When I was a teen, my bedroom was constantly a mess. Everything was everywhere, but I had a nice little path carved out to get to my closet, my desk and into bed. And, like most teenagers who don’t want to clean their rooms, I told my parents it was “organized chaos.” Of course I knew where my math book was! It’s right there under that pile of socks, papers and magazines.
But let’s be real — I didn’t really know where anything was. It took at least 10 minutes to find anything in the turmoil of my bedroom. I also was hesitant to have friends over, lest they see how messy I was.
When I moved out on my own, I didn’t want that mess to follow me around. So I created a very organized life, where everything has its own place and it’s all easy for me to find. It was surprisingly easy to do, and I enjoyed being able to grab things right when I needed them.
And that’s not an uncommon phenomenon, according to Gail Saltz, M.D., clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine and host of the “How Can I Help?”podcast.
“Being at home is regressive, where you remain the child and your mom will clean up after you, even if you aren’t aware of that feeling,” she said. “When you are on your own, you feel more independent and like you are personally responsible for your stuff. This catapults many who were slobs before to become neat as a reflection of feeling the need to be a successful adult.”
But soon enough, the cracks in my cleaning method began to show. My bathroom counters started getting gross because, although I wiped them down, I didn’t move the stuff on them to get underneath. I swept but never mopped my floors. And I never, ever dusted. Also adding to the issue? My newly acquired husband. Clutter doesn’t bug him as much as it does me, so I spend a lot of time decluttering for both of us. On top of that, we both work full-time and generally despise deep cleaning, so we don’t prioritize it.
After probably the 20th time of looking around and saying, “The house is gross. We should probably dust,” but then never getting around to it, I decided to hire a house cleaner. She comes once a month to do the deep-cleaning tasks that we don’t. Having a monthly cleaner is my best cleaning hack — not to mention a balm for my mental health and our marriage.
Letting a pro handle deep cleaning clears my mind
Since I moved out on my own, I’ve adopted the phrase “physical clutter causes mental clutter” as something of a personal mantra (go ahead, ask my husband; he hears it all the time). If I look around and see things are messy or disorganized, I struggle to concentrate. Not just because I’ll be constantly reminded that I need to clean, but also because I start to feel out of control. Being around clutter and deeper messes overwhelms me. And this isn’t just a me thing.
“For some people it does feel like it’s the reflection of, ‘My life feels messy, and my life has an endless to-do list and my life feels disorganized,’” said Saltz. “Having an environment that is clean and organized gives a lot of people relief.”
It’s a vicious cycle, too. When you’re overwhelmed and stressed in general, things like clearing up clutter, dusting and mopping can fall by the wayside, Saltz says. But when all that dirt and clutter adds up, it can make you feel even more stressed.
“If it’s dirty and it needs to be done, but it’s on a long list and it stays on the list, you never feel the release of ‘It’s done,’” Saltz said. “It’s a reflection of being overwhelmed and unfortunately, can often make you feel even more overwhelmed, as you just live in it and look at it.”
Enter the house cleaner. I can attest to the feeling of relief when you’re able to look around and take a deep breath of fresh, clean air. It’s good for your physical health, too. Cleaning regularly improves the air quality in your home, which helps to mitigate allergy symptoms related to dust and dander, according to Harvard Medical School.
A clean house helps our relationship, too
In a completely unscientific poll taken just before writing this, I asked my husband which cleaning tasks I harp on him the most about. His top two are leaving dirty socks out and not wiping up the counters. Well, guess what? We clean a bit before our cleaner comes, and that takes care of the socks. And then the cleaner tackles the counter mess so no gunk builds up under our olive oil bottles and toaster. That leads to less “reminding” from me, and less arguing overall about household tasks.
“Let’s face it, no one ever feels sexy or amorous when they’re cleaning up their partner’s mess, scolding their partner about needing to clean more or doing a deep clean of the house themselves,” said relationship expert Nicole Moore. “If one begins to feel like they’re scolding their partner to do chores like a parent would, that’s a sure sign that hiring a cleaner would help.”
