How much cleaning should I do before the cleaning person arrives?
October 9, 2013 10:49 AM   Subscribe

I'm becoming irrationally anxious about the housecleaning service that's happening at my apartment this afternoon. I don't know what's reasonable to expect, how much prep I should do beforehand or how much I should manage the person they're sending over.

I booked 3 hours of cleaning through an Angie's List special offer. It's for 3 worker-hours of cleaning. I get the impression they're sending one person for three hours.

The apartment is 1100 square feet, mostly one big room with a couple of bathrooms (it's a loft). Laminate floors everywhere except the bathrooms, which have tile floors. We have a lot of windows but I know that's usually an extra (if the service even does windows) and I don't want them to touch the windows.

The problem is that there's a lot of clutter. Everywhere. There is no horizontal surface that isn't covered with old mail, grocery bags, project parts and equipment etc. The idea behind getting a cleaning service is that it would take some of the housekeeping burden off me and my SO, but I'm feeling now like it's forcing me to spend the next four hours cleaning up in order to get any kind of value out of the cleaning service. The clutter has to be removed for cleaning to take place, and there's no way the cleaning person will know where to put things unless I oversee the whole operation, in which case I might as well do it myself.

I'm uncomfortable with telling people what to do, and I generally feel like service people do the minimum they can get away with (or less) - I have had plenty of experiences with various service people where they have been useless or worse.

Should I just have them clean the floors and the bathrooms? Do I need to spend half a day cleaning before they get here? How am I supposed to interface with the person who come to clean in terms of degree of direction and supervision? How can I feel less stressed out about this?
posted by under_petticoat_rule to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
How can I feel less stressed out about this?

Call the company and ask them. Seriously! Housekeepers are used to it.

My housekeeper told me how "clean" my apartment was the first she came to work, even though all I did was declutter it (it certainly was not clean, and was still pretty cluttered, IMO). She said that I didn't need to do any prep before she came over, and told me that she usually does things like decluttering, putting clothes in the laundry, etc for her other clients, in addition to the normal surface cleaning/dusting/vacuuming.

Even in spots where there are a few too many "things" on a horizontal surface, she moves them all, cleans under them, and puts them back, usually in better order than I had them in.

That said, I usually declutter before she comes over, and nobody touches my laundry but me. But that's just my preference.
posted by homodachi at 10:55 AM on October 9, 2013

My sister has a weekly cleaning service for her & her husband, and her place looks great. You want the most bang for your buck. Put your dishes away, and declutter, absolutely. Otherwise it will waste their time (your money). You want them doing the "real" cleaning - cleaning the floors, tubs, faucets, walls, tables, carpets, dust knick-nacks etc. That is what will make the place look "wow" clean. Shove all the clutter into a box if you have to, and hide the box.

3h for 1100sq ft is about right (or 2 people for 1.5h).

Once you get a pattern down pat (oh! cleaners are coming! Spend 30 mins to declutter), it will be a breeze. And it will keep you from cluttering up during the week. And your place *will* be a wow clean "how does she do it" relaxing place to be, I promise.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:56 AM on October 9, 2013 [8 favorites]

Oh, and if this will be an ongoing thing, of course tell them how you like things and give pointed instructions. This is a business after all. Once they get to know you, and get to know what you want, they will just want to focus on cleaning while they are there. And if they're only doing the bare minimum and you're not satisfied, then fire them and find a different service. There are lots of great independent businesses that will do a good job for you.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:58 AM on October 9, 2013

Best answer: What I've realized, over time, is that there are many things that I'll do myself when I'm not feeling so lazy (wash dishes, put laundry in washer/dryer, clean toilets, vacuum), and a couple of things (mop floors, fold laundry) that I will almost never do regardless of how much free time / motivation I have. So I've figured out that the best use of my money is to pay a cleaning lady to do precisely those things that I'll never do and nothing more.
posted by wutangclan at 11:04 AM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I view my cleaning service as having two purposes: 1) Cleaning the germs and dust out of germy and dusty places; and B) making me declutter every few weeks.

Do I need to spend half a day cleaning before they get here?

It will be much less than this. Here's how you do it:
Get a bag. Not a box*, a bag. Start in a corner. Pick everything that is not furniture up. Ask yourself, "Where does this belong?" If you know, put it there (the answer may well be "Right where it was," which is fine). If you don't know, put it in the bag. Continue until the room is done. This will take you much less time than you think, and by the time you finish that first room, you won't even be asking yourself "Where does this belong?", you'll just be picking stuff up and putting it away automatically.
* -- If you do not have a place to file papers and mail, then you may get a box in addition to the bag. This is for papers and mail only.

That's your short-term strategy that will get the place decluttered enough for the cleaner to focus on the de-germ/dusting part.

Then you put the bag somewhere out of the way -- somewhere inconvenient (closet, basement, garage) but not inaccessible (attic, shed).

