Frugality, Housework, Household Dynamics

  • DH = Dear Husband
  • DD3 = Dear Third Daughter

Giving up cleaning service for debt-reduction

When we first started our journey out of debt in June of 2012, one of the expenses we let go was a house cleaning service once every two weeks. It was a good frugal move, saving us $200 per month. It was also the most challenging move of our overall mission to get out of debt.

“Why?” you might ask. “What’s the big deal with housework? Everyone’s got to do it. Just do it!”

I’ve tried to give an answer to that question in various posts over the years. Here is one I gave 5 years ago:

“I hate cleaning. Most people don’t like cleaning, but what I’m talking about goes way beyond the general dislike. It’s a uniquely fierce loathing. I’m able to discern it in others when they have it, and I feel an automatic bond with them. But most people don’t understand. They have a ‘suck it up, Princess’ attitude to any whining, so I pick my audience carefully when the need to vent arises.”

A month later, I wrote:

“With DH’s constant work, I’m doing the grocery shopping, the driving of our children to their activities, the cooking, the dishes, dog-walking, logistical arrangements to make plans come together…  And all this on top of my day job… I brought this fact to DH’s attention last week, and he acknowledged it. ‘So why don’t we hire cleaners again?’ I asked. He recoiled at the thought and committed to house-cleaning on Saturday morning. We would both put in four hours, and get it done. I agreed and said nothing about my doubts. As I suspected, Saturday came and went with no house-cleaning. He had too much work to do. I did not take up the slack. And that’s how I plan to play it. Let the dust bunnies take over.”

What about getting the kids to help?

5 years ago, we had a 13-year-old and an 18-year-old living with us. (Our eldest was studying away from home.) Why couldn’t our daughters do the housework with me and get it done? That is a very, very good question, and the answer is not easy for me to acknowledge. There was some significant dysfunction in our family dynamics at that time, and DH and I could not make the whole “team work” thing happen.

Some parents manage to get through the teen years without upheaval. If you are in that category of parent, that’s great, and no doubt you did a number of things right to make that happen. We aren’t in that category. We had years of significant issues, and combined with DH’s career crisis and our financial mess it was tough. To-the-breaking-point tough. Could we have managed things better and avoided that chapter of hell? Certainly the money-stress had been of our making and it compounded all other stresses. Apart from that, I don’t know. What I do know is that at that point, we could not make family house-cleaning function.

Housework = something I wanted to outsource

So housework was a heavy burden for me. Something I didn’t like – that I resented – and that my energy levels were too low to do well. Just after the 3-year mark of our journey out of debt, we reached the milestone of having paid off everything except for the mortgage. We gave ourselves permission to hire cleaners again.

Another thing I gave myself permission to do after reaching that milestone was to stop teaching summer school. For the first 4 summers of our journey out of debt, I took on summer school as a way to earn extra income to bring the debt down. Now, since I was taking my summers off, we canceled the cleaning service for July and August because I had lots of time to do it myself.

Functional family housecleaning

Last summer, as September approached I decided I didn’t want to hire the cleaning service again for the school year. “Let’s try again to do it ourselves,” I said to DH. And we have. And it’s working! I think there’s a good chance we will never hire cleaners again.

The house-cleaning is divided into 3 parts:

  • I clean about half of the house.
  • DH and DD3 each clean about a quarter of the house.

Every weekend, I spend 3 or 4 hours cleaning. And it’s perfectly fine. It’s not the burden I found it to be 5 years ago. Why not?

  • I find it SO MUCH easier to clean when I know that other people in the household are doing their share of it too. When we happen to clean at the same time, it’s elevated to a strong bonding experience that verges on pleasant. (For real!)
  • Since I’m not doing it all myself, I’m not left with that depleted-but-still-not-on-top-of-it discouragement. I’m NOT depleted. We ARE on top of it!
  • The elements of dysfunction in our household have largely disappeared. There is no war to wage to make shared housework happen.

I have a friend who has often pointed out that since DH and I started our journey out of debt, our relationship has so clearly grown stronger. I haven’t always seen it, but in this instance I’m really struck by it. When a couple can work together to keep the house clean, it’s a VERY GOOD sign. When they can lead their children to take part in the effort, EVEN BETTER. A whole lot has to be going right for household house-cleaning to be done fairly, consistently, and well.

