Updated on 06.13.07

To Clean Or Not To Clean?

Trent Hamm

Typically, I’m a “do it myself and save money” type of person, but I think I may have just run into a situation where I may actually hire someone to complete a task that I could do myself instead.

Here’s the deal: when we move out of our apartment, we’ll have about a week during which the apartment needs to be cleaned up for inspection, at which point we hand over our keys and walk out the door. No problem, right? Well, if you’ve ever moved, you often discover that when you’ve emptied things out, there’s a pretty sizeable mess left behind. The carpet needs shampooed, the shower needs very carefully scrubbed, the baseboards need cleaned, the closets need cleaned, and so on – just little things that you don’t notice living in a place.

Since my wife, who will be well into her eighth month of pregnancy at the time, will be basically unable to help with many pieces of it due to the work and the cleaning chemical fumes, this becomes a task primarily for me to accomplish. I estimated that it would take me about six to eight hours to get everything in tip-top shape (I’m not particularly efficient at tasks like this).

At the same time, I have a friend who actually cleans houses as an individual maid service. I asked her about her rates and she said that she could get that done for $60 while providing her own chemicals and cleaning supplies. Given that doing it myself would incur some cost in this department, this reduces the overall expense for her down to $55 or so.

So, let’s say it would take seven hours for me to clean the apartment and I would effectively be paying her $56 for the service. This would mean that effectively my time was worth $8 an hour during the cleaning time. Another thing to note is that we will receive our deposit back after the inspection, equal to a month’s rent, that could be used in part to pay the cleaning service.

I’ve decided to go for the service, and here’s why. First of all, my time is simply worth more than $8 an hour, particularly when that $8 is not directly part of my budget at the moment (it will come from the refunded deposit that we paid several years ago). Second, I work full time and also devote a few hours a day to this site, which means that my remaining time is precious – I can think of many better uses for that time than scrubbing the floor of an apartment that I’ll never set foot in again.

Is this the most cost-efficient option? Clearly it isn’t. But given that we’re also settling into a new house, my wife will be near her due date, and I’m working full time and also focusing on this project, my time is much more valuable than the time spent cleaning out the shower.

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  1. PF says:

    Have you ever read The Tightwad Gazette. Even though Amy D is super frugal, even she says that there are some things that just aren’t worth the time to do, and that you have figure that into the equation.

    On the flip side, she also likes to figure out how frugal activities translate into an hourly wage. For example, if you make a 5 minute phone call and save $5 on something, you’re effectively making a $60/hour tax free wage on that activity. I love that kind of thinking. It motivates me.

    Hire the housecleaner. It will be worth every dime for your family’s sanity.

  2. Ursula says:

    It’s a no-brainer, Trent! Pay the $60 and save yourself the 6-8 hours worth of work! $60 is CHEAP for cleaning the whole apartment!

  3. Eric W. says:

    Thank you for explaining that the cheapest thing is not always the best thing. People must realize that there are a lot of ways to save money but not all of them are worth the effort (but many are).

  4. nightingale says:

    That’s a cheap cleaning service! Check with your landlord, though, to be sure you really do need it. I’ve moved in and out of 7 apartments in the last 4 years and 5 of them had nasty, picky landlords. One of them even had us walking around with cans of touch-up paint (we later learned that we had rights to say no to such treatment under the consideration that the small dings fall under the “normal wear and tear” clause upon most leases).
    However, if you live in a managed apartment complex, often they have their own cleaning services who come in and clean and shampoo the carpet and such for the next tenant. In that case, all you may have to do is wash up the most obviously messy areas and vacuum.

  5. jason says:

    Your crazy, I have never done more than vacuum the carpets and wipe down the fridge when moving out of an apartment. Never have I been charged with any sort of cleaning fee, etc. I have rented apartments that range from big complexes and up to a whole house. In all cases, I never spent more than an hour cleaning up after I have moved my stuff out. Either you are completely disgusting or are obsessive compulsive. You are just throwing $60 away…

  6. GeekMan says:

    Bravo! I’ve been wondering at what point someone as financially savvy and frugal as yourself would draw the line between cost savings and time savings. It’s nice to know that even you have a point at which you’re willing to pay someone else to do something you could otherwise do for yourself. It’s even more important (to me at least) that you actually thought it through before making the decision. Thanks for posting this.

  7. st says:

    On the flip side, she also likes to figure out how frugal activities translate into an hourly wage. For example, if you make a 5 minute phone call and save $5 on something, you’re effectively making a $60/hour tax free wage on that activity. I love that kind of thinking. It motivates me.

    Or even better, think of it as a roughly $80/hr. pre-tax wage rate!

  8. I myself faced this exact situation last month. I made the same decision you did. At the end of the day, money is great for reducing stress during a move. I value my time and sanity more than I value the cash I would have saved doing it myself.

