How to Survive Without House Help

I know this “domestication” theme is supposed to be super spiritual, but I can’t get beyond practical with this one. So, I’m bringing you some real life “domestic” experience.

I’ve had a house helper for eight straight years. That’s most of life with children. The last time I cleaned my own toilet (before August 2016) was probably eight years ago. Go ahead, laugh at me. I know. It’s ridiculous.

After our summer visit to Texas, I returned to China and found out my house helper couldn’t work. Rather than find a replacement, I decided it was time for me to learn how to clean up after myself and my own family.

During the first two weeks of trying to find my new normal, I happened upon a “helpful” article on the handy dandy Internet about how to keep a tidy house. As I read the ten pointers given by a nice, well-meaning  woman trying to do me a favor, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed and upset about the high standards she placed on stay-at-home-moms like myself.

Reading her daily to-do list made me want to run to my bedroom and lock the door and watch re-runs of Downton Abbey (like I’ve never done that before…). Just because I’m a stay-at-home mom does not mean I should spend my day scrubbing something. Even though my older two kids go to school, I’m keeping a two year old alive all day. If nothing else gets done, I’m proud of that achievement.

Instead of hanging the expectations of someone else’s to-do list over my head, I came up with my very own list of how to survive my life without house help.

  1. Never mop the floor before hosting a group of people, especially if said people have small children. MAYBE sweep, unless kids are going to eat at your house, then definitely don’t waste time and energy sweeping. Wipe the table, make sure there’s toilet paper and a clean towel and soap in the bathroom, de-clutter a bit and there you go. Have a party.
  2. When you’re frustrated about the absence of a dishwasher (machine or human) in your life because your kids insist on using five different cups every day and there are three kids which means you get to wash 15 cups a day…go with paper for awhile, until the motivation to wash 15 cups everyday returns.
  3. Scrubbing toilets isn’t as bad as I thought, especially after 8 years of diaper changing. If you’re grossed out about cleaning the toilet, remind yourself of the worst diaper changes, and suddenly it’s not that hard to swish a brush around the porcelain express once a week. While you’re at it, thank God the kids are no longer pooping in their underwear.
  4. Let yourself buy the clean vegetables at the grocery store instead of the mud-covered ones at the market if you’re like me and hate cleaning dirt off of carrots. (I grew up on a farm. Can’t tell, can you?) I find that if I buy the dirty ones, they sit there all week as I avoid them. But if I spring for the clean ones, I’ll use them that same day!
  5. Only do the dishes once a day. I can’t stand feeling like a full-time employee in the back of a diner, scrubbing my life away. I’m more willing to do the chore when I let the dishes pile up until the end of the day. By then, there’s a great excuse to turn on some tunes, kick everyone else out of the kitchen and –Viola!–the chore is now transformed into “me time.” And I sometimes look forward to it!
  6. Do not get a high-maintenance pet…and if you’re always cleaning up after your plants, they are now in the pet category and you should disown them as well. I have three kids. I do not need other living things creating more messes around me. So the options are: a goldfish or a cactus. That’s it.
  7. Purchase a few household or kitchen gadgets to make life easier or more fun. I love my electric sweeper vacuum. It’s way more engaging than a boring old broom. I daydream about getting a clothes dryer. If there’s something on your mind that will simplify your daily chores, go for it! The cost is justifiable because it’s cheaper than hiring someone to cook/clean/do laundry for you (but I still don’t have a clothes dryer).
  8. Take your shoes off at the door. This is a cultural thing we’ve picked up in China, but I don’t see why everyone everywhere doesn’t do it because your house stays cleaner longer, unless you love mopping…but if you love mopping, I’m pretty sure you stopped reading this already.
  9. Shop online or at stores that deliver. I know everyone doesn’t have this sort of thing available to them, but if you do, take full advantage of it! Since I can’t go out alone to haul groceries, I don’t have a car, I have to take the toddler along and the boys drink so much milk we should get a cow, delivery is everything!
  10. Reward yourself. Spend some time cleaning, then take a nap or treat yourself to a hot cup of coffee and some uninterrupted Instagram time while the kiddo naps–and don’t feel guilty about it because you worked hard today (even if you didn’t clean…).

I’m still trying to figure out my best practices. If you’ve also struggled to find the balance between having a crazy messy house and a pristine, perfect house please share your own “life without a house helper” tip with me. I’d appreciate it.


