I was a cleaning company owner for the better part of 20 years before I sold it in 2013. The company was born out of a need to eat and pay bills after my divorce. That particular profession was chosen because frankly it was about all I knew how to do and do well.
I was raised in a home by a working mom that was very organized and clean. My Dad, for a guy, was very neat and clean as well because he too was raised by a neatnik mom. In my grandmother’s day, the woman pretty much stayed home, the dad went to work, the children played outside but had chores to complete daily, and the family functioned like a well-oiled machine. In both my childhood home and grandmother’s home, we often had drop in company. Neither female scurried around to straighten when that happened, or apologized for the “look of the home” because it was always kept neat and orderly…not perfect mind you…but acceptable for entertaining a surprise guest. That is, till someone stopped doing their “job”.
When the woman was down sick, went on strike and quit cleaning and cooking or otherwise refused her daily responsibilities, the household didn’t know quite how to cope and it started following suit, leaving trails and messes behind, partially finished projects, dishes and the like in rooms never meant to be eaten in. This household flailing around was a reaction to the chaos created when one person couldn’t or wouldn’t do their part and the other people in the home were forced to live by the other person’s lifestyle rules rather than the standard of the home that was to be for the benefit of all. Sometimes it happened when another person ignored their responsibilities in favor of other activities in a “why bother” choice of a self-serving lifestyle. And sadly the whole house suffered until the one began doing their part once again.
I took up the gauntlet of housekeeping after my third year of marriage when my daughter was born. But the first two years of marriage, I lived in a “why bother” state. I had come from a strict home where things were clean and orderly and the newfound freedom of schedule and purpose kind of got away from me. My husband had been raised by a German mom who was neat and orderly too, so my standard of lifestyle, or lack of it, was a constant irritation to him, although he really didn’t say a lot. Rings in the toilet became common, wrinkled clothes that were clean but not folded and put away, dishes left in huge piles had to be moved to make dinner (I was quite the cook and had near gourmet-type dinners almost every night), dust would be puffy on the furniture and wreak havoc on our sinuses…and still I didn’t bother with those things because I was busy elsewhere. I had other things I thought were more important like being outside, playing in the pool with my newborn daughter, visiting friends and family, reading romance novels, and so forth. Nothing was inherently wrong with those things, but they should have been done after my home was put into decent order. I felt out of whack personally for the first two years and couldn’t figure out why. Once I saw a photo of my baby in the middle of the kitchen table surrounded by unopened mail, dishes, books, etc., I suddenly realized I had been doing the good things when I could be doing the great things. I knew that day I didn’t want my baby to grow up in a home that was a constant mess. I wanted her to have friends over and not be embarrassed at the condition of our home. And come they did, we became the place kids liked to come visit because we were clean and orderly AND fun! And that made us all feel special.
Many years later, when I owned my cleaning company, I remembered those early years of wifedom while training a new cleaning tech. She had interviewed well, was neat and well groomed personally and spoke well in conversation. This was usually a pretty good indicator of how the tech would conduct themselves in a client’s home. As I took her out for her first week of training I began to see that she was capable of being an excellent cleaning tech. She was very detailed, good with the clients, fast and efficient. I made a permanent hire of her and she went out on teams for a while, then was released to do solo cleaning, as all my techs were when they were fully trained. I knew she would make a lot of money for my company because she was good at detail and fast.
A few weeks after this tech had been on her own, the route manager came back after checking jobs, which was part of her duties of the day. She reported on this particular tech. The home was very clean, the client seemed happy with the person assigned to clean her home and said the tech was pleasant. But the more the route manager talked with the client she could see that there was something missing in her overall customer experience. The manager hadn’t been able to nail it down in the talk with the client because the client didn’t really elaborate in specifics on what was missing that day, she could only say “I just didn’t feel the same about my service today, I don’t know why.”
I decided that the next job check on this tech would be conducted by me. I went to the home while the tech was still cleaning and checked behind her completed work. She was finishing a bathroom, and it was left sparkling. As she turned to walk out I asked “Are you finished?” Her answer was yes, so I entered and looked around a bit myself. There were no cleaning flaws, everything was near perfect. But something was nagging at me. I finally realized what it was and called her back in.
