I'm Cleaning Houses During the Pandemic, and Some of My Clients Don't Take Coronavirus Seriously

Quirha Carter as told to Zee Krstic
Photo credit: Quirha Carter

From Good Housekeeping

Quirha Carter, 38, is a mother of two living in Williston, Florida. She owns and operates her own housekeeping service, maintaining a sole proprietorship to assist clients across Levy and Alachua Counties. Quirha is currently working through the pandemic to support her entire household.

I like to think of my clients as divas most of the time. As a housekeeper, you start to realize that everyone has certain quirks about them — especially when it comes to their homes. If you think about it, you probably have certain preferences of how you like things arranged in your own home, too: The perfect spot to place a bath mat near your shower, the kinds of scents used in laundry detergents, or the 'correct' motion of your carpet's fibers while you vacuum. I'm not a mind reader, though. I don't know most of these preferences when I work with a client for the first time, and what one client appreciates, another might totally hate. One of the most crucial things about my success is that I get to know each of my clients' little quirks and pet peeves over time, understanding what they like or don't like, what they want me to do or don't want me to do in their homes. It's a minefield on most days — and now I'm doing that while wearing a face mask that makes it hard to breathe, coverings that make me sweat, and worrying about a virus I can't see.

Before COVID-19 hit Florida, I had about 20 clients on a regular basis. And within the first two weeks — before we mostly shut down everything — I dropped down to less than a quarter of these clients. Only 4 or 5 people that have worked with me before had the cash to continue to hire me now, or felt comfortable with me coming into their homes. I usually clean these clients' homes once a week, bi-weekly, or once a month. That changed, it feels like, overnight. I lost a lot of money. I lost a lot of clients.

But you know what's the most interesting thing? I'm still getting calls from new clients. I've taken on about six new homes since the pandemic began, and these homeowners are not young, perfectly healthy people. My millennial clients are on high alert. But older homeowners — the ones that everyone is saying are the ones that we need to protect, the ones that are most vulnerable — are the ones calling me to come into their home.

I can understand why some are asking for help, as they can't perform the physical requirements of deep cleaning their homes. But I can't help but notice that some are doing very little to stop the spread; there's no consideration of me being in their homes, and they don't seem to take the same precautions I am right now. And those particular home cleaning/organizing preferences that I mentioned earlier? They still exist — despite us being in the middle of a pandemic.

I live in Williston, Florida, a small highway town in North-Central Florida just a ways away from Ocala and south of Gainesville, where the university is, so there's plenty of potential clients for me to service. I work alone, I don't have a team, and I also rely on word of mouth to meet new clients. Right now, that might be why I even have any new clients in the first place — working alone is one of my selling points, apparently. These people nowadays don't want random different people coming into their homes. And I'm more wary in so many ways, too.

Photo credit: Quirha Carter

I don't have a choice but to continue working right now. I'm a 38-year-old mother to two teenagers, 17 and 18, who are stuck home from school, and my boyfriend has been laid off from his role as an outfitter. He doesn't have a job right now. Since my kids are home, more money is going into feeding them, and I don't qualify for SNAP benefits, even with my drastically reduced income. Everyone is relying on me to pay the bills, though, even though half of my clientele is gone.

My work has become more difficult, too. Each house I go into, I have to think about everything I'm tracking in with me — what tools I am using and being sure to sanitize them well before using them in another home. I have to worry about cross contamination in everything I do, and I try to rotate through cleaning supplies, but it's not easy. I have to sanitize my vacuums after each job, cleaning their HEPA filters and swapping them out more frequently, which costs a good amount of money.

The face masks and coverings make it hard for me to breathe, as it's already hot outside, and you would be so surprised how many people don't turn on their air conditioning while I'm working. Sweating is a constant issue, and it's only made worse by hot air blowing out of the back of my vacuum. A majority of my long-term clients quietly do things to make me more comfortable, like turning on their air conditioning while I work. But sometimes I have to bring it to their attention. They're like, "Oh, I didn't even think about it." I don't think that it's necessarily something they are doing intentionally, but it's something that they just haven't even thought about.

I wish more of my clients took the time to think about other courtesies, too, especially during the pandemic. My job involves cleaning your home, yes, but there are a few things I would do myself if I were having a cleaner come over. I would put my toothbrush away, and take out my own bathroom trash. Anything that I'd be putting in my eyes, nose, or mouth, I would put away. I would probably put away most of the items that feel like knick knacks — why leave them out to further exposure? And I would make sure some sort of soap or sanitizer is available by the sink. How can a housekeeper wash their hands if there's no soap?

Even though things are tough for my family right now, I'm focusing on the future and how I can bounce back from this. I have been reaching out to my existing clients to touch base with them and see if I can gauge how much work I'll have in the future: I'm also sensitive to the fact that financial situations have totally changed, and I may have to replace some of my old clients with new ones if they're no longer interested in services. I'm so dependent on making a schedule to balance out all of my clients seemingly, but some are uncertain about whether or not they want me to come back, which makes it all harder.

I live in a small community and I know that there's some support available for those who are struggling right now, whether it's food banks or other community efforts, but I'm uncomfortable taking advantage of this. Right now, I am working through my savings to get through this time — luckily, I was pretty responsible with the money I was making before the pandemic. But I can't apply for unemployment because I'm a sole proprietor and haven't paid myself a proper paycheck in the past, and as of now, I'm not in dire need of things that many others might really need, so I'm not turning to community resources. My hope is that the government will step in again to help everyone out — but really take into consideration the people who aren't in the corporate world.

Cleaning is a physically demanding job regularly, and even more so now, as I'm walking into homes that aren't my own every day. It's a luxury service, yes, but more so even now, in the middle of a pandemic. You would think that someone would want their house clean to prevent the spread of the virus, but it's actually been the complete opposite.

Without asking them, a few of my clients have paid me for services they haven't received yet. I can't tell you how guilty I feel for accepting money for work that I haven't done yet, but it's been a big help, and for others like me, it may be the only way that people can help right now. I'm calculating the services I can perform for these clients when things get back to normal, and I'm grateful to know that I'll have these kinds of clients to work with in the future.

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