The Parents Yap about Outsourcing: Handing Over Control or Saving Time?
What a world we live in where we can hire someone to handle even the most personal or mundane parts of our lives. What do you choose to outsource?
With cleaning services, personal shoppers, personal chefs and more, we can rid ourselves of the icky parts and concentrate on the stuff we like. An article we read over the summer got us thinking. What, if anything do we outsource? What would we outsource if we could afford more? What are the pros/cons in our own lives of outsourcing or not?
A familiar proverb states, “If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” I couldn’t agree more, which is why I’m a big contributor to local businesses through outsourcing. One could even make the argument that I am a Peapod enrollment and an after school program registration away from becoming an unnecessary cog in the Simpson family machine. While paying for services I am capable of performing on my own lacks the satisfaction from doing them myself, most of the time I’m fine with leaving it to the pros.
I don’t mind yard work at all, but I haven’t done much of it in the last five years or so. Our landscaper shows up every spring when the grass starts getting long, and every Thursday until the fall he and his small crew mow the lawn and trim around the flower beds and fence. A different landscaper does a spring cleanup, edges the flower beds and spreads mulch once a year. My high school aged neighbor even got into the rotation with weeding and trimming some shrubs this year.
I volunteered to take over house cleaning duties when my youngest entered full-day Kindergarten. My failure to stick to a schedule and subpar efforts proved not up to standards, and I was summarily dispatched from the task. Now, a dynamic duo arrives every two weeks. I get out of their way for three hours and come home to a clean house, the scent of Murphy’s Oil Soap tingling my nostrils before I step in from the porch.
We also outsource the kids’ extracurricular activities. While yard work and house cleaning are certainly within my capabilities, teaching my kids the things in which they are interested is not. I am not an expert guitar or piano player, I can barely say “jujitsu” never mind do it, and I can’t discern a Renoir from a Rembrandt. So, I enlist Will Faust and BJ Wass from Jamspot, Sensei Rick from Defensive Edge Martial Arts, and Laura-Marie Small from Kidcasso to widen the boys’ horizons in those endeavors.
While my boys and I are definitely spoiled by their hard-working mom--and before anyone gets the idea that I sit around all day in a housecoat and slippers popping bonbons--there are some things I do myself. I do all my own painting. Every paintable surface in our house has at least three coats of paint on it, and I’ve spread it all. Snow removal duty is all mine, too. I enjoy battling the winter elements, even the added challenge of the snowplowed mound at the end of the driveway. I also perform all the daily grind house chores (laundry, dishes, making beds, grocery shopping, etc.).
I think we all outsource more than we think we do. Coffee is easy and cheaper to make at home, but we’ll hit up the local barista for a morning jolt. We can drag out the hoses, buckets, and Turtle Wax, but it is a hell of a lot easier to give ten bucks to a car wash attendant, shift into neutral and take your hands off the wheel. The lines at full service pumps grow longer when the mercury dips, as drivers pay a little more per gallon in the winter to pass off the gas-up to petroleum transfer technicians.
Again, right now I’m spoiled but I’ll enjoy it while it lasts. The outsourced luxuries will be the first things to go if we need to tighten our belts. I may even have to remember who borrowed my lawnmower.
Some tasks are worth learning how to do yourself. As a homeowner, my husband and I take a certain amount of pride in not having to call for help every time something needs to be fixed. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to just throw some money at every unpleasant job and let someone else do it sometimes. I have a friend who talks about how much easier his life is since he outsources all the household chores and tasks he doesn’t want to do. He goes on and on about how he has lots of time to spend with his young daughter and wouldn’t I be happier and less bitchy in general if I farmed out some of the housework that takes up so much of my time? Yes. Yes I would. What he doesn’t realize is the sometimes the choice to do an unpleasant chore oneself or hire someone else to do it has more to do with disposable income than it does with pride in doing the job. I would happily hire someone to do lots of things that I don’t like doing. Some things are worth doing myself. Some things are not. Some things are never, ever going to happen unless I pay someone else to do it.
I would, of course, love to hire a housekeeper. I don’t mind the cooking and the dishes and the general tidying up, but the serious cleaning tends to get put off and off some more until I am so horrified by the grossness of my home that I eventually do something about it. However, there is no use pretending I am ever going to steam clean my carpets or really scrub the nasty nooks and crannies of my shower, or clean my floors with a bucket and a scrub brush on my hands and knees, Cinderella-style. I will forever be disgusted with the filth in my house and I will probably never really do anything about it myself.
I would hire someone to go to Market Basket for me so I never have to smell whatever that horrid odor is back by the deli again. If I could afford to do all my shopping at Whole Foods, or if there was a Wegmans nearby, I would happily do my shopping myself. Unfortunately, I can’t afford either.
I would hire someone to organize the shoes that pile up by my front door, do all the laundry, match all the socks, nag my kids to take showers, hang up their jackets, and put their backpacks away. I would hire someone to crack the whip whilst my kids clean their rooms. And although these are all tasks that I don’t want to do, they are all tasks that I certainly can do, whether I like it or not.
The only tasks we actually do hire someone to do are the ones that are too big or too dangerous to do ourselves. We have cut down trees (little ones), built a patio, replaced roof tiles, installed a floor, painted every room in the house, re-tiled a shower, replaced toilets and sinks, built brick stairs, pulled down all the walls in my bedroom to install insulation, and put all the walls back up.