  9. May not be the most cost effective, but like the other commentators said, it’s the most time effective. It’s a good trade off in my opinion.

  10. SJ says:

    One of the best decisions I made when I went back to work after my son was born (3 months later) was to hire a once/month cleaning service. It’s just often enough to do the thorough cleaning (we are still cleaning in everyday ways, sweeping, vacuuming, etc) but it makes it so that I don’t have to spend my precious weekend time that could be with my son cleaning the walls of my shower. We pay $70 per visit for a two bedroom place outside of Boston – if you find someone with a small service it will be significantly cheaper than the major chains – in my case I asked my neighbor across the hall for a recommendation, and the cost is 1/2 that I was quoted elsewhere.

  11. Jerry Hung says:

    I agree with you, and opinions of others. What I don’t understand is how it can even be a difficult decision, or something to blog about :P

    Basic of economics – it’s possible you CAN do everything yourself (you or country level), but it’s not in the best interest nor the most efficient idea to MAXIMIZE productivity
    Hence countries do trades, rather than produce everything

    So even for $100 I think it’s still worth it, unless it’s super expensive. :)

  12. Lindsay says:

    I did the exact same thing when I moved out of my place. I found a group of college kids that charged me $50 for the whole place. Three of them came and cleaned my old place while the truck was being unloaded into the new one. Great decision! I was much less stressed out knowing that I didn’t have to go back to the old apartment and clean it all up.

  13. Michael says:

    Hi Trent,
    Make sure that you don’t lose the deposit due to incomplete cleaning – here’s a relevant article on wikiHow that you might find useful.

  14. Andrea D says:

    I hate cleaning with a passion, and would definitely hire someone to do it for me. Not only would they do a much better job, but I’d be in a much better mood.

    THAT SAID, can we keep away from the whole “My time is more valuable than THAT” thing? I know it’s just cleaning, but someone’s time IS worth pretty much exactly that. Well, maybe not $8 an hour, since a professional cleaner won’t take 6-8 hours on one apartment, but still.

  15. Jenn says:

    Doing that much cleaning is a HUGE job. I think your estimate of 6-8 hours is pretty conservative, even. For a one-time service, I think you picked the right choice. You’re going to have enough to do with cleaning your new place, much less cleaning your old one for someone else’s benefit!

  16. Pride says:

    It was time for my roommate and me to part ways, and we both moved out of the apartment. We were feeling lazy and did the whole cost versus time consideration. Basically it amounted to, “eh, I don’t wanna vacuum.”

    So we went down to the local bum hangout (under E. 14th bridge) and brought some transients back to tidy up the place for dirt cheap. We left them alone, and they did their duty. All over the place! Damn dirty hobos. Should have done it myself. I bet that corn is still imbedded in the ceiling.

  17. I agree totally. I think it is very important to put a dollar value to our own time. It would be different if you were one of these weird people that LOVE to clean.

    But I know I am not one of them. Thanks again for a great article.

    Helping People get out of Debtor’s Prison and Achieve Financial Freedom One Dollar at a Time!

  18. MS says:

    Hire your friend, and then blog like crazy for those 6-8 hours to earn more than $60..

    Seriously, you calculated your time to do that at $8/hour. If your friend can do the job faster (and this should be true), they will be earning > $8/hour for their time. Economically, this is a good deal as long as the time will be useful to you and the $60 won’t pose a hardship.

    Good luck on your move.

  19. Anna says:

    My mother, I like to think, was the original true inventor of frugality and recycling. We were poorer than most people these days can imagine. But even she told me once, “Everything costs something in time, money, or energy. And sometimes money is the cheapest choice.”

    Go for it, Trent.

  20. Katie B. says:

    We just moved into our first house (over Memorial Day Weekend) and wanted to get every penny back from our security deposit on the apartment we left. A great cleaning job is one way to make that happen. My husband and I spent two whole days doing this (we are obviously not that efficient at cleaning) and were miserable. We were so excited to be in our new home, cleaning the old apartment was the LAST thing we wanted to be doing. The whole time we were cleaning we were thinking about how we wanted to start unpacking at our new place and I couldn’t help but think how much I wished I had just paid someone to clean for me. If we were moving to another apartment I probably wouldn’t have been willing to pay for someone else to do it, however with a new house you are going to be too excited and aren’t going to want to see that apartment again! Good choice Trent, I wish I had made the same one!

    Congratulations on the new home!

  21. Frugaljane says:

    You might also consider having cleaning done in the place you’re moving into. Just because the previous owners agree to leave it decent doesn’t mean it will be. When they moved, my brother’s wife went over to the new house an hour or two before the moving truck would arrive and let in a cleaning person who was able to clean (room by room, directed by my sister-in-law, in the order the furniture would be unloaded into). The new house was spick and span by the time their stuff arrived. This is something I am going to seriously consider when we buy a house – I don’t want to live in someone else’s dirt!!

