Meet Camille Yi, 23, is an NUS social work undergrad and a part-time cleaner. She’s one of more than 250 freelance cleaners with Helpling (www.helpling.com.sg), the Uber of cleaning services. For the past seven months, the daughter of a 51-year-old engineer has been spending about two days a week cleaning homes for $16 an hour as a sideline job. “I have helped out with the chores at home for as long as I can remember,” says Camille, who plans on spending the extra cash on a trip to Tokyo with her friends this year, and a graduation trip after she wraps up her studies next April, before she looks for a full-time job in social work.
8 Days: Why did you decide to become a freelance cleaner? Other students do part-time jobs like tuition or waitressing.
CAMILLE YI: I’ve given tuition before, but I had too many students so I decided to drop some of them. I still currently have one tuition student. When you’re teaching, you really need [utmost] focus for two hours, and it can get quite tiring, especially after a day at school. So I thought I’d do something where I can move around, like being a banquet waiter, which I’ve tried. These other jobs were either too tiring or [took up too much time]. Since this job is flexible with hours — each slot is usually three-and-a-half hours — I thought I’d give it a shot. My work schedule has to accommodate my school timetable, so it doesn't really affect my studies.
Not many millennials do the chores at home, much less in other people’s homes.
I’ve been doing household chores at home for as long as I remember. My parents would tell me, ‘You’re responsible for your own house. If you dirty the floor, you clean it.’ We don't have a schedule [of chores] at home, but if I’m at home and I see that the floor is dirty, I’ll sweep it. I’ve done the dishes since I was young — I don't let my parents do it.
Does your mum expect you to do more housework now that you’ve taken up this job?
Not really. Actually my mum has passed away, and I’m the only child, so it’s just my dad and I. I can’t expect him to do the dishes after he’s worked the whole day ’cos he’ll be tired. So I’ll do it if I’m having dinner with him at home. But if I’m out or at school, and he eats alone, he’ll do the dishes.
How did your friends and family react when they first found out about your job?
My mum did ask me, ‘Why not just give tuition?’ But I wanted to try new things and with this job, I could earn a lot and it’s easy. She was reluctant initially, but finally gave in. My close friends were a bit shocked but they tell me it’s my decision.
People seldom expect a young student to turn up when they’re hiring a cleaner, right?
(Laughs) Yes. Once, I went to this lady’s house to clean. She lives with her son, daughter-in-law and grandchild. Her daughter-in-law is about my age or slightly older than me. The lady was like, ‘Are you sure you can do this?’ I’ve been doing this for a while, so no matter how much more experienced other people may be, I have some experience as well. So I told her, ‘Ah ma, never mind, you just let me try.’ In the end, she was very nice and let me [go ahead]. But I could tell she was quite shocked ’cos she didn't expect someone so young. But another time I went to a Caucasian woman’s home and she [acted like it was very normal]. She asked if this was my way of earning extra income during the holidays. Maybe they’re more used to [young people taking up cleaning jobs].
Do you get clients who expect you to do more strenuous tasks just ’cos you’re young?
No, usually it’s just cleaning the floor or ironing. But I usually ask them beforehand if there’s anything else they need me to do. Sometimes, they’ll ask you to do other things like clean windows.
Does it come naturally for you to clean up when you’re over at your boyfriend or friends’ homes?
I had a boyfriend but we just broke up. He doesn't treat me like a maid or a wife, okay? (Laughs) But yes, it’s natural instinct for me to pack up when I’m at a barbecue or a birthday party. I wouldn't do the dishes or sweep the floor for them, but I’d pick up the rubbish. But my friends do it too — it’s not just me.
What’s one thing that you learnt on the job that they never taught you in school?
That you have to be professional in what you do. Don’t keep thinking: Should I do this [task] or not? Don't wait until someone asks you to do it before you do it. I had a job at a two-storey house and there were a lot of things that I missed out or didn't notice, and the owner questioned me. She told me that no matter what, it’s still a job and I have to be professional. You learn each client’s style as you go. Since then, with every house I went to, I’d just clean everything.