25.2.14

Delegation

You guys, I have a confession to make. I'm a little embarrassed about it, to tell the truth. I'm worried you won't understand. Plus, I feel like I should be able to do it all myself. It's my mid-western, self reliant, up bringing I suppose. But it's time to come clean, literally. I've hired house help.

I know. I live in a big house in the country, and now I have people cleaning my house for me. Next I'll be sipping mint Juleps on the porch while fanning myself with my big hat. (Actually, that sounds good. I just put mint into my garden. I'm going to have to do that when it grows enough.)

But here's how it happened. We had a big party here at Christmas time. We invited pretty much the whole city to come to our house for festive things like cookie decorating, and hot chocolate, and singing. You know me, it's not a party without singing. Not too long before I went and bought new glasses, finally laying to rest the lenses I had been using since 2004. Seriously, 2004. I got home with my brand new, shiny, not scratched a bit, lenses, and realized just how deeply covered in grime my house was. Did I mention that all of the downstairs floor is white tile? Do you know what happens to white tile when kids with dirty feet step in a bathroom puddle and then walk all over the house? It really ain't pretty.

One of my friends had mentioned that her mae baan was looking for extra work. (That's Thai for house maid, or something close.) So I asked how much she charged and if she could come over the day of the party to help get it really, really clean. That led me to a referral to another friend, who referred me to Christine.

Christine is Burmese, but she's been a Thai resident for at least 20 years, worked a long time in Chiang Mai, and has experience as a Mae Baan. She now lives in a little bamboo house in a migrant work camp just outside our village and she and her husband have planted a little church there. She is teaching some of the women there how to be Mae Baan, instead of field laborers. It's a much better job.

So, for the equivalent of $10US!!!! she came to my house the day of the party, with a younger woman named Giley, and they made my house sparkle! It was amazing, like a miracle from heaven.

I had no idea how little it cost to hire someone. I'm told she's expensive compared to others, but I do have a really big house.

A little later I read this article, True Confessions of an Extreme Outsourcer. I realized that my pride was getting in the way of my productivity, in a big way. I mean, I don't expect to get any office work here done without our office assistant. That's just crazy talk. So why do I somehow think that I ought to be able to,
  • be up several times a night with short people
  • administrate a nonprofit corporation long distance, including managing volunteers and contractors on that end
  • Home School 4 children, including a wild and crazy toddler, and a pre-adolescent, while taking care of a baby
  • cook 3 meals a day
  • run an NGO office locally, manage staff and volunteers
  • design training materials for local women and families, and teach those classes
  • write 2 blogs and keep them current, plus manage 4+ facebook pages, and other social media
  • write monthly updates to all our supporters
  • create and edit content for new promotional materials
  • add any new chapters to the book we're trying to write. (that has totally not even been on the list the past several months)
  • Garden and do yard work
  • AND keep the whole house clean?
See that level of crazy going on right there? I am a firm believer that my kids should be responsible to clean up after themselves and the messes they make. And they do, they keep this house running. You can tell a day that they didn't do their jobs, because the whole place is awful. Which is testament to how much help they are on days when they do get things done.

One thing the article asked is what things would you delegate? On that whole list, housework would be the first to go.

So I started out by asking them to come every 2 weeks, just to help me deep clean, and keep on top of things.

After a month of that I said, come every week. If I had more money I'd have them come twice a week. They both have a little girl and they bring them along, I asked them to, and they run around and play while the mommies work.

We went to Chiang Mai for a week and it was a really messed up weekend. On our way out of town I stopped to give Christine the key and pay her in advance to come in while we were gone and clean. It was like a miracle. We got home, after a long hot dusty drive, and the house was perfect, more perfect than it's ever been, now that we were out of the way so they could work. I can't tell you what a gift it is to come home to something so peaceful. It lasted a whole 4 hours, because we went to the pool right away after unloading the car.

I am so much more relaxed about messes these days. "Sure we can eat noodle soup in the living room while we watch Ender's Game for family night." Worst case scenario, if I don't get to mopping the floors after that experiment, it will get done in a day or two anyway. It's not like I am not still totally swamped, and don't still fall asleep mid sentence with my hands resting on the keyboard of my laptop every second day or so, but it's one stress gone. I don't even try to clean up before she comes anymore.

3 comments:

  1. Sounds lovely to me! My sister Sophie who lives in Ethiopia has house help too, and also sounds vaguely apologetic about it. :) But it is affordable, frees her up for what only she can do AND provides work for someone who needs it. Sounds like a win-win to me.

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  2. One thing that Carrien didn't mention is the cultural reality in most countries (at least in Asia) where there is extreme income variation is that it is considered at best stingy to not hire someone if you can possibly afford it for anything: laundry, cooking, cleaning, cutting the trees, woking the dog, etc. For us not to delegate/hire from the community to accomplish things they can do just as well if not better than us is to both place ourselves aloof from the community and to waste our time on the things that do not represent maximal gains for our mission, it actually represents irresponsibility on many levels.

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  3. Hooray! I remember feeling bad about having help six years ago- but when I imagined you coming here I always imagined you'd get more work done because you'd be able to hire house help! I never in a thousand years imagined you trying to get it all done without help in the house. Especially here, where it is so much messier.

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