Why you can’t afford to do your own laundry (and how to outsource housekeeping & maintenance to save time)

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On the homefront, my gorgeous house cleaner takes care of my apartment, I rely on the occasional sitter to give me freedom to balance work, home and a personal life, and since becoming a single mom.

Outsourcing can be the core to your success. Including laundry. I am adamant about not ever doing laundry. I send it out, pay my housekeeper do it, or assign it to my children.

Absolving myself of the time and headspace required to stay on top of clothes, linens and unmentionables frees me to build the life I want.

3 options to hire someone to do laundry

1. Hire a housekeeper or someone to do laundry who can also clean and organize your house

For the past few years, however, I have been paying my weekly housekeeper, Sandra, an extra $20 to take on the task. I also pay for the coin laundry and detergent, but having Sandra means that I am saved the extra task of rounding up all my filthy things, or even putting away the clean items.

You can also pay your nanny, babysitter or a local mom who may have a home laundry service.

Plus, I prefer that Sandra (of whom I am very fond) earns the money.

Care.com (founded by a mom) is an other reputable service where you can find local housekeepers, laundry and nanny services near you. Use this link to get 20% of Care.com services now >>

2. Drop off your laundry at a laundromat

I live in New York City, where every neighborhood has wash-and-fold services for around $1 per pound. Most places will pick-up your filthy sack of poopy, pee-y, spit-up-y, avocado-y, spaghetti-saucy, grass-stainy laundry in the morning, and deliver it after work, neatly folded, sorted and smelling fresh as your baby’s butt that you just washed — all for about $20.

That same bag full of laundry would cost me about $8 to do in the coin laundry, including detergent (I live in an apartment) each week.

I figure it would also cost about $10 per week if I had my own washer and dryer, factoring in detergent, water, electricity, and wear and tear on a Maytag.

But all this outsourcing really isn’t about the saved $15 or the extra $15 or the wear and tear. Wash and fold laundry service is about economizing time and energy.

How create an easy budget you will stick to

3. Find a laundry service near you

Not every zip code has these amazing wash-and-fold services (I live in NYC), but you can find someone to do your laundry in your home through sites like TaskRabbit.com.)

You can also ask around for a recommendation, and tell parents in the neighborhood that you'd be happy to pay someone to take over your laundry. It may inspire a fellow mom to start a work-at-home business that could change her life.

Why you need to hire someone to do laundry

I really, really hate to do the wash, and I really, really hate to fold.

The sorting and cycling and hauling of this never-ending chore so tedious, so mundane and omnipotent that it's a joke for moms everywhere.

Except that it will make you poor. Nothing funny about that!

Investing in laundry service makes me richer because it frees up my time to use in more productive ways.

What if you invested just half all those laundry hours in your career, a business or freelance gigs? What if not having to worry about wash and dry and fold freed you up to spend more energy at work — and be more focused and engaged with your family when you are at home.

We haven’t even mentioned the happy factor. Some people just love laundry. I have never met one of these people, and I suspect I would not like her.

For me, wiping laundry off my weekly to-do list has been the most incredibly liberating exercise.

Before, it was a constant gnat swarming around my mind – what was clean when, when would I schedule a load, when to haul the dripping sheets into the dryer and to remember to take out my lacey things to air dry.

Now, I spend a fraction of that mental energy to coordinate a visit with Sandra.

When you are a single mom, money and time are especially precious.

Our professional lives, our kids and we ourselves simply cannot be weighed down by regrouting the tub (unless that is your thing, of course) or keeping your kids undies sparkling white. You are better than that.

When I get on my soapbox about this topic, I often hear people – and by “people,” I mean “women” – who cry:

“Laundry is just a part of life, you spoiled asshole!”

Not so long ago dying in childbirth was just part of life. Economies and technology changed since that was a valid point, and you are now free to unload unsavory tasks to people who want to earn a living doing them.

“Laundry doesn’t take that long, I don’t see what the big deal is, jeez! So lazy!”

One, two hours is a lot of time for me — as you will see below my long list of other things you might do with those minutes. Second, it is actually far more than just two hours of labor to do your laundry. Because you spend countless hours thinking about and remembering and stressing about when and how you will do the laundry. You might fight with your spouse or kids about the laundry. Get annoyed with yourself if you forget the wash overnight — or the drying and wind up with a crumply, wrinkly mess.

