House Cleaner, Personal Chef, Grocery Delivery: Is it cheating to get help living your healthy lifestyle?

by Charlotte on December 2, 2012 · 79 comments

I love this so much. Mostly because this was me in high school. Ah, angst!

“Someday,” Sophia smiled broadly at me as she climbed into my minivan, “I’m going to come over and clean your car!” It was a sweet offer from a sweet friend but there were two problems with it:

1. Sophia is my son’s friend and she’s five. What does a 5-year-old know about clean cars, much less the work-life balancing act of a work-at-home mom?

2. That actually was my car cleaned. Knowing her mom’s predilection for neatness, I’d cleaned out all the wrappers, old homework papers, Legos and other effluvia before I’d offered to pick up the carpool. At least I thought I had.

My face flushed a bright red. “It’s okay, Miss Charlotte,” Sophia chirped. “My mom told me not to say anything so you won’t be embarrassed but I still like you even if your car is really dirty. I can teach you how to clean it! I’m really good at cleaning!”

It is a measure of how desperate I was that I briefly considered her offer. Knowing her family – her mom is my friend who rubber-bands a paper towel to each foot as she cooks dinner so she can mop up spills on the fly (seriously, she does this) – she probably could teach me a thing or two about tidiness. I stopped myself just short of asking her if she knew how to get a fruit bar unstuck from the upholstery in the back seat.

For some this little anecdote would be just another funny conversation with a small child but when I got home the squalor of living with four children under 10 and a husband who doesn’t have the time to clean much had me in tears. I am, by my nature, a very neat person. My roommates in college would tease me for my everything-has-a-place attitude and inability to sleep with a dirty dish in the sink. And yet here I am in a house with clutter on every surface, fingerprints on every wall, toilets with a scum ring and windows that have not been Windex’d since we bought them. Three years ago. It’s to the point where I am too humiliated to invite friends in any farther than our front room and I avoid going in the downstairs bathroom – the one my three boys with bad aim use – completely.

Clearly this wasn’t working and I didn’t need a 5-year-old to tell me that. But what to do? One of the main reasons I am a work-at-home mom is so that I could keep my job but without having to outsource the childcare or housework. It was, when my husband and I first discussed it, the best of both worlds. And it worked through kids one and two. But at some point after the arrival of child three, it started to decline. After the fourth, I realized it has turned out to be the worst of all options. Not only do I work but I also do the childcare, cooking, cleaning and errands – in a house that is occupied and therefore being destroyed almost all of the time. I’m exhausted, cranky and psychically overwhelmed by the mounting pressure of undone chores. Of course the kids should help out – heaven knows they make most of the messes – but as young as they are, “doing chores” ends up being as much work for me as it is for them. I know this is my fault for not teaching them properly or whatever (I curse the day I told them they could pee standing up like daddy!) but at the end of the day this just feels like one more thing on my too-long to-do list.

Entropy is the worst. It’s ruining my life.

I once watched an Oprah show years ago where Oprah said that having a house cleaner (or 10) is her one indulgence. At the time I thought to myself that if I ever have a house so big I can’t clean it myself then I need a smaller house. Turns out that this is one, of many, ways Oprah is smarter than I am. It’s not the size of the house. It’s the size of the people living in it – the smaller, the worse-r.

I called my sister, still crying and using my sleeve to wipe up my tears since I couldn’t find the tissues under the pile of unread mail on my counter. “Get a sister-wife. I hear they’re all the rage these days,” she deadpanned. (Ah Mormon humor! Who knew polygamy would be so trendy?!) “Or, you know, hire a house cleaner.”

“But wouldn’t that be failing?” I sobbed. “Why am I a stay-at-home mom if I can’t even manage my home? Aren’t house cleaners for rich people who “do lunch” and dye their dogs pink? Or have their own talk show and billion-dollar multimedia empire? Besides, we can’t afford one!”

I could hear her roll her eyes through the phone. “It’s only been in the last 60 years or so that women have been expected to do everything without help. It’s not failure. It’s reality.” She added, “And yes, you’ll have to give some things up to make room in your budget but what’s more important to you – a clean house or fencing lessons* that the kids will never use unless they’re assaulted by a very polite ex-Olympian with a spare epee?”

I pondered this. It would mean taking something away from my children in exchange for getting something for myself. But doesn’t a less-crazy mom benefit everyone in the end? Plus, not only would this help placate the kindergarten critics – I wish it were only little Sophia who has commented on my dirty car/house/shirt – but it would be one less carpool I’d have to drive. “Do you think Nana the dog from Peter Pan is available?” I finally asked. She laughed. I stopped crying.

The next day I ran into a friend at the gym and told her about my problem. “Oh I have a house cleaner!” she exclaimed. “And I don’t even have a job.” She added, “When I made the decision to get healthy we decided to hire someone to help around the house so I can focus on going to the gym and cooking healthier meals.”

It kind of blew my mind. In Charlotte World, you just keep adding stuff on until you get your superwoman medal in the mail or you collapse. Which is maybe why I dream about being institutionalized? But my friend’s comment makes sense. If you add something major onto your plate, you need to take something else off. It’s the law of the universe, as explained by a mom. It also made me wonder what other kinds of concessions people make to live a healthier, less-crazy life.

What do you think? Is it cheating to have a house cleaner, buy pre-fab healthy meals, outsource the laundry, get groceries delivered or something else? Life is all about sacrificing one thing for another and I need to know if this is one of those things that’s worth it to let go. I need tips! Also, has anyone else ever been called out by a small child??

