In Discussions, Discussions, Life, Money, Wealth

First World Guilt: Why do we feel so guilty for paying for help?

The guilt that people seem to feel these days is in everything.

From the guilt of having more than enough for your family to eat, to the guilt of wanting to pay for help to make your life easier.

I have friends who are parents and singles (sometimes dual incomes without kids as well) and every single one of them has confessed to feeling guilty for hiring a cleaning person to come bi-weekly or monthly to help out.

Each time, I’ve said: hey whatever makes your life easier!, although I’ve noticed that some people are less laissez-faire about it and are truly smug about doing it all themselves, all day, everyday even if it kills them.

THERE IS NO NEED TO BE A MARTYR

My friend texted me the other day saying: “I feel ashamed for even saying this but my wife stays at home with our baby and I work full time, but we just had to hire a cleaner bi-weekly. I feel terrible about doing it but it has made such a a big difference in our lives and our sanity.”

He feels guilt because his wife is at home full time with the baby and is exhausted from nightly feedings, etc, and he works full time but knows he has to come home and help out like clean, take the child to give her a break and so on. They have no outside help (like us), and no family around (like us).

They’re both at the end of their tethers mentally and I sympathize.

If you need help, what’s the big deal? In the past you had extended family members, cousins and children helping out with chores as a big family. These days, we are isolated suburbanites who are too far from our families to ask for help, and if we have to hire someone to do it, I don’t see the big deal.

It makes your life easier, you’re happier and more relaxed. Win-win.


WE THINK IT IS ONLY FOR THE RICH

Like taking the taxi, it is definitely something I associate with the rich but I don’t think that is accurate any longer, although I’m finding it hard to reconcile this internally as we have a combined net worth of over a million but don’t feel “rich”.

I still pack my lunch for work, I try very hard to curb my shopping tendencies and try to negotiate wherever I can.

People who work full-time, tend not to work only 40 hours a week (overtime is common amongst employees in a fearful attempt to show how employable and useful they are), but then to come home and have to make dinner too AND keep the place clean? It is exhausting, especially if you add kids on top of it.

But why the stigma? You’re only hiring someone because you need help, the way you might hire a babysitter or hire someone to shovel the snow off your driveway.

You can’t and shouldn’t think that you can do it all and if you are LUCKY enough to have that money to spend towards making your life easier, then by all means!!!

IT IS A LUXURY THAT HITS TOO CLOSE TO HOME

I personally don’t have a cleaning person nor am looking for one (but would be curious what it is like to have one).

Another colleague of mine doesn’t want to even be there when the cleaner is around. I don’t know if it is an acute case of class-it is or what, but he wants the cleaner in and out before he even gets home.

The reason why I myself don’t have a cleaning person is because I think I could do a faster, and better job for free (just need to exchange some of my time for it and our home isn’t a 3-level monstrosity), but also because it hits a little too close to home, having family members who have been cleaners their whole lives.

It is backbreaking, thankless, low wage work and I don’t fault ANYONE for having hired them (on the contrary, thank you!) but it just tugs at my hear my strings to know firsthand what they have to do to keep that job.

Of course it probably isn’t as bad as it was in the past when segregation was far more overt and some employers insisted that the help wash their hands with bleach as not to sully their home with their colour (read: The Help, which is fictional and so very decidedly NOT at the same time.), but I still feel awkward and odd to have people waiting on me in any form.

For others, it may be the same thing — their parents were cleaners or what have you, and they feel a strong guilt in it.

Conversely they could also feel a strong sense of pride of having “made it” as a former cleaner’s child to be able to hire their own help. Who knows?

HAVING A CLEANER MEANS WORRYING ABOUT JUDGMENT

It’s funny but it’s human nature.

I’ll bet if you have a cleaner you have done this — you’ve cleaned before the cleaner comes!!!

Just like going to the dentist to get our teeth cleaned, we spend time flossing and brushing just before our appointment in the hopes that they won’t notice and judge us to be the tired slobs that we all are. (I’ve done the dentist thing many times. 😉 )

We worry about judgment from our friends, family, colleagues and even our own cleaners.

Who cares?!? If it works for you, makes your life easier, and you aren’t in debt for it, go for it.

Except.. we do care. We care a lot about what people think about us.


IT IS JUST A SERVICE TO HELP YOU OUT

I see it like paying for a service — we go to eat out all the time and we don’t feel guilt from paying someone to cook for us, whisk our plates away and generally take care of us the entire time do we?

So why the guilt about a cleaner, specifically?

Perhaps it is because we can justify eating out as it is food or meals we can’t necessarily make due to skill, time or other constraints, but a cleaner? We can all pick up a broom and sweep or vacuum like a dervish. It isn’t a skill we can’t learn or claim we are unable to do, health-issues notwithstanding.