So it is two hours, plus countless brain cells and energy and emotion spent on laundry.

It’s a big-picture thing.

How to become a nanny.

“Oh, but doing laundry is just a part of life. I’d feel guilty for sending it out.”

Do you feel guilty for using a dishwasher, instead of cleaning every grimy fork and sippy cup by hand? Do you feel guilty for not washing your clothes on rocks by the river — because you are already outsourcing their cleaning to a machine made in China, that sits in your garage / basement / laundry room and does 99% of the work involved in laundry. In other words: You already outsource, so why not take it just a fraction of a step further and offload that task completely?

Get $10 off at Taskrabbit with code NEW10US.

“I feel it is my duty as a parent to teach my kids to mop the floor.”

Really? Do you really think that your child will grow up incapable of knowing how to mop a floor in an emergency? For real?

“You are such a snotty, rich bitch. Not everyone can afford spending all their money on house cleaners and laundry service. I hate you.”

Muah back atcha!

Look, no one has ever gotten rich without outsourcing some tasks. No one. You can’t do it all — I don’t care if you are sculptor slaving away in your attic, you rely on an agency, a gallery, someone to publicize your shows and host boozy after parties where hedge fund guys will feel all important and buy your stuff. Or if you are a tech entrepreneur, you simply cannot work alone in a Starbucks and create a bazillion dollar enterprise. You are one person. Successful enterprises consist of people doing what they do best, and being wise enough and humble enough to pass along other tasks to others who are more competent and enthusiastic about those things.

If you spend your energy and time on sorting and washing and drying and ironing and sorting and matching and folding, your energy is on a low-skilled task that fosters resentment. I don’t know of one fabulously successful person who does his or her own laundry. Do you?

I often hear from blog readers or friends incredulous cries: “How do you get so much done all the time! Do you ever sleep?!”

Actually, many nights I’m in bed by 9 p.m. (not proud of that, it is what it is), and I spend plenty of time dawdling on Facebook. But it is true: I produce a lot of creative work I am very proud of, make a handsome living, pick my kids up from the bus most days, hit the gym, jogging path, or yoga studio five times per week and enjoy a hot date or evening out with my friends once or twice weekly. Not to mention day trips, vacations, weekly Movie Night and family dinners every weeknight with my kids and guests. No complaints.

My secret – the one all those incredulous friends do not want to hear? I outsource shit I don’t like to do. I even outsource stuff I DO like to do, because it makes more sense for someone else to do it! In my business, I hire people in my business to do things I can do but am not efficient at — like podcast production and editing, web design and marketing.

Easy, affordable meal planning for single moms

Couples and families fight over housework, so just outsource it

People keep getting divorced. A lot. Rates have been around 40-50 percent for more than four decades.

Younger people aren't getting married, as marriage rates hitting historic lows.

Married women are pretty freaking unhappy. Researchers found: “The average married woman is less happy than the average married man, less happy than single women, less convinced that married people are happier than single people, and more likely to file for divorce. Once returned to single life, women’s happiness recovers, whereas men’s declines, and divorced women are less eager to remarry than divorced men.”

Why? One big reason:

Women keep doing far more housework than men — even as earnings increase

No. 1 reason: Women do way more housekeeping than men — 72 percent more, in fact. Things get especially interesting when you learn that the more she earns than her husband, the more housekeeping a woman does, and the less her husband takes on.

Mothers keep dropping out of the workforce, which is bad for everyone, including kids and marriages, which suffer higher divorce rates than in marriages where both partners work. Reasons are often that life was just too bananas to have two parents working fulltime, as well as shuffle around the kids, and keep the house clean. We know that in marriages in which the wives earn more than their husbands suffer higher rates of divorce.

Anecdotally, I hear lots of stories about the resentment about housework that simmers between even the most enlightened, progressive feminist spouses or romantic partners. Usually, the complaint comes from the woman: I come home from busting my ass all day, and then have to manage the kids and house — and he doesn't do a freaking thing!