*Yes, my kids are really taking fencing lessons. But before you say “anyone who can afford fencing lessons should be able to afford a house keeper!” I’d like to point out that they’re through the community ed department in the school district and they provide all the equipment and they’re more just a way to keep the kids moving than train future Olympians. It’s cheap. It’s an hour a week. And: swords + my boys? There’s no way we could have kept them away.

 

 

{ 79 comments… read them below or add one }

Sybil December 2, 2012 at 11:48 pm

If you can afford it, I say do it! Your sanity is worth it. Luckily my house is tiny and we only have one bathroom, so I can usually stay on top of it, but if I had a bigger house or less time I would totally hire a cleaner.
My thing is a handyman. He does everything for me, from building stuff to fixing things to assembling IKEA shelves. My husband and I can barely change lightbulbs, so we pay for the help.

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Charlotte December 3, 2012 at 10:24 pm

Okay: I swear IKEA furniture assembly requires an advanced degree. My husband and I nearly divorced over a 6-drawer dresser. I’m kidding. Kinda.

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Morgan December 3, 2012 at 12:10 am

DO IT!!! It’s not just for you; it’s for your whole family, who I’m sure do not expect you to be able to do it all yourself. Hire someone off a recommendation, be explicit in what you want done (some people just want help with the deep cleaning, some people expect the housecleaner to do the dishes and the laundry as well on the days they are there as well – there’s no right or wrong, just whatever you want taken off your plate), and don’t look back. You will absolutely not regret it.

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Charlotte December 3, 2012 at 10:26 pm

Thanks for the tip! I think I’m good for laundry and dishes. Mostly I want someone else to clean up my boys’ pee in their bathroom. And yeah now that I’ve typed that out I’m even more grossed out with myself… lol

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Alyssa (azusmom) December 3, 2012 at 12:26 am

You. Do. Enough! MORE than enough! Absolutely get a housecleaner! There are so many services out there, and they cater to all types of folks. I hired a housecleaning service once, and would do it again in a heartbeat if, y’know, we still had our own home.
Let’s face it, if you were paid for every SAHM job you do, you’d get AT LEAST 6 figures. We’re told over and over that being a mom is “the most natural thing in the world,” that our husbands who work full time outside of the home are tired after a long day which, yes, is true, but we’re tired too! We work long hours and are on call 24-7. We don’t really get vacations. We don’t get days off. We are always, ALWAYS, moms. So a little help here and there is a GOOD thing.

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Charlotte December 3, 2012 at 10:47 pm

Good point about the SAHM salary! And yeah, I need a vacation. Even when we take a vacation, I need a vacation from my vacation;)

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shayna December 3, 2012 at 1:13 am

Do it! I grew up with a housekeeper, ain’t no shame in my mom’s game :) I am one of 9. That lady needed all the help she could get.

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Charlotte December 4, 2012 at 2:11 am

NINE? Good land your mom’s a saint!

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Melissa December 3, 2012 at 3:35 am

We have a cleaner that comes every other week (there are only two of us and a cat, but I still make a huge mess in between). And I can’t tell you how nice it is each week when I come home to everything being clean. We are really spoiled because in Sweden you get a tax credit that cuts the price in half for using cleaners (and the cleaning company submits the information for you!). Before we moved, we’d never had one and I’d always dreamed about it one day. I really can’t tell you how great it is.

I don’t think any of things you listed are cheating. I think they are reflections of what you are good at/interested in. I am a messy person and I suffer no illusion that I will ever be super neat or particularly good at cleaning. This helps tremendously!

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Charlotte December 4, 2012 at 2:18 pm

Ahhh yet another reason I want to move to Sweden! I love it!

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Susan Helene Gottfried December 3, 2012 at 5:16 am

I grew up with a cleaning lady, too, and I still have one. Good thing: having the kids destroyed me physically and I can’t do basic things like lean over a bathtub to wipe it down. She saves my life — and my house.

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Charlotte December 4, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Do you have pelvis issues from childbirth? I’m so sorry! I recently interviewed a woman who specializes in healing physical trauma from childbirth if you’re interested I can get you more info!

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Susan Helene Gottfried December 4, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Yes and no. I am hypermobile, so I was doomed to begin with. Having the kids only did me in further — and permanently. The only relief, I’ve been told by the best of the best, is to fuse my pelvis, which leaves me with only a 50% chance of being able to walk. So I’ll stay as I am and let my awesome cleaning lady take care of the hard stuff. It’s not so horrible. And kinda fun, too. Definitely something to giggle about when I go to the masseur or am doing sit-ups and my spine is crackling away, slipping and sliding and realigning itself each time it comes in contact with the floor.

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kat December 3, 2012 at 5:53 am

It is the best thing I ever did. Having the house at a basic level of cleanliness every month makes it so much easier to enjoy your house and your family.At least try it once to see what you think.

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Charlotte December 4, 2012 at 2:28 pm

I think I will. Thanks Kat!

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Melissa December 3, 2012 at 6:42 am

Also, remember that a work-at-home-mom is not the same things as a stay-at-home-mom. Yes, you, well, stay at home, but you have a certain number of hours of every day that have to be devoted to work–hours when you can’t be working on cooking, or cleaning, or even active parenting. I work from home, too, and sometimes it’s hard to even remember that what I do IS work (maybe that’s just because I like my job, but staying home has to do with it, too.) Just because you don’t have to leave to work doesn’t mean you don’t have to work. Your house would probably be cleaner if you were a true stay-at-home-mom, because then cooking and cleaning would BE your work. (Well, that and keeping your children alive and entertained, but that has to happen no matter what.) They would be your primary responsibility every day. But as a work-at-home mom…they’re not. Even though they may feel that way.

