I am a professional house cleaner. However, you might be surprised to learn that I have a major in Anthropology and a minor in Psychology from the top university in Texas.
When people learn about my degree, the first question that is always asked is, “why Anthropology?” The short answer is because that’s what I wanted to do.
When people learn that I clean houses for a living, the next question is, “Why?! You have a degree! You’re so much better than that!”
I put a special emphasis on “that” to convey the tone that implies cleaning homes is a menial occupation reserved for those of low education and socioeconomic status, diminished mental qualities, questionable backgrounds, or unclear immigration status. American society likes to pretend that we are above the “caste system” of third world countries, that we are all equal, and no one has a higher station in society than the others, but subconsciously, that’s not true. We still rank ourselves and others by their socioeconomic status and house cleaners are on the lower rungs of the society.
Having worked in this industry for almost 2 years now, I can say that personnel selection does gravitate towards those of lower education and socioeconomic backgrounds. After all, the average pay in the industry is not much above minimum wage, and surely even the least educated person can clean a house with minimal training, right? WRONG!
Yes, anyone can clean, but not everyone is a good cleaner. Let me give you some reasons why.
- Physical Endurance – I’ve interviewed more candidates than I thought could ever be possible, and one of the first questions we ask them is, “do you like to clean?” 99% of the applicants respond with an enthusiastic “YES! I LOVE TO CLEAN!” And if hired, many quit after the first full day of cleaning with the realization that cleaning is very physically demanding. It takes a lot of upper body strength to scrub away layers of hard water build up. It takes a lot of lower body muscle power to haul equipment up and down stairs. Being slightly bent over for extended periods of time while wiping down counters or scrubbing tubs can be quite taxing on the lower back. Washing floors on your hands and knees can be hard on your hands, wrists, knees (even with knee pads), and again, your lower back. Combine that with the need to do things in a quick and efficient manner, it can be exhausting to even those who are already in good shape. It’s not for everyone.
- Eye for Detail – Most people can spot the obvious stuff; the dust, the floors, ring-around-the-tub, etc. But a really good house cleaner has to be able to go beyond broad strokes and get into the details that only trained professionals or especially particular clients will notice. For example, the top of your shower curtain rod, the underneath of your shower door, that one pesky cobweb hanging underneath your lower cabinets, that grain of sugar that blends in with your granite counter top. If you can’t get as OCD as your client, then you’re probably not going to be a good house cleaner.
- Customer Service – Like I said earlier, the cleaning industry tends to hire a warm body with that idea that even the stupidest person can learn to clean. Based on that assumption, there’s no shortage of warm bodies out there cleaning and so the market is flooded. To really stand out in this industry, you have to excel at customer service! You have to be able to engage the customer and get to know them, their likes and dislikes, their families, and even their pets. The more you get to know them, the more opportunities you have to customize your customer service and go above and beyond your standardized checklist. These people are allowing you into their homes and giving you their trust with everyone and everything under that roof. If you can’t engage with your customer, or you simply don’t care about the customer, cleaning houses is probably not the job for you.
Now that’s not to say that if you aren’t good in one, or any, of these areas that your skill cannot be developed. I thought I was a decent house cleaner, but I learned to become even better! I run on a regular basis, so I was already in decent physical shape, but I’ve become even stronger! I’m an introvert by nature and shy away from conversations for the most part, but I’ve learned how to engage customers and now find many customers like friendly acquaintances and I enjoy catching up with them when time permits. I really love my job (most days.)
And here I sit, almost 2 years into the industry, writing about my experiences along the way because I think it’s an undervalued and misunderstood industry. (even amongst the industry itself) We aren’t all just under educated, too lazy to get a “real job” people. This is a trade that requires skill, practice, and refinement. We offer a valuable service to many people for many reasons and I hope I can share a glimpse of my world with you.