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Dirt Busters

Rikki Goldstein

Your house needs to be cleaned, but you don’t need to be the one to clean it. A guide to choosing a cleaning lady, maximizing her time, and navigating sticky situations

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

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GOING STEADY Savvy cleaning ladies usually prefer several hours’ work in one household to two-hour shifts in several places, which mean more intense work. But if a group of neighbors arranges a full day’s or week’s work among them, the benefits of steady work can outweigh its rigor

Y our house needs to be cleaned, but you don’t need to be the one to clean it. A guide to choosing a cleaning lady, maximizing her time, and navigating sticky situations

It’s 9:00. You glance at the clock, shrug, and wash the breakfast dishes. 9:05. You take a peek out the front window — no Kristina in sight. 9:10. Is it too soon to text her? 9:13. The pile of pots you so blithely left from last night’s supper glare from the sink. 9:15. “Good morning, Kristina. You on your way?”

You may be the balabusta, conducting the home orchestra and calling the tunes, but the cleaning help you rely on may be the piper who keeps the music of the household playing.

According to cleaning-lady referral agent Rivka Ester Rothstein, cleaning help becomes a necessity either when you can afford it or when you can’t afford not to have it in terms of your health, sanity, or visiting in-laws. Some of Rivka Ester’s clients engage help temporarily — “when they have to pretend that their houses are cleaner than they usually are” — but many employ regular help.

Zippy Thumim, mother, designer, and owner of Design Alive, who lives in Manchester today, says, “For me, it was an economic cheshbon. Why on earth would I scrub my kitchen if I could pay someone else to do it and make more money than I pay her? An hour’s creative work at the computer is much more enjoyable than cleaning the bathrooms.”

Women who work outside the home often employ a cleaning lady, but according to Zippy, working from home makes the need for a regular cleaning lady even more urgent. “It takes a lot of discipline to get to the home computer and start a day’s work without making the beds and cleaning up from breakfast. How can a woman work with menuchas hanefesh when her house is a wreck? But as everyone knows, if you start housework and laundry it’ll take the whole morning. When I know the house is under control, my concentration can flow to my designs.”

Finding Mrs. Right

Once you’ve decided that cleaning is not for you at this stage of your life, the race to find the right person to wield the broom in your home begins.

That reliable, proficient Maria can be a needle in a haystack. “I had a wonderful cleaning lady for ten years, and then she returned to Hungary,” says Miriam from Boro Park.

While many of us rely on cleaning help to keep our homes running and save our sanity, it’s worth remembering that your own family needs to be “cleaning ladies” too

“During the past six months I’ve experienced such a turnover, and been let down and left stranded several times. My friends also say that help is harder to find than ever.”

Zippy agrees that cleaning ladies are difficult to find. “You can ask friends, but often their own cleaning ladies are too precious to give away. And many cleaning ladies are just not interested in working in our bustling homes — they prefer to clean clean houses. Personally, I usually ask my ladies to refer their friends. That sometimes works. When I lived in Yerushalayim, help was even harder to find, and comparatively more expensive per hour, but since apartments there are smaller, a once-a-week slot was sufficient. Here, much more work goes into maintaining the house.”

Cleaning agencies can save you the trouble. “I take on the headache of finding reliable, steady, or emergency help as my parnassah,” says Rivka Ester Rothstein, who has owned a cleaning-lady referral business in Ramat Beit Shemesh since 1999. Rivka Ester interviews those who apply for cleaning work and tries to establish a rapport. She checks the references they provide, and takes a security deposit from each woman. All Rivka Ester’s cleaning ladies are Israeli citizens or have legal work permits. No illegal foreign workers, no Arabs.

Some communities boast informal cleaning agencies, run as a chesed for struggling homemakers. The cleaning ladies turn to these agencies since they are the magic keys to getting jobs, and housewives in despair can receive a name and number. (excerpted)

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