Ripple effects of debt-reduction

How have we managed to get from Point A to Point B? Just as I don’t have a complete understanding of how Point A happened in the first place, I can’t say definitively what has made things get better. But I do believe this: In facing our debt head-on, DH and I have had to deal with many of our respective character flaws, and we’ve had to confront areas of miscommunication and misunderstanding. As we’ve worked on these things, ALL areas of life have improved – not just our finances. Our household relationships are better. And we make a fine house-cleaning team.


Do you hate housework? Or is it not a big deal for you? How did your family deal with housework as you were growing up? If you live with others now, does everyone do their share of the housework? Your comments are welcome.


*Image courtesy of Hyperbole and a Half

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24 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I’m glad to hear it’s come to a place that is working for your family Ruth! I hate laundry and grocery shopping (but of course do both) but cleaning has always been kind of mediative to me. I enjoy the results. That being said, my place is probably A LOT smaller! lol! But I could see why it would be bothersome to not have everyone on board.

    • Thanks, Tonya. I think we all have different tasks that we just don’t like doing. The thing is to find what makes them more bearable. Here’s to some kind of magic formula for your laundry and grocery shopping : )

  • Not a fan at all. And it is not a strength for my partner. The balance we’ve reached is us generally having certain tasks we look after (his usually involve gadgets so vacuuming, steam mopping etc) and he has free rein over the coffee table – he makes a huge mess but he is also entirely responsible for it. I just do my best to overlook it and not let it get under my skin.

    • Steam mopping? I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a thing! (Sounds kind of cool actually.) I’m glad you have found your balance. This is definitely a case where one size does not fit all. Thanks for your comment, NZM : )

  • That’s great you’re working as team now! Since I’m home with the little ones, I have more time to clean so I do more of the housework, but my husband does a TON of DIY home and car repairs and yard work so I can’t complain. I could definitely see the appeal of housecleaning service when you’re working full time and have three kids!
    Certain chores drive me nuts and others I don’t mind. I am trying to be proactive about getting my kids used to doing chores now while they’re little (even though they can’t do much, or do it well) so that maybe it will be less of a battle later. I grew up with lots of chores; my husband with few (but again, did house repairs and yard work). So I guess we are following the habits we grew up with.

    • Thank you, Kalie. “Certain chores drive me nuts and others I don’t mind.” I’m pretty sure we can all say the same. Some of us might have a longer “drive me nuts” list than others … I think it’s great that you’re getting your kids to start doing chores now. I remember thinking, “Oh, I can just do it faster myself,” when mine were young. True, but not good long-term thinking. It’s great that your strengths and your husband’s complement each other.

  • I’m the youngest of five. Growing up my mom and dad expected us all to pitch in with housing cleaning and chores. As the years went on and my older sibling moved out I was left with more work, but it got easier because there were fewer people to make a mess.

    I don’t mind cleaning but would certainly like to have that time to do other things. I have considered outsourcing, but have never even looked into the cost. Our three kids pitch in, not as much as I would like but they do help often. Teamwork is the key, and glad you’ve found it too!

    • I hope you never do look into the cost of outsourcing your house cleaning. If you’ve managed to do it to this point, you’re pretty well home-free : ) Your kids are past what is usually the most difficult stage in terms of getting co-operation, and if they’ve been doing chores all along, I’d say you and your wife get a gold star. Well done, Brian! Not everyone can make that work, and it’s not small deal.

  • We’re lucky in that we have generally compatible cleaning styles – I like tidying frequently and deep cleaning in stages, he likes deep cleaning in massive swoops. This means that we clean at different times, doing bits here and there. I run the vacuum periodically and he does the big stuff like toilets nad so on. JB is expected to maintain neat toys and books as well. We had some struggles early on with figuring out who could do what, and to whose satisfaction (generally HIS approval was harder to gain), and divided chores based on what bothered the other person more. I love doing laundry and do 95% of it. He is extremely picky about how dishes are washed and does most of them. And so on. It happens to work out well for us but I think it’s easier because we both don’t mind cleaning on principle.
    The system works well enough that I’m never able to convince myself to outsource the cleaning portion of our lives!

