Yes, you probably could manage on your own, says Verne Maree. But in Singapore, you don’t have to. Getting domestic help frees you for all those things you’ve been meaning to do: spend more quality time with your family, make new friends, keep fit, take up tennis, learn to paint, write a book or become a belly-dancer.
When Roy and I lived in London for a year, we managed fine without help. He vacuumed the carpets and floors, I cleaned the kitchen and bathrooms, and the tiny laundry next to the Tube station ironed his shirts perfectly for £1 per pound. Dust hardly settles when the weather is grey and chilly and the windows are mainly kept closed, we found.
It’s different here. In this hot, humid climate, much more cleaning is required. Mould creeps onto furniture and clothing; weevils infest grocery cupboards; and no garment can be worn more than once
For a family with children – especially younger ones – it often makes sense to have a full-time, live-in helper, and most housing has accommodation for one. The advantages are great, not least having someone on hand to mind the children, cook meals and even run your household, if that’s what you want. What’s more, the higher rates for hourly paid part-timers work out too expensive for those who need support with child-care and baby-sitting.
Getting Full-time Right
If you do hire a full-time helper, she becomes part of your household, so it’s essential to have someone who is the right fit for you. Our editor-in-chief Rebecca Bisset, who has been living and employing maids in Singapore for 12 years, says that in her experience, if you find someone who clicks with your family you are lucky. It doesn’t always happen.
“When it doesn’t work out, you feel hugely guilty. Sending someone back to her home country feels like a draconian step to take, so you find yourself recommending her to another employer at the risk of that, too, not working out – and so more guilt ensues.” A maid agency will generally offer one or more replacements within a specified period, say three months. To give a new employer-maid relationship a good chance of success, you need to have an appropriate approach.
“I have learnt that it’s better to treat her as a professional housekeeper, than as a member of the family,” advises Rebecca. “Privacy and personal space need to be respected from both sides. If you go into the relationship feeling guilty about employing a maid, you are likely to over-compensate and things can become messy.”
Gillian Ardmore (not her real name), who has employed the same helper for the past 15 years, agr“Whatever you do, the rules have to be set out rigidly so everyone knows what is right and what is not. There should be a specified daily and weekly routine spelling out what she should be doing and how she should be doing it. The boundaries between helper and friend need to be clearly defined; if these are lost, discipline becomes blurred and resentment sets in.”
If it’s just the two of you, you should weigh the advantages of having a live-in maid against the loss of your privacy. You won’t be free to wander around in an undressed state, bicker over breakfast or make up on the sofa after lunch; it’s her home, too.
Part-time cleaning may be all that you need. By this, I don’t mean borrowing your friend’s full-time maid a couple of times a week; that is illegal. What you need is a contract with a reliable outfit such as Mrs Sparkles.
Founded by Wynne Chia, the company has been operating since 1996. It’s an interesting story: Wynne’s mother was an amah (housekeeper) who did part-time housekeeping for a number of expat families in the Serangoon Gardens and Seletar Airbase areas. When her mother eventually became too old and frail to carry on, Wynne undertook to find replacement housekeepers for these families. This was when she came up with the idea for a business that would professionally train and organise these workers.Today, Mrs Sparkles employs some 60 cleaning women and five supervisor-drivers.
Rather than the Filipinas, Indonesians and Sri Lankan women who are brought in by maid agencies to be full-time maids, Mrs Sparkles’ employees are mainly Singaporeans, Permanent Residents and Work Permit-holders from Malaysia or the PRC. They speak and understand at least simple English, and are aged between 30 and 50. Normally, you can have the same housekeeper assigned to you each time, subject to availability.
Most appealing is the flexibility of a housekeeping service. You can choose from a range of cleaning packages, and the price varies in accordance with your needs – the size of your home, its condition and how often you want it cleaned. You might want just one four-hour session once a month ($80 per session, meaning $20 an hour), or sign up for three times weekly ($800 per month, meaning $16.60 an hour) – or something in-between.
Odds and Ends
If you don’t know your neighbours well enough to ask them to mind your pets or water your plants while you’re away on a business or holiday trip – and I know we don’t! – Mrs Sparkles can help you out. For $20 per trip, someone will pop along to feed pets, change pets’ water, water plants and bring in the mail.
The company also offers a handyman service: for a fee of $50 per hour, a friendly chap will come to your home to sort out a plumbing problem, do a minor repair or hang pictures for you.
Call +65 6298 2923 or visit www.mrs-sparkles.com.sg
Snowed under with the work or other commitments? Here are just some of the services offered by PAonWheels:
Providing nanny-care before and after school at the nanny’s house, including meals, a shower and personal coaching
An A-Z bespoke parental service to foreign students studying in Singapore (including registering to be the appointed guardian for their school)
Dealing with correspondence, scheduling appointments and business trips, performing personal and business administration
Billing, invoicing and chasing debtors for payment
Making travel arrangements, including airport meeting and greeting, or even accompanying a client overseas for surgery
Helping with domestic duties, such as waiting for a delivery, being present while your repair man does a job for you, overseeing telephone line installation, or accompanying your elderly relative to the clinic
Grocery and wet-market shopping
Price: from $50
Call +65 9691 9827
A provider of part-time cleaners for both homes and offices, Comfy Homes prides itself on being a reputable agency that is stringent in its selection process. The service it delivers completely relieves you of the problems associated with having a full-time, live-in maid. All its helpers are full-time employees of the company, and each one is completely reliable and trustworthy.
You do not have to be at home when the cleaners come, as the key will be managed by the supervisor in charge. Two cleaners work together at a time, so a four-hour session in fact takes only two hours.
“I have been very pleased with the team of maids provided by Comfy Homes. The two women have been very friendly, polite and excellent workers. They have followed instructions and used their own initiative. They have at all times been willing, honest and a pleasure to have in my home. I have no hesitation in recommending this team to other households.”
Price: From $268 per month
+65 6844 4523
A-Team Amahs & Cleaners
A-Team is a specialist in providing nanny and cleaning services on a part-time basis. Apart from domestic cleaning and baby-sitting, it also offers confinement services for new mothers.
Be aware that to illegally employ a local or foreign worker is a serious offence in Singapore. A-Team employs local people and is fully licensed with the Singapore Ministry of Manpower. After paying the agency fee, payment is made directly to the helper. Each session is for a minimum of four hours, and the hourly rate may vary according to the time, location and frequency of service.
“I’m very pleased to have Bahnu’s help. She is a very nice lady and she really does a good job even though my house is big. She also does not complain about the long walk to get to my house and even shares cleaning tips with me, too. Thank you, Bahnu!”
Price: Agency fee $228; thereafter, from $12.50 per hour
6100 6131 or 6100 6132