One plate, one spoon... and other new house rules

They say it is important to be aware of the changing times and seasons, and to move with them. A while ago I started to feel that it was time to transition from full-time housekeeper to less frequent help. It was not an easy thought to contend with because we have been used to having someone employed to do the house chores ever since our oldest made his appearance in the world.

That, however, has never stopped me from teaching our young ones all there is to know about managing a home, and I often reminded them that the housekeeper was there for me, not them. Indeed, as soon as they hit their teen years, I would announce that if they required their rooms cleaned, they would have to cough up some of their allowance to facilitate the favour. They were not amused, but neither was I trying to be amusing. I’ve always warned them that as far as running a home is concerned, they should never hire someone because they don’t know how to do something; rather because they don’t want to otherwise they will be paralysed when that person is unavailable.

And so for the first time in many, many years, I am without a full-time housekeeper. Save for someone who is now coming just twice a week, we are on our own. I must admit it’s a strange feeling – terrifying but also liberating. Terrifying because I am constantly fighting the feeling that I will end up being overwhelmed by the house chores (which is not true because everyone at home is actually capable of doing everything; it’s just a matter of planning and coordination) and liberating because I can now take full charge of my home, something that is not so easy when there’s an employee constantly in the picture.

I’ve come a long way. I used to hear fellow women talking about how they had let their full-time housekeepers go once the children grew up and I would wonder how they managed. At the time I could never imagine myself without someone to do the cleaning and cooking, especially because I was a full-time employee myself! So when the family agreed that it was our turn to do the same, we all knew interesting times lay ahead.

But it has been a gradual transition for us – moving from two full-time and live-in workers to one full-time live-in, who was with us for more than 15 years and who spoiled our youngest rotten, and an additional one three times a week, to a daily one for a while until where we are now.

One of the things I heard often from women who had travelled this road before me was how good it was to have the home all to themselves and their families once the season for full-time domestic help ended. Now, three weeks into our own experience, I can’t help but agree even though we are still acclimatising to doing most things for ourselves.

It has been interesting to hold family conferences where the agenda is to devise ways to make sure that the chores get done regularly and in good time so they don’t become unmanageable. One of the suggestions has been to have everyone wash their own dishes, and has been general agreement. However, the young ones seem to think it is okay to pile their dishes with the intention of getting to them at some point. And maybe it is, except that I can’t stand to see mountains of dirty dishes, so I usually end up washing everything in sight. In the process, I’ve made a rather surprising discovery – I actually don’t mind washing dishes! As long as I have some good music or interesting talks playing in the background, I can go on and on.

Our oldest presented another interesting proposal that is meant to ensure dirty dishes are kept at a minimum. He says I should lock away most of the utensils and leave everyone with only what they need – one plate, one spoon, one mug and a couple of pots and pans – so that we are forced to wash immediately after use. Right now we are not discounting any ideas, however crazy, as we try to settle on a routine that works for all. 

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