Sunday, August 5, 2007

A Housekeeper Is Cheaper Than a Divorce

book cover

I've mentioned the book A Housekeeper Is Cheaper than a Divorce as I was reading it (here and here); now that I've finished, I've got more to say.

This book deals with hiring various levels of help, from the twice-a-month house cleaner to the much more frequent help; the author herself employed a 20-hour-a-week housekeeper who does cleaning, laundry, cooking, and some errands. Hiring household help can be an emotional issue, and the author deals with that. She also deals with the practical side: determining what jobs you want the housekeeper to handle, how to find and select a housekeeper, and much more.

Her overall theme can be summarized in these two sentences: "To be truly effective is to accept that for every task you take on personally, there is a universe of other possibilities that cannot occur. The tasks you chose should be the most meaningful and important ones."

Here are some interesting statistics she provides:

- The average American mother spends 35 hours a week doing housework. And whether she is employed doesn't have much of an effect; employed moms spend 32 hours a week on housework, while stay-at-home moms spend 39 hours. These hours don't count time spent in childrearing.

- The presence of children accounts for most household labor. The first child triggers an increase in 21 hours of chores per week, not including any direct childcare, while each additional child adds 6 hours of chores. Children under six generate the greatest workload.

You'll notice her distinction between housework and childrearing. She points out that these are very different things, and we can chose do delegate one, both, or neither.

She also has interesting notes on how things used to be.

- A century ago, there were an average of two servants per family of five.

- Home delivery used to be widely available. She mentions the milk man (I remember that from my childhood!), doctors who made house calls, etc.

A few things I especially liked:

- She emphasizes that having a housekeeper does not mean that the family members have license to be unorganized and/or slobs. One way she attracts good housekeepers is to have a well-run household with well-defined systems. For example, family members put laundry in baskets (darks and lights) in their closets; the housekeeper picks these up and does the wash. Storage spaces are uncluttered and organized, so it's easy to put dishes, laundry, and groceries away in their proper places.

- She strongly advocates for paying the housekeeper "on the books," with proper handling of employment taxes. She also advocates providing benefits such vacation days and continued employment while the family is away on vacation.

All in all, it's a well-written and thought-provoking book.


Cynthia Friedlob said...

I haven't read this book, but my version would be A Housekeeper Is Cheaper than Therapy. It's so easy to feel overwhelmed by daily obligations that if it's possible to afford to hand off a few of the ones pertaining to household maintenance, I think that's money well spent.

Of course, a housekeeper or cleaning service is much more effective if your home isn't cluttered. As you and other pro organizers advocate (me, too), eliminating excess stuff is always Step One.

I also remember the milkman delivering milk. In the winter, if we didn't get outside early enough to get it out of the milkbox, it froze! No cereal that day. Simpler times.

Jeri Dansky said...

Cynthia: Or maybe A Housekeeper Is Healthier than Antidepressants?

Frozen milk, huh? I guess you didn't grow up in LA!