Does hiring a housekeeper or gardener harm your soul?

American GothicThe Wall Street Journal reports today about the business of online micro-service clearinghouses, where customers put out requests for household and other takss (hat tip Rosalynde Welch‘s Facebook wall). The article mentions jobs like taming an out of control muck of a compost pile, purchasing and delivering various items, and fishing a dropped set of keys from a sewer. The conversation on Facebook turned to debating whether or not there is something distasteful, or even morally wrong, about hiring help to perform domestic work (for the purposes of this conversation, let’s consider gardening, housecleaning, housekeeping, personal shopping, meal preparation, and the like. We’ll leave nannies/childcare for another day). My first reaction was an emphatic “No!” there is nothing wrong with it, but in trying to articulate the reasons why, I realized I am much more ambivalent than that.

A formative experience for my thoughts on the issue happened on my first trip to Girl’s Camp as a leader. I overheard one girl tell another about their chore assignment, “I’m not going to clean bathrooms! My name isn’t Juanita!” To which her friend laughed and replied, “Yeah, my last name isn’t Gonzales!” (The rest of the group was swiftly excused to free time, while those two fulfilled the entire group’s bathroom cleaning assignment on their own. Also, this was many years ago and both have gone on to be thoughtful, responsible members of society who I am certain are mortified by their past attitudes.) While there are doubtless many, even an overwhelming majority, of children growing up in homes with domestic help who nonetheless come out of it without such appalling attitudes, and many growing up without domestic help who nonetheless absorb racist attitudes about who does the difficult work of tending to public bathrooms and landscapes, there is absolutely something to be said for children learning the value of work by doing it themselves and seeing their parents do it. Work is so important to child-rearing in Mormon culture that it even merits a mention in the Proclamation on the Family. Surely, even if children end up being able to afford help as adults, it can only help them to have the general discipline and specific skills to complete these tasks on their own. How much does hired help interfere with that? I don’t know, but I’m not convinced that there isn’t more than enough work in the typical household for children to have plenty to themselves, even with domestic help.

Moving to the topic of yardwork, it was a bit of a horrifying culture shock to me to move from a northern California neighborhood where all but the extremely wealthy or the infirm did their own yardwork, to a southern California neighborhood, where, middling income notwithstanding, hardly anyone does. I find gardening to be a very deep spiritual kind of thing, and the idea of everybody just hiring immigrant labor to do it offended me on that account, as well as on account of the uncomfortable class, race, and immigrant issues exposed by that dynamic. But now, with two kids, working many hours teaching, it just seems like an obvious necessity. There are only so many hours in the day and while I’ll still tend my own veggies, thankyouverymuch, please, please, somebody mow that lawn! It’s simply a matter of having to triage and be very careful where my time goes. (And no, I’m not teaching right now, so I have time to burn on blogs, and no, I am not currently employing a landscaper!)

Which brings us to many questions that are unresolved in my mind: Are there particular tasks shouldn’t ever be done by other people? Where are those lines– landscape maintenance? snow shoveling? dog walking? heavy duty floors and bathroom cleaning? basic picking up of carelessly strewn miscellaneous clutter? personal chef services (are they different from a restaurant)? Or is the real concern about what activities replace the time that would have gone to domestic tasks? I can see it being objectionable that someone would eat bon-bons while a housekeeper cleans the bathroom, but what of somebody who works very hard at a job while a housekeeper cleans the bathroom? Does the presence of kids in the family make a difference? For whatever reason, I have a much harder time seeing any problem whatsoever with a busy professional couple with no kids hiring out various tasks. What about economic considerations–is domestic help a great example of the invisible hand making everyone’s lives better? Finally, what about concerns about race and class that cannot be disentangled from domestic help? The exact contours of the race and class dynamics vary from region to region in America and throughout the world, but they are always present in some form.

Comments

  1. If it’s okay with Jesus, it’s okay with me. :)

  2. “Does hiring a housekeeper or gardener harm your soul?”

    Yes.

  3. Julie M. Smith says:

    I think where this gets really murky is that we *all* hire out even if we don’t realize it. If you buy a gallon of milk, you hired someone to keep and milk the cow. If you buy bread, etc.

  4. For a more serious comment — so, this goes to the age-old question of domestic labor.

    First, it’s clear that some people find some spiritual significance in some kinds of labor. And that being the case, anything which removes that kind of labor could ultimately be harmful. That is, as a general rule people should try to avoid a loss in spirituality-enhancing labor opportunities.

    On the flip side, there is also labor which does not enhance spirituality, and which may diminish it. A lot of labor is merely drudge work. And I’m not sure that getting rid of drudgery is soul-harming. Does a microwave harm your soul? A dishwasher? A dryer? Do we really want to return to a world where people (overwhelmingly women) spend the bulk of their days in repetitive, mind-numbing domestic tasks? Do you know how long it takes to cook meals without an electric stove? When every hot shower requires someone (almost always female) to light a wood fire, and then pull up buckets of water from the well?

    I don’t think we want to glorify labor _that_ much. At least some folks have talked about the spiritual and personal fulfillment possibilities of being freed from the need to labor (see, for instance, Virginia Woolf’s Room of One’s Own; or early Mormon women on how polygamy frees them from many of the burdens of domestic duties).

    And yet it’s also true that the hierarchy imposed by domestic work is troubling.

    Is there a happy medium? I don’t know.

  5. how and why, Russel?

    we had a sometimes weekly, sometimes bi-weekly house cleaner for several years while our children were young. she never cleaned anyone’s bedroom nor did their laundry. my children were each in charge of their own laundry from the age of 6. she deep cleaned and kept us out of the pit of dispair.

    she is a dear sister to me. she lived with our family twice for a year each time. she invited me to help her dress her mother for her (the mother’s) funeral. i hope to be worthy to clean her mansion on high for eternity, though i don’t really see myself getting to the celestial kingdom at all. she surely will. she has been nothing but good for my soul.

  6. We puzzled over this when we moved to Latin America for a work assignment. Help was cheap to hire, and conditions were not simple (no a/c in Venezuela meant layers of dust daily in the apartment from open windows; daily santizing of the kitchen was required to keep the ants and other bugs at bay, etc). My wife’s super-LDS aunt (who had also lived in South America as a mission president’s wife and on other church and work assignments with her husband) pointed out that hiring someone meant helping to put food on their table and was, if we paid a fair, or even slightly better-than-fair, wage a blessing to the person hired.

    We had a live-in housekeeper and another who came 3x a week. They did household chores — no cooking or childcare, those my wife reserved for herself for her own reasons.

    In retrospect, we wished we had the kids do more in that time, mostlly because moving home to the US where we could not afford help (and where it was not needed in the same way) was a bit of a shock to them.

    So when we moved to Taiwan several years later, we employed a Filipino sister one day a week (my wife was her counselor at church so they also had a presidency meeting while she was there), and the kids had more defined chores, as well.

    I’m with you on the gardening question. Like Willa Cather, I find redemption in working with the soil from time to time (though I’m no farmer); I prefer to do my own lawn and gardening.

    BTW, re: the comment from your young women at camp: We encouraged members to help clean the chapel in Venezuela. Some were overheard to say, “I don’t clean my own home. Why would I come clean the chapel?”

