You Can Clean Up as a Freelance Housecleaner

Make money as a freelance house cleaner, includes advice on how to advertise your business, organizing your cleaning schedule and freelance payment.
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
September/October 1977
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You can make money as a freelance house cleaner with these helpful tips.
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Make money as a freelance house cleaner, includes advice to start a part-time house cleaning job while still spending time with your children.

Become a Freelance House Cleaner

You say you'd like to be able to work part time — and you'd like to be able to leave the house during the day — but you don't have any "marketable skills" . . . you don't want a clerical job . . . and anyway, you can't leave the children at home unattended? Don't give up yet . . . not until you've read what Andee Carlsson has to say!

Finding yourself without any funds in the middle of a northern Idaho winter can be pretty inconvenient . . . take it from me. When we ran out of money a couple of winters ago, unemployment here was disconcertingly high, and what few jobs there were (particularly for women) usually paid only the minimum wage. To make matters worse, we lived 30 miles from the nearest small town, and a full 65 miles from Spokane, Washington (where the best employment opportunities were).

There were other considerations, too. My son — at the time — was three years old and I didn't want to be away from him all day . . . besides which, I couldn't stand the idea of working more than part time anyhow (since there are plenty of chores to do — even in the winter — on our 80-acre homestead). Another problem was that, after eight years in the country, I didn't have any clothes suitable for a city job (nor did I particularly want to buy any).

By far the biggest complicating factor, however, was simply that I never have cared for the routine of a nine-to-five job . . . and still don't. (Let's just say I get bored easily.) That ruled out the majority of job openings for which I might have qualified.

A Surprisingly Simple Job Solution

After pondering the situation for a few days, I had a sudden brainstorm: "I'll bet I could get some weekly housecleaning jobs in town," I said to myself. Sure . . . why not? My parents had a "cleaning lady" when I was a child, and the work looked simple enough. If I went into the cleaning business, I could wear ordinary jeans and sneakers (no need for fancy clothes) . . . and quite possibly, I could work things out so that I could bring Erik (my son) along with me.

The more I thought about it, the more the idea of housecleaning made sense. The pay — I was almost sure — would be better than minimum wage. Also, if I found three different houses to clean on a regular basis, I wouldn't be as bored as I would if I were going to the same place every day. And if I took the jobs in Spokane — where some acquaintances live — I might even be able to stay overnight with my friends, and not have to commute 130 miles each day.

"That's it," I decided. "I'm going to try my hand at housecleaning for profit!"

How I Advertised My Freelance House Cleaning Services

Right away, I went into Spokane to try to get some jobs set up. I wasn't really sure I could pull it off (for one thing, I was inexperienced . . . and for another, I didn't know if I'd be able to do a good day's work with Erik along), but I at least wanted to give the housecleaning idea a try.

Initially, I couldn't decide whether to post notices on supermarket bulletin boards or run an ad in the classified section of the city paper. It so happened however, that the Spokane paper had bargain rate for job-seekers: $2.85 for a 10-word ad for five days (if I placed the ac in person and if I paid in cash). The price seemed right to me — and I knew the news paper would reach far more people than bulletin board notices — so I went down to the newspaper office to inquire about running a 10-word ad.

The lady who waited on me helped me write the announcement. It read: "Experienced woman wants weekly cleaning jobs. Reliable. References. 223-4456." One of the things the newspaper lady stressed was that an ad with a phone number in it would bring many more responses than one with just an address. She suggested, in fact, that I use a friend's number — if necessary — and have the friend take messages, rather than use only an address in the ad. And that's what I finally did.

Last-Minute Job Ad Details

I had a few details to take care of before my ad actually started to run. First. I called two friends and asked them if they'd serve as "references". They agreed. and said they would tell potential employers that I was honest, reliable, and a hard worker. (As it later turned out, only one prospective employer wanted me to give references, and she never did call either of my friends. I still think it's a good idea to have some recommendations, though. After all, your employers are opening their homes to you, and in most cases you're alone there all day . . . so they're entitled to have some proof of your trustworthiness.)

