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Entrepreneur Mom

with Aliza Sherman

If you own a business - home-based or otherwise - this is the blog where you'll find practical tips and smart ideas about entrepreneurship. I've started and run 4 different businesses so "been there, done that." I'll also invite successful entrepreneurs to share their best advice with you.

To learn more about Aliza, check out her profile on Work It, Mom! and her website,

Dishes Be Damned!

Categories: Work/Life



I am not trying to rebel. I’m not a slacker. I just can’t get to the dishes every day. Yes, I work from home. But the operative word is WORK. Pretend that I’m not at home all day, maybe that will help you understand why the dishes are still piled up on the countertop, why the countertop is covered with peanut butter and jelly from baby’s sandwich that I rushed to make to get her to daycare on time, why the half-sliced orange and half-sliced avocado is still on the cutting board. And why the clean dishes are still in the dishwasher and not in their proper places in cupboards and drawers.

Believe me, I do see the mess. I see it when I rush back into the house after dropping baby at daycare. I cringe. But if I stop now to wipe and wash, I’ll forget the brilliant idea knocking around in my brain about to leak out of my head into the vortex of forgetfulness. And I swear this is the next big idea that will bring additional income into our household. I see the mess as I glance up from my computer now and then to let my eyes rest for a few moments, to stretch my hands and fingers so I don’t get crippled with carpal tunnel. I consider cleaning for a moment, but email is calling and client projects are due.

Yes, I could at least put a damp sponge to the counters as I toss some leftovers into the microwave or scrounge around for a stick of cheese to call my lunch when the leftovers are gone. And I do, sometimes, but it isn’t a routine set in stone. The truth is that I don’t want to get sidetracked. A sponge to the counter turns into putting things into Tupperwares and into the fridge which turns into pulling things out of the dishwasher because the clean Tupperware is in there so might as well and then…it is time for my next meeting or phone call.

I’m working hard. I’m pulling in the extra money that has helped us get out of debt. Sure, I was also the cause of that debt, but we’re talking dirty dishes here, not family finances. The dishes are dirty because I’m working as hard as I can in the five and a half hours that are carved out each day for my workday. Five and a half hours. Most people get eight hour work days and compain it is too much. I would dance jigs if I had eight hours of straight work time. Then again, I wouldn’t dance a jig because that would take 3 minutes of precious work time away from me. I would dance a mental jig while scanning emails.

With the money I am helping bring in, we could afford a cleaning lady to come in daily to clean the kitchen. But not everyone believes in outsourcing housework. Because that is one of those wifely duties, right? I keep thinking that sometime I just might hire a cleaning lady to secretly come into our house in the afternoon hours to make things sparkle. Then I’ll roll up my sleeves, ruffle my hair, and greet my husband with a great big sigh about how hard I’ve been working but “Boy, look at those countertops SPARKLE!”

Why do I feel that secretly hiring household help is a deception? Not as bad as infidelity, of course, but in a way, it seems like cheating somehow or at least not being totally truthful. And I would have no real way of hiding the expense of a cleaning lady so any scan of the finances would reveal the truth of my frivolity.

But let’s get back to those dishes, those oranges and avocados, those peanut butter and jelly stains. They may or may not be there this evening. If they are, I promise to clean them up. If they aren’t, I expect some acknowledgement for managing to clean the kitchen AND earn the big bucks while working from home. Remember, I’ve been WORKING.

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21 comments so far...

  • Beautifully said!

    Tarot  |  October 23rd, 2008 at 7:46 pm

  • I SO hear you. My kitchen has a 10ft. island and it is covered from end to end in dishes, leftovers and this morning’s breakfast. I have to work, not clean and I can guarantee we entrepreneur moms do more in 5.5 hours than those in offices putting in eight. They lunch, have meetings and have to take their work home because they have no time to work!

    Laura Berman Fortgang  |  October 23rd, 2008 at 7:47 pm

  • I have other friends whose husbands object to hiring a cleaner, and I just don’t get it. It’s fine to be expected to clean when you’re a housewife, but when you’re working, it’s no more your responsibility than it is his.

    If he’s never had a cleaner before, he may be surprised how much he likes the results and how worth the money it is.

    When I was feeling overwhelmed in grad school, we started using disposable dishes–plates, bowls, cups, silverware, etc. It wasn’t exactly environmentally friendly, but I figured since we were so poor we weren’t consuming things the way a lot of other Americans do, and it kept the kitchen clean.

