I already had two Etsy shops which provided a little spending cash, but clearly not enough to live on. I had wanted and tried to run an in-home preschool but finding children was harder than I thought, despite my years of experience with pre-k and homeschooling and my large, fenced-in back yard. I guess everyone else, like me, was trying to avoid spending the $85 a week fee that childcare in my area runs.
I needed cash and fast. What skills did I have after being out of the workforce for so long? Other than some teaching skills, crafting skills, and childcare skills, I had years of experience cleaning my own home. My kids were always underfoot, always making messes. So I put my experience to work. I located a few busy friends who needed a break and were willing to pay for a cleaning. I made a list of all I needed to do to get each home clean. I had a basic list (vacuum, dust, mop, sweep, clean bathrooms, general pick-up, etc.) and this service ran $40 and took about 2-3 hours to accomplish. For $60 I would add in dusting blinds/ceiling fans, doing some laundry, changing bedsheets, cleaning up after pets, sweeping porches/decks, etc. This one was called "the works" because it was pretty much (within reason) what the owner wanted done most. A "works" house took about 4-5 hours to clean, maybe a little more. Also, any two story home automatically was charged the $60 rate due to size. I cleaned those few homes and then used that as a spring board to finding more, all the while bathing the endeavor in prayer. Within only weeks I had 12 or so rotating locations. Not all were regulars but it was still more money than I'd had at home. My only problem was it was getting harder and harder to accomplish any schoolwork with my new jobs. I'd have to leave home by 8 or so to get the jobs done, and wouldn't be back most days until lunch time. By the time I had gotten settled in to helping all three children, it'd be time to go pick up my husband at work (we'd sold the extra vehicle for extra money). For the first time in our homeschooling lives, I felt someone was always getting "jipped". My then 5 year- old needed to learn to read; my highschooler needed help with at least two subjects a day, and my then 4th grader was getting into harder math and language. I never had time to do the fun extra things we always had. It was becoming bare bones and no fun at all. It was with a heavy heart, tons of tears, and hours of prayer that I decided, for a season, we needed to make changes in order for me to be able to be there for my husband and our finances and really give it my all. So I enrolled the children and focused on getting as many cleaning jobs as possible.
I occasionally cleaned two locations in one day. If they are small jobs, two hours or so, it's very workable. But if you have two 4-hour homes for example, it's very physically draining. Yes, you may think, that's only an 8- hour work day for $120 at my rate. But lifting and tugging the vacuum, climbing stairs all day, and bending over scrubbing tubs will kill your back if you don't take a break. So I never recommend two large homes in one day. (I have a curved spine and what I think may be a heel spur and two homes a day will about kill me. I ache all night when I do that. Think moderation and remember your health).
Why one earth would anyone want to clean for a living???
1. Good pay. If you can find the right clients you can easily make between $10-20 an hour.
2. It's fairly flexible. Got a sick kid? Most clients understand and will let you come another day. You can generally work the hours you want to; my hours were sometime between 9 am and 2:30 pm. Not bad at all and allowed me to get kids to and from school. I've even been allowed to bring my kids along. They pack a lunch and toys and play while I work.
3. It's honest work and you know you're making a difference in someone's life. For me it wasn't just about the money. I wanted these tired, over-worked moms to come home and breath a sigh of relief that I had been there.
4. As you expand you can hire someone to help you. But that is a whole other issue and can get complicated. My husband and sister and my own kids have all helped at one point or another. My sister and kids I pay in combo meals at the drive through. :) My husband and I split the money equally.
5. You're a neat freak and like to clean things. This job might just be for you!
6. Added bonus...weight loss! I have lost about 20 pounds in the last two years. Admittedly, some of it was stress-related but the last 5 lbs. or so have been from the constant cleaning. I'd get up and drink a breakfast drink or have a small bowl of cereal. Then clean for hours 5-6 days a week. Even with my daily fast food 3 pm "lunch" I still lost weight. Imagine how much I could have lost on a good diet and cutting out sodas combined with my cleaning!
7. Instant payment. At most homes I was paid immediately. Meaning I could buy some groceries right away, hand out lunch money, or fill the gas tank if needed. That is a big perk for those living on a very tight budget.
Now for the cons....
1. It's physically hard
2. Even if you like cleaning, you may soon tire of it.
3. You can't please everyone all the time, but try to do your very best to clean each home to the owner's expectations. Some of us are more detail-oriented while others are more concerned with the big picture and over-all pick up of the home. This one abhors dust; another lady a clean tub. Women tend to be very different in what they expect of a house keeper.
4. You'll have to be careful to calculate gas, cleaners, and other expenses to make money. Packing a lunch to take along will certainly help. Try to plan out the day's errands according to where you'll be cleaning.
Don't forget also to figure out the legalities of running your own business. Do you need to make sure you're legally protected in case you break something? What happens if you are injured? What if your vacuum sucks up a necklace or toy and breaks? What about taxes? Will you need a DBA account? Make sure you check with a professional on these issues.
Growing your business
Do some research in your area to find out the going rate. Get business off social networking sites and through word-of-mouth. Clean a few friend's homes for free or at a reduced rate and ask them to be references. Hang fliers in beauty shops and grocery stores. Offer holiday or birthday specials. Give regular customers a discount off their next cleaning for every referral or for booking you 2-3 times in advance. Allow clients to purchase a coupon for a free cleaning as a gift for a friend.
