House Cleaning IS a Better Job: An Open Letter

[Friends encouraged me to turn this into a blog post after I originally posted it to Facebook, so here it is.]

Dear guy I chatted with on the bus,

There’s no reason to feel sorry for me because I work as a house cleaner.

Yes, I have three college degrees, and was groomed for a professional “white collar” career. None of that education is being “wasted” just because I clean houses for money. (Although if I had it to do over again, I think I’d skip the post-bac in accounting. These days, a college education is more likely to be a ticket INTO the poorhouse than a ticket out of it. But that’s another story.)

I’ll admit that for the first few months after I started my housekeeping business in 2012, I too felt sorry for myself more often than not. I had spent the previous several years grieving the loss of a marriage and hunting for jobs; no one would hire me, my self-esteem was in the gutter, years of savings had vanished forever into the black hole of the divorce aftermath, I had to go on food stamps, and I was on the verge of having to move back in with my folks to survive (something none of us wanted, least of all me. I love Portland; my folks live in Honolulu; I hate sun and heat. ‘Nuff said.) All I had ever really wanted to do with my life was to write non-fiction books. I didn’t even want a job. But I needed one. So, since no one would hire me, I started my own business. It’s fair to say I kind of stumbled into this.

But then, somewhere along the line, it dawned on me that I am exactly where I want to be. It may make little sense to you, but I’m not just biding time as a house cleaner until I can find a better job. This IS a better job.

It’s all about perspective. So let me show you what this job looks like through MY eyes.

I got started in this business because someone in my community saw my website and decided to give me a chance, based on the recommendation of someone in her social network. I didn’t have to fill out online job application forms, take a humiliating drug test, or jump through any other bureaucratic hoops. So right from the outset, this venture was based in relationships of genuine trust.

From there, my business expanded entirely by word-of-mouth. So far, I haven’t even needed to advertise to find new clients, because my satisfied clients have recommended me to their friends and colleagues after being impressed with my work. As word gets out, they seek me out. Sure beats groveling for a stressful minimum wage receptionist job, let me tell you. And because I’m independent, I can charge what I’m worth, instead of just what a franchise will pay me to work for them.

Since I don’t drive, I haul all my cleaning supplies back and forth to each job in a wheeled backpack on public transit. While this isn’t always easy, I find it a lot less difficult than owning a car and commuting in rush-hour traffic. I can sit back and read a book or just daydream, and let someone else handle the driving. I feel fortunate to live in a city with a public transit system that makes it possible to run a business like this without a car.

Because I’m the boss and the only employee, I can run this business on my own terms. I choose my own schedule and my days off. I can – and do! – take a lunch break or a short breather whenever I feel like it.

I enjoy the privilege of being able to work independently in people’s homes. In the course of my work, I’ve learned a great deal about the pros and cons of various kinds of flooring, furniture, kitchen surfaces, etc. This knowledge is handy now, of course, and it will also come in handy later on when I start looking for a house for my Hermitage.

My work is honest, unpretentious, and brightens people’s moods. Sure beats spending 8+ hours a day under fluorescent lights in an office cubicle, enduring office politics and selling people more crap they don’t need.

I can listen to industrial music on headphones while I work; I don’t have to deal with blaring TVs or elevator muzak. I don’t have to wear makeup to work – I can save that effort for my bellydance costuming, which makes me appreciate it more. I don’t have to bother with the expense or upkeep of a professional wardrobe. I don’t have to share airspace with people wearing perfumes that make me ill.

And the stress is almost non-existent. When I was an advanced accounting student, I was so stressed out that I was grinding my teeth at night, and frequently woke up with an aching jaw. Now? Even the most stressful day I’ve had on the job produced maybe a tenth of the stress I’ve experienced in office jobs, if that.

Because the work is so physical, my muscles are tired at the end of the day, yet happy to be well used. This translates into me sleeping like a baby at night, and waking up fully refreshed. It also translates into being stronger for my daily bellydance drills, and it means I don’t need to bother with the time and cost of a gym membership. That’s good, because I hate gyms.

And the work is earthy. It’s compatible with my ecologically-centered Pagan values – minimising fossil fuel use as much as possible, avoiding work that contributes to ecological destruction as much as possible, serving my community, etc. I use only non-toxic cleaning supplies – mostly baking soda and distilled white vinegar.

All my clients so far have been found through arts-related and esoteric communities. This is awesome for both me and my clients. They completely understand when I explain that in addition to being a house cleaner, I’m also a writer and a dancer, and they appreciate the fact that I won’t be uncomfortable with their Aleister Crowley books or their creepy bone collection.

I come home from work, and (after a short nap) not only do I still have energy left over to write, but on good days I’m actually overflowing with words. Like right now. I’m writing this after a full day of work, in fact – a day in which my Muse decided to fill me with the breath of inspiration mid-scrub. Good thing I was able to jot down notes so I could remember what I wanted to write about when I got home.

Yes, my hands are starting to develop calluses from pushing brooms and mops so often, and the skin on my fingertips gets dry and cracked sometimes. I can’t say I’m happy about the way self-employed people are taxed. And once in a while, I do get a bit lonely for the rhythm of shared labour. But I am healthier and more fulfilled than I’ve ever been in my entire life.

So don’t feel sorry for me, dude. Because I fucking love my life.


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