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Charlotte December 4, 2012 at 2:31 pm

Yes! I love (LOVE) what I do so sometimes I think I don’t consider it work. But it is. And it definitely takes time! Thank you for the reminder Melissa!

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Emily December 3, 2012 at 6:50 am

My mom was the housecleaner and for years I was bitter about it. Now I wish I had a house cleaner and it is just my husband and I! In January I start a new job that will require more hours and I work out a lot so I suggested we get a housecleaner every other week. My husband said he would help clean more but he’s not the best at it. I came home to the end of my pretty shower curtain bleached the other day because he is not very careful. He always grew up with house cleaners. I’m trying to figure out what I will give up to get one! Do it!!! You will feel so much better and so will your family!

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Charlotte December 4, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Thank you Emily! And good luck with your new job! Exciting!!

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Stephanie December 3, 2012 at 7:50 am

I partially put myself through college by *doing* the housecleaning, so I was grateful to find nice people who needed help with their homes. If you need (or even just want) help, there is no shame in it.

Speaking from personal experience, though, just remember that they are human, too. :) If you need a full gas mask and gloves to enter the boys’ bathroom, the house-cleaner might too! :) LOL. One lady I worked for didn’t always “get” that. ha! (And I’m not bitter, I learned to supply my own gloves for the worst jobs!)

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Charlotte December 4, 2012 at 2:38 pm

Thank you – it’s good to hear it from the perspective of someone who’s cleaned houses:) And I will def. provide as many gloves and masks as needed!

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Emily December 3, 2012 at 8:12 am

Girl, quit PUNISHING yourself! Do something for YOU. Get the house cleaner. I used to clean houses in college for my income, and it was a lifesaver. You’ll be employing someone, which is something, and you’ll have that one thing you don’t have to worry about.

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Charlotte December 4, 2012 at 2:42 pm

Good point! Esp. in this economy, right?

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Ellen December 3, 2012 at 8:16 am

Cheating what? Cheating who? Charlotte, there’s no rules here. Nobody is coming along to judge you, whether you leave the house dirty until the kids are big enough to really help or do what you can or hire somebody to get it clean. Nobody is going to come along and grade your performance and check that you’re doing it right. Right is working, right is getting along. Forgive yourself and get along as best you can, whether you do it all yourself or outsource it all or find some kind of middle road that works for you.

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Charlotte December 4, 2012 at 2:45 pm

It’s funny how much I still feel like when I die I’m going to be presented with a report card;) But this: “Right is working, right is getting along.” is a great point. Thank you Ellen!

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Anna December 3, 2012 at 8:33 am

I think if you can afford a house cleaner you should totally do it! I have had one come over a few times and it is divine!!! Understanding of course that it will be messy again a half an hour after they leave, but at least you will know that things are CLEAN even if they look messy! As far as the boys bathroom, I had the same problem with all the firehosing going on. I found this idea; http://www.thesleepytimegal.com/homemaking-for-the-modern-mama-a-cleaning-station/
And I set up a little cleaning station on top of the toilet. I told my son to spray and wipe after he uses it. My cleaning station is nowhere near as cute as this one (I used some old homemade baby wipes that I still had) and I would not say he does a great job at cleaning, but he actually is excited about it and I’m trying to teach him to clean up after himself!

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Charlotte December 4, 2012 at 2:47 pm

oooh I LOVE THIS IDEA! Thank you Anna!! And my boys will thank you in advance;)

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Meghan@themeghamix December 3, 2012 at 8:41 am

I totally had the sweet guys who were ring bearers in our wedding 3 years ago say to me this summer “Wow, your car is REALLY dirty.” They used to help us wash our parents’ cars when we were dating so now they have free rein to criticize at will.
I honestly think…some things you have to let go of, and sometimes you need help! Tiny people make huge messes! Sane moms are worth a fortune to their family. Do it.

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Charlotte December 4, 2012 at 2:50 pm

Haha – glad I’m not the only one with car cleaning issues;)

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Annie December 3, 2012 at 9:12 am

I have a crew come to my apartment every three weeks to clean and let me tell you, it is the BEST money I have ever spent. Neither my boyfriend nor I are particularly neat people and I remember when he first found out I had people clean, he was a bit taken aback. One time coming home to a sparkling clean abode was all it took. Do it!

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Charlotte December 4, 2012 at 2:52 pm

Haha – I’m guessing I’ll be similarly hooked! I’m going to give it a try!

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Kara December 3, 2012 at 9:13 am

Get the housekeeper. Seriously. I’m a single woman with no kids. I have one.

Look, part of being emotionally/mentally healthy (not to mention physically) is to live in a clean, uncluttered home. When you have a full life – whether it’s kids or activities or social life or whatever – it always seems that what falls by the wayside is taking care of our homes. Cleaning or sweeping or mopping or laundry is something that you can put off until later. Until you find yourself spending entire weekends doing nothing but cleaning because you’ve put it off so long that everything requires a deep cleaning. And you find yourself kneeling on the kitchen floor with a scrub brush at 2 a.m. sobbing because it’s all so overwhelming. (Not that I’ve been there myself or anything, noooo!)