  22. Kevin says:

    I don’t know how it works by you but here the owner usually has the apartment professionally clean before new tenants move in. You still have to leave the place clean but theres no sense in deep cleaning an apartment that they are just going to pay somone to clean anyway.

  23. The Greeniologist says:

    As an economics student, this is a constant problem I have with your blog.

    “This is not the most cost efficient option”, I think you need to firstly examine your definition of cost. It’s flawed, you need to weigh up the -cost- of the next best thing you could be doing (opportunity cost) and add it the total cost. While I realize you’ve done this and alluded/talked about opportunity cost before it’s frustrating for me to see some of your readers not really getting it at all.

    It’s something which is worth spending a long blog post about and if you have already done that, why not interlink it in your articles occasionally?

  24. plonkee says:

    I think you’ve probably made the right decision.

    Every time I’ve moved between rented properties, we’ve always cleaned it thoroughly ourselves and the landlord has always deducted cleaning expenses anyway. This time, I’m just going to clean it normally (not thoroughly) and get whatever I can from the deposit back. Life’s too short.

  25. David says:

    I think cost-efficiency always must be answered in terms of everything, not just money. People standing in line for 3 hours on Black Friday to get 20% off an item they don’t need anyway is not cost-efficient, even though some would claim it is. I measure pretty much everything in terms of opportunity cost, and “budget” my hours accordingly. If I watch a movie, I am “paying” $20 or so for that privilege. Sometimes I need the down time enough to “spend” that money. For short cleaning jobs, I’m perfectly willing to “spend” 10 bucks. Last time I moved out of an apartment, though, I did a similar thing. I could pay $120 to myself, or $80 to a cleaning service. My time was better spent unpacking and setting up the new place. If time is money, then both should be budgeted accordingly.

  26. Sara says:

    I live in California and I imagine landlords are pickier here. When I moved out of my first apartment I got back a small portion of my deposit because I didn’t clean under the fridge, stove, tops of blinds and ceiling fan blades. I argued with the landlord and finally pointed out our initial walk through when I moved in didn’t include checking under the fridge and stove so she couldn’t guarantee they were clean when I moved in. She gave me back the $100 she claimed it would cost to clean them.

    The last apartment I moved out of was a place where I was the last in a long stream of a continuous roommate merry-go-round over a span of 12 years. My boyfriend and I spent hours, at least 15, cleaning the place (we weren’t particularly dirty but it was a large, old place that accumulated a lot of dust). We exhausted ourselves and in order to stay up all night to finish the cleaning he started chewing tobacco again for the buzz and it took him another year to quit again (after having quit for 4 years). We got our deposit back, but it wasn’t worth the time we spent. The landlord actually offered us a job cleaning apartments because we did such a good job but in the end we would have been better off hiring someone. We were surprised to find that the next day a new tenant had already moved in!

  27. I too applaud your decision to hire a cleaner – I did this last time we moved, and our two helpers swiftly cleaned up our 1,600 square foot home while I searched the closets for leftovers, cleared the last items out of the garage and finally sat down for a couple minutes — a GREAT bargain, in my opinion.

    And I second the idea to consider asking her to clean your new place, too. I arrived at our new house as the movers pulled up. Inside were mounds of dog hair in every room and the place was filthy. I did my karmic part by leaving our old house spotless, but the new one was a bummer.

  28. This is point that came to mind with your home-made laundry. For what it saves you, you may find that the cost in creating and storing the laundry mix might not match-up with the Costco version. That’s what I found when I looked into it. It’s good to think about the options, but sometimes it’s worth it to pay for conveinence.

  29. Mardee says:

    To anyone who has had their security deposit withheld, make sure you check your state landlord-tenant laws. Most are pretty specific about what landlords can and cannot deduct – however, it’s amazing what landlords will try to get away with. I represented one client who was told by her landlord that the security deposit was non-refundable (which is, of course, illegal – at least in my state). We wound up suing him and she was awarded her security deposit plus double damages and attorney’s fees. The landlord wound up paying around $2000 when he could have just given her back the $500.

    Also, in most states, if a LL keeps back any of the deposit, s/he must send the tenant an itemized list of the deductions s/he is making from the deposit. And there is usually a deadline for sending back the deposit.

  30. I am a professional window cleaner in Southern California. I made my service designed to help people who finally realize that they are in a nice comfortable home because their time is not worth the hassle of cleaning their own windows… Isn’t that the point of us all becoming efficient at certain things, to raise our overall standard of living through efficiency and commerce?

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