    Another thing I keep in mind when this issue comes up are that very few successful women do their own housecleaning. Do people think eBay’s Meg Whitman does all her own dishes? Do they think Condaleezza Rice vacuums daily?

    Finally, if my house is messy when friends or relatives come over, or I serve takeout when I invite them over for dinner, I playfully remind them as they enter that they came to visit me, not my house or my cooking.

    Sorry for the rant; I guess you touched a nerve.

    Mignon  |  October 23rd, 2008 at 8:12 pm

  • HIRE THAT CLEANING LADY!!! If you’re working all day and hanging with your baby and spouse all evening, there’s no reason not to outsource SOMETHING and cleaning makes the most sense. It’s cheaper than therapy, anyway.

    Meagan Francis  |  October 23rd, 2008 at 8:16 pm

  • You are definitely not alone on this one.

    Even when I do have time I could spend doing dishes, I just flat out hate to do dishes!

    Thank goodness I have a husband who will actually empty the dishwasher, even if he does leave me all the pots & pans to scrub. Otherwise, we’d be neck deep in dirty dishes in our kitchen!

    Laura P Thomas  |  October 23rd, 2008 at 8:21 pm

  • Love this post, you described my life in a nutshell! Don’t you hate it when people think just because you work from home you don’t really work?

    I think its worse when you have to see the mess all day but cannot do anything about it. At least if you go to the office, your escaping!

    Jennifer Fugel  |  October 23rd, 2008 at 8:25 pm

  • I have maids who come monthly, but I don’t see having them here daily as a practical solution. Unless they live next door, it would take longer for them to get here than to do the cleaning, and that means I’d have to pay a lot more than I could mentally accept. Plus you know they’d put all your dishes in the wrong places!

    I do several things to keep things mostly under control. If I’m busy, I prepare the simplest, least messy meals possible - for breakfast, lunch, and supper. Most of the time, all I have to do is rinse them with warm water and put them into the dish drainer as soon as I’m done using them. Then I use the same dishes off the dish drainer the next time, so there is no big accumulation. If I must wait to wash something, I put it in the right basin of the sink, so the counters and the left basin are usually clear. One basin full of dirty dishes doesn’t count as mess; if anyone disagrees, they know where the dishrag is. For half-eaten food on the counter, I grab a storage dish and dump it in the fridge, to be sorted out when convenient for me. Other stuff - it just takes a couple seconds to throw garbage in the garbage and sweep clutter into a pile at one end of the counter. Everything else can wait until family chaos takes over in the evening.

    For me, if I have tons of clutter everywhere, my mind is cluttered too. I get a lot more work done if I take those few minutes to straighten up.

    SKL  |  October 23rd, 2008 at 9:16 pm

  • I am a single mother with my own business and an office to go to everyday and no one to answer to at home, and only 1 child (busy boy that he is he’s no match for multiple little ones - kudos to those that do). So while I don’t have to excuse the pile of dirty dishes in my sink and the load of wash that needs to go into the dryer to anyone–I am leaving work EARLY today to rush home and tidy up before the babysitter gets there so that I can be “guilt free” to go out to dinner with friends tonight! And asking the babysitter to do more than feed, bathe, and get my child to bed seems to be outside the current job description. Also, since she works at his pre-school I want to avoid the whole gossip of what my housekeeping skills are — hmmm maybe I’ll leave now and vacuum too!

    Angie  |  October 23rd, 2008 at 9:46 pm

  • Oh how I hear you on this one. The life of the work-at-home parent is one of never quite feeling you’ve met the bar. Learning how to let go of all those expectations is one thing…. helping your *spouse* let go as well is quite another.

    My vote: have a frank talk with your spouse, run the numbers, and you will probably both see that on the time/money spectrum it actually makes more sense to have a housekeeper come at least a couple times a month than to have you doing it ALL on your own.

    shriek house  |  October 24th, 2008 at 1:15 am

  • could’ve written all this! I, too, knock myself out for the sitter, ha! My husband happily does laundry and a few other tasks, so I don’t feel overwhelmed with the dishes . . . but they are so unimportant compared to work and money to buy more groceries to mess up the dishes with . . .! I do them when I have to. desperate times.

    I also have the monthly cleaning ladies which takes a huge load off the real cleaning.