In single-mom families, women are killing themselves to keep the house clean — spending precious energy and guilt on a task far beneath their abilities, and which competes with their work, joyful parenting, hobbies, health and a social life. All in the name of fulfilling some preconceived idea about what it means to be a woman and mother.

How stay at home moms can get divorced

Does he need to do more housework — or does she need to do less?

The studies around women doing so much more housework than men usually evoke cries for men to step it up, already. I suggest: Just because someone is cleaning and laundering and cooking all the time, doesn't mean that all that cleaning and laundering and cooking needs to be done. Maybe she needs to clean less? Or lower her standards? After all, in the study in which the amount of housework a wife does correlates with her professional success suggests that this is a far more complex issue that meets the eye — one mired in ancient, if not biological, gender norms, the need for romantic love and acceptance — nevermind sparkling countertops.

You and I are not going to sort this out in our lifetimes. The answer? Outsource housekeeping using Care.com or TaskRabbit.com. It is good for cohabiting relationships, and, as a recent Harvard study found, makes people happier:

People who spent money to buy themselves time, such as by outsourcing disliked tasks, reported greater overall life satisfaction,” said Ashley Whillans, an assistant professor at the Harvard Business School and lead author of the study, which was based on a series of surveys from several countries. Researchers did not see the same effect when people used money for material goods.

I call to take this a step further. You can lecture the public all day long that paying someone to clean, cook and launder for you is the answer, but our culture must first, change. As the Harvard researchers noted in the New York Times, in response to the low rate of Dutch millionaires who outsource unsavory tasks:

 In the United States: a Protestant work ethic that values being busy or guilt over paying someone for a task that people could easily do themselves.

Add to this working-mom guilt, and women's complicated relationship between our femininity and household chores. Turning this around will take far more than Ivy League research and New York Times articles laying out the facts I elaborate on the cost-benefit analysis of outsourcing laundry alone in this post, which is one of the most-frequented on all of this blog. People get really, really defensive about why they should clean their own toilets. This calls for a life and societal-altering culture change.

How to be a successful single mother

The answer?

Save relationships and close the pay gap by giving gifts of housecleaning

Give housekeeping as a gift for weddings, housewarmings, house guest stays, and when people decided to move in together. Give it to people when they have a baby, divorce or to celebrate a new job or business. This is one part giving the family a gift that science proves will make them happier, and likely improve the chances their relationship will be harmonious and lasting. The gift is also an act of resistance, one freeing women from the shackles of our own — and others'  — expectations of wifely, domesticity, and equal that playing field for once and all.

Find a housekeeper whose services you can give as a gift at Care.com (or TaskRabbit), or if you live close to your loved one, pay your own cleaner to attend to their home — and relationship.

How do you define a single mom?

50 things you can do instead when you hire a housekeeper or someone to do laundry:

