On Monday evening I return home from work to find my flat cleaned and my clothes ironed and put away. I don’t have a partner and the housework isn’t performed by wee people out of the pages of Grim’s Fairytales. As with a growing number of professionals I employ a cleaner. On the few occasions I’m at home when my cleaner comes to clean I’m filled with a mixture of thoughts and emotions. On the one hand I want to relax reading a book, watching television etc, however, on the other I feel a sense of guilt that a fellow human being is busily stripping my bed, vacuuming the carpets etc while I have my feet up. Why should I feel this way? I don’t experience the same feelings when a lady or man serves me at the check out in my local supermarket so why should I experience this twinge of guilt when my cleaner comes to clean?
My home is my private space, the place in which I relax and unwind after a hard day’s work. There is a small part of me which feels that I should be fully responsible for my home and do my own housework. Shades of Upstairs Downstairs (a television programme showing an upper class household in the late 19th and early 20th centuries¬† swim before my eyes). Unlike the fictional household portrayed in Upstairs Downstairs I don’t employ a whole bevy of servants, just the one cleaning lady who cleans for me, for 3 hours a week. In Upstairs Downstairs the relationship between the upper class household and their servants (the latter group living downstairs) is paternalistic and hierarchical. The servants have their own eating area (the servant’s hall) and would never dream of eating with the upper class household. My relationship with my cleaner is wholly different. I will, if I am at home offer her coffee or tea and make us both a drink. I don’t regard her as a lesser human being due to her work and yet I feel this nagging doubt, from time to time at the back of my mind regarding the ethics of the situation. At a logical level this is ilogical. If my toilet gets blocked I will call out a plumber to fix the problem and feel no guilt whatever about doing so. Why then should I feel a twinge of conscience merely because I employ a cleaner? The answer is I shouldn’t. In the unlikely event that I inherit a vast sum of money I would move to a big house and employ not only a cleaner but a gardener to keep the place in good order. Employing someone to clean your home isn’t wrong provided that you treat them with respect and pay a decent wage. Having said that I will no doubt continue to experience those twinges of guilt the next time I’m at home and my cleaner comes to clean.