and Rory), we have to split up in an effort to finish faster. When this happens, someone has to go back and pick up the ladies who were left to clean a different house. Recently, my mom was picking up Becca and Rory and letting the owner we were leaving when the owner made the following complaint to my mom: “Please tell them to dump the water from the mop in the sink, not outside. Maybe in Mexico that’s how it’s done, but not here.” [sic] Now, I don’t actually know that this is word for word what was said because I wasn’t there, but I trust my mother so I know it was pretty darn close.

I was livid when she told me this. I couldn’t believe thatĀ thisĀ was how the woman had decided to voice her complaint. She could have asked in any other way. She could have just asked us to not dump water outside. Instead, she made it seem that dumping water outside was somehow a terribly negative thing; and somehow, the fact that we do so is tied to where we come from? No other house owner has ever made this complaint.

I started to think about other people we clean for (or have cleaned for), and came up with a few categories that they tend to fit into. I know, I know, I just tried to make a point about how generalizations are bad, but still. This is how it breaks down mostĀ of the time:

  1. People who think of us as “the help”: This is where most infuriating stories come from. These are the type of people who are upset when we want to take a vacation becauseĀ who will clean their house next week??

2. People who treat us like employees: I have no problem with this because that is what we are. They’re paying for a service, and we’re providing it. That is that. Though sometimes there are annoying complaints, or slights, it’s not nearly the same as the previous group.

3. People who treat us like people: These are the people who offer us smoothies when we arrive because it’s hot outside and they know we still have a lot of work to do. Or the ones who ask about our families, who say “have a safe trip!” when we tell them we’re going somewhere. Sometimes they give everyone a Christmas bonus, a present, cookies, or something during the holidays. They tell us they appreciate us, and that we do a great job.

Cleaning houses is bizarre. I think it’s way more personal than most people will really admit. You’re essentially going into someone’s home and making it… more homey. I hated cleaning houses with my mom when I was younger, but I chalk this up to my laziness. It’s still not my favorite thing in the world, but now that I have my degree and will be teaching soon (knowing that this is only for a little bit longer), I feel like all I do is critique the privilege that people so openly and unabashedly display when we go into their homes to do our job; sometimes they treat us like they’re doing us a huge favor. But at the same time, I can now see the huge hearts of the people who openly reject their socioeconomic privilege, simply by treating us like people.

Does anyone else have any thoughts on this, or experience? I would love to hear about it!

P.S. The hardest thing about cleaning is going to a house with cute puppies because you need to be a professional andĀ notĀ stop every five minutes to pet them. *Sigh*