We used to spend half of every Saturday vacuuming, scrubbing, tidying and moving everything around, desperately getting our house back to the state it was in exactly a week beforehand. It was exhausting.
‘Let’s get a cleaner!’ Rosie would say at the tail end of one of these sessions. ‘We’re not getting a cleaner!’ I’d call out cheerily as I carried out a bag of rubbish, while sinking further into a weekend-long ‘mood’. I had a problem with getting a cleaner; it seemed intrinsically wrong to me. Were we so busy that we need to pay someone to come in and tidy up for us? We watched every episode of every TV show, but we couldn’t find the time to clean the toilet and vacuum the floor once a week? Should we get a butler as well?
Late last year, we found ourselves nearing breaking point. Rosie was very pregnant so I’d do most of the cleaning myself, but not in the way she liked. My skills were honed during my illustrious hospitality period (a fellow kitchen hand once shook his head in wonder at my dish stacking technique), so my cleaning style is one of utility rather than finesse, and Rosie is an interior designer so she has an eye for detail.
After some secret phone conversations, Rosie’s Mum offered to foot the bill for a cleaner for the next few months. It was a generous offer, but also a shrewd move on Rosie’s part, because she knew we’d never go back. Now a nice woman named Tina comes round every second Thursday morning and cleans our house. And while I still feel very uncomfortable with the idea, I have to admit it’s pretty awesome.
After a Tina visit, I come home to what feels like a hotel suite themed around our house. Every section of carpet is clean, not just the highly trafficked areas. There are fresh sheets on the bed and the sad collection of empty toilet rolls is nowhere to be seen. On these evenings, I often pour a glass of wine and just walk around smiling and sighing – which, to be fair, is what I do on most days. But what I’m getting at is: it feels luxurious and nice.
Tina does some strange stuff though. Like leaving the cutting board underneath the toaster – what’s with that? Then there’s the bathroom, where she rearranges all the tubes and jars according to size and colour, rather than frequency of use. A similar approach is used for the pile of books on my bedside table, so the book on top is the smallest, as opposed to the one I’m actually reading. I’ve considered starting to read the smallest one out of convenience – but my punk rock instincts won’t let me.
I suppose that’s part of what bothers me: having a cleaner makes me feel stupid. Tina doesn’t know that I use the hair stuff in the green tin and not the yellow one, and why would she? She doesn’t know the stretch of blank desk near the stereo is actually my workspace, not a place to leave our unpaid parking fines, fabric samples and three skateboards shaped like giant crayons.
I imagine her looking through my stuff and thinking to herself, ‘who is this idiot?’
Having a cleaner brings up all kinds of insecurities in me that I would really rather not deal with. I have enough problems acting like a normal person when I’m in public, let alone when I’m at home. I’m embarrassed at admitting that we need help maintaining our own house. And I feel in danger of drowning in the innocuous expenses that we drape ourselves in, when I would be perfectly fine living in a small room, with a fork, a plate, a multi-purpose sink and a little gas burner.
But that’s all beside the point, isn’t it? This is a part of getting older. We have a little boy now and he is hilarious. Maybe in a few months time we’ll get it together enough to start cleaning properly ourselves, but then again, maybe we won’t. Maybe I’m the type of person who has a cleaner, at least for now. Thanks Tina. Just leave the book pile as it is and remember I use the green hair stuff, not the yellow. And have you seen my keys?
Nathan Nankervis is a Melbourne based illustrator and graphic designer.