Yesterday I went to the high street to buy a mop.
For somebody like me, who has often been accused of thinking too much about seemingly innocuous decisions, this was fraught with questions: should I spend my money at the local pound shop (independently run) or the supermarket? Should I pick the cheapest, but most likely to fall apart mop (not very green) or spend a bit more on the one with the exchangeable head? But most of all, given that I was buying this mop not only for my own (occasional) use but for the use of the woman who cleans my house, should I have a cleaner at all?
I realise how privileged this question is. My mother never had a cleaner, despite working full-time and raising two children. This was partly, I think, because she would never pay to have somebody do what she could do herself - cake making, bread baking and curtain sewing all got the same treatment - and partly because she has always been more interested in intellectual pursuits than in how clean her house is.
Before I had a husband and a child and a home larger than three rooms, I never thought I was the sort of person to have a cleaner either. But then it happened and now here I am, buying cleaning materials so that another woman can scrub my floors.
It seems increasing numbers of people are doing the same. One in seven households now employs a cleaner, contributing to a domestic cleaning industry worth nearly £3 billion. Higher levels of disposable income, an increase in women's employment outside the home and a change in attitudes towards paying for help are all thought to have contributed to this rise. The British Institute of Cleaning Science says the industry has traditionally been female-dominated. "It's likely to be a mum fitting a couple of hours in around the school run," said a spokeswoman.
All of which makes uncomfortable reading for anyone concerned about women's roles. By 'contracting out' the cleaning responsibilities to another woman, I am aware that I am also contracting out some of the messier conflicts between my husband and myself about who should clean the toilets, vacuum the stairs and stop the dust from gathering on every surface - conflicts that only intensify once children are involved.
And yet...it is amazing to have somebody transform your home into somewhere sparkly and welcoming in a few hours, especially when you have small children. I know some people are uncomfortable about being at home while their cleaner is there but to me it feels degrading to expect somebody to clean up your mess without being prepared to pass the time of day with them. I don't look down on what my cleaner does for a living: she needs the work and, in between the changing and feeding and tidying and wiping and washing and folding that comes with having a baby, I need the help. As long as I pay her a decent amount and treat her with respect, why is having a cleaner any worse than, say, paying for a window cleaner, gardener or handyman?
By: Laura Smith