Debt and Cleaning

EOD_Prudence_cleaning_picToday’s post is from my friend Prudence, who hails from Prudence Debt Free. I had the honor of having her guest post once before, and I’m very excited to have her back. So please, give her a warm EOD Nation welcome!

Should we hire house-cleaners again?

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking with two colleagues about how we used to hire house-cleaners. “Do you hire cleaners?” I asked Cam. “Of course we do!” he answered. As a working couple with two small children, he and his wife found it made life manageable to have the services of a house-cleaner every two weeks. My husband and I stopped hiring cleaners when our journey out of debt began in June of 2012, but as Cam spoke, I could feel myself being convinced that it was time to go back to the good old days. Pina threw her hands up. An Italian mother of four children, she has never hired a house-cleaner. “Don’t listen to him, Prudence!” she advised me. (And she really did call me “Prudence”.) “You have two daughters still at home and a husband. Four people can clean a house.”

Pina’s words snapped me out of my reverie. Our children aren’t children anymore. The eldest is on her own, and we have a teenager and a twenty-year-old at home. There really is no reason why we can’t all pitch in and get the job done. After almost three years without a cleaning service, why didn’t I have this thing figured out?

Conflict-avoidance and house-cleaning.

I tend to be a peace-maker. I dread conflict, and I’ll go a long way to maintain harmony in the household. Harmony is a good thing. But so often it only comes about by facing conflict. I know from experience that avoiding conflict results in the enabling of negative patterns in relationship and behaviour. So although I have tried to assign house-cleaning duties to everyone under our roof over the past three years, I haven’t been very effective in ensuring following-through. My husband has very busy weeks with his home-based business. My daughters have their school and their sports and their social lives. So it just seems easier to do it all myself.

There might be some good motives behind that strategy, but not many. Mainly, it’s a strategy of avoidance. I’m avoiding conflict. But I burn out quickly. I don’t like house-cleaning. I can do it in short bursts of intensity – best when accompanied by music – but when I’m faced with the whole house, there’s nothing “short” about it. So I let it go. One week. Two weeks. Three weeks. And then every room is grossly messy and dirty. And I talk with people about house-cleaners.

“Four people can clean a house.” I knew that it was absolutely true, and I gained a new determination to make it work. But something had to change. I would. No more conflict avoidance! No more going through the cycle of doing-it-all-myself followed by burn-out followed by filth followed by doing-it-all-myself…

Getting proactive.

I decided to be proactive. I spoke with my daughters and husband about my need for their participation in keeping the house clean. I wrote out a designation of duties to be completed before the end of the week-end. I downloaded music to blast on our Bose sound system, and I cleaned the kitchen as Joni Mitchell and James Taylor sang to me. With minimal nagging, my youngest cleaned the two bathrooms. “I’ll clean the family room on Monday,” promised our older daughter. There was a bit of a red flag that went up in my mind at that promise, but I ignored it. Before leaving for work Monday, I reminded her that she HAD to dust and vacuum the family room.

Put to the test.

When I got home late Monday afternoon, the air was thick with conflict. My husband and daughter had blown up at each other. He had “advised’ her about how to vacuum properly. She insisted that she had already done exactly as he had said. He didn’t buy it. Rapid escalation to blow-out. Just in time for my return home. My conflict-avoidance panic surfaced, but I kept it in check.

“We should just hire cleaners again,” my husband said in frustration. Our daughter adamantly said almost the same thing – though at the time, she would not have liked the idea of being in agreement with her dad. “With two working parents AND school AND training, there’s no way we can keep on top of the house-cleaning.”

So what did I do? I did nothing. I didn’t add my own fuel to the fire, but I didn’t capitulate either. And I left it to father and daughter to resolve their own conflict – not taking it upon myself. And they did. Apologies were exchanged, and harmony was restored. Phew!

Debt-reduction: Not all about money.

When we took on the challenge to get out of debt, I remember reading that we’d find it wasn’t all about money after all. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I do now. Out-of-control debt is a symptom. We discover our diseases as we pay it off. Conflict avoidance has evidently been one of mine, but I hope to have it completely cured before too long. I’m willing to bet that there is some mess in everyone’s journey out of debt. But I know that we can clean it up.

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4 Responses to “Debt and Cleaning”

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  1. All about not given in and going back to habits that got you into the debt in the first place. Sure having someone clean your house would be great and free you to do other things, but at what cost? Maybe it could be used as motivation, a goal help push to become debt free, because once there a house cleaner can be factored into the new budget.

  2. You stayed far more level-headed than me. I’d have pointed out that even 15 minutes per person per day would keep the place pretty clean. (Set a timer and go to town on your task!) Also, I’d probably have added unnecessary expletives because I’m grumpy and c’mon people! Even half a chore a day among 4 people… Sheesh!

    We don’t clean much, but we have health problems. A bunch of them. Eventually, I’ll capitulate to my husband’s request for a 1-2 time a month cleaning. But for now I’m holding my ground that we can either prioritize cleaning (what we can do anyway) or live with the dirt. We have too many other financial priorities right now.

  3. Abigail, I hear your “Sheesh!” I’m not proud of this rather dysfunctional family dynamic, but I hope that by identifying it and facing it head-on, we’ll all be able to overcome it. And clean like a slick machine! I like the choice you’ve set up: clean up or live with dirt. All the best as you continue to manage with health problems. You face challenges that most of us don’t have to deal with – and you’re doing it! Thanks for your comment.

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