  7. I don’t have a problem with it because we all hire out.
    However, I see the real problem is in the class/racial attitudes, plus the idea that we deserve clean houses and perfect yards. Just because you can afford stuff doesn’t mean you should actually buy it and that includes domestic help.
    I think as a community member we should be careful in how we are contributing to the overall level of what is “standard.” Every time we buy something nice we send a message. Every time we have guests over in our perfectly professionally cleaned home we send a message. As we raise our children in luxury of electronic devices or luxury from work (work that magically gets done) we teach them something about life.
    I would love some professional help. Who wouldn’t? The kids have a lot of homework and church stuff and extra learning stuff and they shower and brush and floss their teeth (which takes a lot of time with braces), I have more free time than my older two kids do so how much housework can I realistically ask them to do without making them collapse.
    But I also know there are people of my acquaintance that already view our 2150 sq. ft. 1974 built house as really big and nice. There are people we invite over who don’t have the luxury of a stay at home mom who can tidy or clean for an hour during the day (now that most of the kids are in school I can accomplish things during the day) and who can make a decent home cooked meal every night. I already feel guilty that my life is a little picture perfect so even if I did have more money I wouldn’t…..wait, yes, I we definitely would do that yardwork because the yard is embarrassing and we really need to paint the house and I would love to pay someone to do that but you can save so much money by doing it yourself and there are so many other things to do with that money than pay $4000 or whatever to paint the house.
    “Man’s work”…..easier to justify paying for. “Women’s work”…..harder to justify paying for because of our SAHM lifestyle.

  8. the hierarchy imposed by domestic work is troubling.

    This.

    I guess hiring poor people to do your dirty work is better than a sharp stick to the eye, but let’s not kid ourselves into thinking it makes us into philanthropists.

  9. When I was in law school my wife did laundry and cleaning for a family that had 14 children. It was a win-win all around. The family really needed the help (the kids still had plenty of chores to keep them grounded), we really needed the money, my wife didn’t mind the work at all (she said it is much better to do someone else’s laundry than one’s own, for some psychological reason). At that time we were living on so little money that the opportunity was a real blessing in our lives.

    I like the fact that I’m asked to do menial type tasks like cleaning at Church from time to time. I have a hard time imagining very many big city lawyers doing such a thing, and that’s a shame, really. The work helps keep one grounded, I think.

  10. Cynthia L. says:

    “I guess hiring poor people to do your dirty work is better than a sharp stick to the eye, but let’s not kid ourselves into thinking it makes us into philanthropists.”

    But, as Julie pointed out above, we do that with everything we buy. Is slaughtering a cow not “dirty work” at least as bad as cleaning a bathroom? But I’m assuming you buy beef at the grocery store.

    Is it just that domestic dirty jobs are more visible? Closer to home? (har)

  11. It depends on so many factors.

    I think that every situation is different. One thing that I think that you left out is that employing someone to do work that for whatever reason, you choose to or cannot do the work yourself can be a great blessing in employed’s life. I consider our family middle class and don’t have enough money to spare to justify domestic help, but I have though about it. Myself and my whole family are domestically challenged and there have been times when I was knee deep in babies and toddlers that I VERY seriously considered it, just to stay ahead of the health department.

    We have hired neighbor boys to mow the lawn. That is a chore that I like to do myself, but see above about times knee deep babies and toddlers. Sometimes it was because husband or I were too busy with other work to do it and sometimes it was because the neighbor boys needed to earn money for school clothes. We have also hired them to to do a little housecleaning, not because I needed to (who are we kidding my house always needs cleaning) but because they needed to earn some money.

    If I were brave enough, and wasn’t afraid of the legal consequences, I would intentionally hire people here illegally in the US to do work around my house. I’m a bleeding heart liberal as far as immigration is concerned. That would be my civil disobedience. Alas I am a chicken, and a mom of lots of kids, and middle class with no money to remedy legal woes, so I won’t.

  12. Chris Gordon says:

    Kevin will appreciate my smaller-city lawyer answer of “it depends.”

    There’s a cost-benefit analysis at play here that’s both economical and non-economical. If one has the choice to do it oneself, the economic analysis could go: “Well, I could spend 4 hours doing that project that it would take a professional 1 to do; or, I could spend two hours working overtime to cover the cost of a professional and still leave me 2 extra hours to ___________.” The non-economic analysis would go, “Well, I could spend 8 hours doing that myself, get frustrated, end up hiring a professional anyway, or I could spend 8 hours doing that myself, involve my spouse or kids, have a laugh over how silly we all look trying to do _____________, and end up hiring a professional anyway.”

    Somewhere along the way you have to do the analysis, but I love the idea of asking the question. I, too, believe in the value of menial labor. If nothing else, it serves as a reminder of why sitting behind a desk all day isn’t so bad. In the context of service for others (in the community, cleaning the church, etc.), for men it provides one of the few ways to interact with other men in the ward. In the context of work around the home, I think it provides a healthy perspective that a home and a family sometimes mean working together.

  13. If I lived overseas where domestic help was inexpensive, I would hire domestic help to be a task master for my children. They follow my kids around and show them how to clean stuff really well.

  14. I don’t get the hierarchy trouble, unless you’re saying you’re better than the person who cleans your house (you aren’t). I send out my laundry, I order pizza delivery, my groceries are bagged, I hire babysitters sometimes, cabbies take me places…and by day I “scrub the toilets” of my own clients. If we’re saying service industries have social statuses attached, THAT’s what’s troubling.

    And Kevin, big-city lawyers can be stalwarts of building cleaning, and I’ve done ward move-ins working side-by-side with millionaire hedge-fund managers (who probably have a housekeeper themselves). In my experience, pitching-in-ness is independent of salary.

  15. The idea of “repetitive, mind-numbing tasks” being mentally/spiritually detrimental and therefore to be passed off to others or handled by technology….I don’t buy that line of thinking. What about Philo Farnsworth inventing TV while performing the repetitive task of plowing a field and considering the endless back and forth movement along the rows? And there are plenty of those sorts of repetitive tasks from the bottom to the top of the white-collar world, but level of remuneration one receives in doing housework as a profession vs. being a professional desk jockey is very different and therefore considered mentally inferior work by many. Like others here I’d hate to have all such “repetitive, mind-numbing” domestic tasks taken over, even by a willing party. Gardening is wonderful–even weeding and double-digging. There is nothing mentally challenging about washing dishes by hand, but I get some of my best thinking done as I watch the stacks of clean dishes pile up and enjoy the physical bringing of order to chaos, hands in warm water–but it took a good thirty years for that to change from a chore into enjoyed opportunity for meditation. Vacuuming or lawn mowing, on the other hand, are decidedly un-zen (too loud!), and it will take another 30 years for me to find something spiritually nourishing about those. (Or maybe I’ll just get hardwood floors and xeriscape my yard…) At the same time, I don’t really buy that it’s inherently wrong to hire someone to do housework–that presupposes that housework is some lesser form of labor and so an inherent affliction/insult to whomever ends up doing it. It’s just a matter of balance. Pres. Kimball seemed to think that we all ought to learn to grow our own food–not because we necessarily couldn’t afford to buy food, or because he wanted us to meet all our food needs without outside aid, or because it was insulting to the farmer to pay him to do most of our food production for us while we go off and work as a hoity-toity lawyer, but because there was spiritual insight and useful skills to be gained therefrom, even if our primary work is in the corporate world.

  16. #13 (rk) for QOTW!

  17. It’s clear that there is a visceral reaction against domestic labor. There is something that just seems _wrong_ about it.

    This isn’t a direct application of scripture. In fact, there is excellent scriptural support for the idea that some spiritual conversations are only made possible when someone else does the dishes for you.

    I think the reaction stems from the personal, close, and visible nature of housework. We live in a system of class oppression, of structural racism. We live in a system of privilege. And we don’t like to think about that, because it clashes with our egalitarian ideals.

    When we buy that beanie baby, we are paying money for the sweatshop labor of an impoverished kid in a third world country. But we don’t have to _see_ it.

    Domestic labor is sufficiently personal and intimate that it forces us to confront the structural inequality which we mostly just take for granted. No wonder it makes folks uncomfortable.

