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. 

2021 update

Since I wrote this blog post back in 2017, we have upgraded our cleaning tools, we are still managing everything without a maid, but we scored a bargain of a dishwasher from a lady selling hers back in 2018 (she was living the country) and in 2019 we welcomed a robot cleaner we named "Bidule" (French for thingamajig). We currently have the Milagrow Seagull (affiliate link). Before this one we had an iLife which I tell you all about in the blog post : "The next level of maid free living

I cannot stress it enough : the moment you can afford to automate a chore, DO IT

The habit hubby and I got into back in 2017 of splitting the chores coupled with the upgrade in cleaning tools is what saved our sanity during the 2020 lockdown. 

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  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!

    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.

  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.

    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.

  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.

    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.

  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.

    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!

  5. Your Post is a relief. Just today, thanked & paid my demanding maid for all her help these last few years and bid her farewell and finally mustered the courage to do cleaning and cooking myself while being in full time employment. We are three people only and we eat simple food daily. So the implementation starts from today evening. You post gave me courage and that last bit of inspiration I needed to be independent;-)

    1. I'm glad my post inspired you. I have been maid free for a year now, and I don't regret it one bit. If everybody in the household do their bit it is completely doable.
      The only thing we changed this week only is adding a dishwasher to our utility area as I managed to get a real good second hand bargain. The dishes was the only thing my husband and I struggled with as his work timing became a bit irregular in the past few weeks, we were finding it a bit hard to keep up. We still stick to the system for everything else and devote a day a month for heavy duty cleaning.

    2. Hey Cyn, 11 days down, working well :-) My 10 yr old and 45 year old both trying to understand what I am upto :-)

    3. That is awesome! The best way to motivate the hubby is to tell him how much money this saves doing the work as a team versus getting a maid.

      My husband and I were just talking about it today as we are a few days short of our one year maid-free anniversary. Our previous maid managed to rob us of 3000 rupees a month to not clean much of anything, so the amount we saved this year is a whooping 36K of maid fee and we cut down the drama, petty whining and our home is cleaner too.

    4. Hahahaha true!! We were paying a whooping 6k per month. Letting her take all the old newspapers and other junk too. Will update you once we celebrate our monthly anniversary.

    5. Please do keep me updated, I think I should blog about my one year anniversary myself. Our old maid was also doing the cooking so our total was 6k a month but since we have a cook even now, we only save 3k on the whole cleaning the flat ourselves. Still a massive saving.

    6. Hey Cyn, happy to share that the self help work is going pretty awesome till date...and the silver lining is that its helped me shed few kilos which the gym could'nt do!....cheers to being independent.

    7. Yay on getting fit while cleaning! House cleaning totally count as a workout if you ask me, so if there weren't already so many good reasons to go maid-less this would be yet another good one :-)

  6. Anonymous11:49 AM

    Hi Cynthia, quick question: I just moved to Mumbai and am moving into a place next week.

    Do you have recommendations about agencies that do really thorough intensive cleanings (when you move into a new place)?

    I'm also eager for recommendations on good cleaner brands her (i.e. cleaners that cut grime in the kitchen sink best, laundry detergent that doesn't wear out clothes extra fast, etc.). Would love a list of any products you swear by for cleaning now that you've been here awhile.

    1. I always had the apartment society do a deep clean right before I moved into a new flat. You can ask the broker to arrange for it.

      Another option is to download the Urban Clap app on your phone and book a deep house cleaning.

      As far as cleaening products go, I use Amway's SA8 detergent for clothes, a one litre bottle can go months because in a front load machine you only need half a cap. You will need to know an Amway distributor for that, and I think the good place to start is through their website.
      All of Amway's cleaning products are great but I only really use the laundry detergent.

      For the floor, I rarely use a cleaning product, on most day I just use water and once a week I steam mop. But when I do use some cleaner I go for something pretty basic like Lizol or Cif floor cleaner.

      In the kitchen I use Mr Muscle kitchen cleaner, the one that comes in the orange bottle spray, and I found out over the year that it is really all you need. If I have to get rid of sticky oily grime, I just let it sit on the grease for a few minutes and it wipes right off. I use the same spray in the bathroom by the way, there is no sense in buying a different one. I tried many in the past, not worth the hassle.

      When a sink or drain is clogged, I just pour a cap on drainex on it and let it work its magic.

  7. Great post..i wish one day I could say bye to both my maid and my cook. As of now, I have a 4 year old, another one on the way, parent staying with us. And a full time job to manage. So, I have a maid and recently I employed a cook also. Today, they both didn't turn up and I ended up googling on how to manage without them. Might not be possible for me right away, but in future, I definitely intend to take the control in my own hands

    1. With little ones in the house this is definitely less easy to do it. The maid-less household only works if everybody pitch in and do their bit.
      In our home the chores are divided between me, my husband and daughter we all do our part. The game changer though has been getting a dishwasher, in the first year we realised that nearly 2 hours a day was wasted doing the dishes and that became a daunting task both my husband and I would dread. We got lucky last March when we came across someone selling theirs at a bargain, but even then we were already planning to budget the expense for a new one.
      If you have the space anywhere in your home, this is a worthy investment, as a nuclear family of 3 we run it once a day with a full load, sometimes twice a day. The only thing that can't go in the dishwasher are aluminium pots and pans and non-stick pans, everything else will wash perfectly.