Do you have a cleaner? Why? Why not?


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Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

I got out of $60,000 of debt in 18 months using TheBudgetingTool.com. Since then, I have worked 50% of my career (taking 1-2 year breaks), and quadrupled my income within 2 years of graduating, going from $65K to $260K (savings rate = 85%). I could retire today if I wanted, but love my work-life balance as a freelancing consultant in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). I also post daily on Instagram @saverspender.

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16 Comments

  1. SarahN

    I would say I tidied for the cleaner to clean – put things away, that sort of thing. But she changed the sheets and washed up – basically the tasks we needed done that weren’t ones we wanted our leisure time takne up doing (and fighting on who did them!!)

    Now out with a flatmate, we don’t have a cleaning lady, but my resentment is building as it feels it’s only me who: cleans cabinet fronts, wipes the kitchen table, dusts etc. So… perhaps that needs to happen.

    Guilt? I reckon I feel more with buying freezer meals or take out (health & laziness). But I do feel some, sometimes, with nail salons and massage parlours… pick your poison/exploited workforce

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      I completely agree. The resentment building up is not a good thing, amongst anyone living together. It’s like “oh it’s always clean, so why do we need someone”?.. YEAH WHO IS DOING THE CLEANING!?

      Some people are cleaner than others. I’m not as clean as my partner, but I do try.

      Reply
  2. Livingalmostlarge

    I have a cleaner and have for 7 years. I stay at home with the kids. It’s a choice we make. I don’t shop, I rarely spend on anything, and I still save a lot. It’s all a out choices. No judgement from me on how people spend their money. Everyone has to make a budget that suits them.

    Could I clean? Yes. But I am not the cleaner. I will honestly say I am the nanny. If I had a nanny I wouldn’t expect them to clean I’d expect them to be stimulating my kids. I expect them to do be doing everything I’ve done with them if I was working full time. So care if kids is a job. That being said we then have to clean after dh gets home and share in the chores. I don’t think that’s unreasonable.

    So dh doesn’t want to clean so we hire out. But it’s a conscious decision

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      What’s funny is that you may say you’re the nanny and you have a cleaner to do that job, but I’ve seen plenty of employers with nannies who expect them to: wash the car, cook, watch the kids, AND clean. It’s just slave labour at that point.

      Reply
  3. K
    Kathy

    I don’t have a cleaner and my mom did, at one time, clean houses. I’m retired so would feel a little foolish to have a cleaner. However, if I ever get to the point where I physically can’t handle the task, I’d definitely hire one. I think the reason many people, especially those in the personal finance realm, feel guilty is because the PI gospel is to do everything yourself and save the money. Personally I struggle with wanting to have professional manicures but feeling it is wasteful to spend money that way. I think we should think about the fact that by purchasing these services, we are providing a job and income for those who choose to earn a living that way. And for every person employed, that is one less on welfare.

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      What an excellent way to look at things — buying services = helping the economy = helping others stay employed.

      I know people who clean professionally, and they make very good money doing so.

      Reply
  4. r
    raluca

    I don’t have a cleaner, I don’t like other people in my space. We do have a Roomba equivalent at the moment, which means that we don’t need to hover, since the little robot does it 4 times a week (we trail in a lot of mud and pet hair). I love it and it does make life a lot easier.

    I would also not feel comfortable with somebody cleaning while I’m watching a movie and/or reading. Not sure why, I just would not be able to enjoy my book/movie. Now, if I had a baby and instead of lazying around I would be taking care of him/her, that would be a different story. That’s the equivalent of having a cleaning lady at work. Just like your manager does not expect you to do your own dusting during office hours, we should not expect mothers to clean the house while taking care of a kid. Raising a child is work, just going from 40 hours per week to 100+ hours per week + unpaid overtime :P. If somebody would work 80 hours per week we wouldn’t bat an eyelid if they told us they have a cleaner, but somehow motherhood should be done automagically, in that special time we conjure from unicorn hair and moon beams. I remember my mother getting help from all quarters when she had my younger sister. From food being cooked and dropped off, to grandmothers and aunts coming to live with us for months. No woman did the child rearing alone in those days, especially not in the first year. And as soon as we were old enough, like maybe 2-3 years old, they packed us of and left us with the grandparents for months, because both my parents worked full time.

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      This is why extended families are so important to help out with children and child-rearing, but if you have zero support to help out, it’s ridiculous to expect parents to do it all and still smile through it all. That’s just insane.

