There aren’t many things in life I am evangelical about. I mean, I’m probably gonna recommend you watch Person of Interest a few too many times for your comfort, and I can bore for England on the topic of how there are Not Enough Toilets in Theatres, but generally I am an easy going kinda gal (except of course when I am in my cups, in which case I am annoyingly argumentative and passionate on ridiculously trivial subjects, but hey…)
One thing I am passionate about though, and have found to be oddly controversial, is this: the best thing you can do for your life, your creativity and (if you have one) your relationship, is get a cleaner the minute you can possibly afford one. In fact, I’d argue don’t wait till you can easily afford one – get one even if you can’t. Not if you are on-benefits broke and struggling to survive, obviously, but if paying a cleaner means cutting back a little on the wine, or getting a cheaper TV package, or having an extra couple of nights in every month, I guarantee you the sacrifice is worth it.
And yet, people are so weird about this. Seriously, ridiculously weird. Middle class people – well, I say people, I mean women – are rife with guilt over the very idea of it. Isn’t it just… lazy? Isn’t it exploitative? Shouldn’t ‘doing/having it all’ also mean being able to keep the house spotless? Working class people are just as bad, if not worse: if you are rich enough to easily afford a cleaner, isn’t not having one proof that you are not ‘getting above yourself’? ‘No matter how much money I make, I still clean my own toilets’, I have been told, as if that is some measure of authenticity. If they are not particularly well-off – then, isn’t is a waste paying someone to do something you can just do yourself?
I had an entertaining conversation with my family recently where I talked about looking for a cleaner for my new flat, and they were genuinely baffled by why I would want to. In part, admittedly, this is because my family has a work ethic that is terrifying and makes me feel like Slothy McSloth, so they think nothing of getting up at 6am to do a bit of cleaning before putting in an 8 or 9 hour workday and don’t understand why other people wouldn’t be happy to do the same, but they just couldn’t get their heads round the idea. “A cleaner? In Heworth?” my aunt kept repeating, in astonishment, as if somehow being in Gateshead was going to make me miraculously tidier than being in Brighton.
But I’m telling you getting a cleaner is, quite literally, life-changing, and if you are a writer, it’s one of the single best things you can do for your art. (Every one of the many friends I have talked into getting a cleaner – every single one – has texted me shortly afterwards going ‘Why didn’t I do this sooner? It’s amazing!’).
Making time to write can be difficult, especially if you have other responsibilities in or outside of your home. As I have said before, I don’t think you need to write every day to be a writer – but you do need to actually write, and you do need to write as often as you can. And if you are serious about doing so, you have to ask yourself: is my time better spent cleaning my oven or working on my novel? In the long run, will I be happier that I have a tidy kitchen, or that I filled in that funding application?
Many books about writing or making art will emphasise the dedication needed – but many of these are written by men, whose dedication is only made possible by having a wife or partner behind the scenes making sure they don’t drown in crumpled up paper and abandoned drafts. But unless you have someone at home who can take care of that for you – and can do so without it leading to a festering sore of resentment because they are sublimating their own needs for yours – surely it makes more sense to just bite the bullet and pay someone? Even if you can’t afford it every week, a couple of hours a week can make a massive difference. And if you are countering with the ‘but cleaning helps me think’ argument: great. But having a cleaner doesn’t mean you can’t spend the afternoon doing the windows if you think it’ll unknot a plot problem – it just means you give yourself more choice, and create more space to write without thinking you might catch salmonella from your kitchen.
Part of the reason I justify it – why do I need to justify it? – is economic. My hourly rate is easily 4 or 5 times that which I pay a cleaner. My time and energy are better spent earning money than doing something I neither enjoy nor am good at (my last cleaner, who I loved and actually became pretty decent friends with, could make my house look better in 2 hours than I could have in a day. Part of the reason to pay someone for something is it’s their job, so they are likely much better at it than you are.) I work from home almost all of the time, so a nice working environment is conducive to my productivity.
But even when that’s not true – when the time I save by not cleaning is spent lying on the sofa napping, or bingeing on Netflix because the words aren’t coming and my inbox is a desert, so paying my cleaner means cutting back in quite a terrifying degrees elsewhere in my life (toast for every meal, anyone?) – I still think it’s worth it. For a start, I believe in spreading the wealth. My mum was a cleaner, that’s how she supported us when I was little. So as both a feminist and the daughter of a cleaner, I think supporting another woman (my cleaners have always been women) in her enterprise is a valuable thing to do. My last cleaner was self-employed, and worked so she could help support her family, as well being able to structure her time so she could spend more time with them while they were very young – there’s nothing to be embarrassed about in that. There’s nothing demeaning about being a cleaner, nor exploitative in hiring one, providing you pay the going rate and treat them with the same respect you would treat anyone else. Nor is hiring one a sign you have somehow failed some arbitrary test of modern womanhood (I have literally never seen the sort of weird sniffiness about cleaners applied to men who get them: in fact, it’s generally seen as a positive trait).
But it’s also a statement of intent. My writing – and my writing time – is important to me. Paying people so I can have more of it, whether that’s hiring a cleaner, or paying an accountant to do my taxes even though I could, sorta, probably manage them myself, is a solid, definable way that I tell myself (and my muse, pretentious as that sounds) that I am prioritising my art and my career by making time for both. I honestly can’t recommend it highly enough – and I look forward to you all texting me wondering why you didn’t do it sooner.
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