There is nothing wrong with hiring someone to help take some of that burden off of your shoulders so you can do more of the things you enjoy. There should be no shame to it.

I say go for it!

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Charlotte December 4, 2012 at 3:02 pm

Oooh were you watching me this past weekend?! “Until you find yourself spending entire weekends doing nothing but cleaning because you’ve put it off so long that everything requires a deep cleaning. And you find yourself kneeling on the kitchen floor with a scrub brush at 2 a.m. sobbing because it’s all so overwhelming.” SIGH. ;)

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Casey Kay December 3, 2012 at 9:47 am

Definitely go for the house cleaner. I’m a babysitter for a family with a work-at-home mom that has two housekeepers that come in once a week. It’s amazing how much difference it makes just having them come once. They do all the laundry, vacuuming, etc. and get it all done in about 4 hours. On the kids’ second laundry days, I often don’t even get the one load of laundry through both washer and dryer and folded before I leave due to being dragged in at least two different directions. Having someone come in and take the cleaning off your hands will give you more time to be with the kids or write or whatever happens to be on your plate at the moment. Look around for a crew that might not be with one of the big companies and you might get a better hourly rate, too.

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Charlotte December 4, 2012 at 3:03 pm

Thanks for the tips Casey!

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Shady December 3, 2012 at 10:43 am

I get the impression that admitting you aren’t able to do something (in this case, keep your house clean) is a sign of failure. But to me, asking for help when you need it is a sign of strength. We all have our weaknesses and there’s no shame in admitting them and trying to address them. To me, the real shame is in pretending they don’t exist. So do the necessary budgeting juggle, hire a house keeper and just enjoy your new fingerprint free windows and ringless toilet – no shame necessary.

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Charlotte December 4, 2012 at 3:05 pm

Thank you Shady:) ” asking for help when you need it is a sign of strength.” <– I needed this reminder!!

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Dayna December 3, 2012 at 10:47 am

Charlotte, my dear, you are such a kind person but you’re forgetting to be kind to yourself! Stop punishing yourself for not being perfect and hire a cleaning service. You’ll be so gla you did!

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Dayna December 3, 2012 at 10:48 am

That should read “you’ll be so ‘glad’ you did.” Seriously, be kind and gentle to you.

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Charlotte December 4, 2012 at 3:06 pm

Thank you Dayna! I’m going to give it a shot:)

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Susan December 3, 2012 at 11:27 am

If you can afford a housekeeper, DO IT! Came across your post about protein powder from July 2012 I believe…thank you for the post. I work with a bunch of people who are obsessed with Garden of Life Raw Protein and after going through a few canisters myself, I’m really not impressed with the whole protein thing. If anything I think I gained weight, it screwed up my metabolism and I could never tell if I was actually hungry or not, and like you said, it’s pretty far from the whatever the natural state of protein originally came from. I am swearing off the protein powder and going with a fresh from food green smoothie instead. I feel so energized and my stomach is a lot happier with it. Thanks for doing what you do and keeping us all sane in our fitness and nutrition quest.

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Charlotte December 4, 2012 at 3:09 pm

Aw thank you Susan! This made my day!! I’m so glad that you are finding what works for you and your body and tuning out the rest! I haven’t used protein powder in… at least a year and I don’t miss it:)

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Nicky December 3, 2012 at 11:46 am

Do what you need to keep yourself sane. I would have a housecleaner if I could afford one–my son and I are “crafty” and bookish and the living room is currently occupied by stacks of books, knitting, kettlebells in the dining room (the basement ceiling is too low), chainmail-making supplies, robot parts, and lots of music and musical instruments. It’s a small house. In my world, better a house uncleaned than a life unlived (note, though, that my house is messy, not dirty). I would, however, like a dishwasher.
My son did fencing for a couple of years (and I used to do tai chi with swords and sabres–we have a lot of weaponry at my house, also bows and arrows). Seriously, who doesn’t want to be a pirate/knight/ninja? Fencing is a blast, and it’s safe, teaches sportsmanship, and is great for fitness. Maybe it should be one of your fitness experiments…

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Charlotte December 4, 2012 at 3:12 pm

Aw I love crafty boys! My only frustration is that all the craft kits are so pink and girly. My sons don’t mind pink but it would be nice to a boy on the packaging once in a while! And I would totally do fencing for a GFE if I had the equipment and someone to teach me!

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Tracy December 3, 2012 at 12:01 pm

Had this conversation yesterday with a very dear friend who was feeling guilty about having just hired one. She’s a fantastic mother, takes very good care of her health, devoted wife, part-time employee, girl scout leader, volunteers for various community/church needs, has a special needs child, and on and on and on. It doesn’t matter one bit what anyone else thinks – if it’s for the best for you and your family (and you can adjust your budget accordingly), bless someone else who needs the work (as noted above) and bless yourself and your family. Friends laugh at me beccause my kitchen has to be clean – not SPOTLESS mind! – before I leave the house. But coming home to a sink full of dishes and soaking pots/pans is depressing to me and instead of energizing me into a cleaning frenzy, it leaves me feeling hopeless. Also, when my son’s room is clean (he has to do it but he’s much older than yours), he treats everything in the room with more respect.

“Peace, I leave with you my peace. I give unto you. Not as the world gives it, give I unto you.” Leave it in His hands chicky!! (I had to snort over the sister-wife comment!!)