      I personally wouldn’t need a cleaner at this point, our place is not that big, we’re not filthy pigs most of the time, and we don’t have a lot of junk, but I can see it making a big difference if we had a second child, or if we changed our habits.

      For me, it’s just being organized these days, remembering to start the wash and do the dryer when I come home, that sort of thing.

      Reply
  5. Y
    YYCReader

    I remember one time I was incredibly sick (multiple hospitalizations in a span of a month) and my apartment was in desperate need of a good cleaning. I had tremendous guilt when they were in my home because I was laying flat-out ill on the couch. Two things happened that gave me the class-guilt as you mentioned. Most of my guilt likely stemmed from the fact that my Mother was a housekeeper for a good chunk of her life.

    Second, the cleaner asked me if 6 people could live in my 2BR apartment. I didn’t exactly understand her question (lots of medication) but she was complimenting its size and I kind of rudely, said No, just two. Only two. It was a cultural difference, but I immediately was aware of its awkwardness and wanted to be anywhere besides my couch.

    I think the other unaddressed very real factor is that unpaid labour such as housework, even in otherwise equal partnerships, is largely a burden placed on women. Women, especially working women, tend to have that super-hero, wonder-woman complex that we can “have it and do it all” and feel tremendous guilt over not living up to both societal and our own standards. Also, I would argue that many women are more aware of the subjugation of hiring someone rather than viewing it as “help to achieve work/life balance”.

    Great post!

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      Tell me about it.

      The burden of household chores does seem to be placed squarely on women, and we have to stop and step back, to say: No, it is high time we share the burden and I am not Wonder Woman.

      My partner thankfully does the grocery shopping, organization of the household stuff, and cooking which helps a lot. Plus his own laundry, and maintains the cars and the appliances (he takes apart the vacuum once every 3 months to do a deep clean).

      I do most of the Baby Bun work, the cleaning is almost 100% me, and Baby Bun and my laundry. Even then, I slack on the cleaning part because it isn’t EVERY WEEK that I need to scrub the bathroom, but once every 2 weeks at best, or once a month these days. I’m not ashamed to say that my house is not in realtor condition (e.g. to sell), and it is not a show home, it’s a real one.

      I think it’s fairly split out for us, and I’m happy with our arrangement most of the time. There are days when I wish I could have more time to myself though but that’s because I have a third job — this blog. LOL.

      Reply
  6. Cassie

    I just had the cleaners come in for the first time last Thursday. I felt so awkward and uncomfortable, but fortunately I had already made plans to pick up groceries with my son while they were working. Yes, I absolutely pre-cleaned the house, and to be honest I’m glad I did. The house was much more organized once I did, and I addressed things that I never seemed to get to on a day to day basis. It helped push me past my comfortable “this is fine for now because no one else will see it” zone. Seeing the house after they cleaned it – It was worth every penny. I wish I had done it sooner. They cleaned the whole house in 2 hours, including dusting and vacuuming. I feel much better about going back to work now, because I feel like my house isn’t going to fall into shambles. For our family, it is 100% worth the expense at this point in time.

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      WORTH IT. Do what works for you, without a doubt. I’m happy you managed to find more time as a result. The trick however, is finding and keeping a GOOD cleaner.

      Reply
  7. h
    heidi patterson

    We’ve had a cleaner off and on for a few years now. I feel guilty as we have more money than most of our friends, but we’re still trying to dig out of debt. For me, having a cleaning person is the ability to do stuff I neglect bcs I’m tired and don’t want to do it (I work a full time and a part time job, Hubs works a full time job). I don’t talk about it as I know that we make so much more than our friends and it makes all of us uncomfortable. It makes my life a lot easier when we do have someone to clean, even if it’s only monthly. I feel like it’s a no win situation in my case.

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      It may be, but maybe just don’t mention it? 🙂 It’s okay to have a secret cleaning person, particularly if you work so hard. Wow.

      Reply
  8. NZ Muse

    Literally, most people in my office have a cleaner. It surprised me! I can defiinitely imagine having a regular cleaner maybe 1-2x a month (I’d love weekly but can’t exactly justify the cost). The one time I bought a house cleaning daily deal I came home to SUCH a clean place, it was amazing.

    In KL where I was born many people have live=in maids. Well, combo housekeeper/nanny I guess, at least in our case.

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      I think if you hire a foreign helper (if/when you have kids that is), they are expected to watch the kids, clean AND cook which seems like a lot to put on one person…. or at least that’s what I see here when I observe the nannies from Indonesia and the Philippines and from talking to them.

      In theory, I’d like to hire a cleaner. In reality, I am like Raluca, I don’t want anyone in my house and would feel weird knowing someone was there. Plus, they won’t clean the way I would…..

      Reply

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