Working From Home Without (Quite) Going Crazy

I tend to brag about my commute. I walk downstairs to my computer — it takes me all of a minute to actually get to work. Living where I do, in the suburbs about halfway between Baltimore and Washington, DC, a short commute is something my friends can be quite jealous of.

But there is a tradeoff for that commute. Since I work from home, I expect myself to have a fairly clean house at all times, get all the laundry done and even get a home cooked dinner on the table every night. My husband is enlightened as far as chore division goes (unlike a certain grandfather of mine who has referred to cleaning the house as women’s work), but at the same time, he works outside of our home. He may have downtime during the day, but it’s simply not at the house, where he could use those few unoccupied minutes to switch a load of laundry over to the dryer.

We’re both aware of the situation and neither of us thinks it’s quite fair, but that’s how it works out. It’s enough to drive a girl crazy.

The Productivity of a Clean House

There’s a certain point when I can’t concentrate if the house is dirty. No matter what’s on the agenda as far as my work goes, I get exasperated and have to go clean something sometimes. Since I can’t just go into an office outside the home to work every day, it’s a matter of my ability to be productive.

I figure what needs to be done around the house into my plans. While I’ll never have the cleanest house on the block — do I even have a duster? — enough usually gets done that I can stay sane.

Productivity Hacks Are Just As Important in the Home

This fall, I did keep hitting a wall in terms of frustration. My business is growing (yay!) but I seemed to never have a single moment to actually do the cleaning (boo!). I had a couple of days where I almost missed deadlines because I just couldn’t take the state of the house anymore.

So, we added maid service to our budget. Once a week, a couple of nice ladies come to our house, thoroughly clean the house and then leave again. I just have to keep up with the dishes, the laundry and generally picking up stuff so that they can clean without having to worry about putting things away.

In a way, I feel badly about this ‘hack’ — about the fact that I can’t keep the house cleaned to my satisfaction myself. I know my grandmothers both had help in the form of cleaning ladies, but somehow it doesn’t seem quite the normal thing around my peers. There’s a certain sense that the women of the generations before us could keep a perfect house without any of the time-saving devices we have now, so why can’t we manage it? Heck, I’m from the generation after the one where every woman seems to have juggled career, kids and home without too much difficulty.

More than Just a Household Problem, Of Course

I feel like, at this point in this post, I’m supposed to say something about the great advancements we’ve at least made in terms of work and equality and so on. But here’s the deal: I think that my cleaning issues say that there’s still a lot of room for improvement.

I’ve read study after study that reports that even if both partners work outside the home, women do a disproportionate amount of housework and childcare. It’s true and it’s not likely to change any time soon. Women are far more likely to stay home with the kids, putting a career on hold for child-rearing.

And, while I have no numbers to back this up, I’m entirely convinced that women are more likely to get a job or start a business that allows them to work at home.

I know plenty of guys who work from home: they freelance or take a telecommuting job or run a startup. But many of those guys are looking, at some level, to advance to the point where they can have an office outside of the home at some point. I know far more women who are looking for a way to get their work into the house and keep it there.

My husband and I have actually talked about the pros and cons of my working from home when we get around to having kids. If my business keeps growing the way it has, getting an office outside of the house won’t be a problem. But I may not want to. I may want to keep working from home.

The Perks of a Home Office

At the end of the day, I love working from home. The aforementioned commute is a major benefit in my mind, as is the fact that I can go and make cookies when I’m getting frustrated with some part of my work. I’ve worked in offices before, for employers with plenty of regulations, and I know that I’d never be happy in a situation where an employer could tell me what to wear and when to be at work, let alone having to go into an office.

But there are issues that I’m going to keep thinking about. It’s good to question our systems and situations, whether or not our goal is to make a change. I want to know why it seems a little off to get the help of a cleaning service, why I feel the need to clean in order to be able to comfortably work and the answers that go along with all those other little questions about why society has the expectations it does.

Image by Flickr user Melissa Ann Barrett

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