Next, I called the State Employment Agency to ask how much money cleaning ladies usually earned. They said they "thought" the rate was about $2.50 an hour. That seemed a little low to me, so I called two women I knew whom I thought might have had help in their homes . . . and they told me $3.00 an hour. Finally, with some encouragement from my friends, I decided to ask $3.50 an hour to start. (I could always lower my price if it was too high, I reasoned.) As it turned out, my price didn't raise any eyebrows and I ended up feeling glad that I held out for what seemed to be more than the going rate. (It's always easier to start out high than to ask for a raise.)

At this time, I also made a few decisions I wanted. I decided, for instance, that it was important that no one be home during the day. (I don't like having people look over my shoulder while I'm working. Also. I like to work at my own pace and not have to worry about when — and how often — I should take breaks.) And, of course, my employer(s) had to be willing to let me bring Erik along . . . otherwise I'd have to refuse the job(s).

The Phone Calls For House Cleaning Start Coming

I'll have to admit that for a while, the night before my ad was to appear in the caper, I was a little worried that no one would answer my announcement. My fears proved totally groundless, however: The first call came at 7:00 a.m. the day the ad was printed . . . and for the next five days, the phone never stopped ringing! (Altogether, I answered some 65 calls!)

Usually, the callers wanted to know how old I was, whether I had my own transportation (I did), and what day of the week I could work. If they asked whether I was "experienced", I confidently said "yes". (I figured that 14 years as a housewife was experience enough.)

When it appeared that the caller was genuinely interested in hiring me, I began asking my own questions. For example, I asked who — if anyone — would be home during the day, what the house was like, and whether it was all right for Erik to come. By the time I'd answered the first 10 calls, I had three one-day-a-week jobs lined up . . . in homes where Erik and I would be the only ones there all day. (None of my three "employers" wanted to interview me in person. They just wanted me to show up for work the next week!)

Although three one-day jobs was all I wanted, I continued to take calls for several days and wrote down the names and numbers of families that sounded promising, just in case any of my three agreed-to jobs fell through. As it turned out, it was a good thing I did this . . . because (for reasons I won't go into here) I did end up turning down one of my original three jobs. Fortunately. I was able to call back one of the families on my "promising households" list and replace the dropped account immediately.

My First Day On the House Cleaning Job

I don't mind saying that I was kind of scared when I arrived at my first house for my first day of work. I got there a few minutes early, and so had a chance to look the place over. It was a doctor's home and it was — in a word — huge: five baths, ten bedrooms, and eight other rooms. I was thankful that I was only expected to clean the first floor!)

The woman who met me at the door (a Mrs. O'Neill) was very friendly and offered me a cup of coffee while she explained what she wanted done. She had written down on a piece of paper which rooms she wanted me to clean and what she wanted me to do in each room. After discussing the list of items-to-be-cleaned, she showed me where the cleaning equipment was and left to go to work.

I stood there for a minute, feeling overwhelmed by the two vacuums, one floor polisher, one floor scrubber and about fifty different kinds of cleansers. Fortunately for me, Mrs. O'Neill's list included very explicit instructions for what kind of cleaners were to be used where . . . so with list in hand — I started in.

Later that day, Mrs. O'Neill came home for lunch, and I had an opportunity to ask several questions that had occurred to me in the morning. She didn't seem to mind the questions at all . . . in fact, I think she appreciated my trying to do things the way she wanted them done. (On future occasions, if I had a question I would leave a note, and she would leave me notes, too. I also mentioned on my notes which cleansers needed to be replaced.)

That first day, it took me the whole eight hours to get the job done, working at full speed. After a couple of weeks, though, I got things organized to the point where I could work at a fairly leisurely pace. The nice part was that I got paid each day I worked.

