Ricky Buchanan: Home Help, Help!

This post first appeared on the thread for my patient group on Facebook.  Ricky has kindly agreed that I can share it here for you.  I was so impressed with what she wrote.  I’ve discussed home help on this blog before. But Ricky’s words have grown from more than fifteen years experience with government-funded home carers and she has laid it all out so beautifully.  I just knew there would be people here who would benefit from her wisdom. Here are her five helpful hints for working with Home Helpers.

Thanks Ricky!  By the way, you can find more of Ricky’s sage advice on her blog here, she writes about empowering apple users with assistive technology:
Firstly, try to stop worrying. The cleaner or home help or whatever (I’m going to write “helper” from now on) does not care if your house is messy, dirty, unhygienic, full of mess, etc. DO NOT clean up because they are coming or waste energy worrying about it. You are guaranteed not to have the filthiest house they’ve ever seen, and part of their job is NOT to judge you. If they make rude comments or anything, fire them and find a new person. You do not have spare energy to worry about that stuff!
Many helpers come from a non-English-speaking background, and even the locals are not from your family and don’t know your preferences. They will have a different idea of what “normal”, “ordinary” and “sensible” is, to your own.Don’t expect people to pick up hints or body language necessarily. You need to do the best you can to communicate clearly and in understandable words. If you are upset at something they did, try not just to grump and be snarky but actually clearly say “You cleaned the toilet with soap, I’m glad it’s clean but could you use the Harpic next week please?”.
If you’re too tired to communicate at the time, contact the agency or (preferably) the helper directly as soon as possible and apologise for your mood and do the explaining then.If you need the helpers to be quiet, or not ask you questions, or whatever, you need to say that, too. Try to say why you need something if it’s an unusual request – I need helpers to figure stuff out themselves instead of asking things because I can’t manage to answer a lot of questions. That’s a really uncommon request! I have to be very clear that I don’t mind if they make the “wrong” decision, it’s more important to just decide for themselves and we’ll talk about it when I feel better.
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Put signs on things that your home help/cleaner is likely to use. My hall cupboard has a label to say what stuff goes on what shelf. My washing machine has the instructions taped to the front, etc. The laundry detergent has a sticker saying “only use half a scoop.” It can save you a PILE of energy if your home help can figure out something without asking you first. If they ask you anyway, tell them to read the sign.

Try to make your signs as simple as possible with not too many words and not too hard words, remember most cleaners have English as a second language and may not have very good literacy.

If you get the cleaners to do the same thing every time, make a list of those things with instructions to help new people. For example one item might be:

Change bed clothes (change fitted sheet, top sheet, doona cover, pillowcases. put old things in blue hamper in bathroom, new things are in hall cupboard)


Mop floors in bathroom and kitchen (bucket and mop in bathroom, detergent in hall cupboard second shelf, use 1 tablespoon detergent and warm water in bucket)

If you get your helpers to do different things each week, make a list anyway with all the possible things on it and print out a bunch of copies. Each time they come, tick the things you want done and give them the list.  Here is a printable of cleaning tasks that might help spark some ideas.
(Thanks for the link Ruth Elbon  -Rach)

There are more ways to do things that you have ever dreamed of, and your helpers WILL do things in ways that seem totally crazy to you. They will do your laundry with dish detergent and clean your floors with teatowels on their hands and knees and leave grease on your dishes. Don’t give up though!

If something is done wrong, speak to the helper but ALSO check if you could clarify your list instructions or the labels on things to help stop that thing happening in future. Also check in with reality – it might not be done the way you prefer but did it get the job done (more-or-less)? You wouldn’t have cleaned the toilet with hand soap but is it clean now? Most things are not actually worth stressing about too much.

At first, home help often seems like more trouble than it’s worth, but it IS worth persisting. You’ll learn how to write your signs/lists so the helpers understand, and how to explain things, and you’ll find helpers you get on with and once they’ve worked with you a bit you will both know each other better.

-Ricky Buchanan

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