    Gretchen  |  October 24th, 2008 at 1:23 am

  • Another glass of wine & you might care about his reaction…he he. Seriously, the dishes are just as much his to do as they are yours. If you were a stay-at-home spouse, it would be a different story! Hey hon, how about take out tonight!?

    bobi  |  October 24th, 2008 at 4:56 am

  • One of my teenagers is responsible for cleaning up the kitchen thoroughly once a day. It’s his family job. In between, clutter accumulates. But it’s a system that works for us.

    We have an independent cleaning service (non-franchise; nice people based in our community who get to keep 100% of the money we pay them) who come into our home twice a month to do the basics.

    When someone starts a magazine called DECENT HOMES WITH CLUTTER, my home will ready to be featured. (We’ve never been BETTER HOMES AND GARDENS material.)

    Ann Douglas  |  October 24th, 2008 at 1:58 pm

  • Get the housekeeper if you can afford it.
    My husband and I resisted for a long time. It’s something I’d been asking for, but feeling badly about. Something he said we didn’t need (he was going to do more housework, ha!). But when he hurt his back and was out for several weeks, he hired a housekeeper. It has been a lifesaver. We can afford it, and on weeks when it might be tougher, I rather eat another night of leftovers and skip eating out, if it means we can have our housekeeper. It’s better than I ever could have imagined.

    Kim  |  October 24th, 2008 at 3:18 pm

  • When hiring a part-time nanny, I put “empty dishwasher and fold clothes during naps” in the job description. Having that little extra bit of help makes a world of difference. I also highly recommend hiring a biweekly cleaner — for us it costs about the same as cable + 3 dinners out. It’s remarkable how creative you get with the budget when you get into the mindset that you’ll give up cable before the cleaner!

    SoftwareMom  |  October 24th, 2008 at 8:58 pm

  • I hear you! I think that because we are moms and because we “work at home” there is some sort of unsaid expectation that we are able to work AND have the house sparkling clean. So for me, there’s that bit of mommy guilt that I should be able to “do it all” But if you have a little extra money to hire someone to help you just for an hour, once a week, that will be a HUGE help for you and alleviate so much stress!

    Sarah Cook  |  October 28th, 2008 at 3:35 pm

  • Why can’t the husband/partner (if you have one) and kids do the dishes? Seems like a clear and equitable split of housework is an absolute necessity in a household where all adults work for pay.

    Robyn  |  October 29th, 2008 at 5:49 pm

  • Wow, I see I am not alone. I just can’t keep up with the demands of my business, four kids under 8yrs and housework - even when my husband helps out here and there. I am definately going to look into hiring someone to clean a couple of times a week.

    Kimberly  |  November 1st, 2008 at 2:30 pm

  • A friend of mine had a very good answer to this housekeeping vs. working thing. Ask yourself how much you get paid on an hourly basis. Let’s say it’s $35/hour. Then ask yourself if you would pay someone that same rate per hour to clean your house…if the answer is “No way!”, then clearly it is worth your while to be working those hours for $35 an hour and paying someone else the $15/hr or whatever to clean! You come out $20/hr on the plus side!

    Lisa Anne  |  November 8th, 2008 at 5:04 am

  • your baby and you can get sick from the bacteria, pests and rodents. i would just throw out the dihes and use paper since you dont like to do them. or buy a dishwasher from kitchenaid.

    Teera  |  December 11th, 2008 at 4:03 pm

  • At last, someone else said it out loud: dirty dishes be damned. I’m so glad you wrote this! I totally relate. If I stop and clean that cluttered corner or wipe the counter or do those dishes, then that killer idea in my head, that will bring in more income, will disappear like the bubbles in the dish soap. I’ve learned to put my teen-aged boy to work when things tend to pile up. If I explain it helps mom get some work done that pays for his gadgets, he turns into a real team player. :)

    Lori Gama  |  December 28th, 2009 at 11:32 am

  • I have to take time to clean or I would absolutely go insane. I’m obsessed with having my two kitchen sinks empty. Walking around the house with a tiny recorder in the pocket is the best for not losing the ideas that are in the head. Also I go to bead with a notebook and pen beside my bed. If I don’t have that book and pen I cannot fall asleep. I jump up in the middle of the night with ideas and I write in the dark. Maybe I’m weird. LOL!!

    Vernette Carbon  |  January 30th, 2012 at 2:42 pm