Ask a House Cleaner, Not Your Family, Savvy Cleaner

Family? Your Cleaning Clients Are Not Family!

Family? Your house cleaning clients may be friendly but they are not your family. They are not your relatives and you don’t owe them anything other than the services for which they pay you. Today on Ask a House Cleaner, we look at the comfort zone between maid and client. And we see what happens when boundaries crumble. Clients are not your family. 

The House Cleaning Guru, Angela Brown discusses traps that house cleaners fall into. Clients get too comfortable and cleaning technicians can’t meet client expectations. We also look at layers of guilt and manipulation.

What happens when homeowners become too close to house cleaners? They take advantage as if the housekeeper was a family member. Please don’t let this happen to you.

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Listen: Your Cleaning Clients Are Not Your Family

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Watch: Your Cleaning Clients Are Not Your Family


Hey there, I’m Angela Brown, and this is Ask a House Cleaner. This is a show where you get to ask a house cleaning question, and I get to help you find an answer.

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 Question: My Cleaning Client Wants Me Care For Her Family

3d person chooses between cleaning and child care, not familyHere’s a small disclaimer about today’s question. It is actually from a consulting client of mine. And after we had a conversation she asked if I would share this information with you because she felt that it would benefit other house cleaners that have made the same mistake.

And so, I agreed that with her permission, I would share this with you.

Her question is this. “I have a house cleaning customer that is going away on vacation for a week and she’s asked me if I would babysit for the week that they are going to be gone because I know their family really well. Should I say yes?”

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Answer: Her Family Is Not Your Family

Okay, that is not the real question, because the answer to that question is no, you should not, you run a house cleaning business, so you should not take a week off of your paid customers to go babysit for a week because you don’t babysit. house cleaner takes client's kid on piggy back ride too friendly, not family

There’s a problem that goes beyond this, and this is where I have a little bit of inside information.

The house cleaner has become too friendly with the family.

Somehow or another, she inserted herself into that family. She feels more appreciated at their house than she does at her own house.

So, when she goes home, to her own kids, they just whine and cry and she doesn’t get paid any money.

But at her customer’s house, they pay money. They appreciate her. She feels valued. And she has adopted herself into that family.

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Beware of Familial Comfort Zones

Okay, so that’s awesome, for a period of time.

But then what happens is they started slowly taking advantage of her like many families do. Where we get so comfortable that we take advantage of the people we love the most.

And so, these people that she was considering her family, hit financial ruin. And instead of being able to pay her money on a regular schedule, they paid her with manipulation of appreciation.

“Oh man, we can’t live without you. You are amazing. You still have to come, can we pay you with stuff in exchange?”

So, they did some barter and some trading.

There Are Rules To Proper Barter Deals – This Isn’t One of Them

house cleaner trades cleaning for clothes friendly, not family

Here’s the problem with the barter deal. The homeowner was paying for house cleaning with her discarded expensive shoes and expensive clothes.

The house cleaner doesn’t go to that many places that she needs the expensive shoes and the expensive clothes, and she wouldn’t have bought them, had it not been for the customer just giving them to her.

She didn’t necessarily need those things, but she felt obligated to accept the deal because these people were like family and she didn’t feel she could say no.

Another thing that gets a little bit sticky is, in the process of the barter arrangement, there was no value established for the goods vs. the cleaning. And so, the scales on who gave what, and what stuff was worth got really out of balance.

Then the homeowner is like; “Oh! You owe me more house cleaning because those shoes were more expensive.”

And then the house cleaner was like “I didn’t want the shoes in the first place.” And she still had bills to pay that she couldn’t finance with shoes.

A Bad Deal Stretched Out Is Still A Bad Deal friendly women, not family, visiting when should be working

So Instead of just saying “Hey, this deal is not working out any longer” now she’s cleaning the house and begrudging the house, the family, and the bad deal she made.

But hold on, it gets worse.  While she was at the lady’s house they would chat. Nothing wrong with chatting, right/

But it was on business time and without paying attention, they became free therapists to each other. One of the two women was always having a personal crisis and they would cry on each other’s shoulders. At the end of the conversation both women felt better, but then the homeowner would expect the house cleaner to make up for lost time.

So, if she was there for an extra hour chatting, she had to make up the hour to this woman, so she could get paid in shoes that didn’t fit, that she didn’t need or want.

It got weird.

Try to Cut Yourself Off From Family

Then the weird part of it is when the house cleaner decided that this relationship is really out of control, and it’s not healthy at all. And she felt she couldn’t leave because the homeowner had given her about twelve referrals. People in her network, neighbors and what not, that she knew that had hired this girl for house cleaning.