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Charlotte December 4, 2012 at 3:17 pm

This: ” But coming home to a sink full of dishes and soaking pots/pans is depressing to me and instead of energizing me into a cleaning frenzy, it leaves me feeling hopeless.” YES. And thank you for the scripture – that chapter in Matthew is my fave scripture ever:)

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JavaChick December 3, 2012 at 12:17 pm

I don’t have kids – just a husband and two cats, but my husband & I both work full time and we just don’t seem to have the ability to keep up with house cleaning. Having grown up in my mother’s always spotless house, I was pretty much constantly berating myself for being a failure, and I never wanted to have anyone come into the house.

The thing is, I am not my mother. I am me and I have my own set of strengths & limitations. So we hired a maid service. We still have to keep up with the tidying, and the dishes and the laundry, but once a week the maids do the floors, bathroom and dusting. It is a huge weight off my shoulders, and as long as Husband & I are working full time and can afford it, we’ll continue.

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Charlotte December 4, 2012 at 3:24 pm

Yes, there comes a day when each girl has to realize that she is not her mom;) I’m so glad that you guys have found what works for you!

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Daria December 3, 2012 at 1:27 pm

Go for it! Also, I know a friend who shops for others….that’s her job! With 5 kids, I am very tempted and might be calling her soon. :) Also….I love fencing! My kids are in the same program. It’s affordable, great exercise and who doesn’t love a foil! Love ya!

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Charlotte December 4, 2012 at 3:18 pm

Aw I love you too! If you try the personal shopper thing let me know how it goes!

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Happier Heather December 3, 2012 at 1:46 pm

If there were one luxury I would sacrifice for, it would be a housekeeper. And, only because I HATE cleaning the house. Give me a shovel and point me to the barn and I’m all over it. Give me a duster and point me toward a dusty shelf and I’ll run screaming. My poor fiance….

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Charlotte December 4, 2012 at 3:48 pm

But if we have to go back to subsistence farming you’ll be the most popular girl on the block! ;)

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Alice December 3, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Fencing lessons! Swords+boys+an-adult-that-is-not-me-supervising. That’s a good idea.

Get the house cleaner, and buy swim noodles and let them practice their fencing skills in the basement. Win win. :)

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Charlotte December 4, 2012 at 3:49 pm

We have so many foam-noodle swords! Your boys would be heaven with my boys;)

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Julie December 3, 2012 at 2:32 pm

Definately, get some help, I do not know how you do it all. I have one 7 month old, no job, and I am lucky if I can make dinner. I really feel like I had more time, while working a full time job.
But, I have to suggest getting the boys involved in a chore or two would be helpful for them. Start small so you can manage it, and they can learn to do it right.

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Charlotte December 4, 2012 at 3:50 pm

Thanks Julie! The boys do have daily chores. They rotate having to clean out the dishwasher, set/clear the table, put away laundry etc. It’s just not enough to make a dent with the big things though. The day they get old enough to clean a toilet (and I mean really clean it) will be the happiest day of my life:)

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Crabby McSlacker December 3, 2012 at 2:52 pm

You work more than one job already with all the writing you do, plus grading if you’re still doing that, plus taking care of the kids and cooking etc etc. Work at home is still work, and families with two full time workers and kids to take care of need help, it ain’t cheating at all to delegate!!

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Charlotte December 4, 2012 at 8:46 pm

Yes, we shall call it delegating now… instead of throwing up my hands in utter disgust and hiding under my bed;)

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Charlotte December 3, 2012 at 4:22 pm

There’s no need for it to be an all-or-nothing life sentence! If you try it out and find that a couple of sessions from a pro gets the place back to a level you’re happy to maintain yourself, great. If you try it out and find the benefit isn’t worth the cost – at least you know that. And if you decide it’s totally worth it, then it’s worth it! In any event it’s worth a try.

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Delle December 3, 2012 at 5:00 pm

Hi Charlotte! :)

The previous posters all made excellent points (which you should heed! hee) and I would also like to weigh in.

I live in a city that was extremely hard hit by the recession, and no amount of education could get me a job anywhere so I started offering myself as a housecleaner a couple of years ago after being unemployed for a year and a half, and I have not once regretted it!

I thought it would be difficult to get anyone willing to pay a cleaner in these hard times but it didn’t take me too long to build up a steady little clientele. Most of my clients are people of what I would call comfortable income (ie, the wife can choose not to work while the children are very small), and even though the wife is a SAHM they still have me come in every other week to do the heavy cleaning and no one thinks it odd. My clients all call me a “life-saver” and say “I don’t know what I would do without you!”…it truly does take part of the weight off burdened shoulders to have someone help carry some of the load.

Some food for thought:
I may be at a house for just 4 hours, but in reality I am saving that client much more than 4 hours of work on their end. This is my job and I am good at what I do, which means I am focussed and very efficient in terms of getting things done thoroughly in as little time as possible. Generally at least, it takes a person longer to do something than a person who does the same task day in and day out. But more than this (especially if the cleaner is able to be there when the house is empty!), I am able to focus on nothing but the cleaning, so I get much more done than a mom who has kids clamouring for snacks and help getting dressed, etc. Mothers are practised at cleaning of course, but there is so much start and stop at any task they try to do that a chore I can do in 15 minutes focussed labour will take her an hour and likely not get completed anyway with all the demands on her attention. The housework I can get done in 4 hours is something a mom would need much, much more time to accomplish, something to consider when trying to justify the cost of what you think is just a few hour’s work.