After you've put the bag away, go through that box of papers. Do this in front of the TV with something on that you like but don't have to spend a lot of time actively watching (sports are great for this).

Now you're ready for the cleaners. Let them do their thing and see whether you like it and want to keep them doing it.

That bag that's in the garage or whatever? Take stuff out of that bag if you find you need it, and then put stuff you take out where it belongs. That may require designating a new place for it. That's fine. In one year, you go through whatever's left in that bag and you either throw it away or you put in your Box Of Things I Am Saving For Posterity (wedding photos, yearbooks).

Keep one grocery bag full of old grocery bags. No more.

Minimize your horizontal surfaces and define every one, with limits on what goes there and for how long. "This is the dining room table; nothing stays on this overnight. This is the mail table; the mail goes here and is cleaned off at least weekly. This is where I put the TV remote and my beer; nothing else stays here overnight."

And the best tip I can give you: It is easier to do five minutes of cleaning every day than to do two and a half hours of cleaning every month, and you will get much, much more done.
posted by Etrigan at 11:07 AM on October 9, 2013 [15 favorites]

Best answer: I agree that you should declutter/do the things that you do feel manageable and don't want to pay for (this is dishes for a lot of people, ymmv).

But what I do when I do not have time to declutter is put aside an area ( I have an old yoga mat) and tell them to just put stuff on it if they can't figure out where it goes or don't have time for it.

I discovered before that some cleaners would just put it on my bed (Dirty stuff. On my bed. I mean what) and so started that system.

I don't supervise at all. I usually leave.
posted by sweetkid at 11:08 AM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

The problem is that there's a lot of clutter. Everywhere. There is no horizontal surface that isn't covered with old mail, grocery bags, project parts and equipment etc. The idea behind getting a cleaning service is that it would take some of the housekeeping burden off me and my SO, but I'm feeling now like it's forcing me to spend the next four hours cleaning up in order to get any kind of value out of the cleaning service.

Well, do you want to live with every horizontal surface cluttered? To me one of the huge values of the lady who cleans our house is that having her come basically holds back the hoard(ing). I have to de-clutter and organise my storage for her to be able to clean. Yes, getting prepped for the first time is awful but the point is that she comes every week, and getting the house to a state where she can clean it now takes about 30 minutes of tidying.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:32 AM on October 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

Things into which you can throw your clutter before the cleaning lady comes:

Banker's Boxes
Laundry Baskets
Trash Bags if it is laundry
Pack 'n' Play
The Baby's Crib, although it will all have to be removed before you put the baby back in

But yeah, when the clutter is out of hand, I pile the worst of it into a couple of laundry baskets and throw all the clean laundry on my bed and put the laundry baskets of clutter on the bed too, since she doesn't really have to mess with the bed. I have a couple of times made my kids throw all their toys into the baby's crib and then just thrown all that clutter back on the floor afterwards because YOU GOTTA DO WHAT YOU GOTTA DO. But laundry baskets are the best thing, they stack! And hold laundry as well as clutter!

I also do have a sturdy little decorative basket that I give her to toss random bits and bobs in (since I have children there are a lot of them), so she doesn't have to try to guess where they go and I have all the "found objects" in one place.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:02 PM on October 9, 2013

It sounds like your problem is a lack of appropriate storage and/or a lack of daily sorting. Why are old mail and grocery bags sitting strewn across the counters? Is there a place where those items are stored? Make it a habit of getting them there.

My husband used to call our housekeeper "the stacker" because she put everything in piles. I finally had to explain that the poor woman had to stack his crap because how the hell else was she going to dust and mop?

You need to declutter before the cleaner arrives. If the situation is as bad as you say, then rethink how you're storing/sorting things.
posted by 26.2 at 12:58 PM on October 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If your house hasn't been cleaned in a long time, three hours won't be enough to do everything. I suggest that you ask them to do the kitchen and bathroom first, because there'll be a very noticeable difference that'll make you feel good, and as if you got your money's worth. They won't be able to vacuum and dust and change the bed in the time they have left, so you need to tell them what the next priority is. I'd get the clutter off the floors and ask for whatever cleaning they need, be it vacuuming, dust mop, damp mop, whatever.

The cleaning company probably offers the deal and then tells the client that 3 hours isn't enough. They're not scamming you; it's just the truth. See how they do on the introductory offer, and then decide if you want them to come back and do more.

This is just one visit you're talking about. There's absolutely no need to prepare the whole place for a deep cleaning. Also, if you're used to living with lots of stuff around, and you want someone to clean around the clutter, then that's fine. The idea is to improve your life, not to have your place cleaned according to someone else's standards.

As for telling them what to do -- normally, I state some priorities. I let them clean and then the next time point out some things I'd like done differently. I used to feel uncomfortable about that, but eventually realized that the person doing the work actually wants to know what you want.