What “life without a house helper” tips have you picked up?

How have they revolutionized your domestic life?


  1. Sara November 13, 2016

    I love this post! I decided to go househelper-less this year too for a lot of reasons – one of them being it somehow actually costs me more emotional energy to have someone in my home every day and I needed a break. I have come to really look forward to my kick-everyone-out-of-the-kitchen-so-I-can-do-the-dishes-once-a-day “me time.” We finally have good enough internet that I can usually listen to a podcast. Love that. Also agree with the not mopping before people come over. Just a general, quick tidy-up and sweep the floors afterward (unless someone is coming with babies who eat everything off the floor, I vacuum out of empathy for their mothers, I’ve been there). One of my favorite gadgets these days is my electric pressure cooker – love that thing! Frozen chicken goes in and 30 minutes later, tender, yummy chicken comes out. Bless all you ladies out there who are also navigating this. May we receive grace for today.

    1. Ruth November 14, 2016

      We have a house helper 2x a week, but I really don’t want more because I also don’t like always having someone around. I’m already an introvert with three noisy girls around all day!I am in the “baby who eats everything off the floor” stage though.

    2. M'Lynn November 15, 2016

      Good point about babies and the floor! Ha. My kids were like swiffer sweepers as crawlers because they never quite got their bellies off the floor! And…I’ve got to get me a pressure cooker. That sounds amazing!

  2. Johnna November 14, 2016

    This is HILARIOUS! Are we related?? I relate to everything except the paper cups. Way too much guilt for that one. 🙂 one of my friends posted “how to have a crappy dinner party” and it was all about not cleaning before having people over and making something you already have in your kitchen. I love to go clean and gourmet once in awhile, but I spend a lot more quality time with people (including my daughter) if I relax a little and keep the bar low. My aunt has a sign in her kitchen that basically says we will never look back on our lives and say we wished we had cleaned more. Three cheers to all as we do the best we can with what we’ve got. You’re all my heroes, VA women!!

    1. M'Lynn November 15, 2016

      Clean and gourmet is good, if you can pull it off! Yeah, I feel guilty about the paper cups. At least they’re small. And I’m still using washable plates, so…go me! I like your aunt a lot.

  3. Jean Young November 14, 2016

    As a super=busy doctor in a bush hospital in a remote rural part of northeastern Ghana, I say, “Go for it, sister!” Life is too short to stress about winning the housekeeping Olympics!” The only place I could question is about pets, but if you are in a small apartment, then goldfish and cactus start to sound like really good options.
    One problem with the “clean” vegetables – here in rural Ghana, it means that someone has scrubbed the carrots in really dirty water with all kinds of fecal flora. So we buy dirty carrots. But fortunately, my husband is willing to oversee carrot duty. But for this precious lady, it’s clean carrots or rotten dirty ones, so go for the clean carrots.
    I grew up in a Swedish – American community in rural Illinois, where cleanliness was not merely NEXT to Godliness, it WAS Godliness! But I cannot remember a single funeral at which people reminisced about how clean someone’s kitchen was. They always spoke about how welcoming and loving the lady was. ‘Nough said.

    1. T November 14, 2016

      I love those last 3 sentences you wrote! I think those should be printed on one of those decorative kitchen plates that hung on the kitchen wall when I was little! One that my mom had was: “This food is cooked with pride and love and served with my good wishes. I don’t ask for thanks or praise, but I could use help with the dishes!”

      1. M'Lynn November 15, 2016

        If I were allowed to hang plates on my wall, that would be my go-to. Love it!

    2. M'Lynn November 15, 2016

      *sigh* my kids would love it if we got a dog. We told them we’d think about it when they save up $500 for when the dog runs away and breaks his leg and returns home and needs surgery. Ummm….about those carrots….that’s seriously gross! I’m not so sure I want the clean carrots anymore, either! Funny I thought the dirty ones were covered in poop, not the other way around. My world has been rocked.

  4. Ruth November 14, 2016

    I always know I’m going to enjoy your posts, M’Lynn! What is it with kids and cups? I cannot seem to stem the tide. I have a house helper two mornings a week, which means there are about 20 glorious minutes when my house is super clean. I love it. But I feel like I am always cleaning and about twice a week I seriously contemplate throwing out everything we own (except the coffee). Nobody else in my house seems to care about mess at all, but I feel very stressed by mess. Also, we will never have a pet if I have something to say about it. Cannot handle that. Our ayi is the only thing keeping my plants alive.

