Daily life

How we manage without a maid

1:00 PM

How to manage all the cleaning chores without relying on a maid in India and not loose your mind doing so
When we moved to our new flat last April, we decided we would not hire a maid, which, when you live in India is kind of an odd thing to do and invited quite a few "Oh god! How do you manage?" from people around us.

That decision that may seem a bit crazy in a country where dirt piles up quicker than you can sweep it can indeed sound a bit drastic, but I was just fed up with the constant maid drama, constant nagging them to clean properly and in the end it felt less and less like a help than it was a burden. A burden that ended up costing us a fortune with our last maid.

I figured out that since I was anyway always cleaning after our maid, I might as well do the job right from the start and dispense myself with the constant headache of telling the maid to show up on time, and actually mop the floor rather than just wet it.

Nearly 3 months into this cleaning maid gig and we manage it like a breeze. We don't love cleaning, nobody does, but we love the fact it's on our terms, up to our standards and according to our schedule.  And as paradoxal as it may seem, it is making our life easier despite the fact we actually take a lot more time out of our day to keep things clean.

The most positive side effect of doing it ourselves, is that while we still need to sweep and mop the floor on a near daily basis (more on that later) and the dishes consume our existence a lot more, we also enjoy the fact that our home stays cleaner longer. That's right! Despite living in Mumbai, in a busy neighbourhood with an 8 years old, a cat and a dog!
There are things like how the floor plan and general flat fixtures are built that makes the task a bit easier than in the old flat, but that is not all there is to it. The biggest part of our success boils down to planning and good tools.

Here is what you should consider if you plan to go on this no-maid gig thing in India :

Own the right tools

Sounds trivial, but if you want your home to be clean, you need the best tools possible, as I said it before, the Indian grass broom and mop rag will never cut it, no ifs no buts no coconuts! Invest from the start in quality gear, and my best cleaning tools blog post is a good place to start. 
At the default of stocking up on everything, invest on a good broom, good flat mop broom, and a dust pan and brush set, this is the absolute minimum you will need. 

Enlist the whole family to help

One of the absolute key difference between a Swiss household and an Indian one is how chores and tasks are distributed. 
In Switzerland, as it is the case in most European countries, the household burden is shared, everybody old and young has a job and cleaning chores are divided. 
Growing up I remember my job was to dust the furniture from an early age, and while we had a dishwasher at home, the instant we went camping or sailing, the task of cleaning the dishes fell on me and my sister. My parents cooked, we did the washing up. 
As I grew up, my room was my responsibility and we were scolded if we let it go super messy and threatened with a trash bag purge. 
In India, the household duties always almost fall on the wife which is often why a lot gets delegated to a maid. It's impossible to do it all by yourself. 

What we do in our home is divide the chores, on most days DH does the dishes, Ishita cleans her room, and I sweep and mop the floor. And whoever spills, clean up after themselves, unless that someone has 4 legs in which case the first human that notices it cleans it. 

Establish a routine

There are tasks that need to be done daily : dishes, floors, taking out the trash...and others that can be done less often. You need to take time to see what works for you and your family. 

Here is how it goes in our home : 

To be done daily: Sweep and mop the floor, doing the dishes, cleaning the kitchen counter and stove, wiping the dinning table clean and doing a quick surface cleaning AND mopping, yes mopping in both bathrooms. 

To be done every couple of days: Dusting (we can go 2-3 days in this flat), and laundry (the bulk of it is done on weekend, with one or two additional batches during the week if necessary). 

To be done once a week: Washing the balconies, steam mopping the floor (no we don't use the steam mop daily), and heavier duty dust cleaning in otherwise ignored corners. 

To be done once a month: Pull the furnitures to sweep and mop behind them, heavy duty cleaning of the bathroom including scrubbing tiles, the toilet and shining the water fixtures. Wipe the front of all kitchen cabinets and the back splash area behind the counter and stove. Address out of hand clutter in any given spot in the home. 

It sounds like a lot, but it actually doesn't take as much time as it seems, because we address accumulation early with this system. 

Be flexible

There are days I realise that we can go an extra day without really having to mop the floor. I sweep and use the "dust control" broom daily, but if I am having a super busy day ahead, and the floor doesn't show visible dirt spots, I will live a day without letting the matte footprint on the shiny tiles get to me (it's all about priorities). 
If I still feel some mopping is needed, I also decide which mop to use. Ideally the Scotch Brite flat mop I talked about in my "Best tools" blog post, but since we inherited one of these spinning mop and bucket set from our previous maid (who forced us to buy it) there are days I use it if the floor isn't too dirty. 

It goes without saying that if we have guests coming, we will give more attention to details we would otherwise leave as a weekly or monthly chore. 

Be proactive

One thing I noticed happening a lot in India, as a side effect of a hired help culture, is to not always clean as you go. 
Something that is very easy to fall into I might add. You know, the not bothering to scrape the food off the dishes before putting them in the sink. Or not bothering to pick up that wrapper that fell on the ground (maid will sweep it the next morning), or not really particularly feeling inclined to go fish that onion chunk that fell behind the stove top, or immediately wipe the milk that over boiled and spilled on the stove...
Those tiny things can add up to a big big mess to clean if you let them pile up each day.