  1. Play checkers with your kids.
  2. Host a dinner party.
  3. Have a glass of chardonnay while watching Handmaid's Tale.
  4. Hit the gym.
  5. Go to yoga, zumba or pilates.
  6. Go for a jog, hike or power walk with a friend.
  7. Finish your degree.
  8. Get a new degree or designation that will give you a new direction and earning power in your career.
  9. Take steps to launch that new dream business.
  10. Grow your business. Or, find a great work-at-home career to start.
  11. Find cool, quick ways to make money from home.
  12. Attend a networking event.
  13. Browse the list of course topics at Udemy or the list of course topics at Coursera and take an online course.
  14. Network online via LinkedIn, professional associations, Facebook groups, following up on email communication or setting up meetings.
  15. Call your parents.
  16. Teach your kids how to jump rope.
  17. Just hang out alone together in the same room with your kids without engaging in electronics. Maybe some of you are reading, or doing a puzzle or Legos.
  18. Cook as a family.
  19. Fire up that online dating site or app, if you haven’t. (Here's my list of best dating sites for single moms.)
  20. Go on a date.
  21. Read. A book. An actual real, paper book. Fiction even! (Here's my list of the best books for single moms.)
  22. Have sex.
  23. Listen to podcasts.
  24. Get a massage.
  25. Give a massage.
  26. Work in the garden.
  27. Declutter and feng shui your home like a mad woman. Go nuts! Feels so good!
  28. Get sun on your body. Even in the winter, just some sun on your face and hands is amazing.
  29. Bath. Take a great, long bath. 5 Tips for Self-Care Sunday
  30. Nap.
  31. Catch up with that best friend or cousin who lives far away.
  32. Visit loved ones.
  33. Write birthday cards, and send them!
  34. Thank-you notes!
  35. Gratitude. Start and maintain a gratitude practice, whether sharing by email your thankful thoughts each day, or writing them down in a special notebook, or verbalizing them on a voice app on your phone.
  36. That skill that you always wanted to learn but did not? Do that. For me: I’m going to take tennis and acting classes. Maybe you want to learn to ride a motorcycle, use power tools (that kind, or that kind, too) or juggle.
  37. Volunteer. Animal shelter, teen center, nursing home.
  38. Mentor someone. Officially, through a program at work or in your community, or informally offer your guidance to someone you know.
  39. Listen to a friend who needs to be heard.
  40. Create something. A craft, a poem, song or essay.
  41. Make your home prettier. Paint a room (better yet: go to the paint store, select a color, and hire someone to paint), hang a few new pictures, rearrange the furniture, change up the bed linens. Make it pretty, make it yours.
  42. Library. When was the last time you hung out at the library?
  43. Help a friend reach her dreams.
  44. Go to a service where you worship. Or, if you’re in the market, find a new house of worship.
  45. Do a new activity with your kids — learn to rollerblade or pogo-stick together. Take a community college class on woodworking or CPR.
  46. Start a family give-back project. Raise money for a cause, give volunteer time, or reach out to people you know who need company, help around the house or meals.
  47. Attend live performances – music, theater, dance. Free outdoor summer concerts, college and high school productions, Broadway or community theater.
  48. Stroll the streets of a neighborhood or town you’ve never visited.
  49. Visit a travel site, and brainstorm and daydream and drool – then budget!
  50. Dream! Dream big and beautiful and outrageous! Write those dreams down! Create a dream board, tell your mastermind group, a trusted girlfriend, your cat! Spend those two hours each week teaching yourself to believe you can and will fill those hours will more wonderful incredible life than any top-loading, energy-saving appliance can afford you.

Don’t just take it from me, here is a guest post from single mom Danyel Clarke, who lives in Claremore, Oka., with her two-year-old and a puppy. Consider hiring out household tasks to nurture your relationship with yourself!


Listen to my Like a Mother podcast episode on this topic!


Bottom line: Outsourcing laundry is self-care

Danyel's story…

If you were to walk into my house, you’ll almost think I have my crap together. My son's room and bathroom are always perfect. Living room, kitchen and dining room are almost always perfect: things put away, clean, where they belong.

Then you open my bedroom door and realize that I have been putting all of my energy into the rest of the house and I actually haven’t done my laundry since September. You read that right. SEPTEMBER. I have enough clothes to make this is perfectly feasible. My son's laundry gets done, towels are always clean, sheets are washed, then I lose energy and say “screw it” by the time it’s my turn for my clothes.

I’ve been so exhausted with work, family, the “to-do” list, putting absolutely everyone and everything before myself. Nothing and everything gets done all at the same time.

I haven’t made it to church in two months, but it was my New Year's resolution to quit using exhaustion and chores as an excuse and just GO!

But ladies, today, the first Sunday of the year, I ran out of clean underwear. Completely out. Not a thong, faded or period-granny-panty one left in the drawer. Completely out.

So I freeballed it to church. Yep, I sure did!

On my way to church and during worship I was making a mental list of all the things I needed to get done today: top of the list was wash a load of underwear. Take boxes to recycling, go to the grocery store, remember that I'm supposed to bake a pecan cheesecake for that lady at work (add ingredients to that grocery list), take those glasses to my mom, I really need to steam clean that carpet, oh! Get a light bulb for the fridge, don’t forget to close the vents outside the house, trim the dog's nails as he’s really starting to leave marks on the kid, clean up the playroom…you get the picture.

Most people wouldn’t show up to church without underwear. But I’m sure glad I did, because today I was reminded of imperfection and grace.

After church I had planned to head home, make lunch for me and my little, and get started on my list.

