Repatriating Expats: How to Survive Losing your Live-In Maid

You know the saying Better to have loved and lost than never loved at all?

Well, I think it might be the opposite in the case of domestic help. Losing your maid after returning to a land where live-in domestic help was last affordable in the 1950s is so painful, so utterly despair-inducing, that you might be better off never having enjoyed a helper in your home in the first place.

However, it isn’t always a real choice When we arrived at our new house in South Africa in March 2010 and woke up the next morning not quite knowing where to start, the doorbell rang before I’d even had a chance to pour a cup of tea. “Hello, Mama,” said the beaming woman in front of me. “I heard you are looking for a helper!” Of course this wasn’t true at all, but word spreads quickly in a South African estate. You live in a nice house and you are simply expected to employ people to clean it, tend to the yard, and perhaps even chauffeur the kids to school. The same was true a decade earlier in Singapore, and there are countless other countries outside of Europe and North America where it is similarly customary (and affordable due to, let’s face it, weak labor laws) to employ household help.


Losing your live-in maid means going from this…
…to this


Fast-forward to early 2013 and we were saying our tearful goodbyes not just to our friends, the bush, and shopping at Woolworths, but also to our beloved Primrose and, by extension, to lemon-scented tile floors, spotless bathroom fixtures, and meticulously tucked-in sheets. My husband, Noisette, had developed a special affinity for freshly-ironed underwear, a luxury hitherto unknown, and deeply mourned the abrupt return to the old wrinkly mess in his dresser.

What’s a woman to do?

You might try my approach as outlined in The New Domestic Help and delegate the job previously held by the maid to your very able children. But honestly, I find it incredibly exhausting to nag my kids 24/7 to do the things I can do in half the time. No matter how hard I try, I find that my kids will always outlast me in their dogged opposition to anything smelling of a communal chore. It’s worked for laundry – you don’t wash it, you can’t wear it – but everything else either doesn’t get done or gets done very badly.

And then I had my epiphany: I didn’t have to delegate chores to someone else to be happier. I just had to find a way to do them happily myself!

How? How do you happily do a household chore?

You subscribe to Audible. Click here for a 30-day free trial of Audible. (Or, if you’re cheap like me, try your library’s Overdrive app – the best thing I’ve found is to have both, as not everything is available on Overdrive). I’ve discovered I’m A LOT less resentful of having to put away yet another round of groceries or unload the dishwasher or cook a three-course meal when I’m eager to get to the next chapter of a good book.

That’s how last spring I came to clean every single ground-floor window of our house, one squeegee stroke at a time, a task I never would have tackled otherwise. I was listening to Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith and, already having vacuumed all floors and scrubbed all sinks and toilets, I needed a new chore, preferably a really long one. Windows!

silverware drawer
I even made it through polishing all the silver. I forget which book that one was.

There is no limit to what you can do while listening to your favorite story: Stretch and exercise, vacuum-clean, wrap Christmas presents. My yard is weed-free because of Ordinary Grace, a coming-of-age story in 1960s Minnesota. The carpenter bees have finally been eradicated and the holes plugged up because of Istanbul Passage, the latest WWII espionage thriller by Joseph Kanon who, in my humble opinion, is that genre’s master. When I was scrubbing a wet winter’s accumulated mildew off our deck and window sills, The Matthews Men and their valiant battle against German U-boats in the Atlantic were with me the entire time. I’m currently deep into the delicious intrigue of Henry VIII’s England in Wolf Hall, and if I ever run out of material, I might go back and listen to Jenna Lamia’s sweet Southern drawl in such classics as The Help, The Invention of Wingsor The Secret Life of Bees.

For now, I draw the line at ironed underwear. But there is no telling what I’ll do when the next Cormoran Strike installment by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling!) comes out.

I might yet surprise my husband. He might finally applaud my addiction to books.

Don’t wait. Sign up for Audible now, it’s a FREE trial and I promise you it’s LIFE CHANGING!


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