07 Jan Often missed nuances of Housekeeping and Home Organization. In an interview with Rita Thomas, Founder, I Know Your Dirt, Greater Los Angeles Area
I interviewed Rita Thomas earlier in the year to discuss different Estate Management roles. During our conversation we shared our passions about home organization. I also learned that she consults households with housekeeping staff. I felt her experience would be very useful for our RCG audience so I requested to sit down with her to pick her brain.
Gold: Hi Rita, Thank you for taking the time to discuss our work history with me. I would love to discuss with you everything from personal organization of a home to the organization of staff. You have an impressive private service career which you have also spun into working with households in a consultant capacity.
Let’s start there.
If a family hires you to Consult on their staff, please walk me through what you are looking for?
Rita: Some households have me come in and organize their house staff. I do zoning which makes the Housekeepers accountable to the sections of the home they are working in. I find most homes have a lack of proper training of their Housekeepers. A lot of Estate Managers do not know how to set that up. They have not worked with Housekeepers intimately or in hospitality in hotels. What I find is – a lot of Estate Managers come in as old PAs, but do not know the management side. It’s a marriage of both that makes a great Estate Managers. I work directly with Estate Managers, I have been on both sides. Estate Managers including myself can be overwhelmed with Housekeepers’ situations, especially when they are dealing with vendors, and facilitating other duties of their jobs. I offer an extra hand to the Estate Managers to help them tighten up the staff.
Gold: Are you contacted by the Estate Managers or directly by the principals?
Rita: Both. Usually the principal but sometimes the Estate Managers. The principals request for someone to come in and help with Housekeeper staff. A lot of it is retraining, hopefully not hiring and firing.
Gold: Do you do the firing?
Rita: I have done for one client, but I said “I feel I can do that, but I feel it’s unfair coming from someone they do not know. I suggest it is a write up process by Estate Managers”. With this high end clientele you need to cover your bases for legality reasons. If you have 2-3 write ups, it protects them. I have seen scenarios where they didn’t show a paper trail and then they just fired the employee. That can be a problem.
Gold:What is the current trend you are seeing right now in staffing?
Rita: They are looking for Laundresses or Housekeepers. A lot of time a Lead Housekeeper. The movement right now is less number of Housekeepers but want multifaceted employees. For instance, a Housekeeper who can cook or a Housekeeper who can also do care taking. Like if you had an elderly couple, a Housekeeper who can administer medication.
Gold: Now, is this to save money?
Rita: Yes, saving money is important, but households with a large number of house staff have more internal conflict and drama. They want less people, less drama. I’ve been into several clients home recently and the Housekeepers are in the kitchen, talking about the holidays, laughing, and being loud. People do not want to hear your personal stuff. Keep it to a minimum. This is not a bar. This is work. You are automatically inviting your employer into your personal lives. It makes them feel nervous when they know your issues at home. They do not need their drama and stress. They can be let go, not because they are not a good worker, but because they are drama.
Gold: Once you do your initial assessment, what is the next step?
Rita: I give them a treatment plan. I give it to principal and the Estate Manager. I give them a breakdown of how I would improve the situation. For example, I had a family that kept getting their clothes mixed up. I had them start a bag system. Each family member had a bag with different color and name. If you want to save water then you do zippered bags and wash together. You also get baskets with each person’s name on it. The principals were happy. I got back every 4-6 weeks sometimes. I find that the Estate Managers get overwhelmed, especially if there is a remodel at home. They are working with 4-6 vendors per day. They do not have time to manage the staff.
Gold: What do you find are some of the biggest staff organization mistakes families make?
Rita: Not laying out the proper guideline of what you want them to do. If you hire a Housekeeper, and you say she is going to be a Housekeeper, but you are utilizing her as a Personal Assistant, that’s a mistake. You cannot expect her to understand how to properly pack and unpack your items. A Personal Assistant will do this on a regular basis. They will have Housekeepers do it and then scold them for not doing it right. Not being honest about the breakdown of role is a big mistake.
Gold: If a home has multiple Housekeepers, you had mentioned setting up zones. Can you explain that to our reading audience?
Rita: Breaking up the house into separate areas to delegate authority to a specific staff member. If you are working in that area you are responsible and taking care of it.
Gold: Can you give me a good housekeeping tip or a common mistake you have seen in your clients homes?
Rita: Tip – Use different colors of rags for cleaning different areas. People do not understand the importance of housekeeping. It’s your family’s health. I think they would think twice about the household industry if they realized these employees can literally make your family sick. If they spray windex on a bathroom mirror, the spray goes over the toothbrush, makeup brushes, and anything else you have on the counter. They have no idea they are poisoning you. I’ve seen so many mistakes like this. The over spray is serious. Housekeeping is looked at as a menial job. They do not understand they can poison your children or yourself. A Housekeeper with expertise is keeping your family healthy. Sponges should be cleaned every week. They are full of bacteria. A clean house is great, a healthy house is better. Owners are trusting us to keep them healthy and clean.
Gold: Now let’s jump into organization. One of my favorite topics.
I’m super OCD and love to have my house in order, so organization always came easy to me. I consider label makers to be one of the best inventions ever. I’m guessing most organizers feel the same.
I would love to hear some organization tips you use and implement with your clients. Let’s start with the closet.
What are some organization hacks you can recommend for the individuals not as inclined to organization as we both are?
- First and foremost, in the closet, always use the same type of hangers. They will have all the same height and length. Use the same color unless you are in a kids room and segregate between two kids.
- Always use baskets for loose items. Like papers, belts etc. Do not just throw it on the shelf.
- Always when updating the closet, make sure you have proper lighting so you can see the difference between black and blue.
- Some people want seasonal or color coding. Decide what you like. Let’s say you have whites – I do straps, then tanks, short sleeves, long sleeve.
- If you have shoes some people want color, height or open toed, flats, etc coding. Find what works for you
- Put things in baskets then label everything on top on a slip of paper everything you have on the basket. Label front of basket, say ‘camping equipment’.
- Also, if it is a large closet, having a guide book is helpful. A guide book tells you inventory of everything in the closet and then has pictures. Photograph all of the accessories i.e. ponchos, capes, then drop it into a program or excel spreadsheets. Some people really want to know their shoes or formal wear.
- Always photograph jewelry, so they have a picture inventory of their items.
- Using dividers in drawers can make a huge difference. I personally love clear boxes for bras and panties. You can purchase these at Home Goods or Container Store for next to nothing, and they make a huge impact!
- Stick with a scheme. If you have leather boxes go leather, if you have acrylic, go all acrylic. Do not mix and match. If you have too many schemes it looks cluttered.
Rita, you have been amazing. I really enjoyed picking your brain. You have a beautiful way of handling and speaking to staff based on some of the examples you shared with me. You have a respectful and educational tone. I would not hesitate to refer you to a client of mine.