  18. When I was 9, my mom had twins, babies #8 and 9. My grandmother began paying a housekeeper to come in and help. We still had chores. We still had to clean up our own messes. It just made the house more orderly. Having hired help does not have to diminish teaching children responsibility and how to clean the house, do yard work etc. It’s not an either or question.
    “What about economic considerations–is domestic help a great example of the invisible hand making everyone’s lives better?” It depends. Is the family treating them invisible? The women that helped my mother over the years were a huge blessing. They were good women whom I loved and learned from. It wasn’t their hands that made our lives better alone, but their very being in our home, it was their lives.
    Kyle, “I don’t get the hierarchy trouble, unless you’re saying you’re better than the person who cleans your house (you aren’t).” Yes.
    If people have a problem with it it’s because deep down they think those tasks are menial and someone else doing them must be beneath them-not seeing domestic help as equal, but viewing that person as the other;-so to not feel guilty about their less than charitable feelings they bury them by claiming it’s wrong—that way they can feel morally superior instead. That doesn’t mean we should feel like philanthropists by giving someone a job, we shouldn’t. But how is hiring a housekeeper any different than a company hiring a janitor? A job needs to get done.
    As has been already mentioned, it comes to a cost benefit analysis. If I make $500 an hour, it seems like cleaning my house for an hour is a huge loss. Also, if you find some spiritual gem out of vacuuming, then by all means do it; or be super-charitable and let someone else bask in a little soothing repetitive grunt work and pay them to vacuum your house.
    When we lived overseas, the people I know who had housekeepers insisted on cleaning their own toilets, and some were embarrassed if the dishes weren’t done when she came. I would feel uncomfortable if someone cleaned bedrooms or folded my laundry. But hey, to each his own.
    “I can see it being objectionable that someone would eat bon-bons while a housekeeper cleans the bathroom…” Why? Because someone is working and someone is being lazy? Wouldn’t it be worse if one person was eating bon-bons and the cleaning wasn’t getting done? Housecleaning is honorable work, I don’t see why I should pity the housekeeper in this situation. Just because one person is wasting his/her life eating bon-bons doesn’t change that.
    Lastly, “ Finally, what about concerns about race and class that cannot be disentangled from domestic help? “ This is a huge topic, maybe too big for this post.

  19. So, to what extent does hiring a landscaper create or perpetuate class/race problems, and to what extent does it just make us feel uncomfortable about class/race problems because we are reminded of them? If we avoid that weekly reminder of the problems because it makes us uncomfortable, do we escape the problems? Does avoiding the reminder help anybody? We still operate in a society that has race/class problems in the rest of our transactions (ex: buying slaughtered beef). I’m not excusing perpetuation of problems and participation in oppression, but I’m also pessimistic about the extent to which it is even possible to avoid it. What then are our obligations to fight it, and how?

  20. Sorry about the lack of paragraph breaks.

  21. I’m scratching my head over this post. How is gainfully employing another human being who willingly engages in an exchange of labor for an agreed upon wage immoral? How is it detrimental to the soul if the time that is freed up by such a hire is used for other creative, engaging, worthwhile pursuits?

  22. #12: That’s where I hit the wall. When I started making good money creating ebooks and writing, already knowing how much I despise housework, I had to break down the numbers and they were mind-blowing. Hiring a housekeeper was a no-brainer. Hiring someone to do our lawn? No brainer. Hiring someone to rehab our bathroom, put new windows in our house, paint the house? No brainer.

    But I got caught up short the other day when I was fighting with my son to pick up his mess (again). “But that’s what Mary* is for!” I was not pleased. Yet I simply cannot afford to do my own housework. My kids don’t understand that. They think goods are bought with the swipe of a plastic card–never mind it’s a debit card. They think a piece of construction paper is no good if it’s the least bit wrinkled.

    On the other hand, they think going to the thrift store for clothes and toys is totally awesome, and they don’t get the difference between new and used as long as they like it. They also know they can get tons more at the thrift store for the same money than even Wal-Mart. So I guess it’s a wash.

    *name changed

  23. “I don’t see why I should pity the housekeeper in this situation. Just because one person is wasting his/her life eating bon-bons doesn’t change that.”

    I didn’t mean to convey pity for the housekeeper. I was just referring to the question in the title–Yes, I do think it would harm your soul to be idle and indulgent all day long, and we should be concerned for the bon-bon-eating person. As far as would it be better to eat bon-bons and have the house be dirty, or eat bon-bons and have a housekeeper, sure, favor the latter.

  24. Oh, but let me add:

    Do I think my ROI decision on hiring someone to clean my house is a moral failing? No.

    Do I think my sheer unwillingness to clean my own house is a moral failing? Yes. But I can learn to live with it.

  25. Seconded re. #13 for COTW (and child-rearing strategy of the week)

  26. The last few months my wife was alive, she could barely walk, let alone help with laundry, dishes, cooking, or cleaning or frankly, anything around the house. She could also see that I couldn’t keep up with myfull-time job, taking care of her, and the housework. So she paid a friend to come clean the house once a week. It was company for her, money that our friend desperately needed, and help for me that she couldn’t otherwise do. Our friend didn’t cook or do laundry–I still preferred to do that myself–but she did things that I simply didn’t have time to do otherwise. It lifted a huge burden for me, and I wasn’t nearly as miserable as when I tried to do everything myself. In our situation, hiring someone to help with the housework healed our souls, rather than harm them.

  27. I grew up in a home without hired domestic help, and while all of us kids learned how to do housework, the only ones of us who learned how to be organized about it were the ones who were inclined to be organized in the first place. One of us, who shall remain nameless, ended up hiring a cleaning service the very minute she could afford it. (Or rather, the very minute her husband could afford it. I never said she was a role model).

  28. I wonder if I should rethink having things I do not have time to maintain. That includes kids, lawns, homes, excess clothing, etc.

    This past year I have been outsourcing some household tasks that would otherwise be done by another adult in the home (I am the only adult and I alone maintain a family of 4, the other 3 of whom are not very useful, but charming nonetheless). The cost has been less than I anticipated, and much less trouble than my ex-husband. They have also made more per hour than I make. Yet, I would not trade their jobs for mine. I would be interested to know if any of them would have any interest in my job.

    Fascinating thread, Cynthia. A topic that makes people almost as defensive as parenting and homeschooling discussions.

  29. This is a great topic, Cynthia – even luring me out of lurking.

    In my opinion, hiring a gardener or housekeeper does harm your soul, especially in an age where our work is becoming more and more “disembodied”. This is particularly true if our definition of a soul is a Mormon soul, which is embodied. However, this is a different question from “Is hiring a gardener or housekeeper immoral?” which my answer would probably be, “sometimes”.

    I think a quote from Elder Christofferson is worth considering when making such decisions and can help us look clearly at our motives and prejudices against such work and those who may perform it:

    “God has designed this mortal existence to require nearly constant exertion. I recall the Prophet Joseph Smith’s simple statement: “By continuous labor [we] were enabled to get a comfortable maintenance” (Joseph Smith—History 1:55). By work we sustain and enrich life. It enables us to survive the disappointments and tragedies of the mortal experience. Hard-earned achievement brings a sense of self-worth. Work builds and refines character, creates beauty, and is the instrument of our service to one another and to God. A consecrated life is filled with work, sometimes repetitive, sometimes menial, sometimes unappreciated but always work that improves, orders, sustains, lifts, ministers, aspires.”

  30. #29:

    God has designed this mortal existence to require nearly constant exertion.

    Well, now you’ll have to define “nearly constant exertion,” because if what I have been doing this past year 12 hours a day, +/- 6 days a week isn’t exertion, I don’t know what is.

    Are you saying that the only WORTHY exertion is housework and yard work?

  31. My sister and I lived in different parts of the third world at the same time. I was a volunteer teacher in rural Africa for three years and fought off people eager to work for me the whole time: people who offered to cook, clean, and launder for me. These are all time-consuming tasks there. Even though I might have been able to afford it, I was not at all interested in perpetuating the idea that white people could or would not do housekeeping tasks. Many people, I am sure, would argue that I should have provided some work. I felt that I already was teaching the community’s children for free, and I hoped that I was teaching them that they were as important and their time as valuable as mine.