After all, I should save the money. But instead I headed to one of my favorite places in town to eat. Just the two of us. Ordered (two) MANmosas, an appetizer, a tasty grilled chicken club, a meal for my little that I knew he wouldn’t eat, but hey! Now, he has dinner and I don’t have to cook at all today!

I had every intention of getting home right at the time he goes down for a nap so that I could nap, too.

And I don’t feel bad about it.

Like many single moms, I do it on my own. No breaks, no every-other-weekend, or any day at all that the kid goes to the other parent. I’m exhausted. And between a strong-headed 2-year-old and a puppy (hellooooo, just another toddler. What was I thinking?!?) I'm usually at my wit's end. That is definitely not to say I, or any other mom, or that I have it tougher than any other mom, I don’t mean that at all. It’s all hard. Momming is hard. Period.

For all of us, it’s important to remember that perfection isn’t required. It’s okay to splurge. Not cook. Don’t do the laundry (but yes, I did put a load in when we got home), to nap, and go to church commando!

That’s my long winded way of saying that I was “selfish” today. Blissfully, happily and wonderfully selfish. Little one finally fell asleep and now I’m going to nap as well.

Happy Sunday, mommas. Much love! ♥

Danyel

Wealthysinglemommy.com founder Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, activist, author and expert. A former Associated Press reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has appeared on CNBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, TIME, The Doctors, Elle, O, The Oprah Magazine. Winner of Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web” and a New York Observer “Most Eligible New Yorker," her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was a New York Post Must Read. As an expert on divorce and gender, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality and multiple state legislature hearings. More about Emma's credentials.

158 Comments

Emma, I’m not a rich single mom. I’m a retired, once working, middle class mom of a now adult son & I could not agree with you more. Laundry is a CHORE that, if you dont have to do, offers more TIME in your life. Simple. One of my favorite personal sayings is that I wasn’t put here on earth to clean, although I did – and still do- my share. Just think- if I was t doing laundry, I could be working on my new novel. Etc.

I do my own laundry because I live in a van by the river (no joke) and have more time than money on my hands and only have to do 2 loads a week. However your points are absolutely right for many people- just dont assume for all.

Valuable information. Fortunate me I discovered your web site by accident,
and I’m shocked why this twist of fate didn’t came about earlier!
I bookmarked it.

I hired our house cleaner to do our laundry. $100 per week. We have two washers and 2 dryers. We have 2 teenagers, 2 middle schoolers, 1 elemenotary-aged child and 2 adults. She quit. It was too much and it took too long. I couldn’t blame her; she’s right.
For large families, your whole theory doesn’t add up.

I’m a single mother to three kids (with 100% custody), I work as a teacher, and I’m in grad school. I completely agree with the author of this article. I get that some women get a kick out of performing mundane tasks, but that’s not me. My mental health would suffer greatly if I didn’t find ways to build in time for me. I’d like to think that I’m modeling building a balanced lifestyle for my children.

I prefer to do my own laundry. I have a specific way of doing things and specific products I want used, and am very picky and I don’t like the way others do them, and this applies to just more than laundry. I have been doing laundry for over 35 years or more and I like the way I do it. I see the way people at the laundromat even do their own laundry, and I do mine completely different. I am on a fixed income. If I spent 25 a week on laundry, I would have no food to eat. Also, I don’t want to take a chance that some creepy guy working there is going to do unknown things to my underwear. There is nothing stupid about any of this. This is the way I am. Even if I was as rich as you, I would still do it This Way, which is My Way.

That is fine, but many (most?)people find their lives are more enriched when they stop being so persnickety about petty things and focus on activities that enrich their lives.

I make 6 figures and I do my laundry myself what’s more I do dishes by hand and wipe every single item with a linen dish towel. For me these mundane tasks are a way to get to the white space, my brain is elsewhere when I am doing it. But I used to outsource cleaning sinse 2008. I only stopped because of COVID (human homini virus est) , but then I bought a mopping robot and started to use hand drill to wipe surfaces (really wish there was a robot for that too…). As you might have guessed I totally hate mopping floors and cleaning bathrooms I guess we are all different. But outsourcing what you hate really works!

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