    1. M'Lynn November 15, 2016

      I don’t know. If I had a dishwasher, it would be full of cups. And…yes! Keep the coffee!!!!

    2. Ashley Felder November 18, 2016

      Amen to ayi keeping plants alive! She loves plants/flowers, so she keeps bringing in more…I tell her, sure, but YOU gotta water them. Haha. #blackthumb

  5. T November 14, 2016

    I miraculously, (really!) found a used Whirlpool dishwasher for about $75 last year, and really appreciate it! Just after finding it, I needed to go down to just 2 mornings per week with my house helper. Later, when I could have added her back for the 3rd morning, I didn’t. Like mentioned above, I’m an introvert, and not having her over as much has made me much more ready to see other people!

    I’ll also add that as kids get older, it gets way easier to keep house. Oh, and a little thing that has really helped me is changing our couches. Here in our country, we have wooden frames that you add a cloth-covered bottom mattress to. We used to have lots of pillows along the back, which always got slouchy and tossed around, which meant I always had to fix it for it to look nice. We changed to a solid, curved mattress on the back, with just one or two throw pillows per couch (we have 3), and that has improved my life a ton. I guess I just mean: simplify!

    It is always interesting to think thru the balance of having house help and not. Because I have house help now, I’ve been able to start a small business, which will hopefully be employing women and impacting their families positively. At other times, I’ve been glad not to have house help, so that I could have more social energy available. When I had tiny kids, I didn’t have house help, and we didn’t eat as many veggies as I would have liked to…I also think house help would have helped me deal with PPD better. Lots for each of us to consider!

    1. M'Lynn November 15, 2016

      So many pros and cons on the house help issue. I hear ya! And…we are at an all time low for vegetable consumption in our current helper-less season. Eeeek. A friend of mine recently ditched her throw pillows for the sake of simplicity. It must be a movement. 🙂 I should join, because I’m always picking them up off the floor or asking kids not to use them as skateboards. I definitely agree less is more in so many ways. I’m always finding one more thing to simplify. It’s a fun adventure.

      1. T November 15, 2016

        skateboards!?!?!! 🙂

  6. Rachel November 14, 2016

    Like some of the others, I didn’t like having a housekeeper in my house every day. It doesn’t do me good to be around people (or a person) all the time. Oddly, this is the main thing that local women fell sorry for me not having help – not that I have so much work to do on my own, but because I’m alone. I would love someone to come 1 or 2 days a week, but we’ve never found anyone who goes for that idea.

    I designated a coaster for each member of the family. After a drink, they are responsible for rinsing their cup and putting it on the coaster until their next drink. They forget sometimes, and we end up with a tower of cups next to the sink, but when they remember, it helps the cup issue!

    I also give my kids chores. When they are in school, they don’t have time to do much, but they can still clean the dining table or sweep a floor once a day (our floors have to be swept every day). This is actually kind of an advantage of not having house help. When we had a housekeeper, she wouldn’t even let the kids put their own toys away, and I didn’t like what that did to their attitudes.

    We had been advised that when you don’t have a dishwasher, you have to stay on top of dishes by washing after every meal, but I also felt like I was washing dishes constantly, even if we just ate sandwiches, and I could wash the plates in 7 minutes. We save everything to wash once a day. And usually my husband does them. Teaming up to keep our house “clean enough” is the only reason our house isn’t a disaster.

    1. Lily November 14, 2016

      A coaster! Brilliant!!
      I work as a nanny now – I AM the house helper, but back in the US at this season – and the kids do indeed use a cup and forget it, amazing how many they go through in 24 hours. I was wishing I could do something to mark the cups, but having a coaster for them each would work SO well. Love it. (Like you, I’m sure they’ll still forget sometimes, but I think it’ll catch on more or less.)

      As a single woman, I didn’t have a daily house helper when overseas, but I did have an ayi who came once a week for half a day, and it was SUCH a relief to know my laundry would be done (hanging it to dry was my least favorite part), however-many-days’ dishes that had piled up would be washed, and two meat/veg dishes would be cooked that would last me at least 3 meals unless I invited friends to share it. I also had a teaching assistant in my elementary classroom, and at one point I told my principal that I felt like I had it too easy and I shouldn’t need so much help, how would I ever manage if I taught in the US without this extra help, but he wisely replied that just living overseas makes life take longer and so these extra helpers made up for that difference. I’m still not ready to jump into a US school honestly (thus the nannying), but it was a reassuring answer!

