Housekeeping isn’t an easy job. It requires that you be in good physical condition. To run your own business, you also need strong communications skills, administrative skills, and a knack for time management. And to do a really good job, you need a sense of purpose. When I clean a house, I recognize that I am doing more than vacuuming, scrubbing, and dusting. I am creating a peaceful refuge for my clients. I am also giving them what they seem to treasure most of all: time.
In some of the homes where I work, I not only neaten the rooms. I de-clutter minds. I act as a therapist, soothing the mother whose child just threw a tantrum over those pink zebra stockings that haven’t been washed yet. I hear all about the monster in-law who’s coming to stay for a week. I listen intently, and I offer words of support, even as I do that last, pre-visit cleaning, the one where I insist on tossing those old leftovers so that I can scour every inch of the refrigerator. Believe me: in these situations, the refrigerator matters.
In most of the homes I clean, I come across things that weren’t meant for my eyes: husbands, who have supposedly left for work, stepping out of the shower just as I enter the bathroom with my buckets and mop. Bottles of Alprazolam and Viagra on the nightstand that make the handsome man who earns enough to support a village suddenly seem less ideal.
In every home I clean, I find that I am drawn into the lives of the people who live there. In some cases, this is a privilege and a joy: I’ve shared in celebrating new babies, birthday parties, graduations, and weddings. In other cases, it can be heartbreaking: the divorces, the deaths. I find myself worrying if the old man who resembles my grandfather will make it out of the hospital. I worry if “Goodbye, see you next week” will actually be true. I have watched the health of my clients decline. I have been devastated to learn that they are gone.
Running a housekeeping business means no sick days, no paid time off, no benefits. But it can be rewarding. I am my own boss; I control my own schedule. I feel a deep sense of satisfaction seeing a messy house transform into a lovely, clean home. It is gratifying to know that the tired mom who works full time will have a more relaxing evening thanks to me.
To some clients, I am part of the family. To others, I have become a friend. To a few, I am just the cleaning lady. But whatever role I play in any given household, I am proud of what I do: hard work that’s respectable, fulfilling and–probably much like your work–not without its frustrations.
Alice Pekarkova has run her own housecleaning business in the Seattle area for more than eight years. In addition, she works as an animal massage therapist, having recently received her certification from the Northwest School of Animal Massage.
Editorial note: A version of this piece was submitted to the 2012 Work Stew writing contest. It was then edited to convert it from a contest entry to a short essay.