Monday, October 17, 2011

So, You Always Wanted a Cleaning Service?

Some people will think I have no right to complain -- these are the people who do not have the luxury of a cleaning service, who either devote a great deal of time to cleaning their own homes, or who have simply resigned themselves to lower standards of cleanliness than what they would like.

I know that I'm very fortunate to have a team of professional housecleaners swoop in every two weeks for a thorough top-to-bottom clean.  I have only enjoyed this perk for the last several years, since my business took off to where house cleaning had become something that either didn't get done at all, or that took up ALL of my virtually-nonexistant free time.  I know what it's like to look around a filthy house, seeing dust, grime, and cobwebs everywhere and knowing that I would probably never get to it all because I had to prioritize the bathrooms and kitchens, and there was never more time once those areas were spic and span. 

Diane Keaton in Baby Boom
So, in the beginning, I alternated wildly between tearful gratitude that the cleaning people were coming and a horrible guilt that I wasn't able to "do it all" like the supermom movies of the '80s promised we could.  Diane Keaton managed to take care of a baby, a home, and launch a multi-million dollar baby food corporation in the movie Baby Boom, and I didn't see a maid service or anyone else helping her.

For me, the cleaning service is about the eternal balance between time and money.  When I had more time on my hands than money in the bank, I was cleaning my own home as best as I could.  When finances permit but time has grown scarce, a cleaning service enables me to give my client's projects the time and attention they deserve, and still have time left over to supervise homework and play dates, read to my kids at night, and occasionally even spend time with my husband.  So yes, I know I'm lucky to have a cleaning service, but still...

I have to tell you that, the day the cleaning service is coming, I have to do a bit of straightening up in preparation for their arrival.  They're coming to clean, not to neaten and organize, so it usually takes me a good hour to get rid of piles of mail and clear off surfaces, lay out clean sheets in all the bedrooms, set out the cleaning products I want them to use on my granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, and hardwood floors.  My husband will sometimes help with this, but then I have to listen to him complain, "Why do I have to clean the house and pay a cleaning service to do it?"  Because in his mind, if you put the junk mail in the recycle bin and pick up the toys, the house is clean.  Vacuum cleaners, disinfectants, and other cleaning products are all superfluous.  Whatever.

So today, it's cleaning day.  Because my cleaning service usually arrives around 11:30 AM, I talked my husband into bathing our dogs in the tub and hosing all the mud off of the inside of our screen porch first thing in the morning, before the cleaners even got here, so the dogs wouldn't track all that mud into our nice, clean house.  After bathing the dogs and hosing down the outdoor area rug in my screen porch with a bleach/water solution, my darling husband heroically decided to address the mud at the root of the problem -- the areas near the back door where grass never seems to have been planted.  It's a shady area, and although he tried seeding there a few weeks ago, it's constantly muddy from the rain and sprinklers and the dogs are running and skidding in it -- that seed doesn't have a chance at germinating. 

So, minutes before the cleaning service arrived, my husband headed out for the first of several trips to Lowe's to purchase strips of sod.  While the cleaning service was working on my second and third floors, I was working in my first floor office and my husband was loading, unloading, and rolling out heavy sod out in the mud and muck.  Sweaty, tired, immersed in yard work -- are you getting a good visual?  And remember, before starting the sod project, he had already bathed two uncooperative, pony-sized Rottweiler puppies in the bathtub and hosed down a muddy screen porch. 

At my husband's request, I had made a point of asking the "team leader" of my cleaning crew to be sure and dust the ceiling fans in my kitchen, which were filthy with dust after having been forgotten several weeks in a row.  When they came to dust and vacuum my office, I went upstairs to my sewing studio, thinking how nice it was that I could cut out a couple of blocks for Lars's quilt while my office was being cleaned.  But alas, no sooner had I turned on the lights and picked up my rotary cutter than the head cleaning lady came rushing down the hallway insisting that I'd "better come quick!"

My ceiling fan, the one in the vaulted ceiling above my kitchen island, was completely unscrewed from the motor and dangling precariously about 14' above my granite countertops with nothing at all holding it but electrical wire.  My eyes nearly bugged out of my head.  If that wire broke and the ceiling fan came crashing down on my countertops and sink, it could easily cause $20,000 worth of damage in the blink of an eye.  What was even more infuriating was that the cleaners claimed they "just barely touched it" with their dusting pole when it suddenly broke free from the ceiling, that it "must not have been screwed in all the way."  I lunged for the phone and called Bernie, who was loading up more sod at Lowe's, and he came racing home to switch gears from landscaper to electrician. 