It’s also a time-saver. You can use the hours the cleaner is there to spend some quality time together, instead of arguing over who should clean that messy counter. (Which certainly shouldn’t be you, am I right?)
“Time is so valuable and it’s important to allocate that time to things that matter most to you, such as investing in and taking care of your relationships,” said Reena B. Patel, a psychologist and certified behavior analyst. “You can use money to buy time. Specifically, you can spend money to buy free time, including hiring a professional home cleaner to give you the hours you would have spent cleaning back.”
Agreeing to hire a cleaner is just another way for you and your spouse to care for each other. Of course, it’s only a possibility if you’re in a position to pay for one. I pay my cleaner $100 for each visit — it’s one person and takes her about two hours. That’s on the low end of average. Angela Brown, CEO of Savvy Cleaner training for house cleaners and maids, says the average cost per cleaner is $50 to $75 per hour, per cleaner. President and co-CEO of AspenClean, Alicia Sokolowski, agrees, but both note that costs can vary widely based on where you live, how many people live in the home, the size of your house and specific types of cleaning needed.
“Obviously some people can’t afford it,” Saltz said. “If you are so fortunate as to be in that place of privilege, many people do find that it actually removes a source of arguing and unhappiness in the dynamic at home.”
And if you are in a position where you can afford a cleaner, it’s worthwhile to see if you can help someone else who isn’t. Maybe you can pay extra to send your cleaner over there for a week, or, an easy-on-the-budget alternative, think about hosting a cleaning party — have one or more friends over to clean your place, then everyone goes to clean each of their homes as well. Spread the wealth of stress relief!
How to find the right cleaner for you
First, decide how often you want them to come by. Once a month is great for me and my husband, but it may work better for some families to have someone clean once a week, or every other week. That will be the very first question you get asked when speaking to potential cleaners.
Brown and Sokolowski suggest scheduling a walkthrough with a cleaning company that can tell you how often you need cleaners. That depends on a lot of factors, including how many people are there to make a mess and how clean you want your home to be (and how long it stays that way) at the end of a visit.
Ask for recommendations. If you have friends or family that use a cleaner, ask them how they like theirs and if they can share contact information. You can also ask in neighborhood social media groups, which is how I found mine.
Ask about prices and process — and have a budget in mind.Budget for about $150 per visit, depending on where you live; cities may be more expensive and rural areas less so. Also, ask about anything specific you might need cleaned that could be out of the ordinary, like a dog’s potty-pad area or a cat’s litterbox, a back deck or dishes — and ask if there’s anything they won’t clean.
Double check that potential cleaners don’t have allergies. We have a dog and a cat, so obviously, a cleaner that’s allergic to dogs or cats wouldn’t be a fit for us.
Whittle down your list and ask the finalists for references. Make sure you can find someone to vouch for this stranger you’re about to let into your home. Talk to the references and get their opinion on how well the cleaner does. Brown and Sokolowski both note to be wary of cleaners who won’t provide references or have bad reviews — that’s a big red flag that someone may not be trustworthy.
Pick your cleaner — but remember you can change your mind. If you don’t like the job they did or you didn’t feel safe with them in your home, go to the next person that was on your finalist list and try them. It’s incredibly important to feel comfortable with the person cleaning your house, because they’re in your space. “Typically, professional cleaning services have a thorough employee vetting process to ensure the reliability and trustworthiness of their staff,” Sokolowski said. “This process may include background checks, reference checks and interviews to assess the applicant’s qualifications and character. Some cleaning companies may also verify previous employment history. If you are still concerned about the people coming to your house, it’s a good idea to inquire about the vetting process when contacting cleaning services to gain confidence in their hiring practices.”
Jennifer Billock is an award-winning writer, bestselling author, and editor of the Kitchen Witch Newsletter. She is currently dreaming of an around-the-world trip with her Boston terrier. Check out her website at jenniferbillock.com.