I have found that children often pay more attention when they see me cleaning than they do to their moms because it is odd to have a stranger in the house. When mom does chores it is ordinary and invisible, but when a stranger is there doing them it is suddenly much more interesting. Some children become more aware of the work needed to keep things tidy (because as you know, being “good” for other people is always more fun than being good for mommy), and try to help a little. Other children respond to parents saying, “You need to pick up your toys before Delle comes so she can clean the floor”, or “don’t throw your food on the floor, Delle has to work hard to clean that up you know!” Some children are a little chagrined that they are so messy that mommy needs to get a stranger to help, and they make more of an effort. I have had kids greet me by telling me proudly they picked up their toys, or were more careful brushing their teeth to keep from getting spatters on the mirror. Obviously this is not always the case, but I have seen these reactions more often than you might believe!

Lastly, as others have said, there is no shame in having more help than our mothers did. Do you feel shame about having a dishwasher? You could always wash your dishes by hand. You could also wash clothes by hand…my mother did when she was first married. She also brought water from the well because there was no running water, no electricity and no bathroom, so she dealt with two small boys and chamber pots. Times have changed and things like washing machines and dishwashers were invented because, yes we can do it all ourselves, but our quality of life is improved by not having to. Once upon a time a washing machine was considered a big luxury, but I bet you don’t think twice about using one. Look at having a housecleaner the same way…just like machines, it will give you more time to have with your children, not only improving the quality of your life, but theirs as well. My parents both had jobs, but my mother worked at home for my young childhood, and I can honestly say that I have not one single memory of my mother ever playing a game with me, or doing crafts, or even reading me a story. She worked 2 and 3 jobs at once and she kept the house going and she was always so busy and stressed that she would be physically ill, but she never had time to be a MOM. The clients I have who are at home with their children have a MUCH closer relationship with their children than my mother ever had time to have with me, because they are willing to have extra help to give them more concentrated time with their children. This is not like buying an expensive pair of shoes for yourself, this is something that will benefit the whole family, if nothing else than by having a mom around who isn’t wrecked mentally and physically from trying to keep up…just don’t be one of those people who cleans up before the cleaning person comes because you think they will be judgemental; the professionals have seen it all (trust me) and we don’t judge, and if someone does, well then they’re not the right cleaning person for you anyway! Good luck! :)

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Ally December 3, 2012 at 7:09 pm

I agree with the rest of the comments—you don’t need to do everything! Sometimes the better part of valor is knowing when to ask for help. No one can be Supermom, and to be just a super mom, you need to take care of your own well-being as well as your house and your kids.

However, I too know the perfectionist compulsion of needing to do everything myself, so if you decide against hiring someone to take over some of your chores, I highly recommend http://unfuckyourhabitat.tumblr.com for inspiration and support. The person who runs the blog seems to always know the right mix of encouragement and tough love to give, and I’ve found the community there to be incredibly helpful and supportive, especially for people whose mental illnesses make it hard for them to even pick up a mop. Its core philosophy is to only do as much as you can do, consistently but in short bursts with plenty of breaks so you don’t drive yourself to fatigue and give up.

But remember: wanting help is not weakness, and accepting help is not failure. I’m sure your kids can handle a small sacrifice if it means their mom is content.

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Jane December 3, 2012 at 7:57 pm

DO IT!!! It wasn’t until I was physically down w/ 6 months of chemo that my employees gave me a house cleaner for my birthday/Christmas present last year. What a blessing she turned out to be and I still have her come back whenever I am entertaining or ready to do a spring clean. You deserve it so you don’t live in CHAOS (Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome) If you insist on doing some projects of your own check out FLYLADY.net she will give you small daily assignments to get one room at a time organized. She has some wonderful ideas on being better organized. I used her advice when the kids where younger. Now I do them automatically and never have to see her website. You are the fitness writer you go check out someone who specializes in cleaning….you will be surprised! Good Luck!

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Heather Eats Almond Butter December 3, 2012 at 8:03 pm

Hire the housekeeper. Once every two weeks. Keeping up with four kids and all your writing is a full-time job. Heck, either of those are their own are a full-time job Charlotte. If you can afford it, do it. Trust me on this one. :)

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Wendy T. December 3, 2012 at 8:08 pm

Yes, we have a house cleaner and it’s the best decision we’ve ever made! Every other Thursday, after she cleans, I’m in a happy place – at least until the girls get home from school and mess things up again.. Without her, I feel like I’m on a treadmill that’s going faster and faster. Every time I pick up one room, another room is destroyed – it just doesn’t end! Yeah, I feel guilty when I tell people that I don’t work (ha! at least outside the home) and have a housecleaner, but I’m a much happier person when she’s around!

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Andrea Bozoki December 3, 2012 at 10:17 pm

There’s not a doubt in my mind that hiring help when you work inside the home (as a writer, a mother, a wife) is not unreasonable- it’s a necessity. But, and it’s a big but, the housecleaner once a week will not be much use; I’m convinced that nothing less than a daily housekeeper will work for multi-child households. I know that seems hard to believe right now as you look at toilet bowl rings, a sink full of dirty dishes or a carpet with stains from don’t-ask-don’t tell. But trust me, most modern houses don’t suffer from general griminess, they suffer from clutter. And the clutter becomes the insurmountable obstacle to actually cleaning- you can’t clean the dining room table until you remove everyone’s papers and toys. But if you simply take the papers off, you cause mass disorganization that isn’t easily undone. So you have to spend 30 minutes sorting and putting away (which only YOU can do) in order to do a 3-minute wipedown. With 4 children and working from home, multiply that one example by approximately 800 and you will get a sense of why a once-a-week housecleaner will not get you anywhere close to the feeling of de-cluttered tidiness and serenity you are actually imagining when you think of your house as being “clean.”