    • I’m sure you don’t need to convince yourself to outsource the cleaning : ) And that’s a huge money-saver. It’s interesting for me to learn that even when both people in a couple “don’t mind cleaning,” it’s still complicated to figure out a system that works. But you have, despite the demands of your respective jobs, parenting, looking after health concerns, and dealing with the difficult extended family issues. That is an admirable feat! And I suspect that JB will follow your example – perhaps with a little prompting – and be part of your Team Clean : )

  • When I was a kid and finally got my own bedroom I absolutely loved cleaning and organizing it. I never had to be told to clean my room (unlike my messy ex-roommate sisters!). But when I had a house of my own, ugh. It is a LOT of work and there are other people’s messes to deal with. And the laundry! Oh my. So, I can commiserate. The way I got over it was with checklists. I find that taking bites out of housework and being able to check off when I get things done keeps me on track and makes it way less overwhelming. Hubby would always ask to help, but I am a control freak, and he would never be able to live up to my standards, so that’s on me. I’m glad it’s all working out for you Ruth. I’ve never had a house cleaner. Wow! Fancy! 🙂

    • I say good for you for never having had a house cleaner! I love the way you admit that you’re “a control freak” : ) I’d say that works out pretty well for your husband. I can’t imagine turning down someone’s offer to help! I sort of have a mental checklist – not a physical one. Once I’ve done my share of the housework, all is well with the world. It was awful to have more housework on my plate than I could keep up with – because the world was never quite right. So glad that chapter is over!

  • A few years ago I had a cleaner for a whole year, courtesy of a car accident. The insurance paid for it and I lived like the rich and famous for a time. Too bad all good things come to an end …
    When I was growing up my mother paid me a pittance to do some of the housework (called an allowance). Now I have to do it for free …

    • I’m sorry about the car accident, Nancy, but a year of cleaning is certainly a good consolation. I hope you healed completely. Is your husband well enough to help out? It makes such a difference when the job can be shared.

      • It was my husband who had the car accident, but since he was self-employed the insurance company gave him the cleaners as part of the compensation for lost wages, as well as a year’s membership to a spa/hot springs pool in Niagara on the Lake. I benefited from that as well :). Yes, Joe did eventually recover as much as he could with having fibromyalgia.

        • Fibromyalgia has got to be one of the most frustrating diseases. I’m sorry your husband has it, and I hope that you’ve both found ways to deal with it that are at least in part effective. I bet he benefited from that spa/hot springs membership – as, no doubt, you did:)

  • I actually like cleaning because like Tonya mentioned above, it is meditative for me. And I am a neat-freak which since having a baby, has really been a struggle! 🙂 #whohastimetocleanwhenyouhaveanewborn But, I really, really hate doing laundry. I hate sorting it to get it in the washer, and I hate hauling it out of the dryer and sorting and folding it all again.

    • Forget the neat-freak side of you for now. There is so much work surrounding a baby! Even just to get the basics done takes up sooo much time. I hope you’re able to get Zen about the less-than-perfect state of things for the next while. Your older daughter will perhaps help around the house?

  • Great job, my friend! I’m a firm believer in doing what works. That means sometimes you have to suck it up, and other times you have to make sacrifices like hiring cleaners if that’s what it takes to get through. So proud of you! You’re doing great!

    • Aww! Thank you, Laurie. “make sacrifices like hiring cleaners” – I didn’t consider that a sacrifice. I considered it a relief:) But in terms of debt-reduction, of course it slowed things down – so a sacrifice in that sense. It certainly helped to make things work for a time. I’m glad that time is over.

  • I too went thru the love/hate war with housecleaning. The hate won & I currently have a cleaner come in every two weeks. I’m an empty nester who works long hours and really grew to resent spending my weekends cleaning on top of yardwork (which I like), grocery shopping, laundry, etc. I feel my quality of life is better & I’m not so stressed which is an even trade-out with the cash outlay.

    • Hey, I’m glad you’ve made the decision to hire cleaners! If your quality of life is genuinely better as a result of that service, and the expense is not compromising your financial health – setting you backwards or slowing your progress significantly – then you’ve done the right thing. No question. I’m so glad you came by to make your comment, MKC. Thanks!

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