My every-other-week house cleaner, Lynda, came today. After she left I walked through my clean house, looking slowly around, inhaling the scent and savoring the shine…with the knowledge that, with five kids, it won’t last long.
Then I went into the kitchen to make myself a cup of tea, and found myself staring at a very ordinary object.
My tea kettle. My shiny, shiny tea kettle.
Lynda had polished my tea kettle. And I can’t tell you how much pleasure it brought me, looking at my trusty friend, all bright and clean and ready to keep helping me make two cups per day of English Breakfast, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks of the year.
Would I ever polish my own tea kettle? Probably not.
Is it totally indulgent of me to get this much pleasure out of a shiny kettle? Probably so.
Could I survive, find joy, love my life, without a shiny tea kettle? Of course.
But…so what? That doesn’t mean that indulgences are evil, or that delegating non-essential tasks is shameful, or that we should be afraid to admit we love small luxuries.
Around this time last year a post of mine, in which I admitted to having paid cleaning help twice a month, inspired a surprising amount of debate. And while a lot of the comments centered around the ethical issues of paid help, I was also surprised to see just how many of us who use help – whether it’s child care, lawn work, cleaning help, you name it – feel sheepish, lazy, or spoiled…and just plain reluctant to admit we don’t do everything ourselves.
There’s a subtle and sometimes, not-so-subtle level of one-ups-womanship that often enters into conversations about delegating and asking for help and all the various duties that go along with motherhood. I’m guilty of it myself: feeling defensive when called out for using help while also referring to myself as an at-home mom and homemaker, I wanted it known that my life is very full, that I do a lot, that I work hard. That I need help, darnit.
Some of that need to justify comes from perceived judgment. Some if it stems from actual judgment. You’ve seen it: moms who “have” to work because they would otherwise lose our homes are treated differently from those who admit that they just like their jobs. Moms who “can’t” volunteer in the classroom because of outside commitments or small children at home are seen as less selfish than those who get itchy being around 25 six-year-olds at once, or those who feel their efforts are needed more elsewhere. And it feels slightly more virtuous to say we “have” to hire a house cleaner because we would otherwise become clinically depressed than to just admit we like shiny tea kettles.
So here I am, admitting it: I don’t exactly need help. I’m not saying I can do it all by myself; I can’t, or at least, I really really don’t want to. But there’s an awful lot that Lynda does that doesn’t, strictly speaking, have to be done.
Sure, it helps me get more work done, it makes my day nicer, it gives me a sense of peace to know the house is going to get tidied and shined up and I don’t have to do it myself. I would survive either way – just like I’d survive without deck chairs, cookies, and Storage Wars – but I’m glad that, at least for now, I don’t have to. And you know? I’m tired of feeling like I should apologize for that.
I know I’m incredibly fortunate to even have the luxury of weighing these options. But then, most of us are, by world standards, incredibly fortunate. That doesn’t mean we don’t all have struggles. It also doesn’t mean we have to prove to one another how deserving of help we really are.
From last year’s post:
We all have factors that make our lives more or less difficult, relatively speaking, but they are a complicated and ever-changing set of factors. And they’re irrelevant, really: no matter whether it’s just you and one baby and a regular cleaning service, or you have four kids, two puppies, three birds, a home-based business and no help, I’m going to give you the same advice: to figure out what’s really important to you and your family, prioritize, delegate, break large tasks down into smaller ones, tackle messes right away when you can, use small bits of time to your advantage, and try to keep a positive attitude about it all. Hiring help isn’t a magic bullet–but it’s definitely one tool of many that can help you manage it all.
What if, next time we learned that another mom had hired a mother’s helper, planned a vacation with her spouse, or gotten a new car, we gave an enthusiastic “Good for you!” instead of “Must be nice!” or worse, “I wish I could afford that,” or quietly stewing in jealousy? Everyone would feel better, and chip by chip, we could break down this pressure to play the “who’s got it harder?” game.
Let’s start right now. I’ll go first: I’m really stupid happy about my shiny tea kettle.
I’m also happy about any small or large luxuries you’ve been blessed with, and I hope you’ll share so we can all cheer you on. What indulgence is totally making your life better right now? Whether you’re sipping a glass of wine that cost more than $5.99 for the bottle or just finished booking a big trip, please tell us all about it.
My shiny, shiny tea kettle and I are here cheering you on.