Working as a house cleaner: ‘It is an intimate encounter that demands respect’

Working as a house cleaner: ‘It is an intimate encounter that demands respect’

I probably knew more about my clients than some of their closest friends – and along with the privilege came a responsibility to be discreet

Some years ago, I worked as a house cleaner for a local council. I had no training as a cleaner, just common sense and a few books for reference on difficult stains and other cleaning nightmares. They didn’t always help. How was I supposed to get the sheet in between that heavy mattress and the elaborate carved bed? A spatula from the kitchen turned out to be the answer. Could I clear away the stinking mats of fur and kitty litter in the bathroom without chundering? No. What the hell was that stuck on the wall? I never found out but I wore holes in two pairs of gloves trying to get it off. Now how would I do the rest of the chores in my allotted time? Cleaning other people’s houses is always a race against time.

I preferred to clean when the client had left the house but some people wanted to stay and watch. Like so many service jobs where the worker has extended contact with the client, the nominated job became only one aspect of the work. Some clients didn’t really want me there for cleaning. They wanted company. They had things to say and no one to listen, so when I arrived with my mop and brushes and cloths they would follow me around, talking nonstop, offering me cups of tea to tempt me to sit down.

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