So, she felt like “Oh my goodness, I’m trapped. If I fire this woman, and I don’t be her sounding board, and her you know, free house cleaner and all these things, she’s going to tell her other friends, and I lose twelve other accounts.”

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Note About Barter Arrangements

(She wasn’t cleaning house for free – she agreed to a legitimate barter, trade, swapping arrangement. So, she was receiving something in exchange for her house cleaning. But because she was receiving shoes and clothes she didn’t need or want, she justified being sloppy with her work because she looked at it like it was a free cleaning.)

If The Train Should Jump The Track – Do You Want Your Money Back?

train derailment

Alright, so let’s back up a step. It is really easy for a situation like this to jump the track. Because as humans, we have this intrinsic built-in need. We want to be appreciated. We want people to love us and accept us for who we are. That’s not weird. That’s just normal common human nature.

And so, when you find a customer who loves and appreciates you, it’s easy to confuse your relationship to the family as a member of the household. 

But guess what? You are not their family. They are not your family. 

You need to create boundaries.

And when a customer says “Oh can you babysit my kids?” The answer immediately should be “No, I don’t babysit. That is not what I do. I clean houses.”

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Be Clear About Your Financial Responsibilities To Your Own Family

If she takes a week off work to babysit these homeowners kids, she still has a week worth of income she needs to generate to put food on the table for her own family.

And so, this woman theoretically needs to pay her the equivalent of what she was going to be making if she was out cleaning houses every day. Does that make sense?

And so sadly, she does need to cut ties. She needs to completely create new boundaries.

And if she can’t do that by re-establishing the boundaries and say “Hey listen, I just checked and this is not working for me, I need to be paid in cash. If I babysit your kids for the week I need to be paid x amount of dollars that I would be making from house cleaning clients. If you can’t meet that amount of money, in cash, then the answer is no. I’m going to be forced to go out and take my regular house cleaning accounts.”

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This Job Jeopardizes Cash Paying Jobs From Other Clients

Hands collecting money as service provider not familyNow if you take that job, that doesn’t say anything at all for the other customers that you left stranded for the week you’re babysitting. What did you just do to all these other accounts?

So, it does. It throws you into a bind with domino effects dangerous to your business.

So, my suggestion is being friendly to your clients, but don’t be family. You’re not their family. You are a paid service provider. Don’t  cross the boundaries between friend and client.

And she says “well I work in my own neighborhood; how do I draw the line?”

I’ve been doing it for years.

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Compartmentalize Your Life Business vs. Personal

And so, here’s how I do it.

When I show up at your house and I’m wearing my blue shirt and my blue khaki pants and my hair is up in a knot. Guess What? I’m house cleaning.

And so, if I’m at your house and you want to ask me about anything house cleaning, I have answers and solutions. I can fix your problems, or clean your house. That’s what do. That’s what you’re paying me to do.

Woman cutting rosesAnd if I’m outside and my hair is down and I’ve got a ball hat on, and I’m wearing some old torn up jeans, and I’ve got scissors in my hand. And I’m out clipping my rose bushes and you walk by with your dog, guess what? I’m your neighbor.

I’m not in my house cleaning uniform so I’m just your neighbor.

And I’m having a cookout this afternoon. Why don’t you come on over and we’ll hang out and chat?

If you’re at my house while I’m cutting my rose bushes, and you bring up house cleaning, I’m just listening. I’m your neighbor.

I’m going to stand there and smile. And I’m going to go “Wow, that’s interesting.” I’m not going to offer any ideas, advice or suggestions. Because guess what? I’m not on the clock.

You’re not paying me right now. And so, I’m just your neighbor.

Do I have an opinion on the topic? Heck yeah. Am I going to share it with you right now? Nope. You’re just my neighbor.

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Back to Being a House Cleaner Again

And when I’m in my uniform again, I’m back to being your house cleaner.SavvyCleaner.com_Nitrile_Gloves I’m not your neighbor.

So, if you want to tell me about all the other neighbors, or your personal stuff, don’t do it on my business time. Because now I’m your house cleaner and I’m back on the clock.

And you can, you can compartmentalize your life. You can keep things separate because you have to.

You have your job, and you have your personal life. And they are not the same.

And when you mix business with pleasure, you become the free therapist, and the sad part is this.

If you are being paid for therapy you’d be making a whole heck of a lot more money than you would be making as a house cleaner.

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So, don’t play free therapist.

Don’t let them play free therapist to you. Take your money and you go to a real therapist that is licensed and certified that can actually solve your problems. That’s my suggestion.

I hate to see you guys getting beat up and taken advantage of by clients you consider family. Take the time to put your professional boundaries in place. I hope this conversation helps you avoid some of these pitfalls.

And until I see you again, leave the world a cleaner place than when you found it.

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