Housekeeping

Today I was doing some light housekeeping and appreciating the fact that I’m getting better at moving around again. I broke my ankle in December while I was cleaning, and that led to frustrations about my reluctance to hire someone to help me with cleaning. Last year I had considered hiring someone, but I never got around to it for a number of reasons.

First of all, my house is still in disarray, and it would take a lot of effort to get it ready for someone to come in to clean. I have stacks and stacks of papers dealing with Mom, not to mention that I still need to go through some items that belonged to my grandmother who passed away in 2006. This has become an extended project because, well, frantically finishing up a doctoral dissertation kind of got in the way. And that led to even more stacks of papers…

But that’s just part of the equation. Mom was something of a packrat (heavily influenced by her mother who was heavily influenced by the “don’t get rid of anything” mentality of the Great Depression), and I’m determined not to end up that way. It’s a major endeavor to depart from my childhood influences, but I’ll get there. Sorting through and getting rid of papers is one thing, but the bigger challenge is to maintain a mindset that “stuff” is not what’s most important in life.

Even if my home were in perfect order, I’d still struggle with the actuality of hiring a cleaning service (or individual). Most of the services require that clients agree to use the agency’s cleaning products, which are typically toxic and lacking in eco-responsibility. I’ve been whittling down the number of products that I use, and vinegar-water solution is my current favorite for most things (far cheaper than anything else, and gentle as well). And good luck finding paper towels in my house. I do have a small stash, but they are hidden away so that no one can find them. I’m also pretty stringent about water usage.

So those are the obvious reasons that I’ve chosen to handle my own housekeeping in spite of the convenience that hired help would provide (not to mention the added benefit of providing a source of income for someone who might be struggling to make ends meet). But today a distant memory flashed through my mind, reminding me that there is a far deeper source of hesitance. You see, I have a namesake out there in the world. A now-grown woman was named after me, which is something that most people would be proud of. But it wasn’t a family member or close family friend. It was the daughter of my grandmother’s decades-long housekeeper. When I was young, I thought it was cool, but as I grew older I became increasingly bothered by the connection. I love the woman who cleaned my grandmother’s home, and I certainly have no resentment toward her. In the final years of my grandmother’s life, she would make up excuses to go by the house even during “off” weeks in order to check on my grandmother and make sure everything was OK. Outside of immediate family and a few close friends, she might be the person my grandmother trusted the most in this world. In fact, she was the one person who knew where my grandmother had hidden her engagement ring, and she wasn’t allowed to tell a soul until my grandmother had passed.

I say all of that because I don’t want to give the false impression that this housekeeper was treated poorly or taken for granted. She was paid well, given all sorts of extra things beyond salary, and she was always treated with love and respect. I rarely saw her because she typically worked on Tuesdays, but in my adult years, I encountered her with greater frequency. It was during those encounters that I started to hear more about her daughter Cynthia, and she told me how much she had always loved my name. Even though she didn’t say so outright, I could sense from things she said that there was another level of appreciation for my name, as it represented someone who was “educated” and middle-class. Yes, my mother didn’t have much money when we were growing up, but class is about far more than financial status. And in that regard, we were always middle-class, even if our bank account might not have suggested it. In naming her daughter Cynthia, this housekeeper was also acknowledging her desire for her daughter to have a “better” life.

This probably sounds like I have come down with a case of “white person’s guilt,” but I’m not looking for reassurances that I’m a good person or that I shouldn’t feel guilty. I am also not searching for validation or permission that it would be OK for me to hire a housekeeper. I’ve worked through a lot of those issues, and I’m pretty comfortable with where I am right now in terms of being an advocate for social justice while not beating myself over the head for any privileges that I might have (although it’s a work-in-progress; some days are better than others). My point in writing all of this is to acknowledge my discomfort at hiring someone to clean for me when I often feel at my most comfortable when I’m doing that sort of work myself. Not that I particularly like cleaning, but I often identify most with those who are doing manual labor, much more so than I will ever feel at home in environments where others are waiting on me. To put it bluntly: I just don’t like it when people serve me. Maybe it’s because I’ve always been pretty independent and strong-willed. Maybe it’s because I see myself in those who are doing the serving. Or maybe it’s a bit of both.

At any rate, I’ll continue to reflect on all of this, but today really was one of those “aha!” moments where I was able to articulate why I’ve been so resistant to this notion of hiring a cleaning service. To make it clear, I’m not criticizing anyone who *does* hire help. It’s great for job creation, especially right now when so many people desperately need work. And it’s also wonderful to free up time to do those things that give our lives meaning, such as spending time with friends and family, working out, and having down time. I don’t think there is anything demeaning about working in the cleaning profession–I have so much respect and admiration for those who are able to spend their days cleaning up other people’s messes. But in spite of all that, in the back of my mind, there will always be that other Cynthia–a Jungian shadow in my own mind–and I’m not ready to abandon her just yet.

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One thought on “Housekeeping

  1. Kristin Koehn says:

    Loved it….although I could use the help desperately, I am of the same opinion.

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