When Housekeeping Services are Ableist and Traumatizing #MentalHealthAwareness

I’m continually amazed how using social media to find a housekeeping service ends up being an exercise in disrespect and dismissive futility.

My most recent provider does not have staff who are vaccinated so we cannot work with them any longer. It was an amicable parting, but now I’m back in the jungle looking for a provider.

Very few people who hire a housekeeper want to feel judged and certainly don’t want to undergo a mandatory mental health assessment. In fact, what’s creepy and predatory is assuming a role in my treatment team without being asked or invited. It is a paternalistic business model and I’m exhausted by that after 51 years

Sometimes housekeeping is just housekeeping – a respectful mutual transaction. You come to my home and do the mutually agreed upon tasks with the mutually agreed upon tools/supplies and I provide the mutually agreed upon compensation. Housekeeping can look like other things, too. But assuming that someone seeking housekeeping services wants unsolicited mental health compassion is condescending ableist fuckery.

It isn’t that the support itself is bad or unhealthy, it is the way it is packaged so to speak. Using active listening skills is a good start. Assuming I need you to teach me how to clean or encourage me to work out my mental health processing with you by my side is incredibly creepy. I’m somewhat at a loss to figure out why someone would just randomly do that.

Because I talk about living with mental illness? Does that openness mean I need to be fixed or cured? That I don’t deserve respect or dignity? It certainly shows you haven’t been paying close enough attention to my blogging about growing up being groomed by a sexual predator in my family. Or my physical health constraints. You just leap right to savior mode. I call bullshit on that

(Hint – this just happened to me so I’m fuming about it.)

Ableist beliefs about innate ability, even when they come from self-proclaimed progressive men or people, are a cop-out masquerading as an ideological position. They’re a convenient excuse made for folks who want to seem sensitive while maintaining personal power in their relationships. It is an outgrowth of toxic masculinity where some folks feel it necessary to teach me how to exist in my sphere. Instead of creating a respectful transaction and mutual aid for everyone, it creates another power imbalance.

It fits right in there with the person who told me they couldn’t clean the house until they had used the Power of Three to organize everything to where it should be. Uh, nope.

Or the person who refused to shut the doors when she stepped outside to do things like shake a rug or grab something from her care because my cats should be better trained.

Or the person who insisted on changing litter boxes that we had literally just scooped and were not in the way of housekeeping spaces at all. Then tried to charge us for that time for a task we said don’t do.

Or the person who lectured us about how we kept our shoes. The guy who swore to God he thoroughly cleaned four rooms, a hallway, and three sets of steps in 45 minutes. The person who refused to move items on the counter to wipe under them – like the toaster or the can opener, expecting me to pile all of those things onto the table and then put them back.

Or the person who told me the clutter on a single table is a sign of poor boundaries and not a good fit for housekeeping services. The person who spent 90 minutes cleaning the bathroom and yet somehow didn’t clean the floor or the toilet. The person who agreed to clean out the fridge and freezer, but also expected me to empty the contents ahead of time (??) and repack it, but didn’t tell me.

The person who snuck bleach into the house to use even when told it was hazardous to me and got irate when I kicked them out of the house.

The person who brought a gun to my neighborhood and left it in an unlocked car “for protection.”

The theme here is someone telling me what I and my family and my home need, whether its a bleach scrub or a gun, and disregarding my autonomy.

I get that someone might say “you have too much clutter” or “too many cats” or something. That’s about them and their comfort zones and that’s fine. What is not appropriate is transferring your sense of comfort to me. Very few people who hire a housekeeper want to feel judged and certainly don’t want to undergo a mandatory mental health assessment.

In fact, what’s creepy and predatory is assuming a role in my treatment team without being asked or invited. It is a paternalistic business model and I’m exhausted by that after 51 years. It is possible to have a mutually beneficial arrangements that’s respectful, practical, and fulfilling for each party. That has to start with listening to what I need/want/expect rather than vomiting assumptions all over me. In return, I listen to what you need/want/expect and don’t make assumptions. If you say “Let’s get this clutter under control” and I haven’t identified that as my priority, nope. If I want to pay you in exposure and free cleaning supplies, nope.

I am not someone who thinks a housekeeper or cleaner is a servant. They are a contractor, a human being who deserves respect and professional treatment in terms of compensation, expectations, and personal interactions. I have my own internalized expectations – I don’t want or expect them to do my dishes, to put away my shoes or clothing, to fold my laundry, or other tasks I consider private. I will happily get out of their way so they can do their job without my input or my looking over their shoulder. It is important work, important to our household functioning and important enough to our family for us to hire professionals.

I have cleaned houses before to earn a living and I know it is very hard, demanding work. I always keep that in mind when working with someone now.

There is truth that I cannot do certain tasks because of my disabilities, one reason we do prioritize hiring professionals. But that’s not due to a lack of understanding how to clean or needing to “do it together” with someone. I can see where those tools might be helpful to others, but that’s not what I need and it is irksome to have someone else tell me what I do need. It also makes me wonder how they actually interact with people who need those supports – being forced or guilt-tripped into taking on tasks for your own good is a (bad) parenting role, not a professional role.

For example, if I leave dishes in the sink, I would not expect the housekeeper to clean the sink. It isn’t their job to take care of my dishes. It is my job to move them out of the sink before their arrive. yes, sometimes that means I put them in the over and sometimes in the dishwasher. That’s my call.

I don’t need reminders. I don’t need a lecture or admonishment or gentle prompt. What works for me is my wife yelling at me “move the dishes before they come” or my simply doing it myself. Trust me, it doesn’t happen again very often once I experience the natural consequence.

Remember, there’s a clear difference between offering help/support/aid and telling someone they need help/support/aid. You should always begin with asking.

Housekeeping can be a valuable tool for anyone living with mental illness. But it is not a one size fits all solution and should never be imposed on someone. Paternalistic approaches to community supports are rarely effective. My talking openly about my mental health challenges and victories is not an invitation to join my treatment team. And it is absolutely okay for someone who is mentally ill to say “no” to your unsolicited solution to a problem they didn’t ask you to address.

Do better.

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