Think of a catchy name for your business. One mom of 5 children, all under the age of 12 said to me, "I clean but the mess is right back the next day. It's not as if the cleaning fairies are going to pop out during the night and clean it all up again." What a cute image I thought....a cleaning fairy! I could picture the logo...a little fairy with a sparkly feather duster in her hand instead of a wand. The slogan: "The Cleaning Fairy--working her magic to make your home spotless."
Ground rules and basics
You''ll need to decide some ground rules. How far are you willing to go at each home? What would you not be willing to do, if anything? Are you willing to pick up children's rooms for an hour just to be able to get to the dresser top to dust and see the floor to vacuum? Or would you rather toys be cleaned upon your arrival? Are you willing to clean hardwoods the way each owner wants them to be cleaned (such as with a spray bottle and cloth, on your hands and knees) or use certain cleaners? Who will provide the cleaners? And what will you use? (From my own experience I found some of the best bathroom cleaners are also the most dangerous to inhale. On more than one occasion I thought my lungs were going to burn out before I could exit an enclosed shower to get fresh air. There are some great recipes for all-natural cleaners online. Vinegar is an excellent cleaner once you get past the smell).
Things I wish I'd known....
I am now entering a different job that is more steady than cleaning is in my area. But before I go I wanted to give a few last tips, things I wish I'd done differently:
1. Have a contract. Make it very detailed. Discuss how you'll handle the cleaning, what your client can expect, how many hours you think you'll be in their home, and what to do if an accident occurs or an item gets broken (I have had 2 broken items in 6 months of cleaning and almost toppled from a staircase landing-better to be safe than sorry!). Also, will there be a door left open for you? Will you have a key or alarm code? Can your children come along if they happen to be home on school break or are slightly under the weather? Do your clients mind you having helpers?
2. If you want toys and clutter removed before you arrive, say so! This was one of my worst mistakes. It is SO hard to clean a home that is filled with clutter, loose toys, and knick-knacks. It adds a lot of extra time sorting and even after cleaning, if you put all the owner's items back where they were, it still looks dirty. I cleaned a home with a live-in hoarder of sorts. All I was allowed to do was lift the items, clean under them, and put them all back because this girl would have a fit if things were not in their places. You couldn't tell I'd even been there!
3. Have a home walk-through. Go to each new client's home with a notebook and follow them through each room asking what they want done. Then you can decide how much to charge. It will also help you to make notes on where bedsheets are located, which cleaners to use where, etc.
4. Compile a notebook with all your contracts and checklists. I wish I'd made a check list sheet for each home. If I had it to again I would so this and leave a copy of what was done each week for my client, also keeping one for myself so I'd recall which rotating items were done and which needed to be done. It is extremely difficult to keep up with whose blinds were dusted, which baseboards were wiped, and which beds were changed in multiple locations who may not need these things done each time you arrive.
5. Ask owners where you need to put loose items in each room. My big pet peeve is clutter...little odd things everywhere. I believe every thing has its place and I stick to that pretty strictly in my own home. I just can't function if there is stuff everywhere. When I clean I have the same philosophy. I want the owners to come home to a home that looks inviting and relaxing. So what to do with the things that aren't trash but don't have an obvious place to go? I suggest each owner have at least one basket for oddball items, perhaps even one basket per room. This would be where random toys, homework, library books, receipts, loose change, etc. would go. You can't imagine how many times I've confused a home owner by putting something where I feel it would go, and then she can't locate it upon arriving home.
6. Clean from top to bottom. Work yourself into a routine at each house. You might choose to do all the dusting in every room, then all the mopping, etc. Or you might find it easier to carry your supplies from room to room and completely clean one room from top to bottom. I have done it both ways but tend to do all like chores at once. I start most homes with general pick-up, then dusting/wiping counter tops. Then bathrooms, laundry, etc. I finish with sweeping, vacuuming, and mopping. At first homes took me forever to clean but the more often I went, the more into my routine I got.
7. If you have helpers, make sure they clean thoroughly. And make sure they are reliable and honest. My helpers and I divide the workload. Each person knows what they are to do and we do it. We try to pick the chores based on what we are best at and like. I hate dusting but love a clean bathroom. My husband likes to dust and can reach high places. My sister enjoys Windexing. With each person doing what they like best, you're sure to have a clean home.
8. Look into cleaning churches and businesses. I find it is much easier to clean a church than a home. Most of the time the offices and churches will be very predictable and routine. You just never know what you're going to see in a home from week to week. Also, if you can't be away from home by day, cleaning churches and offices is usually an evening job.
9. Last of all, you might want to lock yourself in while cleaning. I hadn't thought much of it until I began to clean a beautiful, 2- story Georgian brick way out in the country. I'd be cleaning away, music blasting, never imagining anyone could be around. I'd often take my 6 year old with me to this house as it was very child-friendly and the owner didn't mind. Anyway, she had gone out in the backyard to play one day while I cleaned downstairs. She came running back in and told me that the woman outside had waved at her. I immediately went out to see who she was talking about and saw no one. Talk about chills! From that point on I made a rule she couldn't play out at a house unless I was working where I could see her and I began locking doors behind me. Coming into a home that has been left unlocked for you could also be dangerous. I prefer to enter a locked home and leave the same way. I found out, after months of cleaning a certain home, that this lady has a neighbor who keeps close tabs on everyone, including me. He seems to know when I come and go and has a history of going in and out of people's basements, gardens, etc. You can be sure I locked myself in there. Maybe he's just a harmless, lonely man, but better to not take chances.
I hope this helps those of you who may be searching for a side job or a new business. House keeping is not easy but it tends to pay well. You just need a good reputation, be willing to work hard, and build your business steadily. It can be a very rewarding business.