I am a mother of 3 boys (ages 7, 11 and 14; and d*mn it, they STILL miss the toilet), I work more than full-time as a physician and scientist at a mid-west research university, and I have a husband who works nearly full-time from a home office. Our once-a-week housecleaner (she works ~5 hours) barely stays even the biggest cleaning tasks like the bathrooms and kitchen, and informs me every week that she can’t clean this or that surface unless I remove all the detritus from it first, or allow her to pile everything up willy-nilly. She has no idea how to sort, file, or store away anything because that’s not her job.

For Chanukah, I have asked for 20 hours of a “home organizer.” Someone who will force me to throw out, donate or sell some of our excess, and sort and store the rest in manageable ways. Then, I will just need to hire a child trainer to teach my irresponsible children how to put away what they take out, clean up what they spill, and throw out their own unneeded stuff, to avoid having to do it all again in 6 months. I haven’t seen any of those on Craig’s list though :>)

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Bek @ Crave December 3, 2012 at 11:59 pm

I don’t think it’s cheating it all- but I understand the guilt you feel. Because truth be told people will judge, but then there will be others who won’t. But who cares?! Do it- for your sanity ahaha

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Meryl December 4, 2012 at 3:23 am

I only have one child (though she is at the 2.5yr old mayhem stage!) and I study full time from home. Kiddo is in daycare 3 days per week, we get groceries delivered, and one or two nights a week we eat a soup/risotto/curry from a local company that makes surprisingly cheap, healthy, organic meals to go. Those are my short cuts! If we had the budget for a housekeeper I’d be all in on that – we did before our child came along and boy, it’s a nice luxury to have.

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Cort the Sport December 4, 2012 at 4:13 am

Oh, my this is me: ” In Charlotte World, you just keep adding stuff on until you get your superwoman medal in the mail or you collapse” UGH!!! I call it “balancing life on the head of a pin” and it just takes the slightest cosmic wind to blow it off.

YES, I have hired out tons of stuff. The hubs works too much and it’s the only way. We used to be such self-doers, but we have our house cleaned, our lawn mowed, and I paid to have our gardens cleaned up this year too. It’s all a tradeoff to save sanity. Yet I feel closer to losing my sanity every year!!

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irene December 4, 2012 at 9:28 am

Hi Charlotte,

I waited more than a day to comment on this post because I’m surprised I had such a strong reaction to it, and that probably had more to do with you than with me, so just take this comment with a grain of salt, ok?

From your posts, you seem like the nicest, most caring-est person ever, but this post, combined with what you wrote a couple days ago about leaving your son at day care kind of touched a nerve with me. You see, I grew up in a house of complete chaos, and there were lots of times I didn’t want to have my friends over because I was embarrassed by how our house looked. Sometimes (not as much as would have been helpful, certainly) I just cleaned the bathrooms myself starting when I was 8 or 9 year old, and resented the crap out of it, not because I wasn’t willing to help, but because I was mad it had gotten to that point and trust me, my brothers weren’t going to help no matter what happened so it felt unfair. But what practically made me cry were the memories that came up thinking about all the times one of my brothers or I got left places. It IS a big deal. I will never forget the time no one picked me up my freshman year of high school and I sat alone in the dark for an hour on a completely deserted sidewalk and wondered what was going to happen to me. One my reoccurring nightmares as a child was that we lost my sister in the mall and never found her. I’m not telling you this to encourage you to beat yourself up, I’m really not, and I should tell you that I actually have a wonderful relationship with both my parents, as do all three of my brothers. Even when I was angry or felt disappointed by how things went, I knew my parents were trying really, really, hard, and that goes a long way.

What I AM trying to say is your kids really don’t know or care if you are mom of the year and working harder than everyone else and do everything yourself etc, etc. They just know the house is a mess and everything is balancing on the head of a pin and Mom is stressed out all the time. I know having kids is inherently stressful, and that won’t change no matter what, but since you asked, hell yes, get some help, as much as you can afford. Get a cleaning lady, send out the laundry, cancel fencing lessons, refuse to add more things to your schedule, write fewer blog posts (I will miss them, but I’m just saying, your readers will understand). The only person who is “cheated” by getting help is you, if what you want is to get that supermom medal, and I sincerely doubt that it is.

Ok, I’m done now, Sorry for that long and overly personal comment, but I couldn’t stop thinking about this until I wrote!

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Sylvie @ StruggleswithaFatA December 4, 2012 at 9:56 am

Oh dear, I’m going to mail you a superwoman medal. Also, I’ve heard that getting groceries delivered is pretty awesome. Imagine all the time it would save you! Oh, and I thought of you Sunday at Target because they were giving out samples of Red Velvet Chocolate milk. Still sounds gross to me.

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Mandy December 4, 2012 at 3:21 pm

All the commenters have supported the use of a housekeeper. My opinion is a little different. I considered hiring a housekeeper 2x/mth once I started working full time. Instead, I set up a schedule where my husband and I clean our house for a few hours every other weekend. During the week, we clean up as needed. Our house is just as clean as that of a neighbor who uses a bi-monthly service. Granted, we have only 2 kids, not 4. Since you work too, then I think the burden of household cleaning should fall on both you and your husband!
I am not blaming your husband, as I can’t imagine anyone who would *want* to do housework! : ) Not sure if this suggestion will be helpful.

