Spending money to buy time is worth every cent

Hiring a cleaner to help me with my chores frees me up for some me-time and is money well spent

A few days ago, I opened the door to my home after a long day at work to see the one thing every utility-bill-paying adult dreads: In my haste to leave for work in the morning, I had accidentally left my bedroom light and fan on for the whole day. Cringe.

A few weeks earlier, while trying to creep quietly into my bedroom on account of my sleeping husband, I found myself swearing silently (and then very audibly) after I stubbed my toe on my dresser chair, followed by a hanger that was on the floor.

The chair was not by the dresser, where it should have been (my fault) and the hanger most definitely should have been back in a cupboard (my husband's fault).

Either way, it was a blinding realisation in a dark bedroom that my life was spiralling into disarray.

It is funny how furtively disorganisation can happen. You can be on top of things for weeks on end, but then you take what seems like one lazy day off and suddenly your bedroom is a toe-stubbing minefield.

I have always been a relatively organised person. When I lived with my parents, I would usually spend part of my weekend organising my room - a process I found weirdly therapeutic.


When Japanese organisational guru Marie Kondo's book, The Life Changing Magic Of Tidying Up, started going viral, I was one of those who jumped on the bandwagon for a good cover-to- cover read. For some weeks after, I would delicately hold items in my hands and consider whether they brought me joy - Kondo's barometer for deciding what should go in the trash pile.

And though my nostalgic hoarding tendencies soon banished this practice - my decade-old P.E. T-shirts from junior college were just too comfy to get the heave-ho - I would still make an effort to keep things quite organised.

Now that I live on my own, I still practise some of these things regularly. In my wardrobe, my formal shirts and blouses are colour-coordinated and hung up on matching black hangers.

These, of course, are separate from the folded pile of T-shirts I wear at home and segregated further still from pyjamas sets - the sort that come in matching pairs.

It might sound nitpicky, but to me, the order and routine work. On most weekdays, my schedule involves coming home from work, doing laundry, heating leftovers or cooking dinner, putting laundry away and then promptly falling asleep 20 minutes into a random television series on Netflix.

The routine repeats itself daily, save for the need to swop laundry with a multitude of other chores that had to be done around the house. But then there are weeks when work ramps up and suddenly I no longer have time to squeeze in laundry, much less a Netflix show. Lights are left on in haste, dresser chairs are left by the door.

It was a particularly harried week like this when my mother offered to send the family helper to my home.

"She can help you with a little sorting out," she said, after I accidentally let slip that my floors were looking particularly grubby.

Thankful for the help, I agreed and left a little red packet for the helper as a thank-you for her effort and time. The rest of the day at the office, I thought nothing of it.

That evening after work, though, I opened my door to a magical situation. The layer of dust on my furniture was gone. The sheets had been changed. There were no dishes waiting to be done. The air was scented with pine-fresh floor cleaner. It was divine.

In that moment, I had an immediate flashback to a conversation I had over dinner with a girlfriend some months earlier, about a laundry service that helped her with her family's ironing - a chore she detested.

At the time, I remember secretly baulking at her $200 monthly bill for the service. Surely that was much too much to be paying for a few pieces of clothing you could easily iron yourself?

But standing in my spankingly clean home, I understood her thought process perfectly. On the surface, it might have looked like I had spent money to have my house cleaned, but what I had inadvertently bought was an evening to myself - sans cleaning or sorting or any of the drudgery of my usual weekday routine.

It was money spent to buy time, an invaluable purchase towards my sanity and a feeling of satisfaction that was far superior to anything that material goods could provide.

A similar conclusion was reached by a study done earlier this year by the University of British Columbia in Canada. When quizzed about spending money to buy time, more than 6,000 adults in the United States, Canada, Denmark and the Netherlands, including 800 millionaires, all agreed that paying someone to share the load made them happier.

Now of course, one must acknowledge the privilege that is inherent in being able to afford to spend money to get some help - a premise that is out of the scope for many people.

There is also a feeling of guilt one needs to surpass - that money spent outsourcing chores is a waste, or that you are failing as an adult by falling behind on housework.

After all, chores do not cost anything financially if you stay on top of them and do them yourself, right? However, what we often forget is that we pay for our chores with our precious time.

The crux of the argument, therefore, is not whether people should hire helpers at home, but whether money spent to save time - be it cleaning the home, fixing a broken shelf or deep-cleaning your curtains - is going to make you happier. And I have to say, the answer is a resounding yes.

Here's the thing about adulthood. It can be routine… and relentless. After all, dinners always needs cooking and the laundry always needs to get done. Amid this, what is first to go out the window is time for yourself - time spent reading or catching up with friends.

It might sound trite but the truth is that time is the greatest luxury we have, something that is much more valuable than material things, which we should all be cutting down on anyway.

And while this is not to say that we should outsource every chore - after all, a life spent without labour is likely a life spent without learning - it definitely does not hurt to take back an occasional pocket of time.

Kondo might have been right about how tidying up has life- changing magic. But what I've come to learn is that sometimes the life- changing magic is in tidying up yourself, and other times, it is in paying someone to tidy up for you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 17, 2017, with the headline 'Spending money to buy time is worth every cent'. Subscribe