Ten Questions for Reducing Your Dependency on Household Help


When you live in a country where the cost of household help runs from inexpensive to reasonable, you tend to become accustomed to using your time for other critical activities (like catching up on American reality television on the internet). But recently in Brazil, certain labor laws have passed making it not so economical to have someone at your beck and call, at least not for the number of hours you might have grown to rely on. So how does one manage the switch of schedule?

Here are ten questions you should ask yourself if forced to reduce the empregada or baba hours and faced with doing it yourself:

1. Does my underwear really need to be ironed? Unless you are one who regularly offers lingerie parties at your home, very few are going to admire how unwrinkled your undergarments are appearing. And for most of us, it’s going to get quickly crumpled anyway. Same goes for pajamas. Maybe even bed sheets if you really need to slum it.

2. Why does the washing machine need to be constantly running five days a week? Before moving to Brazil, our laundry got done about once a week. And we always had something clean to wear. Here the washing machine is constantly working. Why? I don’t know, but I recommend we all investigate.

3. Could it be time for my child to feed and dress him/herself? My daughter, who is 5 going on 6, is the master of manipulation when it comes to being served. Though I tell the girl who helps us not to spoon feed her, unless I’m overseeing the situation my daughter will eventually be lounging in our helper’s lap with her mouth open. And in the mornings after I’ve instructed her to dress herself for school with the clothes I’ve laid out on her bed, I’ll often find her ten minutes later naked in a pile of Legos. Thus far, I’ve given up too easy with her tricks. But now I have another excuse to force her hand.

5. Does every meal need multiple courses and a formal setting? The Brazilians I’m related to lavish in the luxury of eating at a semi-formal setting in front of a full table of options. But in the U.S., I usually ate standing up over the kitchen sink or working at my desk. And I ate a heck of a lot less that way. The new cost of this kind of indulgence is a good reason to scale back, which will also help scale back on how much I consume.

6. Is it time to invest in a dishwasher? We did not purchase some of the more common large appliances when we got here because we knew there would be someone to manage these tasks by hand. But now it is time to analyze the costs of purchasing a dishwasher and clothes dryer vs. employee overtime.

7. Can I use that water glass more than once? At least in my case, this is an issue of instruction. I’m often looking for that water glass I just drank out of and finding it already washed, dried and put away. Perhaps it is time to point out those tasks that don’t need immediate attention.

8. Maybe I should keep the eating to the eating areas? In my previous world, I was very conscious about keeping the food where the food belonged – in the kitchen or dining area. But now, all of us eat all over the apartment, knowing that soon someone will come to sweep up the crumbs. Time to re-train the family for meal and snack time.

9. Did I forget that walking is exercise? When you have someone to help, it is easy to delegate those jobs that you just don’t feel like taking on at the moment. For instance, walking the dog or walking a block and a half to go to the grocery store. But perhaps we need to remember the benefits of hitting the street and working up a slight sweat.

10. It can’t hurt to put it away myself, right? Taking a few extra steps to reduce your own clutter instead of dropping items on the nearest piece of furniture is not going to kill you, nor take up a great amount of extra time. It will also reduce the time you will take to search for things that someone else put away.

For more lists of 10 and tips for living in São Paulo, see American Exbrat in São Paulo.

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13 Responses to Ten Questions for Reducing Your Dependency on Household Help

  1. Yes it’s better not to be a pampered princess. I could take to it far too easily and I’m lazy enough already. Brazilian friends of my son come to sleepover and they are so lazy and untidy, they’re clearly shocked when I ask them to clean up, something which they are useless at, but still they come to the strange big house with no maid.

    • Yes, I’ve had a few playdates at our place with little Brazilian girls from my daughter’s school and every time I requested that they help my daughter clean up the toys, each flat out refused. Never to return…

  2. If we were all to follow the N.8 suggestion then that would mean no more 9 1/2 Weeks food scene reenactments. And just when I’ve imported ingredients for a special pancake batter. You are too cruel Bee-eigh-bee.

  3. Andrew Francis says:

    You’re on to something but I think you missed the point in some cases:

    1- Ironing underwear in Brazil is more about hygiene. In the UK they wash clothes at 90 degrees for the same reason. Maybe Brazil needs more hot water washing machines but I wonder which one uses more energy (see my next point).
    2- I’m assuming you had a dryer in the US. In Brazil, you typically have to wait for the clothes to dry naturally before you can wash another load. Considering how much energy a dryer uses, the Brazilian way is definitely more eco-friendly.
    4- What happened to number 4? 🙂
    5- Sitting down and eating a proper meal is generally considered more healthy. BTW, have you seen this documentary on child obesity in Brazil?

    People are losing the old habits and I think it’s for the worse.


    • Well, I guess there are only 9 questions unless someone can think of another! Yikes, I didn’t know that about the underwear! I had instructed our housekeeper to stop ironing it months ago! Uh oh. I’m sure you are right about the proper meal. I’m more likely to eat salad off a formal setting. I guess I’ll have to go back to blaming my weight gain on vino therapy… The more likely culprit.

  4. harmamae says:

    Wow, the things to think about if you live somewhere where you can hire help. Very interesting!

  5. We had a dryer and dishwasher in Brazil and it really cut down on the help we used. And, fresh towels from the dryer – so lovely.

  6. skarrlette says:

    Ironing underwear is a complete waste of time and energy. If you buy your underwear brand new, wash it, and your the only one that wears it washing is fine. Plus how would you be able to prove that bacteria is being sanitized by an iron? You would have to conduct a scientific experiment under controlled conditions to prove it was?? That’s a Brazilian myth.

    I am bringing a bosch dishwasher, bosch energy saver washing machine, bosch refrigerator, and a bunch of other expensive appliances that I hope I don’t regret bringing. We will probably have to re-wire everything in the house for this UGH! Cost of water for washing and dishwashing? That remains to be seen. But you can bet that clothes will only be washed twice a week at maximum and same with dishwashing.

    The reason I did this is because I wanted to make sure the quality was good. Not sure if I just should have purchased a more expensive Brazilian brand instead. But that was part of my deal to move there. I told my husband that if you expect me to live in Brazil indefinitely than I need to Americanize my home LOL! So that transition won’t be such a shock to my system.

    Who knows if I made the right decision. But I have no intention of having a maid. I am going to hopefully use my mother and law or sister in law to watch the baby but that’s it.

    Sidenote-. I would freak is someone touched my underwear, its funny what people get used to.

  7. The only thing you want to be careful of is that they have someone to fix it if one of the appliances needs repairs. We brought a nice big refrigerator with us, but make sure it was a brand (LG) that was at least sold here so we knew we could find a repair person. I don’t know if Bosch is sold here, but I’ll take a look around.
    HA. There was a time when I would freak if someone touched my underwear. It IS amazing the trade offs you make. When do you arrive?

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