Snow White Doesn't Live Here Anymore

Laughter, pleasure, malice, and the pursuit of adult fun

Why Do I Feel Guilty For Having Someone Clean My House?

Would you feel bad having somebody clean your mess? Why?

I was prompted to write about the importance of housekeeping when I read a news report, coming out of Italy, with the following title: "Woman Kidnapped by Ex-Partner to Clean Home." According to a police report, an Italian man was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping his ex-girlfriend from a pub and "forcing her to iron his clothes and wash the dishes at his home."

The 43-year-old man "dragged the woman out of a pub in the port city of Genoa, shoved her into a car and took her to his home where he made her do his household chores after threatening her."

It took arrest and the specter of prison to make this man feel that he'd done something wrong in forcing another human being to clean his house.

So why do I feel bad paying someone to do it?

I feel guilty about having another woman clean my house, but not guilty enough to do it myself.

"Tell them I get paid for it," Heidi instructs, reading over my shoulder. "This is not an act of love. It's my job. Now lift up your feet. And stop analyzing everything already. Okay, you can put your feet back."

I'm trying to get rid of guilt; my goal is to replace it with humility and gratitude. I'm trying especially hard to distinguish between genuine humility and its evil twin, humiliation.

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Not so easy.

The fear of humiliation is when you're worried that others will see your inadequacies ("I'm embarrassed to be seen without mascara because I look like a mole only with smaller eyes"; "I'm horrified that if my kids are dumb or spoiled, people will think I'm a bad mother"; "I hate driving a gas-guzzler - I feel like everybody thinks I paid no attention to Earth Day").

The fear of humiliation, when it comes to knowing that I'm a lousy housekeeper, is my fear that others will learn that I'm a lousy housekeeper, and that such knowledge will make me feel ashamed of myself. Women are meant to clean the floors, the bathrooms, the windows, the carpets, the kitchens, and make sure the house smells sweet and looks gorgeous. My mother and grandmother did this; my aunts did it; the neighbor ladies did it. Hell, they washed the steps leading up to the house; they washed the driveways.

But they didn't have jobs outside the home, as the phrase now goes. They didn't teach or write; they also got real and deep satisfaction from the successful completion of their tasks.

I work and I don't get satisfaction from cleaning. So what do I do? I work more hours, take on additional assignments, and hire a woman who has started her own business--and a successful one at that--doing what I can't--or won't--do myself.

Look, I don't cut my own hair, fill my own cavities, or do my own dry-cleaning, either. So I have given myself permission to get over my fear of humiliation about not being able to house-keep.

In all humility, I realize I need help. Heidi offers it.

"You could do it yourself," says Heidi, as she folds the sheets into beautiful, orgami-like perfect squares, "But you would hate every minute of it. You'd probably end up in a sleeping bag an cooking over a Bunsen Burner. You'd live in one room so as not to have to vacuum the rest of the house. The cats would hate it. Your husband wouldn't like it too much, either."

Humility is when you think not about how you will be judged by others, but how you can help them - or even how you can think about them ("Nobody looks at me on the beach, since I am no longer eighteen- I can just enjoy myself with my friends and splash around"; "If my kids are clean and happy, I'm doing a great job "; "I'm giving my neighbor a lift to the hospital so he doesn't care what year my car was made").

The big difference is that humiliation is about yourself and humility is about realizing that you are not all that important in the grand scheme of things - except when you can make a difference.

And that can be a big relief.

Gina Barreca, Ph.D., is Professor of English at UConn, and author of It's Not That I'm Bitter: How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Visible Panty Lines and Conquered the World.

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