      My tips were mostly learned from my mother, who is a much more neat and get-it-done housekeeper than I am. One I love is: rinse off or at least fill with water whatever dish/glass you’re putting in the sink, and then things won’t be stuck on when it’s time to wash it! We were all expected to do that growing up, and I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t (other than that they didn’t grow up in my family) 😉 Of course, Mom WOULD wash them after every meal, whereas I use this tip to ensure I’m not scraping off dried food days later…

      1. M'Lynn November 15, 2016

        Lily…did you have a top-loader washing machine without a middle agitator that tied your clothes into a huge knot? That’s what I’ve had all but 1 of my years in China and we finally moved and the new place has a brand new front loading washer. I still remember opening the door after the first wash and finding my clothes not tied together. I was amazed! Laundry has been so much easier ever since! I used to get so angry at that big ball of knotted up, stretched out wet clothing I could hardly see straight to hang them (ayi to the rescue…)

    2. M'Lynn November 15, 2016

      I love your coaster idea and I understand that having a helper in your home everyday can be a burden instead of a help. In the past, we’ve teamed up with other expats/teammates and shared the full-time work of a single helper. That way she knew she’d be fully employed, but she wasn’t in the same home everyday. It takes the right kind of person to be willing to do that, though and sometimes it’s very hard to find that person! It can also get complicated when someone needs to reschedule, etc.

      I’m encouraged to get my kids on board to help clean, but at times I’d rather do it myself because making them do it is more of a hassle than it’s worth (and I know, I know…invest in that hassle now and it will be easier when they’re older…but that’s where I’m at). It’s especially hard when they’re not home and awake for many hours in the day during the school week. I guess I could get more structured about chores on Saturday…

  7. Eva November 15, 2016

    This post could have been written by me too! With 5 kids our friends (foreign and local) think we’re crazy but since we returned from a six month US stay in January I have relished every single (slightly messy) day of my own personal space in our apartment. Ditto to the comments about the lazy attitudes our kids were developing. I do the dishes from the day while making dinner,, and the kids each have their days to do dish duty/sweep together-one older and one younger . They also each have one day to take down clean laundry from the hangers and put up one load of wet, and vacuum our living room rug one day each per week. Even our almost-4 year old loves to vacuum. And the 3 older ones take out the dog for a walk at given times. (we are crazy-got the dog, but at least it doesn’t shed). All the chores are written on a marker board in our dining area. I think the key is to not let clutter build up, and remove things out of the house as fast as new stuff comes in. Don’t hoard, and don’t overstuff the cabinets. Be generous and hospitable, model your life I invite a Chinese single girl over nearly every week for a meal, which she helps me prepare and she also plays with the kids. Give away as much used children’s clothing as you can, and more will just come your way. “Freely you have been given-freely give!”

    1. M'Lynn November 15, 2016

      I love this, Eva. Thanks for the encouragement to continue in generosity and hospitality! I have been amazed at the wonderful circle of used kids’ clothes that comes in and out of our house. We once heard someone say that God would give him things and he’d find ways to give them away and more stuff would come as he needed it and then he’d give it away…and he warned against hoarding because it clogs your funnel! Just the right reminder for me today. And…I need to get a chore chart going! I think my kids would actually like knowing how to help.

  8. elizabeth November 15, 2016

    The title of this post certainly caught my eye! When I had house help six days a week it was lovely to have swept floors, clean dishes, sparkling bathroom, but in this season, for many reasons, we do not have house help. I love neat and tidy, but I have decided that life is too short to spend my life cleaning and here in the bush of Africa I could clean all day and the house would still be dusty and dirty! I’ve decided what I can let go of. I hate dirty dishes so we try to keep on top of those, but if the floor gets washed only once a week – so be it!
    My other tip is – utilize your kids! It’s never too soon! I know it’s a hassle when they are young and it may seem so much easier to do yourself, but in the long-run it truly pays off to train them to be part of the team and help out around the house. We have five between the ages of 7-16 (four are boys) and they are a huge help with laundry folding, rubbish removal, dish washing, setting and clearing the table, meal prep, bathroom cleaning, bedroom tidying, plant watering…

  9. Jenilee November 15, 2016

    I have a lady come 2x a week to do the major “wash the dust off the tile through the whole house” jobs because otherwise, the desert overtakes us. She is wonderful and a source of culture, language and local help! It also helps because my girls are gone from 7:40am-5:30pm and making them do chores or even have time for chores on top of that is tough. I’m thankful for help on those 2 days! But I love that the rest of the days, we are on our own, in our mess and able to have our space. We’ve found a great balance for our family!