  8. do you also use drier while doing laundries? just curious how it works, as two three loads in a day means a lot of cloths to dry..
    Also really lucky I stumbled on your blog...loving it...

    1. Hi! Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.
      No we don't have a drier and don't plan on having one, we start the laundry on Saturday or Sunday early in the morning, and while one batch dries in the sun on our balcony, the next one is washing, we then remove things that dried and add new wet clothes, and we don't mind leaving clothes to dry on the rack overnight, so by the end of laundry day, there might still be clothes left in the basket we use to unload the washing machine while some are still drying, what we do is remove the clothes from the rack the next morning and dry what's remaining. The rest of the week we really don't have the clothes rack out at all since we really just do the bulk of our laundry over a day or two.

      Another option to make it work is to have a drying rack, and then put a few cloth line above or have another rack hanging from the ceiling, in our old flat we had a rack on the balcony, and there were several rods above the washing machine area to hang shirts and t-shirts on hangers.

  9. Hi there!
    I am Zahiya from Pakistan.mother of four.Same situation exists here also. Your article is making my decision to tell my maid to leave,more easier. Eventhough,she helped me a lot during my days when I needed most. But I think,we became so dependent on them that we don't try to do things ourselves.

    1. Hi Zahiya, thanks for reading my blog.

      You are right, we become very dependent on maids very quickly. I was talking with a friend a while back, she still has a full time maid because she still has a pre-primary age kid, and she needs the help, we were saying that our generation is probably the last one that will still find hired help somewhat easily. Because the maids today are working to pay for their kids education and see the value in giving their kids the education they never had access to. With their children pursuing studies, it's highly unlikely that they will want to work as house help.

      My cook has a daughter in her twenties who completed her college degree and now work in a big company in the area. When her daughter was looking for a job out of college our cook asked us if we know someone hiring, and gave hubby her daughter's resume.

      This is why now is the time for everybody to make sure they teach their kids to manage housework without a high dependence on hired help.


  10. Yes indeed, I have been wanting to share this syndrome afflicting me, with as many people as possible. And, till now, I find myself reasonably successful in doing so. Your piece came just in time for me to congratulate myself on having been in good resonance for presumably quite long now.

    Such days have befallen us that I have been able to find a rather ingenious solution for this problem – becoming a domestic help for my domestic help ! As you can well see, this entails going to her ( their ) place, washing their dishes; washing their clothes ( no washing machine facility, obviously ); cleaning their house ( both the inside and the outside ); clearing their garbage; and, cleaning their SUV. Periodic episodes of body pains showing up in our maid give me an opportunity to give her a good body massage.

    And, in extraordinary circumstances, tend to her other needs like putting drops in her eyes – post her cataract operation – apart from delivering already cooked food ( sometimes even cooking ourselves ) and providing containers of drinking water for all her family members.

    After some time, our maid came up with an even more ingenious proposal. Having seen me reach out to her and her ones in such an astonishingly effective manner, she suggested that I go to all those houses where she 'works' and do all the initially mentioned four to five chores on her behalf. This has worked out even better for us, since I am easily able to cover all those ( four to five ) other houses as well, quite as effectively. I collect the salary that accrues to her from each one of those houses and hand all that over to her.

    Well, we very rarely go out of station. But whenever we indeed have to, it has to be a very tight schedule, as I have to be back to resume work which I am forced to miss for that duration, much to her consternation.

    Anyhow, I am much indebted to this condition of mine because it has played its wonderful part in making me more active, more able and capable, more skilled and talented, and above all, much less dependent on anybody or anything else for even the most difficult of things. May the numbers of this tribe swell !



  11. What a fantastic article. You are right about Indian houses collecting dirt faster. One of the things Ive realised is, the lesser things we own..the lesser work we need to do. I was trying out minimalism when setting up the kitchen. So when I have 4 pots/vessels to cook..I tend to wash up right after cooking. Sometimes even in between..because Id need it to make another curry. Lesser 'cute figurines/decorative piece' meant lesser time to dust/wipe. Lesser furniture means..sweeping and mopping was faster and easier. all goes into a cupboard and comes out only when we have somebody over. This helps people who suffer from dust allergy (like me). Nothing really collects dust.

    1. I keep the trinkets to a minimum too, because seriously dusting constantly goes on my nerves. I forgot what it's like to not have to dust all the time, and when I see a home decor articles with pretty pictures of trinkets and figurines, my first thought is "That is a lot of stuff to dust", then I remember that in Europe and US dust piles up a lot less quickly than in my flat in Mumbai :-)


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