We are teachers, and yet we have a domestic “staff”: a lovely maid/nanny and a devoted driver. While this seems extravagant, in Indonesia, this is nothing. Many people (teachers!) employ 1-2 maids, a nanny, a driver, a guard, a gardener, and a pool guy, or some combination of those jobs.
Five days a week, we are driven to and from work in a comfortable car and come home to a spotless house, clean clothes, and even a hot meal if we so desire. Our driver takes our cat to the vet when we need him to, runs errands, and watches the kids at school in between their after-school activities. Our maid (pembantu) cleans, does laundry, babysits, and takes care of Jaka the cat. They both watch the house and cat when we go on holidays, and our driver is at the airport to pick us up when we get home.
It is a pampered life. Or is it?
Domestic help overseas
Most Americans are uncomfortable with the idea of domestic help. We are taught to take care of ourselves, and at the middle-class level, only “rich” people have maids, at least full-time. From my childhood days, I really only have Geoffrey the butler from “Fresh Prince” as a reference. Even growing up in Venezuela, my mom did not hire a maid. She didn’t like the idea of anyone else taking care of her house, and I always respected her for that.
But living overseas, we have found that domestic help is not just a luxury that the wealthy can afford. Domestic workers need work, and many people employ them, including locals. It is not frowned upon to have hired help–they need jobs, and we provide them steady income and good employment.
Our history of helpers
Pre-kids, we did not need much help at all. Back in those days we already had savings on the mind and saw little need to pay more than we needed to for something we could do ourselves. In both El Tigre and Phuket, we had a lady come once a week to do the deep cleaning and laundry. We would leave when they came, and it truly felt like heaven coming home to a sparkling house. I looked forward to it all week! Those ladies worked hard, and we always tried to be kind and fair employers.
Once we got our daughter, we needed full-time help. In China, the ayi (“auntie”) is the one who takes care of the house and kids. We hired a wonderful woman who became very special to our family, and worked super hard. She worked 8 hours a day Monday – Friday, and babysat when we needed her. Our daughter’s face errupted in pure joy every time she saw her, and they were tight buddies.
In Riyadh, we had similar needs but had to go through several situations before we found our perfect match. We had to fire our first employee, and that was not fun. Other ladies left for their home countries, so we had to keep changing. In the end, we were blessed the last four years with an amazing helper from the Philippines who lived-in and loved the heck out of our kids while also keeping our house in tip-top shape.
A life of luxury, right?
As seasoned expats, we are now used to having domestic help. There is no doubt that they make our lives “easier.” This summer, I was talking to a dear friend about how I taught myself Photoshop a few years ago, and about my Arbonne business. She asked me–“How do you possibly have time for this, as a full-time teacher and mom?” The answer was simple: I don’t have to clean my house or do my laundry. [Side note: We DO do our own cooking, but this is because we (mostly The Haggard) love to cook, and definitely love our own food the best]. I often think about friends in the States who do it all and think how hard it must be. I’m in awe.
When we step back, we start to question: WHY do we need these helpers in the first place?
In Indonesia, we need a driver because it is hell to drive here. We have to leave our house by 6:30 am to get to school, because of the hellacious traffic. While the Haggard could theoretically drive us there himself, it could very likely harm our marriage because of the stress it would cause. The cost of hiring a driver (minimal) is far less than the cost to what it would do to us to not have him (drive ourselves or ride the bus with kids or teenagers). We also provide him with a job he very much depends on and needs.
We need a maid because we don’t have a dishwasher. We don’t have a dryer for our clothes, and in the rainy season, this means our clothes might take 2-3 days to dry. Again, theoretically we could still deal, but we do absolutely need her here when the kids get home because they get home earlier than us. After all, we don’t have grandparents or any family nearby who can help from time to time.
In the end, we have help because we have to, not because we 100% choose to.
We are super grateful for what we have, and don’t get me wrong–I still love the heck out coming home to clean floors every. single. day. It is pure luxury, for sure.
But, in the bigger FI journey, we dream of total freedom, and this includes freedom from having to have help. I am not so naive to think that there’s real joy in cleaning toilets, but when you do it by choice, perhaps it takes a tiny bit of the dreadfulness (or stink) of the task away. Especially when you don’t have a full-time J-O-B on top of the cleaning.
Is this simply another case of the grass is always greener?