I do not love cleaning. I do not even like cleaning, really. I quite like the results of cleaning, but if I’m honest, I shirk as much cleaning as I can, and I don’t think about it any more than I have to.
Well, it turns out that as a campground manager, I have to think about cleaning rather a lot. I have to roster daily cleaning staff, make sure all cleaning staff have what they need, set up for cleaning, wash laundry, schedule long term cleaning tasks, hire new cleaning staff, pay cleaning staff, order cleaning products, monitor the condition of rooms, and more.
Some days, I even have to do the cleaning, and let me tell you – it’s hard work! Yesterday, I cleaned for an hour, and by the end of it I was
glowing a sweaty mess. Cleaning as work is, in my opinion, much harder than cleaning at home. On the surface, you’re doing the same tasks. But cleaning as work is different. It’s time limited, physically difficult, and requires nit-picking and attention to detail. That hair on the sheet that you can ignore or don’t even see when you make your own bed? That’s a complaint at an accommodation business. Those streaks left after wiping your kitchen bench? Nope, not good enough when it’s your job. Plus, it’s repetitive, usually poorly paid, and often only offers inconsistent and/or short hours. To be honest, it’s not much of a proposition. But, even if it’s not much of a proposition:
Someone’s gotta do it.
Cleaning’s one of those jobs that’s often invisible. Unless it’s done poorly, many people don’t think about it at all. But today I want to encourage you to think about it.
Ignoring all the cleaning work in the world is a pretty privileged position, so let’s take a look at a pretty privileged example – a family holiday – and consider just how many cleaners are involved to make it run smoothly (or… well… cleanly):
- Maybe we start our holiday by taking a bus or a train to the airport (well, we would if we didn’t live in New Zealand). That bus or train has to be cleaned regularly.
- We get to the airport (cleaned by a team of cleaners) and check in.
- After a short wait, we head to the plane (which has just been cleaned) and take our seats.
- We eat food from factories and kitchens that have to be cleaned, and
read books printed in factories that hire cleaners(who am I kidding, we’re parents, we don’t get to read books…)/distract our kid with toys made in factories (which also need cleaning).
- The plane lands, and we head through another cleaned airport, to another cleaned mode of transportation, which takes us to our accommodation.
- We arrive early, but we’re lucky enough that our room has been cleaned already, and we can check in. As we walk to our room, we pass cleaning trolleys in the hallway, but don’t see any cleaners – they’re hard at work. When we get to our room, we don’t really notice how clean the room is – but we’d certainly notice if it wasn’t.
- Oops, we realise we forgot something, and we pop to the mall to grab a replacement. We leave just as the mall closes and see the cleaning teams ready to start work.
- We go to a restaurant for dinner. The restaurant may not hire specific cleaning staff, but a huge part of the work there is keeping everything clean.
- After dinner, we have a swim at the hotel pool, which is cleaned every day.
- The next day, we are checking out, but first we have breakfast at the hotel. We are glad that the milk in our coffee comes from a factory with very high cleanliness standards. To achieve this, they have specialised cleaners as well as general factory staff who clean as part of their work. The farm where our eggs come from also needs regular cleaning. Depending on the scale, they may not have specialist cleaners, but…
Someone’s gotta do it.
That’s less than a day out in the world, and already our little hypothetical family has used the services of at LEAST 13 different cleaners. Even if we stay home, pretty much all of our food and almost everything we use can only get to us with the help of cleaners. We don’t specifically hire a cleaner (I kinda wish we did), but we definitely get the benefit of their work.
In short, we need cleaners! But they’re not the only ones out there doing important and invisible work. There are also refuse collectors, gardeners, janitors, groundskeepers, drivers… Not to mention the HUGE amount of care work that is required to allow people to work outside the home; childcare, elderly care, disability care… This is all the work that many people only notice when it’s not done or not done well.This is the invisible and underappreciated work that makes society function.
Being invisible doesn’t mean it’s less important, quite the opposite. These invisible jobs are like medications: they’re a lifesaver for some of us, many of us don’t think about them much, some people actively look down on them, but without them our society would be way less healthy.
And yet, the hard working people in these roles face unfair stereotypes and huge amounts of judgement. They are told they should be ashamed of their work. They are told that they should “better themselves”. When they need government support because their employers don’t pay them a living wage, they’re told they are a drain on society. When they complain about their dismal pay, they are told that it’s their choice to be there and they can find something else if they don’t like it. When they draw attention to poor working conditions, they are ignored and told “what do you expect if you’re just a [cleaner]?”
And all these (rude and privileged) positions against cleaners (etc.) effectively ignore an important point: someone’s gotta do it.
So, my challenge to you today is to notice the cleaners. Make eye contact. Thank them for their hard work. If you don’t see any cleaners, appreciate the unseen cleaners who allowed you to live your life and do your job. Or thank a childcare worker or a gardener or a security guard. If you are a cleaner, thank yourself, and be proud of what you do.
Maybe you already do those things? That’s great! But I think you could do more (I certainly could). There are a lot of rude comments and unfair stereotypes. We have to be twice as nice and appreciative to cancel them out.
Someone’s gotta do it. Lots of us don’t want to do it. So we’ve gotta appreciate those who do!