DOMESTIC HAR­MONY

Don’t feel guilty — new re­search shows that house­hold help is pos­i­tively good for us. Hooray, says Deb­ora Robert­son.

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Don’t feel guilty — new re­search shows that house­hold help is pos­i­tively good for us. Hooray, says Deb­ora Robert­son.

As some­one who is about to cel­e­brate her 20th wed­ding an­niver­sary, I have one piece of ad­vice. The se­cret to a happy mar­riage is not date nights, end­lessly shar­ing your feel­ings, nor sweaty Sting ’n’ Trudi-style tantric Tues­days. It’s once a week — more, if you can af­ford it — pay­ing some­one else to mop the floor.

I learned this at my mother’s knee and now I hap­pily pass it on to you. When I was very young and my par­ents didn’t have much money, I re­mem­ber my mother say­ing if she had $10, she’d pay some­one $9 to clean up after her. I am my mother’s daugh­ter. And it seems now that cold, hard, shiny science backs up my mother’s clean­ing — or rather no clean­ing — phi­los­o­phy. Re­search in­di­cates that feel­ing pressed for time un­der­mines our well­be­ing, and us­ing money to buy more free time cheers us up. No sur­prise there.

But the en­light­en­ing rev­e­la­tion in this re­port — it sur­veyed 6000 adults in Amer­ica, Den­mark, Canada and the Nether­lands — is that it in­di­cates time is more pre­cious to us than things. It con­cludes spend­ing money on more pos­ses­sions ul­ti­mately does lit­tle to im­prove our hap­pi­ness.

Dr Ash­ley Whillans, the re­port’s lead au­thor, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at Har­vard Busi­ness School, ex­plained: “Peo­ple who hire a cleaner or pay the kid next door to mow the lawn might feel like they’re be­ing lazy, but our re­sults sug­gest that buy­ing time has sim­i­lar ben­e­fits for hap­pi­ness as hav­ing more money.”

One of the prob­lems of our times is that many of us set ridicu­lously high domestic stan­dards for our­selves. We crave clean, serene and stylish homes. We want to make it all look ef­fort­less. Es­sen­tially, we want the lives of Ed­war­dian aris­to­crats with­out the full house­hold staff. We put an in­or­di­nate amount of pres­sure on our­selves, par­tic­u­larly we women, and yet there re­mains so much guilt at­tached to hir­ing some­one to clean for us. Even in these days when other man­ual jobs — from bar­ber to bar­man — have been el­e­vated to hip­ster hero sta­tus, we still feel a bit squea­mish about ad­mit­ting we pay some­one else to do the vac­u­um­ing.

This can only come from an in­ter­nalised snob­bery about the job it­self. Per­son­ally, I feel that all jobs are equal, un­less you’re ac­tively sav­ing lives. As long as you pay some­one prop­erly and treat them well, isn’t it a job just like any other?

Clean­ing is of­ten a keen source of domestic dishar­mony. I have many women friends whose part­ners are adamant not just that they don’t want a cleaner, but that they don’t need one. And yet these chaps sel­dom shoul­der their fair share of domestic re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, apart from the manly tak­ing out the bins once a week. Many men seem ca­pa­ble of tol­er­at­ing a level of grime that a lot of women find un­com­fort­able. And even when they pitch in, it’s to “help” (a word guar­an­teed to give most women a stressy lit­tle eye-twitch. It’s on a par with those self­pro­claimed he­roes who seem to want a medal for “babysit­ting” their own kids).

My own hus­band can set a beau­ti­ful ta­ble, wax a floor, sew on a but­ton and run an iron over a shirt, an­dis so highly do­mes­ti­cated that many of my fe­male friends openly ad­mit their envy. But when he, even he, this home­keep­ing su­per­hero, an­nounces with such pride, “I’ve done the wash­ing up,” it leaves me won­der­ing if I have

Many men sim­ply don’t see the need to set such high stan­dards. But a fe­male de­sire to keep a clean house is not in­nate. It’s be­cause we still feel judged by the clean­li­ness of our houses in a way men sel­dom do.

time in my sched­ule to put up the bunt­ing and plan the req­ui­site pa­rade.

I don’t think I have ever in my life an­nounced: “PEO­PLE, I’VE DONE THE WASH­ING UP. RE­JOICE!”

Many men will do house­hold tasks when asked, but with all but the most fastidious, the ca­pac­ity to step over a pile of laun­dry on the stairs, or leave bone-dry dishes lan­guish­ing on the drainer, or fail to run a cloth over the bench­tops after com­plet­ing the wash­ing up is strong. The truth is that while many men now shoul­der a fairer share of child­care and cook­ing du­ties, women still do most of the house­work.

Many men sim­ply don’t see the need to set such high stan­dards. And per­haps they have a point. If you don’t care about the tide of dog hair gen­tly buf­fet­ing the skirt­ing board, why should you take care to sweep it up? But a fe­male de­sire to keep a clean house is not in­nate. It’s be­cause we still feel judged by the clean­li­ness of our houses in a way men sel­dom do.

Last year, an Of­fice for Na­tional Statistics re­port showed that women were still do­ing 40 per cent more of the un­paid chores around the house.

A re­cent Ox­fam sur­vey also found that women spent two days more a month than their part­ners on house­work. Deeply un­sexy num­bers, those. For your san­ity, and cer­tainly for the state of your re­la­tion­ship, I would say money spent on a cleaner is a bet­ter in­vest­ment for most peo­ple than money spent on cou­ples’ ther­apy.

It means you won’t spend your week­ends haul­ing the vac­uum cleaner up­stairs, scrub­bing out the bath, and scour­ing the oven. Or, worse, re­sent­ing your other half for not do­ing it.

I have had my share of dis­as­trous help. There was the cleaner who went through the draw­ers to find new and ran­dom pho­tographs to put in all the frames (hello ex-boss I haven’t seen for 20 years, good­bye Granny), and then the one who went miss­ing and was be­ing hunted by In­ter­pol.

Then came Da­rina, who brings or­der and calm wher­ever she goes. If she ever left, I would be ut­terly bereft. I’ve al­ways known she does more for my hap­pi­ness than any spa day, any num­ber of ma­te­rial pos­ses­sions, and now I have the stats to back it up.

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