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Lois December 4, 2012 at 4:30 pm

Well, I just had to add my own two cents. My Mom had her first 4 kids within a 6 year span, so I can relate to the horde of young kids. She stayed at home in the day before there were all these labor saving devices. Her labor saving device was putting us kids to work to help out. We got allowances that we earned. We also got deductions from the allowance when we didn’t do what we were supposed to. It didn’t damage my psyche as a 5 year old to know I had to dust the living room every day before school and all of the dining room furniture on the weekend. Another kid had to vacuum the dining room floor after dinner every night (and put away the vacuum afterwards!). It didn’t matter the gender of the kids, either.

You can certainly do research on age appropriate chores. I did. Guess what, it’s appropriate for a 5-7 year old to help clean out the car! You mention clutter everywhere. Whose clutter is it? If it’s theirs, they need to start learning how to put things away. If it’s your husband’s, ditto. I read articles all of the time about getting kids to help around the house. It’s not rocket science. They should be doing it. How else will they learn any house responsibility? Plus, their future college roommates will so thank you. The first thing I did when I moved into an apt with 5 other girls in college was set up a revolving chore list and get everyone to chip in to buy a communal vacuum cleaner. Your bedroom was your own territory, but all of the common areas were always reasonably clean and tidy.

If you can’t afford a housecleaning service, then you can’t. But, if you do decide to get one, you’ll be much happier with the results if the service can actually clean and make a difference. And the friend who rubber bands paper towels to her feet every day…scary!

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Marla-Deen December 4, 2012 at 7:55 pm

You’ve likely heard enough on this topic, but it’s one that I’ve gone back and forth with for years! I’ve had help and then when things got tight, that, of course, was the first thing to go. While I have less children than you, I have three boys, which often feels like 6 kids, work less than you do, but am a little older than you so I’ve had this same dilemma. There is nothing more calming and makes me more productive in other areas than to walk into a clean house! All bathrooms clean at once and the sheets changed? Heaven! Even though it is twice a month, we can keep up with it until the two weeks rolls around. Things start falling apart and we know it’s CLEANING day.
As for the boys’ bathrooms, I have tried to have a rule to keep them out of the downstairs Powder Room and if they make a mess, they know where the Clorax whipes are! That’s quick and easy! I hope you take all these comments and just hire a person, a service or something! It’s well worth the cost. My husband always says, “When Mama’s Happy, everybody’s Happy.”

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deb roby December 4, 2012 at 9:07 pm

I think we’ve had this discussion before, but hiring a house cleaner is NOT a failure -its an effecient use of resources. Unless you can clean your house in 2 hours or less.

Also, I will point out that you are WORK AT HOME mom, not a STAY AT HOME mom. There is a difference.

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Kellyim December 12, 2012 at 1:57 pm

Having someone come clean our house every other week has most likely literally saved my marriage. I’m a lawyer and my husband is a scientist and we also try to have a social life. (I’m also YW President in an inner-city ward. Mormons, holla!) I felt like a complete failure when I started thinking about having someone come clean for us. I am an overachiever and I should be able to do it all!

But what was actually happening is I worked hard all week and cooked us healthy dinners most nights and then I spent my entire weekends cleaning. If we did anything at all over the weekend, then my cleaning routine got disrupted and we just lived in filth until I could get around to it. My husband helps when I ask him (and he will help a LOT if I ask him), but his tolerance for dirt is much higher than mine, so he never, ever sees that something needs to be cleaned, and I didn’t want to always be a nag. So instead I just let the resentment build up inside of me until it exploded about once a month or so. Super fun.

The sister of a lady I work with was looking for some part-time cleaning gigs so I had her come over and give me a quote. As we walked around, I apologized for the mess, until finally she put her hand on my arm and kindly said, “If you had time to clean, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

She’s been coming every other Thursday for about a year and it’s magical to come home to a clean house. We still have to take care of dishes and surface clutter, but I know that every other week, my bathrooms and floors and kitchen get deep cleaned and I don’t have to spend all my spare time cleaning (and resenting my husband). Win!

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Charlotte December 12, 2012 at 4:35 pm

From one neurotic Mormon lady to another – thank you for the permission to let the guilt go:) So glad it’s working out so well for you!

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Kellyim December 12, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Oh, just another thought, I don’t have kids, BUT I grew up with a super neurotic crazy clean mom who taught me from a VERY young age how to properly clean and disinfect a bathroom and kitchen. Like, I was probably 7 when I started being the person who cleaned the bathroom I used. Also, I was cleaning the kitchen after dinner and wiping down all the countertops with disinfectant on a regular basis from age 8 or 9 on. Also, every morning from about the same age, it was my chore to empty the dishwasher and empty the kitchen garbage before I went to school. If I didn’t do it, I got in trouble and got my allowance docked.

I’m not suggesting you be as neurotic as my mom (and I’m sure I won’t be with my kids), but I think if you set expectations for how your kids are supposed to help and clean (and it sounds like your oldest kids are old enough for this), with consequences if they don’t, I think you might have some little helpers.

Of course, I was an only child and was an extremely nerdy good girl, so I might have been more pliable in that regard. Still, might be worth a shot.

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Charlotte December 12, 2012 at 4:34 pm

Yes, we do something similar. Each child has a daily chore and they’re generally good about doing it – it’s just not enough to stem the tide of clutter and dirt, lol!

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