Living year-round in the tropics, I have never had more than a two-minute chat with a tourist that didn’t lead to the question, “So, what do you do?” If I’m in a smart-ass mood, I may redirect such an inquiry in various ways (“It’s paradise! We don’t work, we just drink all day!”). But usually, I answer straight up. And the tourists are almost always surprised that a nice girl like me does something like that.
To put it plainly, I clean houses. But I don’t say it like that to visitors, because many non-islanders tend to confuse what someone does for a living with some essential truth about who they are as a person. I break it a little more gently to guests from farther North: “I do housekeeping for select high-end villas.” “I maintain properties for short-term rentals.” “I handle guest turnovers.” Now doesn’t that sound respectable?
Bottom line, I’m the one who arranges the pillows all fancy on your bed, pulls the last guest’s hair out of your shower drain, sweeps away the lizard droppings and dead (or not) scorpions from the corners, and generally makes paradise look and smell like what you’ve envisioned from the website photos — just a few hours, sometimes mere minutes, before you arrive.
My mother is unamused by my current career choice. I’m not sure whether it’s because she can’t declare me a success to her friends or because she feels I’ve wasted her efforts to help me through university, efforts that were a precarious balance of student loans and tuna fish sandwiches and a lot of hard work from both of us.
Oh yes, I have a college degree — more than one, with honors. I worked in corporate positions for many years, earned six figures, and enjoyed room service in luxury hotels during business trips, all expenses paid.
And now, I do windows. The kind that need ocean salt spray wiped off weekly, not the kind that requires a laptop. So let me tell you why being a villa housekeeper is one of my favorite gigs ever.
First of all, it’s low stress. I do my work, and I go home (or to the beach!), travelling a beautiful road with little traffic, overlooking stunning ocean views. When I’m finished, I have instant gratification for a job well done, and I don’t think about work for a second after I leave. Nice and simple.
In addition to the lovely commute, it’s tough to beat my working environment. We’re talking multi-million-dollar homes in breathtaking island settings, where visitors shell out thousands for a week’s stay. On my lunch break, I get to enjoy everything a villa guest does… plus getting paid.
Also, although I have some regular commitments to certain houses, I also have the wonderful ability to say “no” if someone wants me to work on my birthday, a Tuesday, or whatever day the next boat trip is happening. I’m not one to cancel at the last minute, but there’s nothing I do that someone else can’t fill in and do for me, if needed.
In the Land of Everything-is-Expensive, of course, one of the sweetest benefits of this job is what you score when the guests leave stuff behind. Sometimes it’s full-size toiletries that nobody wants to pack in their carry-on. Or maybe it’s gourmet food left in the fridge because everyone wound up eating out rather than cooking on vacation. I have enjoyed everything from $40 bottles of shampoo to fancy cheeses and half a week’s worth of groceries. And I never have to buy sunscreen or toilet paper (when a guest leaves half a roll or less, the housekeeper will either toss it or take it home).
I’ve also met some cool chicas who work alongside me in turning over the larger properties. I might never have crossed paths with them otherwise, these mamas and artists and motorcycle babes. They are savvy, hard working, and pretty fun company at the end of a day when you’ve just poured a ton of sweat and speed into turning around a massive five-bedroom villa as a team in less than six hours.
So, you’re thinking, that’s cool, but nobody makes all that much money cleaning. Without being indiscreet, I will say that the least I’ve ever made on a cleaning job in the islands was $20 an hour. And that was awhile back, while I was still learning all the tricks of this trade.
For every benefit, of course, there’s a drawback. The work is physically hard, and if you do it for too many days in a row, you’ll find yourself too tired to even make it to the beach, let alone clean your own place. Some guests are pretty tidy, but others seem to explode every which way, leaving sand, food, and hair in the most unexpected places. Certain owners and villa managers can be, uh, demanding to work with, to say the least. And sometimes those quirky, interesting coworkers get a little… weird.
Housekeeping isn’t full-time work for most of us, so there’s no health insurance, retirement plan, or job security. But then, those aspects of working life seem to have gone missing for a lot of my corporate pals as well. Not to mention that those beautiful views and crystal blue waters that I enjoy daily, my former colleagues are saving their vacation days and travel dollars to enjoy them for just a week or two. And that’s all the time off they get!
No, I never planned I’d grow up to be cleaning houses, posh ones or otherwise, as part of making a living. Yet I can no longer imagine going back to the 9-to-5 working world I left, no matter how good the money looks. My time is just too valuable.
And right now, it’s time for a dip in the villa pool while I wait for the bedspreads to finish up in the dryer.