We have hired someone to fix broken plumbing and install a furnace. We hire someone to clean out our gutters. We hired someone to remove and replace the toxic mold-infested ceiling on our porch. That’s about it. We have saved money (or not spent money that we didn’t have) and learned many, many new skills in the process. Now I just need to get motivated to scrub the floors …
Tasha Schlake Festel
I won't lie. If I could afford it, I'd outsource just about everything. I'd love to get rid of the pesky parts of life, like cleaning the house, cooking, chauffeuring my children to and from school and activities, grocery shopping, laundry, etc. Basically, I'd like to live as if I were an executive of a large corporation, with my own personal assistant who would handle the details. That's right, I'd even outsource my outsourcing.
I think I'd be a happier person if I wasn't bogged down in the details of life. I'd hire a chef and eat what she prepared for me, knowing it was healthier and tastier than what I would have made. I'd work with a trainer and run, jump, swim, punch and cycle when he said, knowing that I would be getting in shape faster than if I had to do it on my own. I'd consult an interior designer to redecorate my house, feeling satisfied in the knowledge that he knows best what my house needs to be a home. I would hire a party planner for my kids' birthday parties, secure in the knowledge that her ideas and execution could make my kids much happier than mine ever could. It all sounds so awesome to not have to get involved in the "mess" of life, allowing me to see the big picture and let others take care of the details.
But really, what kind of life would that be? Wouldn't I just be a puppet? Wouldn't I be asking other people to play the role of me in my life? I could conceivably outsource myself into obscurity.
It occurs to me that if I didn't do the cleaning, albeit infrequently, I may not know that my son's super hero phase has passed, based on the amount of dust piled on the figures. If I outsourced the cooking, I wouldn't know that my husband is a budding gourmet chef creating delicacies that the entire family enjoys. If I outsourced the decorating, my house would always feel like someone else's home and I may not ever fully relax. If I outsourced my kids' parties, I wouldn't be able to enjoy the smiles on their faces the same way, knowing I was able to create a memorable afternoon for them with their friends. If I outsourced my training, my physical accomplishments may not be as rewarding, knowing I followed instructions and not my heart.
This is not to say there is no value in outsourcing! I see nothing that I can learn from doing laundry. No growth opportunities to speak of. When I grocery shop, I get nearly the same stuff every week and come home angry from the experience at Market Basket, never more fulfilled than before I started the ordeal. I could definitely let that go, too. And, you know, if I paid someone else to do the cleaning, I could probably figure out that my son doesn't play with super heroes anymore without dusting them. He tells me all kinds of stuff when I chauffeur him to and from school and his activities.
Over the past few years, I’ve had friends here and there who have “admitted” to me in hushed tones that they have a cleaning lady to help with housework. The reasons they give vary, but the demeanor is the same: apologetic embarrassment. My question is always, “Why??”
Why should they apologize or be embarrassed? I’m sure others exist, but I know only one person- ONE!- who says she loves to clean and organize the way others might love to sleep in on Saturdays, or go shopping or read a good book. The rest of the people I know do not relish housework. Hiring a cleaning lady seems like a perfectly reasonable and clever solution to me.
Ages ago, when we had just welcomed our second son to the family, I was struggling- with everything. Informal research has indicated to me that for women, it is either the second or third child who knocks them on their butts. I was knocked flat by the arrival of, and adjustment to, child number two. (It also turns out I had myself a big case of postpartum depression, but that’s another story.) I remember a particular “discussion” I had with my husband in which I advanced the opinion that I would like to have more children in the future. He replied with some incredulity that he couldn’t see why I would want more kids when it seemed like I had more than I could handle with the two I had.
I then countered that the kids weren’t the real problem, but rather it was all the other stuff I was trying to accomplish with kids around that was driving me over the edge: the laundry, the cooking, the $!&%!?@ housework! If I had a cleaning lady, or a cook or a laundry service, I was sure I could be the Martha Stewart of Parenting that I was meant to be.
Now, three more kids later, I still don’t have any paid staff, but I did treat myself to a two hour house cleaning service the week before I had my newest baby. Wow, could I ever get used to that! It was beautiful having a clean house- all the rooms at the same time- without having lifted a finger to accomplish it!
That being said, if I really hated housework enough, I’d make the requisite budgetary space to employ a cleaning service. As the saying goes, “If it’s important to you, you’ll find a way. If it’s not, you’ll find an excuse.”
*Ahem* Well, I have two ironclad excuses: 1) I love to complain, and 2) I am a big, fat cheapskate! Pay other people to do things I am able to do myself? But, but, but… that would mean spending, you know, uh… money!
In the end, I try to find a balance between my dislike of a task, or my inexperience quotient for it, and the amount of money charged to do such-and-such a task. Sure, I’d like to have a gourmet dinner delivery service instead of cooking every night, but that would be very costly for a family of seven, and my kids would probably still refuse to eat it. No, way! They can reject their mother’s cooking for pennies on the dollar, thankyouverymuch!
This is where volume discount websites like Groupon, Eversave and Livingsocial save the day! Goods, services- even vacation getaways- are offered nationally or regionally, depending on the deal, for usually about fifty percent off regular price. This is how I originally found my amazing massage therapist. It’s how I arranged to have my house cleaned at a deeply discounted rate. And next week, I will enjoy having professionals clean out the gutters and de-leaf my yard before winter hits.
I am a huge fan of outsourcing: you’ll just never catch me paying full price for it!