  10. Spring November 15, 2016

    unfortunately for us in Belize it is so dusty taking shoes off or on just doesn’t make a difference. Thanks for these tips on keeping sanity!

  11. T November 15, 2016

    A big family I knew had the colored plastic ikea cups, plates, and bowls. Each person in the fam had their color and only used that one. So, it was always clear whose cup was whose and they used it all day, or rinsed it out as they wanted, I guess.

  12. Annalisa November 15, 2016

    Points 5 and 8.

    I’ve found the opposite about my dishes. If I let them pile up all day…or two days…or a week, the task just looks huge and daunting, especially if I’ve been on a baking spree. So, I prefer to wash dishes [almost] as often as possible, or, you know, after every meal.

    And the shoe thing, you’re exactly right about it being cultural. Here there are lots of parasites in the dirt; so going shoeless is a very bad idea, especially if you have dirt floors in your house, but even if you don’t. (And, yes, people sweep the floors of their dirt homes, an irony which is never lost on me.)

    We can’t afford house help currently; although my mother-in-law insisted on it when I had my miscarriage. However, hopefully when we get a house of our own, the money we spend on rent can be spent making someone else’s life a little bit better.

  13. Bethany November 17, 2016

    I grew up with house help because I’m a TCK, and so when I became a SAHM, I immediately equated the cleanliness of my childhood home with the expected standard for all SAHM. It took me about five months to realize that I don’t have a full-time helper like my mom did and that I could lower my expectations a bit. Our apartment gets cluttered easily so we have to be good about remembering to put things back after we’ve used them, and the other big issue is dusting/vacuuming because of where we live. It’s amazing how clean the floor looks and then next thing I know there are mutant dust bunnies scuttling around the apartment trying to avoid paying rent. (Mooches.)

    For me, relaxing my standards really helped. I still have folks over–we host team meetings and a cell group on rotation as well as having students over periodically. I used to get so stressed if everything wasn’t perfect, but I think the more I have guests in my home, the less stressed I feel because so far no one has given me any side-eye for having some dishes in the sink or a pretty full garbage can. Establishing loose routines for cleaning also helps. I try to get certain tasks done on certain days, but I am working on letting go of anxiety if that doesn’t go according to plan. 😉

  14. Ashley Felder November 18, 2016

    Such a good post! And so many good thoughts in the comments!

    About the cups (how funny that this is such a popular topic): Similar to mentioned above, each kid has their designated cup. (2 are water bottles with straws that I, ahem, have to remember to wash on occasion…) The younger 2 can’t reach where they are in the cabinet, so they have no desire to get a new one. And, the rule is they have to stay on the dining room table (I’m tired of spills on my rug!) so they always know where it is.

    As for house help, in the past, we’ve had one come 1-2 mornings a week. When we arrived in this city 2 years ago, the team didn’t have one! I was scared to death! I was coming to a new city with a 6yo, 4yo, and 3mo old. I NEEDED her! I somehow survived (very dirt-ily, I’m sure) for 7 months, then I said…k, it’s time we find one. We found a gracious woman from the fellowship who felt sorry enough to help these poor foreigners. 😉 I could write a whole post on how difficult it was for me to train her on how we did things, but now I can’t imagine being here without her. She’s amazing! And, this semester, because my husband and my duties have increased exponentially, we upped her days to 4. I was, again, scared to death to have her around that much. But, we have a rhythm now. 2 days she takes the toddler outside to play and gets veggies for me (and she LOVES pushing her around, acting like she’s hers!), 1 day she cleans, 1 day she cooks a meal. Some weeks, we tell her to go home early, which she appreciates since she’s working 40 hours/week in 5 households on our team (!!!), and I really like that flexibility.

    One more note and I’m done with this novel: YES, ALL THE AMENS to no more poop in underwear! Except I still have one more to train. #allthetears

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