    When we were returning to the US, I asked my sister what she would miss the most, and without missing a beat, she said: my staff. Her household (of 1) employed 5 people. She felt that this was helpful, and it was certainly socially acceptable and even expected.

    We were certainly on different sides of the issue, but I’m not sure who was right.

  32. I was recently wondering if it was a moral failure of mine not to hire help. I’ve gotten to the point where I actually have more money than time, and I’m constantly having to choose between spending it on good and better. Weekend after weekend, my yard has been sliding away from me and just last Saturday it slid again as I chose to help on an Eagle project with my son. Since I live in SoCal with lots of hardworking, unemployed Mexicans standing around home depot, it seems ridiculous that I shouldn’t hire somebody. Why bring down my neighbors’ opinion of me (or their property values), when the problem is so easily fixed?

    The last day-laborer I hired worked side by side with me for four hours, did half again as much work as me, and was perfectly happy with $40. His nearest family member was in the Mexican military, fighting drug traffickers in Sonora. He said he could’ve done that too, except he never knew which of his superiors had sold out to the narcos and could get him killed. He was much happier here in the states. “No problems here,” he said.

    On the other hand, kids definitely need work. In fact, whenever my kids have started acting like snots, the best thing I’ve found to level them out again has been long (3-4 hour) family work projects. The first hour or two is pure hell, but after we’ve finished, it’s amazing how much nicer they are to each other.

  33. Hiring a housekeeper was the best thing that ever happened to me: http://segullah.org/daily-special/the-housekeeper/

  34. Kris,
    I think though, all work involves menial tasks. It isn’t less work to be a lawyer than it is to mow the lawn. It is still refines character, sustains and enriches life.

    I think what is troubling people is wage disparity. What if the housekeeper and yard worker were paid as much as a ________(fill in the blank with your favorite profession)? Then would it be immoral? It’s true that classism creates divides, and lower wage earners are often treated poorly-but that doesn’t have to be the case. We don’t have to treat people poorly. Domestic workers may often be, but don’t have to be–the other.

  35. ByTheRules says:

    I thought that having servants was a God like attribute (“servants unto the most high” and all) or at least to have ministering angels for those who are worthy of highest degree of celestial exaltation. Does that make the top tier celestial person “better than” a ministering angel?

    A Zion society may be unified and classless, but across societies there are various classes of people including servant class. Note that I am not expressing personal comfort nor discomfort with the celestial plan, but merrely pointing out that according to my understanding those who will be saved in the celestial kingdom must, at some point in time, become comfortable, appreciative, and good “employers” of ministering angels/servants.

  36. # 30, Nope – I just said the quote was worth considering in our decision making. Individuals will make different decisions. I would say in general our approach to work home production and consumption (both food and purchases) have largely been shaped by “provident living” and generally stripped of their spiritual value. To clarify, I’m saying that there is a cost (or harm) by not doing the work — each individual can decide whether paying that cost/experiencing this harm is worth it to them.

  37. #36: Ah, but you said:

    In my opinion, hiring a gardener or housekeeper does harm your soul…

    and

    To clarify, I’m saying that there is a cost (or harm) by not doing the work — each individual can decide whether paying that cost/experiencing this harm is worth it to them.

    Yes. It’s called “opportunity cost” and is a well-known economic concept. But you’ve already said that hiring a gardener or housekeeper does harm one’s soul, so now I’m confused as to what you mean.

  38. Dang. Killed the blockquotes AGAIN.

  39. Re: “I overheard one girl tell another about their chore assignment, “I’m not going to clean bathrooms! My name isn’t Juanita!” ”

    And experience of my brother on his mission: After telling another missionary (from California) that he grew up picking berries in our backyard berry patch, as well as helping tend our garden, the other missionary relplied: “But that’s Mexican work!” My brother tried calling him on it, but apparently several other missionaries present agreed with the other missionary.”

  40. #34–There was a story on one of my liberal news outlets about certain US communities with high unemployment setting up online bartering/service banks that store hour credits earned by anyone who performs free professional labor for someone; these credits can then be used for the same number of hours of work from anyone else with an “account” in the “bank.” So a doctor treats a patient for free for an hour and thereby earns an hour of free labor from anyone else in the system–landscaper, lawyer, whatever. I don’t know how/if it will work longterm (almost certainly won’t last beyond the recession), but the possibility of elevating people’s view of “menial” work was compelling.

  41. But going back to the overall topic of this post, I think there is something holy and fulfilling about doing the drudge work of the household yourself. Let me use a literary example:

    In Gene Wolfe’s (no relation) series “The Wizard Knight” he makes what seems to be a very odd choice for a high fantasy series: he skips over the battle scenes, yet spends many pages describing, in detail, the cleaning and care of Sir Able’s armour, clothes, sword, horse, etc. At first, it threw me off, and then I realized what Wolfe was getting at: Being a knight isn’t or shouldn’t really be about the grand battles and heroic deeds – the best knights do the drudge work. And then I realized he wasn’t really writing about knights, he was writing about becoming a mature adult. Being a mature adult (at least in this series) means embracing all those little tasks, the annoying ones you want others to do. It means taking the time to do them, and do them well, even though most people will never really notice. (Of course, being a Gene Wolfe book, there’s so much more going on, I hate to be this reductive with such a rich, layered work).

    I don’t really have much more to say, other than it is a personal thing, and I wouldn’t really judge anyone for hiring help.

  42. EmmaNadine says:

    I have a housekeeper. I hired a young woman from the ward to come in for a few hours twice a week and help with the vacuuming/dusting/bathroom etc. I work full time, my husband works full time, and I also have chronic health issues. Now when I come home from work, instead of me and my husband spending all of our time dealing with housework, we have time to spend together and with our son. (My son does have chores he is expected to do.) Additionally, our house is cleaner, calmer, and more conducive to the Spirit. Also, my stress levels have drastically decreased. So in my case, I would say that hiring a housekeeper has benefited my soul, not harmed it.

  43. I was going to hire a housekeeper, but then I read about all the big problems of unemployment among the youth so I hired the housekeeper’s children instead.

    Turns out that kids are lousy housekeepers. But on the other hand, I am really digging these custom Nikes!

  44. sorry had to be said says:

    I did hire domestic help. I got married (and had kids). (ducks)

    Seriously, the gender issue looms large here. Is taking your car to the mechanic instead of working on it yourself a moral failing for a man? Why would outsourcing some housework traditionally done by women all of a sudden become a moral failing? I think especially for any guys with a stay at home wife it would be incredibly insulting to think of hiring help as a “moral failing” unless they are willing to do half the housework they are effectively outsourcing to their partner so they can go be “more productive” elsewhere. Are there potentially immoral behaviors correlated with hiring help? Definitely. But I think it can be done morally. The important points have been hit already:

    1) How is the time you save by hiring out being spent? If it is being spent consuming more stuff, watching reality tv, and otherwise making a nuisance of yourself then yeah you are probably better off spending time doing your own cleaning.

    2) Are you honestly providing the person you are hiring not just the minimum decent pay but an opportunity and a way up? Are you giving them or their family a path to a better life? Are you treating them respectfully and well? It is easy to be exploitative in these situations. If not you would be sinning less by doing it yourself simply because you are now exploiting one less person.

    3) Is the need for help because you just have way more stuff than you need? Is your ability to pay for help leading you to conspicuous consumption? Seems like the consumption is the problem not hiring help.

  45. No.

    Now I’ll read the comments.

  46. #26 – Thanks, Eric, for that example.

    My wife works in a nursing home. She has taken care of the elderly in their homes, as well as the non-elderly who were dying. I know that is not the situation addressed in the OP, but it still is “menial labor” in some people’s minds – and it absolutely is not harmful to the souls of those who hire or pay for her services.

