Cleaning Crew Answering Call of Students
Boston Globe • September 9, 1999
The sink is piled with dishes at Andy Yachnowitz's Allston apartment. The trash is overflowing. The dining room table is hidden under soda cans and shoes and poker chips and half-eaten bags of Doritos. Gizmo, the pet pug, has just relieved himself on a doggy-diaper, laid in the center of the floor.
But no worry; it's 9:30 on a Wednesday morning, time for the weekly visit from Clean and Shine. After a week of summer sloth, Yachnowitz, 22, a senior at Northeastern University, is getting a break from cleaning -- or, more accurately, getting a cleaning, period.
He's a regular subscriber to the cleaning service, and part of a growing trend: Once seen as a luxury for the well-to-do, the services are fast becoming an indulgence for the young. Cleaning service owners from across the Boston area say a growing portion of their clientele is under 30, too busy with work, school, or social lives to bother with a mop.
Some are young professionals like Beth Hermanson, a lawyer who works long hours, often travels out of town, and loves coming home to a spotless house cleaned by MaidPro. But many others are college students who pay for the service from allowances or -- in Yachnowitz's care -- a parent's bank account.
In the college-life ghetto of Allston, some students say, it's common to get someone else to do the dirty work.
"I don't know anyone that doesn't," said Emily Gelb, 21, Yachnowitz's girlfriend, tugging at a plastic nightclub bracelet, as the two-person Clean and Shine crew got to work. Gelb lives nearby with four other young women and considers a professional housecleaning, every two weeks, a necessity.
"It's really hard to keep it clean," she said. "I mean, like, the bathroom. End of my sophomore year, it got disgusting. If you leave it for two weeks, it gets gross."
Many students say they're glad to live in sanitary conditions, and that their parents are willing to pay for it.
"They'd rather have me living nicely," said Corey Messina, Yachnowitz's former roommate, who said he hired a cleaning service as soon as he left the dorm for an off-campus apartment.
Indeed, it's discretionary money -- from well-paying jobs or well-to-do parents -- that drives the trend, cleaning service representatives say.
Using a service is essentially "buying free time," said Kebby Willard, marketing director at MaidPro, who said her company's young clientele is expanding. The price of that time ranges from $50 to more than $100 per visit, depending on the company, the volume of the mess, and the type of service needed.
It's a matter of lifestyle, said Filomena Shuman, owner of Clean and Shine.
Her student clientele, she said, runs the gamut from those who are neat to those whose messiness seems almost pathological. Once, she charged $1,100 to clean an apartment where the walls were coated with food. And one apartment full of college men uses her service twice a week, she said: on Fridays to straighten up for a weekend's worth of parties, and on Mondays to deal with the aftermath.
Given those possibilities, Yachnowitz's apartment isn't so bad, said Mary Catrow, 28, the Clean and Shine worker who showed up that Wednesday morning.
He disposed of Gizmo's dog-diaper himself. And he usually tries to straighten up, Catrow said -- if not before she gets there, then while she's working.
"As I come into the room, he's usually picking up his clothes and folding them," she said.
By 10:15, Catrow had moved on to the upstairs rooms in the two-bedroom apartment, furnished in black leather, black lacquer, and a 62-inch TV.
For a weekly cleaning, she concentrates on the small stuff, ignoring the dark marks on Yachnowitz's stairs and the hole in a bedroom wall, where a doorknob apparently hit at high speed. Tackling a messy student apartment, she said, calls for doing the best job possible in a small amount of time.
"I kind of like the Zen-ness about it," she said. "It's just sort of gratifying, in a way."
Shuman said students sometimes call hr for assistance when a parental visit is approaching. And Willard [MaidPro] said some roommates find it easier to chip in for a cleaning service than to decide who should scour the bathtub.
But in some cases, a company has to draw the line, said Pat Crenan, owner of the Brookline-based The Maids. When college students call seeking cleanup help after a party, she declines. And she recently said "no" when one desperate man called after someone had sprayed his room with a fire extinguisher.
Things have never gotten quite so bad at Yachnowitz's place. Mainly, he said, it's dishes and clutter, born from a constant stream of visitors, a tendency toward takeout food, and a general feeling of inertia.
"After you've eaten, you just don't feel like cleaning," he said.
He's used a cleaning service for years, so -- after an initial scurry to pick up loose clothing -- he relaxed in the workers' presence last week, making phone calls unselfconsciously. Gizmo, too, was unfazed, following the crew from room to room, carrying a series of small stuffed animals in his mouth.
For Yachnowitz's crowd, a cleaning service is a natural part of life -- and a reason why business is booming for Clean and Shine and other companies. Through word of mouth, clients beget clients; Shuman said she handles several apartments in Yachnowitz's building.
She'll soon have another. As Marli Silva attacked the kitchen, Yachnowitz's friend, Jason Draizin, 20, a junior at Northeastern, swept into the apartment brushed past Silva to grab a water bottle from the fridge. And as he passed her again, he had a thought.
"After you're done, sweetheart, I could use you," he said.
He just moved into the building, Draizin explained. And he figures he'll probably get a cleaning service for his own place.
After all, he said, "I'm not going to clean."