Cleaning House With Jenny

As you may recall, I signed up to use a cleaning service thanks to a direct mailing and then blogged about it. I planned to cancel it when I read this comment but of course forgot to and then the woman who would be cleaning our apartment, Jenny, texted me a few days ago to introduce herself and confirm our appointment.

It seems the way that these middle man services distinguish themselves is by using a ratings system and text messaging. I can just picture them in the board room with venture capitalists, quoting statistics about how 0% of Millennials pick up their phones but they all love to TEXT and they will capture x% of the market with their groundbreaking new plan to scoop up all the disposable income in urban areas of blah blah people are spending less time on so and so…

WE’LL TEXT THEM!

Well, they were right.

At 2:30 p.m. yesterday I realized Jenny was coming in a half hour. Dustin made a cake the night before and it was on me to do the dishes and I was so wrapped up in a writing thing I was working on that I never did them. I had 10 minutes between when I finished work and my “baby shift” so I furiously did dishes. I got through half of them and then they were home and I had to feed the baby. While the baby ate, I sat in bed looking around the apartment at all the things I wanted to clean before Jenny came. As predicted the idea of another person cleaning up our mess filled Dustin with deep shame so he was like, “Oh god she’s coming at 3? I have to get out of here.” I debated asking him to just do the rest of the dishes, even though all of this was a predicament of my own making, but I decided against it. After all, I’d made my bed, I should…stand by while someone else made my bed? :(

I regretted all of it and then the baby finished eating and I had five minutes. I put him in his little bed with a rattle and ran around the house putting things away. I changed my clothes so if I had to feed the baby I wouldn’t be pulling my dress up over my head to do so. And then I checked my phone. Jenny had texted and then called. It was 3:05. Shit. I made a goofy face at the baby, stood in the doorway debating whether I could really leave him in his bed and I walked down the hallway to let Jenny in, and then ran down the hallway to grab her.

Jenny was sitting on my stoop with her cart of cleaning supplies. Jenny was awesome. She came in and asked me what I wanted her to do and I panicked a little. Dear lord. I told her I didn’t know, “whatever is standard!” Jenny loved the baby and the baby loved Jenny. She said she used to be a nanny. I didn’t tell her I did, too. I also resisted telling her I had never had someone clean my apartment before, but I decided not to ask her to both assuage my guilt and clean my apartment at the same time. They were surely not paying her enough.

Jenny said she’d start in the kitchen and the bathroom since those places are most important and then see what else there was time for, since she only had two hours. I said great and she showed me that she was using organic/safe-ish cleaning supplies as I asked for in my “Comments.” I regretted doing this immediately. What kind of demanding monster was I? Oh god. “Oh yeah I’m sorry, I don’t want to be a pain in the ass. It’s no big deal!” I resisted handing her my baby so that she could spray him with Clorox just to prove how cool and laid-back I was. “No, no, the baby, I totally understand.”

Eventually I went to change the baby then feed him a little bit on the side of the apartment. Jenny was putting dishes away, cleaning the ones I didn’t get to. I cringed. This was not in the description! I was supposed to do the dishes myself! Ahhhhhh. I would not let myself go in there and apologize. Eventually I walked over with the baby and asked her if it was okay if I left. We were a half hour in. She was wiping down counters. I tried not to look. She said of course, I wanted to ask if everyone left but didn’t. She said she’d be here. I told her to text me if she needed anything or had any questions. Then the baby and I went and wandered the neighborhood for an hour. I had nothing I really wanted to do, and it looked like it was going to rain and I forgot an umbrella and was certainly not going to go back in there to retrieve it.

So we basically wandered the streets for an hour aimlessly while someone cleaned our house. If I would have taken the baby to some kind of baby music class or something I would have totally felt like a Rich Mom.

We came back and when I opened the kitchen door there was a pretty huge pile of dirt in the kitchen. MY DIRT! She had swept the whole house and there it all was. We tiptoed around it and I took my shoes off and took the baby back into the other side of the apartment, to kind of hide. I changed his diaper again and he was laughing and cooing and she came through to Swiff the floors — she wanted to mop but this isn’t standard for the service, and our bucket was full of recycling and there was literally no way I was going to ask her to sort and put out the recycling so that she could use that bucket to mop. She praised me for using cloth diapers, telling the baby that I cared about him so much I was extra-patiently doing the natural route for him. This woman is obviously a genius, hah. She guessed his age and talked about her own kids a little and after we had established a bit of a rapport I went for it.

