Hint: I was a whole lot happier.
For the past three years, my mornings started out the same: I woke up to my daughter shoving her face in mine, usually as she pretended to be a Disney princess. As I stumbled into the kitchen, I was already thinking about what work I needed to do — both for my career and around the house. I put on coffee and checked my email while writing out my to-do list for the day. As my breakfast cooked, I either put in the laundry or did dishes, before going to the gym, where I started mentally writing my stories. (I’m a freelance writer.)
Every second was occupied with a “should:” “I should be working on that deadline” or “I should be tidying up the house.” Even when I stepped out of my home office for lunch, I couldn’t resist sweeping the floor, instead of just giving myself a 20-minute break.
I knew I was busy, but I didn’t realize until this summer that what I was doing was completely unsustainable. Then, as it tends to do, life showed me exactly where I stood. Within five weeks, I had a miscarriage and two unexpected losses in my family. I was reeling, and it was all I could do to maintain the minimum amount of work and feed my daughter a peanut butter and jelly sandwich a few times a day.
Purely for survival, I had to start outsourcing. I looked at my burden to see what I could let go of. In such a fraught emotional state, work was a refuge. I scaled back but knew that letting go of household duties would really give me some room to breathe. Instead of booking childcare here and there for a few hours, I scheduled three full days of care for my daughter. For the first time in my life, I hired a cleaning woman to come in once a week.
Although the reasons that led me to outsourcing were horrible, the results were simply amazing. It turns out I’m not alone. A recent study found that those who spent money on time-saving services (like a cleaning service) reported increased happiness and well-being.
As Ashley Whillans, an assistant professor at the Harvard Business School and lead author of the study, tells The New York Times, “People who spent money to buy themselves time, such as by outsourcing disliked tasks, reported greater overall life satisfaction.”
I couldn’t agree more. Here’s what happened when I started outsourcing — and why I’m never going back.
I Was Able to Relax
Having a to-do list constantly running in your head is exhausting. Although I sometimes get frustrated with my husband for being able to relax amid the mess and household chaos, I’ve also always been jealous of his ability to put his own needs first and not let his personal time be derailed by things he could be working on.
After I started outsourcing cleaning and childcare, a significant portion of things on my mental to-do list were getting done without me putting in work. As I began to trust the process, I was able to completely let go of worrying about certain tasks. Floors are dirty? Not my issue, since the cleaning woman will mop them on Friday. Kid needs lunch? Her babysitter is in charge of that! With less of a mental burden, I was able to relax so much more than I had before.
Housework Was More Evenly Split
My husband works a job with lots of unpredictable hours. Because of that (and because of deeply ingrained social conditioning), most of the workload around the house was mine. For deep cleaning and big projects, we had to take away from our very limited family time on my husband’s days off to get them done. It was frustrating because how we were using our time and money wasn’t aligning with our emotional priority of spending time together as a family.
Hiring a cleaning service costs us $100 a week (which eventually dropped to every other week). The lifting of stress was worth every cent. Rather than spending a quarter of our weekend cleaning up (or arguing about what we need to get done around the house), we were able to just enjoy each other’s company.
I Was Supporting Other Women
Recently, my financial situation has improved, and my husband and I have a bit of flexibility in how we spend our money. The cost of childcare and cleaning wasn’t insignificant, but we were able to swing it in order to support our happiness and mental health.
The other wonderful side of the equation was I was able to put that money directly into the hands of other women. My cleaning lady is a mom who homeschools her teenagers and cleans to bring in a bit of extra money. My babysitter is a young mom who is nannying in order to be able to earn money while staying home with her infant son. For both of them, the money that we’re paying makes a significant difference in their economic situations, which makes me feel even better about spending it.
Of course, there’s a lot of privilege in being able to outsource household duties. However, we all have limited time and limited money, and we have to choose how to balance the budgeting of both. Outsourcing household duties has taught me (and my husband) that we really value spending money to save time together, and our lives are so much better for it.