    “When you are in the service of your fellow being . . .” doesn’t apply only to volunteer work, imo.

  47. I think it is….interesting that most people who believe hiring help for housework is a moral failing are men (at least, based on screen names, that’s how it seems). I think #44 said it more eloquently than I could, but all that housework, yard work, painting the house? Yeah, I do all that, and would love to hire out the constant, mind-numbing, quickly ruined tasks (seriously? It takes my kids 1.4 seconds to make their rooms a mess again) that I do every day.

    Oh, and those of you who are defending yourself for hiring help because your wife was terminally ill/you had 8 kids under the age of 4/you worked 19 hour days? I don’t think anyone would be offended by your choice to hire out the work. I think the OP is for those of us who just don’t want to do dishes because it’s tedious, vacuum because it’s loud, and clean our own toilets because they’re gross. You are in a whole different moral sphere, at least as far as the topic of this post goes.

  48. When my husband served his mission, they had a cook, houseboy, and maid. In that country, it is rude NOT to hire someone, if you can give them a job. So I don’t think it is spiritually problematic to hire household help, or the church would not have allowed missionaries to do it.

    I think if someone was paid illegally and taken advantage of, that would be one thing. Our current cleaning service is paid $70 for about 1.5 hours of work.

    There is still plenty of work for the kids to do, and the cleaners don’t set foot in their rooms.

    Although we have cleaning help, we raise our own garden, can/freeze/dry much of our own food, and cook at home most nights, including for entertaining. We have time for the cooking and gardening because we don’t clean quite as much. It’s just a trade-off. Nobody can do it all.

    A major reason we have a cleaning service is that my husband was called to a series of church assignments that kept him away from home most weeknights, and thus he could not pull his weight around the house. Part of what the cleaners do is make up for that loss. I think the church should provide a cleaning service to the family of every bishop or branch president:)

  49. I have hired cleaning services when overwhelmed by asthma and ill health in general. I know those hired were thankful for the money and I was grateful for the help. I believe Mothers should do whatever is in their power to teach children to work, but after observing my teens, the greatest thing we did for them was require that they get summer jobs instead of playing and attending camps/EFY.

    They all have learned the value of a dollar by earning it themselves. No amount of chores at home could teach the life lessons that hard work in the form of childcare, lawn mowing, landscaping, bagging. groceries, and being accountable to a boss taught them.

    We live in a really affluent area and many of the LDS teens I know have never worked a part time job. Some brag about never being willing to work for minimum wage. The Entitlement attitude is really what needs to be squashed in our culture.

    I see nothing wrong with hiring domestic or gardening workers, especially if the Home Maker is in a time or season when an extra pair of hands can keep Mama healthier.

    Jenny Hatch

  50. Molly Bennion says:

    Hiring domestic workers will not in itself damage a soul. Not paying fair wages or treating people with respect will. Thinking we are better than those we hire or allowing our children to think that will. Failing to teach every child to do manual labor might if the child comes to think he is too good to do any work necessary. Furthermore, since almost all of us will have to do some of life’s dirty work to protect our health and property, not knowing how would handicap our children. But creating an honorable job won’t damage the soul.

    I’ve noticed that the first generation Hispanic immigrants who are prevalent in the farm community where I live clean homes, prune and pick orchards, and mow lawns but that their children very frequently get higher education and move into higher paid jobs. The man who repairs my rock walls is very proud of his 4 college educated children and they are proud of parents who made it happen. A housekeeper raised a physician daughter. The man who prunes my fruit trees, a skill he learned when he first immigrated and which he still does to make extra money on the weekends, is now doing skilled construction work. A young man who washes golf carts and cleans clubs at the local public course has started a painting and handyman business with his family. Entry level manual labor is just the logical first step from unskilled to skilled for many. They need the work. Others, for many reasons, alcohol being common, never become skilled workers but they too need work. I’m not embarrassed to offer it when I can.

  51. If you pay a living wage, are generous as you can possibly be, do everything you can to show concern for their material well being, and not only treat them as equals but truly recall that they are your equals in every way that matters, then I’ve got no problem with it. In fact, I’m for it.

  52. We live overseas and we pay a young Indian man to clean our house once a week. We pay a different young Indian man to wash and sweep out our car twice a month. I agree with #51.

  53. Cynthia (#10), the guy behind the butcher block at your local grocery store is probably union and making a decent living. Besides, no one feels like a philanthropist when they buy steaks. Apparently, we only feel like we’re doing someone a favor when we’re getting a smoking deal on their labor (cf. your average ex-pat living in an LDC on the company’s dime).

  54. I think it is….interesting that most people who believe hiring help for housework is a moral failing are men

    My wife wanted to hire her friend’s housekeeper to clean our house. The thought repulses me, so guess what? I clean it.

  55. I agree with M Miles about this not being an either/or kind of thing.

    But I disagree about trying to make hiring out household tasks the same as hiring out work at an auto repair shop, unless you have the know-how to actually take care of you car…but most of us don’t. I think part of the problem with making it a gender issue is that work in the home is too often seen in more a negative light than work outside the home, and the two are often pitted in competition with each other. (Working outside the home is often painted as the privileged “get to” position, while working inside the home is often portrayed as the burdensome job that people fight over who “has” to do. I think this kind of attitude also adds to the potentially negative side of hiring out help.) I think the Proclamation presents a model where both work outside and inside the home are seen in a bigger-picture and harmonious light, having primary purpose toward having and taking care of a family.

    I also think there is wisdom in knowing how to allocate (and potentially share) one’s resources. In the end, I think it all comes down to motivation. If the motivation for hiring out is pride, entitlement, resentment about housework, etc., I think that could be leading down a negative road. If the motivation is wisdom and order, sharing resources to give others work, etc. I think there can be a time and place for it.

  56. I actually have more money than time [...] The last day-laborer I hired worked side by side with me for four hours, did half again as much work as me, and was perfectly happy with $40.

    The question that I find fascinating is not whether the poor would be content to work for me for low pay rather than, say, die in the crossfire of a Mexican drug war, but why I would find it acceptable to pay someone who is 1.5 times more productive than I am far less than my estimate of my own worth to perform the same labor.

  57. Peter, not all of our time is spent in equally valuable ways. When I work on my car, it takes three times as long as a proper mechanic would spend, and yet the mechanic would be mostly worthless at doing the things that earn my pay.

  58. For the first six years we owned our home (two different homes), I hired someone to treat our lawn and keep it healthy, but mowed it myself. This job took about 90 minutes/week, which, due to my displeasure with how little time I get with my family anyway, usually came out of my work time. (I’m self-employed, work from home, so I have some leeway in my schedule.)

    This past summer, a guy offered to do the job for me. Having been laid off from his day job, he opened a startup lawn-care company that, with its professional-grade mowers and trimmers, gets my 90-minute job done in about half an hour. In exchange, he charges about 30% of what I’m able to make in those 90 minutes. In other words, it’s a no-brainer.

    Might there be some spiritual benefit from mowing my own lawn? I suppose it’s possible, but I haven’t noticed any difference in my spirituality. What I *do* see is that I’m better able to support my growing family, plus I’m able to employ someone who would otherwise be unable to support his. Not sure how that could be particularly negative.

  59. 50 years ago it was probably considered wrong to not cook dinner at home every night (maybe 20), now most families eat fast food at least a couple nights a week. 100 years ago I wouldn’t be surprised to find judgement of people not sewing their own clothes, these days it’s the statistical fringe that don’t buy their clothing.
    Let’s not make the mistake of assigning morality to things that are completely cultural in nature.

    “Distasteful” is another question entirely. But if I worried about my actions being tasteful, I would have to stop watching South Park and listening to Blink 182. I don’t have the time to judge a person against levels of tasteful-ness.