“You forgot to fold the toilet paper in a hospitality fold and the towels into the swan shape. You have been shown these things, correct?” I knew she had because I had been her first trainer. “Yes ma’am, you showed me, but none of my other trainers included this. I didn’t think it was part of the cleaning, it was just an extra if we wanted to do it for the client.” I instructed that it was to be done on each cleaning unless the client requests it to be dropped for any reason. She looked a little confused and said she would certainly do it but then she said “May I ask a question?” I said yes and she asked “Why do we bother to do the things like folding paper and towels if that slows us down and you want us to focus on the cleaning and speed?” It was an honest question and I could tell she wanted to know my reason. I told her other cleaning companies did what we do. They made bathrooms sparkle, they vacuumed all the way to the edges of the room, they picked up things and dusted the furniture instead of around items. Other companies gave the customer what they asked for, but not what they didn’t ask for. We gave them the other things because they needed to feel special, but didn’t know they needed that kind of treatment. But even more, we did it because it made us feel special about our work and each home we cleaned and each client we interacted with during our work day. “We do it for them, but more for us” I said. I could tell she “got it” when she said “ You know, I can see how doing those things would make me feel differently about my client and also myself, I would kind of feel like a personal cleaner for them and they would feel like I had gone the extra mile. I may even start doing stuff like that at my own house, and I live alone!” We both laughed and I knew I had made a convert. She had grasped the concept of good vs. great. As a result, her tips went up almost immediately. That smart tech became one of my most requested cleaners, all because she did the expected for them, then did the unexpected for herself.
Our world in the last couple of decades has changed quite a lot. People have gone inward, many think only of themselves and what’s in it for them when they go to their job or conduct their daily routines. You only have to watch the old TV programs to know how far we have sunk into our selfishness. The men on Leave it to Beaver or The Dick Van Dyke Show are the kind of men I was raised by and around. They opened doors, lighted cigarettes for women, held their coats for them, helped with the dishes, tucked children in, read them stories, administered discipline and on and on, even after a full day at the office or factory. The women were the kind of homemakers I was raised around. Dinner was on the table at 6, the home was neat and orderly, children had done homework and played outside till dark. Yes, even if the woman happened to also have a full time job outside the home, as my mom did.
In our current world we have more conveniences, and much less “time”, or so it would seem. But I think it is much deeper than that. The current generation often has the “why bother” attitude about so many things they deem as secondary in importance. We tend to assign too much value to “good” things that don’t contribute to our personal well being and that of our families. We substitute fun activities, elaborate meals, busyness and frolic in place of “great” things like caring for others and their needs. When we are too busy with one, the other tends to suffer. And sadly we are teaching the upcoming generation that it doesn’t matter to practice hospitality, homemaking, responsibility, or any number of the golden traits that they can only learn from us…the ones who remember.
My grandchildren live with me and I work a lot, so I am not home much during the day. But I try to take each opportunity I have to teach them the value of loving others through caring for them and their needs. When they clean up their rooms and make their beds I tell them I feel good when I see this, it makes me feel loved and it is a way they say “thank you for inviting us to live with you”. When one comes to my room and asks “Can I help you with anything?” I don’t shoo them away with “No, thank you for offering though”. Instead I make sure I have something, anything for them to do for me so they feel special, and I can bond with them and feel special too.
We don’t live on islands in this life. Everything we do and do not do affects another. If I walk into a store and a man is ahead of me, I step out of his way so he can open the door, rather than bolting up there and doing it myself. I give him the opportunity to say “You first” by his own choice of actions. Nine times out of ten he will almost run to open the door, smile and greet me, and you can tell it makes him feel special to do so. It is a small thing, but makes a huge impact in both people. I think it’s time for more of us to look at our surroundings, job, personal relationships and life in general and discover where we may be sacrificing the “great” for the “good”. If we choose to look through “why bother” eyeglasses each day, we may actually see and feel better ourselves if we do.