When an allied health professional first suggested outsourcing some of the home duties to lighten the load on our family, I shook my head emphatically.
“Why?” he questioned. “Why would you not accept some help? You have a career, two children, including a very active toddler, a husband who works a 70-hour week, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. And you know what? Even if as a family you didn’t have a lot on your plate, there is nothing wrong with receiving support or help.”
It was the first time someone had framed it this way. When a second person – a female professional who I admire – suggested the same, I began to think: ‘Is it really so bad?’
As she pointed out, our culture has not created a supportive environment for mothers. It isn’t particularly intentional. Life is busy. People work more and for longer. That village-type community has dispersed and the days of simply ‘dropping in’ to pay someone a visit, or to offer a helping hand, have all but gone.
Despite the prevalence of inequality and feminism campaigns, there is no denying that women are also still caught between the mindset of two generations – the desire and/or need to work, as well as the influence of our mothers and grandmothers who demonstrated our domestic roles.
My husband and I had always employed the help of a cleaner, even before the kids came along. Both working in fast-paced industries with deadlines and responsibilities, early-morning starts and late-night finishes, outsourcing the domestic cleaning meant that we could enjoy the weekends together.
But talk of outsourcing more than a fortnightly clean was foreign territory. I had two mental barriers to tackle. The first was the fear of being perceived as a failure – that generational belief instilled in so many women that it is our job and duty to keep the house in tip-top shape and dish up a healthy, tasty, fresh-cooked meal continued to rear its ugly head.
I couldn’t help by wonder: ‘What would my peers think?’
The second was justification of the spend. It seemed frivolous, overindulgent. Would I be wasting my hard-earned wage? But when we sat down and did the maths, it was obvious – I could work more (and further my career) with the added domestic help. Accepting additional help would also reduce our spend in other areas such as buying takeout or regularly dining out. We were also providing employment to local people. Most importantly, it meant more time as a family. I could focus on work during set hours and then devote the rest of my day to our children without paid work or homework interfering as heavily.
For 12 months, we employed the help of a nanny for 18 hours a week, which meant our youngest could be cared for in our home while I worked from my home-based office.
It also meant we had some help with meal preparation and the laundry.
For the first time in a few years, I began to feel less burdened and to feel I didn’t have to rush my time with the kids.
When she left to travel abroad, we enrolled our son in day care for two days a week and continued with the help of our cleaner and the addition of a lovely woman who comes into our home once a month to cook meals.
According to research from respected Harvard professor Ashley Whillans, outsourcing domestic duties can make you as happy as receiving an US$18,000 ($27,000) raise.
In her book Time Smart, Whillans breaks down time into monetary value and has highlighted the negatives associated with time poverty in recent articles in the Harvard Business Review.
Through her research, she discovered that time with family, doing the things we love, brought more happiness and joy.
It’s not surprising.
For Jeanette, a savvy businesswoman and mum of two teens, outsourcing the cleaning has meant more quality time for her family.
“I often outsource the cooking to something like Hello Fresh as it’s easy and it also promotes family time as we cook together with the kids,” she says.
Quality family time seems to be a common thread.
Another businesswoman, and mother of two, Roxanne says that by employing a cleaner, she is able to focus on her business during school hours and know the rest of her time can be devoted to the family.
“I want to spend the time when my kids are at home actually hanging out with them and being present in their after-school activities,” she says.
“Weekends are full family time when my husband is home, so we don’t want to eat into that precious time cleaning the house. I love that we also get to support a small family business and our cleaner is the most amazing woman.”
Australia’s outsourcing industry is valued around $510 billion. Research from the Ruthven Institute shows that in 2021, the average Australian family spent more than $50,000 a year getting someone else to do their chores.
Keep in mind that this figure includes outsourcing travel and transport, education, childcare, takeaway, meal delivery and health services.
The report says that household outsourcing accounted for around 2.8 million jobs in the 2021/22 financial year.
Outsourcing is no longer a resource only available to the wealthy.
Everyday people are utilising the help of services to get them through busy or stressful seasons.
Chef Paula, from Happy Home Chef, spends her days preparing wholesome healthy meals for families in their own homes, and says that during the past six years, her business has continued to grow.
“A lot of my clients are families who work from home running their own businesses,” she tells My Weekly Preview.
“They have kids and they haven’t got much time. They say to me that it is about creating more time to be with their families, and they are able to earn more money than do it (the cooking) themselves.
“Most of them had been living on takeaway food. It is so rewarding knowing that you are nourishing families.
“People think it’s expensive, but when you break it down per meal and look at the cost, it’s affordable.
“A lot of the families we cater for are outsourcing more. It used to be just a cleaner, but now people are outsourcing personal organisers, oven cleaners.
“You can get anything you want now and it means you get to spend that time with your kids rather than doing those mundane jobs.”