“So, like, how is this company to work for? Do you like working with them?”

“Oh lord,” she said. She stood up and leaned on her swiffer mop, shaking her head with her eyes closed. “Until today!”

“What!” I said, “Tell me! Oh god! What did they do???”

“Well let me tell you,” she said. I was so excited. She said she had worked her way up to $22 an hour, busting her ass (my words, not hers) and doing a great job for people, and today they told her, before she came here, that she was going back down to $15. “From 22 to 15!!” I told her that was total bullshit. We both shook our heads and confirmed what bullshit it was. She said her son hurt his foot at soccer practice and she had to take him to the emergency room, so she had to miss one day of work, and then after that they put her pay back down.

“Oh god,” I said, “I was afraid of this.”

She said that, well, they claimed it was due to her ratings, but she always got great tips and worked really hard, so she didn’t believe them. How bad could her ratings be? Of course she doesn’t actually have access to her ratings, so she will never know. She thinks it’s too much of a coincidence that she had to miss a day for her son. She thought that was why. I feared it was because I was using a deal I got in the mail for $29 and they were only paying her $15/hr. so they wouldn’t lose money. I didn’t mention this, just resolved to tip her enough to make up for it.

I told her about how Uber drivers could get fired for bad ratings, and there was no accountability whatsoever. How could you trust the customer to rate an employee reasonably? We both decided the whole thing was bullshit. She said that the employees rate the customers, too, and can decide whether they want to clean your house again. I hoped I would get a great rating from her. She kept Swiffing, I was tempted to tell her she didn’t need to do that, but I didn’t.

She told me about some of the people she’d cleaned for, like an Airbnb woman who cleaned apartments but showed up at the Airbnb location only to hire out another level of help. She unlocked the door, sat there while the person cleaned, and then left. She hired a different person every time, Jenny asked her why then she realized — she was auditioning all of them, looking for the best one.

We shook our heads and I lamented using the service and she said that no, she didn’t think they were evil. She didn’t even know them. She said at least using them you still hired people like her. Good people. True, I said. She said that the pay cut shenanigans only motivated her to get her other business moving more quickly. She said this is how she gets stuff done, when she gets mad. I didn’t want to ask her about her other gig — I didn’t want to be invasive — but she told me anyway. She said her idea was to do laundry for people, and organize closets. These services weren’t offered through this middleman, and she could print out business cards and let people know about it. “People always have problems with laundry,” she said and I nodded and laughed, pointing to our giant heap in the corner. I could tell she felt bad and just shook her head and laughed. I was thankful for the baby, which worked as an excuse for anything these days.

I played with him a little in the next room while she finished up, then when I saw her packing I grabbed a twenty and folded it up in my fist. She chatted with the baby, who laughed and smiled for her. “You must have so much fun with him!” she said. “I do,” I said, resisting telling her that I worked, too. “Well, now I do. It was hard in the beginning.” “Oh yes,” she said, “I know. We all go through it!” I loved that.

When she was moving for the door I thanked her profusely and she said of course, and that the only thing she asked was that I gave her a good rating. I promised I would then handed her the $20. She thanked me a bunch and I asked her if she was done for the day. She said yes. Now home to do homework with her kids. Then make dinner. Then put them to bed by 8. “Yep,” I said. “It never ends.” I wanted to tell her that 8 was my kid’s bed time, too, but then I realized 8 is probably everyone’s bedtime. Everyone’s bedtime that has a bedtime.

She left and either a customer service representative or a robot from the service texted me on my phone.

Thank you for choosing Handybook. How would you rate your Handybook professional? 1–10 (1= poor, 10 = excellent)

I replied with a 10 before I had even looked around the house. I felt like I was sticking it to the man, somehow. They replied saying, “I’m glad you enjoyed our service!” It wasn’t yours, I thought, it was Jenny’s. I wanted to reply and demand she got her $22 pay rate back. I didn’t.