Plenty of service people do the minimum. That's why it's good to be specific.
posted by wryly at 1:12 PM on October 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

While I find the forced-declutter aspect of a regular cleaning service to be as much of a feature as it is a bug, I agree with wryly that it's unnecessary for a one time visit. Have them do the kitchen and the bathroom, and get stuff off the floor so they can vacuum. They probably won't have time to do more than that.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:18 PM on October 9, 2013

If you don't put it away yourself before they arrive then they will be forced to use Maid Logic to decide where everything goes and you'll end up finding your back scratcher in the kitchen in your spatula drawer and a decorative basket full of remote controls, iPods, and phones.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:47 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

What you want here is a long-term relationship with your housekeeper.

I love mine. Let's call her Maria. She is so sweet and friendly. She's been cleaning my place for ten years. More, she is 100% reliable. In ten years she has never missed a cleaning date. When you find someone like that, you invest some energy in politely requesting what you want.

Maria does laundry. Yay! Once I hid the bleach, that has worked out well.

On rare occasions I leave her a note: "Hi! When you wash the bed linens, please make the bed rather than folding the top sheet and leaving it under the pillows."

Also early on, it seemed like she couldn't see dust, and I wondered if she needed glasses. That little problem corrected itself without my intervention, happily.

Which is just to say, if you have someone willing and able, invest the time to communicate your needs and grow your relationship.

Also, be generous. When I'm out of town or on vacation, I give Maria time off, with "a little extra" that is the equivalent to the time missed. Leave little gifts that you know she couldn't afford on her own, but DO NOT leave shit that you no longer want, that's insulting.

Yes, it's good to be specific, but in a long-term arrangement, it's also good to go with the flow a little bit. Over time, you'll get what you want.

Oh, and, yes, I tidy up before she comes, but if I don't have time, I don't. Maria handles it.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 6:41 PM on October 9, 2013

The first time the cleaner came to us, she took five hours for the kitchen alone. Granted, she is extremely thorough, but I'm not a hoarder and it's not a big kitchen. I had precleaned the surfaces and cleared away the stuff lying on them the night before. Five hours. Because she cleaned the tops of the cupboards, every little corner of the oven, the coffe machine etc.

My advice: tell them what NOT to clean or they'll clean everything!
posted by Omnomnom at 1:02 AM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I hired the most judgmental cleaning lady evah! I'm a very tidy person, but you know, cats. So we moved the sofa and there was a hoard of "cat toys" and some tumbleweeds of fur. She mentioned that the place was less than clean, but we were moving out, and I figured, hey, part of the deal. She did an amazing job, so I'm okay with getting my feelings hurt.

If you want to get the most from your cleaning person, you DO need to de-clutter. Cleaning people don't want to clean around crap.

For the time being, collect all the clutter and put it in one place, then your cleaning person can actually clean, and you can sort through your crap at your leisure.

Do have a prioritized list of what you want cleaned. Kitchen, bathrooms, dusting, vacuuming. 3 hours will go quickly, as Omnomnom states, some kitchens need more than that alone!

This is a good exercise for getting your feet wet with a cleaning person. You can see if there's value in it for you, and you can decide if it's something you want to do.

I will share this with you:

No person, no matter what their station in life is, or what they do for a living, should be required to pick your underwear off the floor.

--My Mother.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:17 AM on October 10, 2013

Definitely declutter so that they can actually clean and not waste time moving things around. Dump it all in a box if you don't have time to sort through it now, but please get it up out of the way. You'll be amazed at how fresh and clean everything looks and smells if they can do their deep-cleaning and not decluttering.
posted by JaneL at 5:51 PM on October 11, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for the tips. The follow-up: the service couldn't make it at the appointed time and had to reschedule. I did the "priorities" thing and decluttered enough that they could get some actual cleaning done.

The company was really poor at appointment setting, and they didn't give the cleaner any of the info I took care to send (where to park, how to buzz into the building) so I had to explain it all to the person when he arrived. He ended up calling me 25 minutes late, and by the time he got parked and came up it was 45 minutes.

I should have managed him more closely, because after he left I noticed all these problems (wedges of detritus that had been pushed by his mop to the perimeter of the area he mopped, the bath mat from the floor of the bathroom sitting on the kitchen counter, a dustpan on the floor that he just mopped around instead of moving, missed one whole area of floor, generally all sorts of "I'll do the bare minimum and hope it's good enough" things). I was unimpressed with the service, and I spent 2 hours finishing the job after he left. I tipped him anyway, he seemed like a nice enough guy if not a great house cleaner.

So lessons learned:
1. Yes, declutter.
2. Manage more closely.
3. Have a specific list of priorities that must get done, followed by other things if there's time left.
4. Inspect the work before they load their supplies out in case you need them to attend to anything they've missed.

Thanks again for the tips!
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 11:58 AM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

That's terrible service! Hope you'll find a better deal some time.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:11 PM on October 18, 2013

Yea I don't think that's at all good service. I've had much better - please don't think of that as a standard, although mileage may vary by area, cost, etc.
posted by sweetkid at 12:16 PM on October 18, 2013

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