Kirsty is a young woman, pregnant with her third child. She and her partner run a small cleaning agency that sends about a dozen people – mostly women – to clean houses like ours. The agency, and our relationship with it, is comparatively new. But such is the demand for cleaners of all kinds, it has grown and prospered despite what are somewhat unorthodox business practices.
Communication about cleaners’ arrivals can happen at the last minute – or not at all. When the cleaner(s) arrive, they may be different from the one(s) who came the last time, knowing nothing about what has been done and how on the previous visit.
Everything has to be negotiated on the spot with the cleaners who arrive. And that happens under time pressure because the cleaning must be done in the allotted time before the cleaner(s) has(have) to be off to the next assignment.
A ‘clean house’ means different things to different people. So, it’s not surprising that communication about the job is a bit haphazard. Ultimately, who can quantify a ‘clean’ kitchen or a ‘clean’ bathroom? Or a ‘clean’ shower room – especially in a hard-water, lime-ridden area like ours?
Mostly I communicate with Kirsty by WhatsApp – not the most reliable medium for doing business. But we usually get there in the end and, with very few exceptions, the cleaners do a good job.
Many are the challenges of a business staffed by young mothers. The majority of the young women who clean are single parents working hard to support their children and, in some cases, other relatives too. If the children are sick, their mother turns up late for work or can’t come at all. They seem glad to have a boss who has her own young children and is sympathetic to the challenges of juggling various sets of needs.
For our part, we enjoy meeting the young women who come. We are grateful for the help we get and very mindful that it is a luxury to have help with cleaning our house - a luxury that our foremothers would have only dreamed of. We have gradually decided perhaps we would rather give work to Kirsty’s group rather than a more predictable, conventional agency.
Our decision was confirmed yesterday morning. Quite unexpectedly, Kirsty turned up at our front door. We were glad to see her and get to know the woman with whom we’ve been doing business but not quite sure why she was there!
Slowly, it emerged that her purpose in coming was to offer us a complimentary shower-cleaning – which, to be honest, we didn’t realise we ‘needed’! But, in her opinion, it seems, we’ve been good clients and getting rid of the lime deposits in our 15-year old shower cubicle is our reward. We were impressed, grateful and, needless to say, determined to keep working with Kirsty!
Like so much else of what has been considered’ women’s work’, cleaning is an inexact but vital science. In this week of International Women’s Day, it seems important to recognise such skills and the difference they make to our lives – in families, offices, neighbourhoods, relationships of all kinds. Our health may depend on them being exercised at all, our comfort may depend on them being exercised with the kind of sensitivity and practical wisdom described in a slightly sexist sign I bought in America about fifty years ago.
It says, ‘My(sic) house is clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy.’
Photo: Jonathan Francisca - Unsplash