  60. Peter #53: The union guy at the grocery store does not “slaughter” cows (unless you’ve seen live cows being herded in the back door of your grocery store). Slaughterhouses are among the most dangerous jobs in the US, and they are known for making as broad use of immigrant (often undocumented) labor as farming/harvesting. That’s why I chose that example–it is a commonly immigrant job, working for or below minimum wage, just like housekeeping and landscaping, so it seemed like a pretty direct analogy.

  61. Michelle #55: “If the motivation for hiring out is pride, entitlement, resentment about housework, etc., I think that could be leading down a negative road.”

    Agreed about the first two, but if housework is causing resentment in family relationships, that seems like a time when hiring a housekeeper would increase spirituality, not harm it.

  62. Way back at # 37. Sorry, Moriah. This is a topic that I’m quite passionate about for myself, but honestly don’t mean to be prescriptive for others. Sometimes in sharing some of my thoughts on the issue I can probably come off zealous.

    My thinking on this is probably most influenced by Waldorf educators approach to children (willing, feeling, thinking) as well as Helen and Scott Nearing. The Nearings tried to divide most of a day’s waking hours into three blocks of four hours: “bread labor” (work directed toward meeting requirements of food, shelter, clothing); civic work (doing something of value for their community); and professional pursuits or recreation (for Scott this was frequently economics research, for Helen it was often music). Of course, most of us don’t have a life that allows us to divide up our days into neat four hour packages but I like the concept. I like the idea of doing manual labour and I think caring for our belongings and physical environment is important for the embodied soul, and in many ways it is the last frontier of manual work for many of us who lack the skills, living conditions, etc. to care for our cars, raise our own food, etc. I like when all of this meshes with Mormon ideas of consecration – but know it’s not for everybody. I can be happy talking to Russell about it :)

  63. Yes, John, but do you work alongside your much more productive mechanic and then pay him a fraction of what you consider your own time to be worth? Of course not. Your mechanic would tell you to take a hike and go low ball someone else while he gets on with the backlog of paying customers.

    What I was getting at in #56 was not that we should take self-reliance to unproductive extremes, but simply give due consideration the calculus we make when employing those living in precarious circumstances at cut rates (below what we think our own time is worth to perform the same labor) and having the audacity to congratulate ourselves for doing a good deed because, hey, it could be worse.

  64. it's a series of tubes says:

    Let’s not make the mistake of assigning morality to things that are completely cultural in nature.

    This. Exactly.

    As the only member of my family who has not lived for significant amounts of time in South America, I’ve heard plenty from them on this topic. A Brazilian friend of mine once mentioned that many people there considered it immoral NOT to hire help if you could afford to do so (and thus give someone a job).

  65. B.Russ would be nominated for BCotW were it not for his Blink-182 foolishness. Raca, I say. Fie!

  66. Cynthia, as I admitted before, we could do worse than, say, hiring undocumented laborers to slaughter our cows. What I object to is the notion that we deserve a pat on the back for doing so when what we’re really trying to do is keep costs down or, in the case of housekeepers and gardeners, indulge in the luxury of convenience. So while it may not harm our soul, the practice of exploiting economic inequality is probably not going to do much in the way of enhancing it either.

  67. Let’s not make the mistake of assigning morality to things that are completely cultural in nature.

    This cuts both ways. How many times in this very thread have the virtues of hiring local help been extolled?

  68. Agreed, Peter, but we seem to have a greater percentage of people feeling greater angst about paying low wages to a housekeeper than to a slaughterhouse worker. I’m trying to figure out why. Sexism and/or enforcement of traditional gender roles is one option. In other words, it’s ok for men to hire somebody to do work for them that they could do themselves, but not for women, because that interferes with there god-given role of tending the house and kids all day. But there are other possible explanations. One is simply “out of sight out of mind,” but that’s obviously not rational. If it’s not rational, then people who hire housekeepers can feel comforted and/or people who buy slaughterhouse products can feel worse. The point being, our judgements about the two could be in better parity.

  69. Chris Gordon says:

    Love the thread. Another thought I’d have is that if you’re hiring someone to do work you’ve done yourself and no longer desire to do or no longer have bandwidth to do, there’s not a lot of harm to the soul. Just to be safe, it wouldn’t hurt to revisit that work now and again to remind yourself you could do it yourself if you needed to. By the same token, make sure your kids get a stab at it every so often for the same reasons.

    If you’re hiring out work because you’ve never done it before and wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole, that’s damaging to the soul. As part of the human experience, we should all realize that nothing that needs to get done is beneath any of us.

  70. Yes, John, but do you work alongside your much more productive mechanic and then pay him a fraction of what you consider your own time to be worth?

    Firstly, are you saying that all work has equal dollar value?

    Secondly, it’s simple math: If I make $100 an hour, but it takes me 5 hours to fix my car, that repair costs me $500. If I pay my mechanic $50 an hour and it takes him 1/2 hour, then he has made $100/hour and I have saved $450. How is this inequitable?

    Thirdly, in the case of the $40 you referenced above, I have to assume that this was the agreed-upon amount or the worker wouldn’t have agreed. If I only ask for $50 an hour when, in fact, my worth (whether I know it or not) is actually $100 an hour, is that my problem or my client’s problem?

  71. I’m kind of scratching my head over the sentiments of “if you’re doing it for X, then it’s okay, but if you’re doing it because of Y, then it’s not.” How does anybody know? Can we ALL do ALL the things in life that need done for ourselves? No.

    I am entirely unmotivated to clean my house. And? So what? It gets clean by MY labor anyway because I pay for it to be done. That money has to come from somewhere.

    #62 Kris: I don’t even know what to say to that. If I had to live my life in such a rigid fashion, I’d eat my gun. That sounds like a living hell to me.

    I want to accomplish certain things in my life. Cleaning house eats too much time for me to get those things done.

  72. The point being, our judgements about the two could be in better parity.

    I agree 100%.

    Firstly, are you saying that all work has equal dollar value?

    Argh. No.

    Thirdly, in the case of the $40 you referenced above, I have to assume that this was the agreed-upon amount or the worker wouldn’t have agreed.

    Right, because the undocumented worker can choose between making $10/hour or getting killed in a Mexican drug war. This isn’t an even playing field.

    If I only ask for $50 an hour when, in fact, my worth (whether I know it or not) is actually $100 an hour, is that my problem or my client’s problem?

    It strikes me as cynical to suppose that undocumented workers’ low pay is a result of either a lack of awareness or a sense of modesty about the worth of their labor when we all know that their next best alternative is a kick in the pants.

  73. Hmmm … I also think guns can harm your soul. You probably should steer clear of a structured life and housecleaning.

  74. Having lived overseas for the past 20 years, I am familiar with hiring household help. As “series of tubes” mentioned, in many places it’s considered immoral to have the means to give someone a job and then refuse to hire them. A lot of these workers (gardeners and housekeepers) send their money back to their families to sustain them. By not hiring them as helpers, you are possibly adding to their and their extended families’ hardships.

    Also, I find it silly to imagine any kind of professional employee thinking it “immoral” to hire an assistant. Can you imagine? Is it immoral to hire an assistant in the home? My husband and I work full time as teachers, we do community stuff (I lead Girl Scouts), we have kids, I do all the usual church stuff with callings. Why wouldn’t I hire an assistant like any other professional? If we want to honor the men and women who run households, let’s treat them (us) like any other professional and give them assistants/aides/helpers, etc! It makes sense!

    On a side note, it irked me when the new branch president fired the poor worker (non-member) who was cleaning the meetinghouse and started having sign ups for the branch members to come in and clean at nights or on weekends. Sorry, but not only did you make a guy lose his job, but now the very few members of the branch there are have to sacrifice limited family time to come and clean. The point was to teach us to… labor? sacrifice? give service? I’m not sure, but there are lots of ways we can learn lessons like those without making a guy lose his job. /end rant!/

  75. “A formative experience for my thoughts on the issue happened on my first trip to Girl’s Camp as a leader. I overheard on girl tell another about their chore assignment, “I’m not going to clean bathrooms! My name isn’t Juanita!” To which her friend laughed and replied “Yeah, my last name isn’t Gonzales!” (The rest of the group was swiftly excused to free time, while those two fulfilled the entire group’s bathroom cleaning assignment on their own…..)”