Small things like scrapping the food off the plate and giving the plate a good rinse  before putting it in the sink to wash later takes seconds, and it will save you precious minutes of scrubbing the half dried crap at the end of the day. 
Ditto with that candy wrapper, seconds to pick it up as soon as it falls instead of spending the next morning crouching with the broom to fish it out from under a bed where it might have flown thanks to the ceiling fan (and found company of a few more wrappers).

There is immense virtue in the clean as you go method, as tempting as it might seem to leave that tea spills sit for a few hours before being bothered about it. 

Pick you battles and delegate

We don't have a cleaning maid, but we are realistic enough to not have done away with the cook and the clothes ironing service. Let's face it, we live in India, and we pull off a lot of cleaning on a daily basis. DH still prefers Indian food in his tiffin, and that takes time I don't have considering I have my artist's career and a child to balance as well.

Right now we are in a place we decided it would not hurt if we find a way to install a dishwasher in this flat as we found out the dishes is what eats the most of our time as our sink area is tiny and we constantly end up doing the dishes, especially now that it is a school holiday. DH does one batch in the evening, usually the biggest one, and I do one mid-morning. 


All in all, managing the household without a cleaning maid is totally doable if you are a nuclear family and everybody does their bit. Once you split the load in 3 or 4 parts, it really isn't that much trouble really. 

8 comments

  1. Anonymous9:02 AM

    Great post. So true as well. There's a saying in English that goes something like this, "If you want something done right, do it yourself." I think it's so true sometimes. I remember how annoying and hard to deal with your maid was. Who needs that on a daily basis? The right tools make a huge difference, and I also keep cleaning supplies under each bathroom sink so it's easy to clean a toilet or sink. I don't have to go and search for the cleaner in another room. PS: Can you do an update post on your No Shampoo post? I'm wondering if you have gone back to shampoo or not? I'm having hair problems (dry ends), and I was thinking of that post the other day. Take care!
    Susan

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    1. Yes I should do a follow up on that post, because sadly, by the end of the Summer and the start of the monsoon I had to give in to the bottle last year :-(
      I sweat a lot and it lead to gunk piling up on my hair faster. What I do though is just wash them with shampoo every 3 days now and I plan to make one of those wash a baking soda wash as soon as the monsoon is over this year.

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  2. I could manage very well without a maid, but making chapatis for the whole family (and there are quite a lot of us :)) in the morning is something I absolutely refuse to do. So we keep our Anju, and she's fantastic. But before we found her (or rather she found us), yes, I know whta you meant about the maid drama.

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    1. We hired a cook instead of having a maid that does the cleaning+cooking in the new flat. If I am going to spend 45 minutes cleaning the floor and dusting and hubby is going to be doing a load of dishes in the evening, there is no way we are going to add cooking Indian food or even just chapatis to our load.

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  3. Wow great post! It has been 4,5 years in India for me. Till now I managed to keep a maid for a 1 day... I was actually so curious about having one, since everyone after coming to India seem to hire them. But I could not tolerate, that 1 hour of her presence was more than enough. Thank God she never returned.

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    Replies
    1. I have no problem with having a maid for one hour daily, but I am fed up with the constant drama, their taking things for granted, their constantly trying to play the "woe to me" card and their refusal to listen to instruction.

      That said, doing without a maid is actually quite hard in India. I still have a cook, because I spend an hour if not more doing the maid's work in a day, and then there is still my normal chore load that I was still doing when we had a maid.
      Spending 2-3 hours on household chores a day when you have an artistic career and a blog to manage can be daunting at times.

      Things really get dirty too fast in India, but for now I am less stressed and I love not having to wait on the maid and arrange my whole schedule around them.
      When I arrived in India in 2003, most of the cleaning tool we have today were non-existent, back then there was no question a maid was an absolute necessity.

      Right now I really only need to figure out a dishwasher solution. Between me and my husband we can't seem to clean those dishes fast enough, and out sink and wash area is really tiny in the kitchen, it gets messy super fast.

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  4. Anonymous10:41 PM

    What you mention about the different concept about "cleaning as you go" has proven to be so true in my experience! I've noticed that whom ever is most likely to be responsible for cleaning up will tend towards cleaning as they go- not quite a natural habit for my husband or my MIL.

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    Replies
    1. That habit is totally lost on my MIL! She simply can't function without a full time maid. When they come visit it drives me batty because both her and FIL leave a trail of rubbish through the whole flat.

      In her home I witnessed more than once her shouting the maids name to wash a dirty pairing knife. The whole process of shouting, waiting and getting the maid to clean the knife takes over 5 minutes. Standing up and walking the knife herself would have taken 30 seconds max. I once or twice tried to clean those essentials myself in her home, only to be told to not do it because that's the maid's job...sigh!

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