The House Cleaning Job Routine

It turned out that at all three houses I performed basically the same chores. In one room after another, I dusted all the surfaces (including over the doors and windows, and the tops of the baseboards) . . . vacuumed the floors and rugs and the upholstered furniture . . . waxed and wiped the woodwork . . . washed the windows (if they needed it) . . . and emptied the wastebaskets. Also — in the kitchen and bathrooms — the floors had to be vacuumed, scrubbed, and waxed. (Luckily, each home had a dishwasher and I never had to do any dishes.)

My usual practice (since I'm a fairly fast worker) was to work hard for a couple of hours, then take a break. If one task got to be too irritating or boring, I'd go do something else and then come back to it later. Also, I made a point of finishing the room I was working on before starting on another room (since — that way — I kept to a minimum the number of times I had to carry all the cleaning supplies from one place to another).

Some Pleasant Surprises In My House Cleaning Job

My new job brought with it some nice fringe benefits . . . things I hadn't expected. For instance, I always got a very nice lunch at each of the houses where I worked. (Typically, I'd sit down to roast beef, turkey, or ham sandwiches, and perhaps a fruit salad. "Eat whatever looks good," I was told . . . and I did.) Also, all three of my employers offered me items to take home: clothes for my husband, canning jars, fruit from their trees, etc. (The best goodies I was ever offered were 15 feet of rabbit cage fencing and a 40-pound box of garden asparagus.)

The nicest part of housecleaning for me, however, was the casualness of it all. My "uniform" included jeans and tennies. I took breaks whenever I wanted . . . I even watched TV sometimes as I worked.

The "Day Care" Aspect

It was also nice being able to bring Erik with me whenever I wanted to, although my son actually only came with me a few times during the midwinter-to-early-summer period in which I did housecleaning on a regular basis. (Erik decided it was more fun to stay home with Daddy.) Those times that he did tag along, everything worked out just fine, Erik would play with his toys, or just watch TV (which was a novelty for him since we don't have a set). I did, of course, have to keep him right with me at all times (although he knew that he was not to touch fragile objects in other people's houses).

Overall, I found it easier to work without Erik present . . . but the knowledge that my son could come with me if he wanted to made things a lot nicer for both of us.

Money Matters in a House Cleaning Job

Financially, house cleaning worked out quite well for me. I was paid $28 cash each day I worked (that's $3.50 an hour times eight hours), and I worked three days a week, for a weekly gross income of $84. I figured it cost me about $10 a week (or 8 cents a mile) to drive into Spokane and back. Since I had no expenses other than transportation (I spent the two nights a week that I was in town at a friend's house and paid for my room and board with eggs, milk, and vegetables from home), that meant that I cleared $75 per week, or $300 per month. Not bad for a three-days-a week job that requires no special skills, no real prior experience, and no fancy clothes!

Another Job Benefit

In addition to the $300 a month I earned, my working in town presented me with another benefit: It gave me a new appreciation for country life. (After eight years in the country. I'd forgotten how much I disliked the city.) Not that I didn't have a little fun in town now and then. I did: I went to some yard sales and picked up some real bargains (a cider press, for example) and also had time to scrounge pickup-loads of mill-ends for the kitchen stove, greens for our rabbits and chickens, and miles of plastic sheeting. Always, however, I came away from the city with a new enthusiasm for our homestead . . . and for my son.

Try a Freelance House Cleaning Job . . .You Might Like It

So housecleaning was fun and profitable for me. I made reasonably good money ($3.50/hour), set my own working conditions, wore comfortable clothes, and worked at my own (rather leisurely) pace. I'd still be cleaning houses today, if it weren't for the fact that I no longer have time for all my homestead chores and working too.

Housecleaning isn't the most fascinating occupation in the world, to be sure. It's certainly better than a lot of other jobs, though. At the very least, however, as a freelance cleaning person you get to call the shots. And to me (maybe to you, too), that's what really matters.


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