    Cynthia, there are many good reasons to like and admire you, but this might be reason # 1. Well done, thou good and faithful Girl’s Camp leader.

  76. Peter, if my hiring the day-laborer at $10/hr is immoral (since I earn more than that, and since his only other choice is drug-lord cross-fire), what would you propose? That I pay him what I make? Because in that case, it would make no sense to hire him. The value of the task isn’t worth it to me, which is why my yard was in the state it was in the first place, so it just wouldn’t get done, and he just wouldn’t have work. Instead, I hired him and everybody was happy.

    Intimating I exploited him makes no sense — I hurt him in no way. The disparity in our situations exists through no fault of mine. Am I being immoral simply by being wealthier? Saying I should feel bad about myself for not paying more is like saying I should feel bad for not tipping at McDonald’s (after all, they’re all being taken advantage of too). You can always argue we should give more charity, but I think that’s actually a different discussion.

    My original point wasn’t self-justification — it was an argument hiring help in situations like mine was good for everybody, and that not doing it (because of pride, selfishness, whatever) might actually border on being immoral.

  77. Peter, it sounds like you’re talking only about undocumented workers and I have less than zero experience with undocumented workers, so I’ll bow out since we aren’t even talking about the same thing.

  78. “If you’re hiring out work because you’ve never done it before and wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole, that’s damaging to the soul.”

    I know a lot of people who have never, and thus don’t know how to grind wheat, bake bread, cook lasagne from scratch, make jam, sew a garment, , knit a pair of gloves, insulate the attic, lay carpet, or raise vegetables. Are their souls also being damaged, because they’ve never done it?

    Why is it okay to buy a frozen meal or loaf of bread, but not okay to have someone mop the kitchen floor?

    Basically, we need to drop all this judgement and stupid guidelines about what is soul-damaging. Unless you are growing your own flax and weaving it into linen to make your own clothes, you are looking at the situation from beam-obscured eyes.

  79. Naismith, flax is for pikers. Use hemp!

  80. I agree with the overall sentiment of Chris Gordon’s comment #69 and don’t think that the sentence Naismith quotes represents the whole. That said, I really like Naismith’s #78.

    Thanks for the great comments, everyone. I think my own thinking on this is being very well clarified by hearing the different sides, and some of the conflicts in my mind are being resolved. A major conflict I had was that I have experienced gardening and housework to be instructive and soul-enriching, both when joy can be found in them and the often times when it’s refining drudgery. So I was extremely hesitant to put that aside in favor of saying there’s nothing wrong with hiring out work. But I think the conflict there can be resolved by observing that there are any number of different ways to experience refiner’s fire and enrich the soul. As unique and effective as some are, that doesn’t mean that there is harm in removing a particular one, as long as others replace it. I find spiritual uplift and growth in vegetable gardening, canning and backpacking, but it would be silly to judge someone who finds it in other ways. We can extol the unique virtues of one mechanism without a claim to exclusivity. Doing so makes no sense in light of the gospel’s reach to so many different cultural, geographic and economic milieus.

  81. Good thread.
    I am all in favor of outsourcing. This is why we live in communities to begin with. We draw on one another’s strengths.

  82. I’ll confess to having some angst on this issue. But it is not because of any guilt regarding wage disparity, sexism, or the inherent morality of housework. I, like many of the commentators here, work a job where the billable hour is king, where my employer does everything possible to help me spend my time doing professional work instead of any non-professional task. And I do know people who live this way. Taking the logic that “my time is worth X”, they have housekeepers, gardeners, nannies, maid services, etc. They have their groceries delivered and send their laundry out. One coworker is having people come to put up Christmas lights on his house this week. The justification given echoes what has been said here; his time is worth $$$$ per hour and since he can pay $ an hour to have someone put up the lights, the transaction makes sense.

    Although I recognize this efficiency argument, it still discomforts me. I think there is a certain inherent value in “cross-training”, in doing tasks for which you are not ideally suited and thus spending your hour less efficiently. Of course the actual tasks one engages in are culturally dependent. As the world changes, almost all of us have stopped butchering our own meat. But I spend a significant amount of time fixing bugs on my computer (something that could undoubtedly be accomplished more efficiently by having an expert do it). The value comes not from the specific tasks, but from doing a task that lies outside our professional domain.

    Unfortunately, I’m not certain why I have this intuition. Perhaps it’s because there is value in doing these tasks because it allows us to walk in someone else’s shoes and, in many cases, to better appreciate the tasks that we do for our day job. Perhaps it’s because we can, by “shifting gears”, gain better insights into how to do those day jobs more effectively. And I’m sure there are other possibilities I haven’t considered. But I do think that there is some inherent value in doing things outside the scope of our employment, and that we should take care when appealing to the economic efficiency argument.

  83. Drew, Love that comparison to cross-training. It seems very short-sighted on the employer’s part to push so hard on the billable hours. I really agree that variety of types of activity is necessary to mental and spiritual health. A lawyer could pay somebody to walk their dog, but there are probably a lot of days when that’s their only chance for fresh air. So the opportunity cost equation isn’t just lawyer earns $$$$/hr and the dog walker costs $$/hr. It has to factor in time lost to doctor’s appointments for stress-related physical ailments, therapist costs $$$/hr (and during the appt the lawyer isn’t working/earning), etc. And that’s just the cold economic calculation, nevermind spiritual and other intangibles.

  84. Chris Gordon says:

    @78, not what I was saying. There is an “and” to that phrase. There are lots of things that I’ve never done but that doesn’t mean that I think them beneath me.

  85. “but if housework is causing resentment in family relationships, that seems like a time when hiring a housekeeper would increase spirituality, not harm it”

    That could be true, or it could be a problem. I just think it depends on what the resentment is all about. And ultimately, on one could discern that but the person involved.

  86. What Naismith said in 78.

    I think this entire conversation needs about 10,000,000 cc’s of basic econ on comparative advantage and gains from trade.

  87. If I hired someone to clean my house, there would be a lot less fodder for overwrought blog posts. I imagine that would be good for many souls :)

  88. I’ve cross-trained enough on housekeeping. I should probably study physics while somebody else cleans my house.

  89. I grew up with an army of servants and was encouraged to treat them like valueless playthings. I would bark orders at them all the day long, just for kicks, and force them to serve as human chess pieces on the back lawn, whenever I got bored, but especially when it was raining. I never did learn to wipe my own bum, which has proved a tad inconvenient when I’m out in public and need to seek intestinal relief, but on the bright side, it helped me prepare for my future life in the Celestial Kingdom, where I intend to act the part of KING and order the masses of ministering angels loitering about to do my every bidding. Earthlife is a practice run for the eternities, and I know my parents’ never forcing me to lift a finger has prepared me to better fulfill my destiny.

  90. observer fka eric s says:

    I wanted a housekeeper a while ago. I called around. Why is a traditional French maid more expensive than, say, most neighbor referrals housekeeper? The ads I saw on craigslist for the French maid seemed like the exact same services! What gives? What’s the big difference?

  91. @90,

    I think Steve Evans speaks French. Maybe you could work something out with him.

  92. Perhaps this explains the price discrepancy. “They are sometimes worn for sexual roleplaying or by BDSM practitioners, either on brief occasions, or as a routine form of servitude to the dominant partner.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_maid

  93. It seems that most of the examples where hiring out help would be considered immoral would be immoral independent of the “hiring out help” part –

    “In the end, I think it all comes down to motivation. If the motivation for hiring out is pride, entitlement, resentment about housework, etc., I think that could be leading down a negative road.”
    “I can see it being objectionable that someone would eat bon-bons while a housekeeper cleans the bathroom”

    Pride, entitlement, resentment are immoral whether they are tied to hiring out work or not, as are slothfulness and gluttony.

