Putting a price on clean-up
By Marc Phillips
Every other Thursday morning, my family goes through the same ridiculous routine—cleaning the house for the cleaning lady. We have been practicing this ritual for as long as I can remember.
My mother likes to make it easy on our beloved cleaning lady, by having our home straightened up, so everything is ready to be sanitized, polished, dusted, or otherwise cleaned. Furthermore, my friends who also have cleaning ladies lament about the same paradox. Simply put, a cleaning lady is the bastion of a neurotic suburban family.
Our current cleaning lady, Alina, is a polite, blonde-haired Polish woman, who arrives at our front door with a smile. She spends a few hours cleaning all of the rooms in our house and is surprisingly immaculate.
Our former cleaning lady took all day to clean our home, was not very thorough, and wasted a lot of the cleaning products. Alina is eco-conscious and uses rags to wipe down the surfaces. At the end of her job, she throws the soiled rags into the washing machine.
Since this is a trade-based profession, some cleaners are better than others. Typically, most gigs are found through neighbors or friends. This is a word-of-mouth business of sorts.
According to the Bureau of Labor, over 887,890 people are employed as house cleaners or maids in the United States. “James,” the receptionist at the Bureau of Labor who wishes to be referred by her last name, explained how it’s hard to estimate the number of undocumented workers since the number is prone to fluctuate.
Some see cleaning ladies as an unnecessary luxury, while others see it as a necessary expense. My father owns his own business and works long hours. My mother owns her small business and is unable to lift heavy objects or get into hard-to-reach places. For my family, a cleaning lady is necessary to keep our home clean and in tip-top shape.
There are alternatives to under-the-table cleaning ladies, such as actual cleaning businesses. Merry Maids has been a mainstay in the home cleaning market for several decades. According to their website, Merry Maids is the largest cleaning franchise in the world. There are over 600 franchise locations in the US and Canada, many located in busy metropolitan areas.
Unfortunately, while this may seem like an excellent way to employ bonded and insured cleaners, one thinks otherwise. The Wall Street Journal looks at professional cleaning services from a financial perspective. “In an effort to hit several houses in one day, many housekeepers move through homes like whirling dervishes. That can lead to inattention to detail, loss of property—or just plain bad cleaning.” Something rings true in this WSJ article; Merry Maids et. al. are in the business to make as much money as possible. The reality of a worker detailing home with a fine-toothed comb is plain unrealistic.
In one online review, a man hired Merry Maids to clean his home every week while he was at work. One week he noticed that his business checks had gone missing. Soon, bank called him about suspicious activity. Apparently $11,000 had been depleted from his checking account. The victim wanted to search for answers.
As it turns out, Merry Maids do not have a consistent housecleaner schedule. Basically, you will not have the same cleaning lady every week; whomever is available on the day you want your home cleaned will be dispatched. For this reason, we implicitly trust Alina. If my mother needs to deliver her products to a store or even go grocery shopping, she feels comfortable leaving Alina home alone.
This disparity with Merry Maids regarding quality is frightening, especially when each cleaning lady has her own methods. Again, some are better than others and maid requests cannot be placed with Merry Maids.
Representatives from Merry Maids corporate in Nashville, Tenn. did not return several requests for interviews. It would be interesting to hear about hiring practices, how maids are found, and the demographics of their employees.
Can you put a price on quality? We expect a clean home after Alina leaves, and we are constantly amazed at how well she scrubs the microwave turntable or even dusts the skylights perfectly.
While our cleaner may not be associated with a company, we know she’s honest, respectable, and puts effort into her job. An important part of a relationship with a cleaning lady is treating them like your family.
There is no condescending tones or orders given to Alina. We smile, laugh, and treat her with dignity. Although Alina does not speak much English, we try to make her feel as welcome as possible. Our home may not be an office, but treating our consistent “employee” kindly, amounts to great results.
Marc Phillips is a sophomore integrated marketing communications major who can’t live without his Mary Maid. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org