This is the third time we have had problems with this cleaning service and hanging light fixtures.  Since we both work from home, my husband actually caught one of the cleaners lazily spinning my kitchen chandelier to dust it instead of walking around the table, and he warned them that the fixture would eventually unscrew if they continued to do it.  They promised not to spin the chandelier anymore.  But then my dining room chandelier, which is oblong (oval) instead of round, was hanging diagonally one day after the cleaners left instead of being lined up with the dining room table.  Obviously someone was spinning or twisting the chandelier while dusting it, which was annoying since we had already asked them not to do this, but when I called them about it they insisted that "it must not have been screwed in tightly enough."  Can I just tell you that my husband has personally replaced every single light fixture in this house, and there is no way that  he would only partially screw in a ceiling fixture.  It's not like we had hired some shady handyman electrician who just wanted to get paid and get out.  Plus my husband had caught them red handed, so to speak, spinning the kitchen chandelier just a few weeks earlier.  And now the Casablanca ceiling fan in my kitchen, which has a good 3" of threading that screws the fan into the motor housing, is mysteriously barely screwed in as well?  There's no doubt in my mind that, when they did remember to dust it, they were rotating the entire fixture from the stair landing, in the same direction each time, until finally today they knocked it completely loose.

So, those of you who wish you had the luxury of a cleaning service for your home, let me tell you how the rest of our day went.  My husband spent the entire afternoon reinstalling the ceiling fan, dropping dust, lint, and filth all over my countertops, stovetop, kitchen sink, and floor, cussing and complaining (justifiably) the entire time.  The cleaning service had offered to come back after their lunch break to finish mopping beneath the ceiling fan, since my husband's ladder had been in the way when they left, but when they called a few hours later he was still struggling with it.  By the time the ceiling fan was back where it belonged, it was time for Bernie to pick up the kids from school.  I spent the next hour and a half re-cleaning my stove, countertops, sink, and floors.  If you hate cleaning your house now, imagine how you'd feel about writing someone else a big check for cleaning your house and then having to spend the rest of your afternoon cleaning up the mess they left in your home.  What on earth would I have done if Bernie had been out of town when this happened?  Could I even have gotten an electrician to come out fast enough to save my countertops from a meteoric ceiling fan crash episode?

Here's the deal with my cleaning service, and unfortunately, I hear the same thing from other people about their experiences with residential cleaning services.  The first time they come out, they are gung-ho and they leave your home spotless and gleaming, but it tapers off after that and they start skipping more and more, spending less and less time cleaning your home, making you feel like you have to go around behind them inspecting in order to get what you're paying for -- and if you had time to do that, you might as well just clean your house yourself.

Before they left today, I did have to remind them to vacuum my sewing studio, but I didn't notice until hours later that my laundry sink is still all dusty -- it's obvious no one touched it.  This matters because, when I hired the cleaning service, the owner of the company walked through my home with me and we discussed all of the areas I wanted clean and what my expectations were -- and they calculated how much they were going to charge me based on my high expectations which are not being met.  I'm paying for my studio, laundry room, walk-in closets and pantry all to be dusted and vacuumed or mopped, whether they remember to do it each week or not.  And it's not like I couldn't think of anything better to spend the money on, either, with Stewardship Week going on at church, the capital fundraising going on at the kids' school, and the dreary college fund investment reports making me feel like I should just bury money in a coffee can instead of trying to invest.  Ugh. 

What do you think, Internet Friends?  Do you have a cleaning service, and if so, is yours working out better than mine?  I am really shaken by the incident today.  Someone could have been badly injured, my gorgeous granite countertops that I've had less than a year could have been destroyed, and my kitchen could have been demolished just five weeks before I'm scheduled to host my husband's entire family for Thanksgiving dinner.  I feel like I need to interview some other cleaning companies, but we've had other services in the past and they routinely broke things like secondary bath shower fixtures, vanity lights, and a stove burner, to name the oopses that come immediately to mind.  Is this just something I need to expect and deal with when I hire a cleaning service, or are there better companies out there? 


Alexandra said...

Do you know why I dont' have a cleaning services?

Two reasons:

1. their efforts always disappointed me

2. sheesh, by the time I finished the prework prep for them coming, I might as well have cleaned myself and saved 200 bucks.


Ivory Spring said...

Oh now, so sorry to hear about the mishaps!

I have never thought of cleaning services for me... but it's good to know of your experience in case I need it in the future.