    Let’s not make the mistake of assigning morality to things that are completely cultural in nature.

    This cuts both ways. How many times in this very thread have the virtues of hiring local help been extolled?

    Agreed completely. I have a hard time believing that a financial exchange in which both parties agree to and feel good about the terms is somehow anything but amoral. Sure, you gave a person a job and by consequence some much needed money, but you got a clean house out of it too. Not exactly what I’d call an act worthy of sainthood. Not good, not bad.

    B.Russ would be nominated for BCotW were it not for his Blink-182 foolishness. Raca, I say. Fie!

    Sorry. I didn’t realize you were a fan. Perhaps I was too harsh when I called them tasteless.

  94. For the record: Hiring movers > asking the Elder’s Quorum to help move you. Morally speaking.

  95. #94:

    For the record: Hiring movers > asking the Elder’s Quorum to help move you. Morally speaking.

    Agreed.

    And hiring a janitor > asking ward members to spend what precious little time they have to clean the church buildings.

  96. I think hiring gardner and/or a housekeeper is better than prozac, and I highly recommend both.

  97. only read from to about comment 50 . . .

    A critical distinction that hasn’t been mentioned is that, contrary to other forms of outsourcing that benefit from specialization and economies of scale, most forms of domestic labor don’t scale and are labor inefficient. To use Julie’s example of milk, it’s more efficient for one person to raise many cows and distribute the milk to a community than for each person to spend the necessary time and money to have their own cow. This kind of specialization and scale makes everyone wealthier (include the poorest among us) and for this reason we would preserve these economic features even in a perfectly equitable world.

    Outsourcing many forms of domestic labor, however, like cleaning a bathroom, are inefficient because there’s little specialization, no scale, and the transaction cost of the laborer having to get to your home. For example, cleaning our own bathroom may take us 20 minutes, because we’re there already, but hiring it done requires the laborer to spend, including their travel time, say 60 minutes. This results in 40 minutes of waste. There are practically no examples of this kind of labor waste in the business world or traditional outsourcing models. In almost all market transactions, the people we exchange with can do the task faster and more efficiently than we could if we did it ourselves (again, due to specialization and economies of scale).

    For this reason, unlike most forms of exchange, those forms of domestic labor that don’t scale and don’t require specialization, like housecleaning, exist almost exclusively due to wealth disparity. The exchange occurs only because my 20 minutes is more valuable than their 60 minutes, something that would not happen in an equitable world. (I had to include the qualifier ‘almost’ because we could imagine a perfectly equitable society where, due to idiosyncratic preferences, I might choose to spend 60 minutes saving you 20 minutes of dish washing in exchange for your spending 60 minutes to save me 20 minutes of toilet scrubbing. It’s a waste of labor but is a beneficial trade.)

  98. “basic econ on comparative advantage and gains from trade.”

    So, Scott, are you against member building cleaning?

  99. Interesting, Matt. Your framing would still allow for most landscaping work to be hired out, right? There are a ton of tools to buy and store to support landscaping activity. Honestly, one major reason I’ve thought about hiring somebody to do the lawn is so I don’t have to own a lawnmower. It takes up tons of precious garage space, and we live in a row house that doesn’t have side yard/shed space where it could go. Then there’s the trimmers and the edgers and the clippers and the blower and the fertilizer spreader….

    I’m not sure I agree that housework can’t be done faster/better by a professional though. Maybe compared to a woman who has basically been doing that professionally her whole life (as a SAHM), but not at all compared to a beginner. One reason many women end up just doing things even when it was “supposed” to be the husband’s job is because they’ve grown much more efficient at it through practice.

  100. @Matt: Sorry, but my housekeeping service (i.e., a crew) is far more efficient at it than I am. There are, apparently, professional techniques to cleaning a house fast and well, so the argument that it’s not specialized doesn’t wash with me. Or scrub, either.

  101. Oh, you also don’t take into account the scheduling of the service/housekeeper. There are, in fact, economies of scale. She knows she can do X houses per day and services all the houses in one area of the city in one day, and goes on to the next block of houses in another area the next day, using the aforementioned professional techniques (that I don’t know). Efficient (i.e., specialized) work, mileage and travel time accounted for, and (if she’s smart) those costs built in to her prices.

  102. Long ago when I had infant twins my family hired a maid for me. She was wonderful. She could do so much in such a short time. She kept us alive which is good for the soul. I haven’t a clue of her ethnicity. I loved her. How could love be wrong?

    On the flip side I really love the article Family Work by Susan Bahr.

    I have it on good authority that the proverbs 31 woman had women in her household…I’m assuming they were servants or maid like peoples…so it must be okay.

    I don’t think it’s a decision that can be made purely economically…everyone is worth more than the time it takes to scrub a toilet. I’m not sure how a person could say *MY* time is better spent elsewhere and say someone else’s isn’t..because really…a toilet?

  103. Moriah Jovan gets it. Srsly.

    Cynthia (98),
    I’m bound by covenant to render such services when asked, regardless of whether I think such services are economically inefficient or not.

  104. Matt, I don’t know that I agree that there are no economies of specialization for reasons already stated. Additionally, as Scott alluded in 86, while I could probably do a sufficient job of cleaning my house, most housekeepers could not do my job without the proper education, work experience, and nerdy proclivity toward programming macros, decoding and coding xml, interpreting tax code, and sitting behind a computer for 12 hours a day. (In fact most people would consider my job menial drudgery despite the fact that I thrive in it and even love it.) We both benefit from me doing my job and the housekeeper doing his (in an imaginary world where I have enough money to hire a housekeeper) because he can’t do my job as well as me, and I can’t do his job as well as he.

  105. “It seems that most of the examples where hiring out help would be considered immoral would be immoral independent of the “hiring out help” part –
    “…Pride, entitlement, resentment are immoral whether they are tied to hiring out work or not, as are slothfulness and gluttony.”

    But I think that is part of the point of discussions like this. There wouldn’t be much to discuss if it were obviously and totally immoral. Much of what I think we’ll be judged on will be dependent on our motivations, not just actions themselves. After all there are many actions in life that themselves are amoral but deserve careful consideration about *why* we do (or don’t do) them.

  106. For the record: Hiring movers > asking the Elder’s Quorum to help move you. Morally speaking.

    I was actually thinking about the parallel to asking for help from people at church, although I’m not sure I agree with this equation.

  107. tongue in cheek.

  108. I’m coming to this a little bit late. In the late nineteenth century, household help was very common among our people. Martha Hughes Cannon, a fascinating individual and worthy of study, once wrote to a non-Mormon friend who she met in Med school:

    When are you going to wed? After all, this to my mind, is the true state of womanhood neither, if properly managed should it interfere with her true advancement, in whatever sphere she might cast her talents. Tis not the bringing of noble spirits into the world — to me, a mother is woman’s brightest glory — that dwarfs talent, and retards her intellectual advancement but it is the multiplicity of household drudgery which only belongs to servants — and the conformity to the vile customs of modern society.

  109. I wish I could remember who it was (I’m thinking James Faust) who gave a First Presidency Message or Conference talk three or four years ago that touched on this. It sticks to my mind, though not clearly enough, because I used it in a home teaching message. During the conversation my companion said that he was planning on contracting construction of a shed behind his house, but the message got him thinking that he should build it himself. Does anyone remember this talk or message?

  110. StillConfused says:

    “Which brings us to many questions that are unresolved in my mind: Are there particular tasks shouldn’t ever be done by other people?” — Paying someone to have sex with your spouse is frowned upon in some circles. But other than that, what people choose to hire out probably isn’t really anyone else’s business.

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