As someone who is about to celebrate her 20th wedding anniversary, I have one piece of advice. The secret to a happy marriage is not date nights, endlessly sharing your feelings or sweaty tantric Tuesdays. It's once a week - more if you can afford it - paying someone else to mop the floor.
I learned this at my mother's knee and now I happily pass it on to you.
When I was very young and my parents didn't have much money, I remember my mother saying if she had $10, she'd pay someone $9 to clean up after her. I am my mother's daughter. And it seems now that cold, hard, shiny science backs up my mother's cleaning - or rather no cleaning - philosophy. Research indicates that feeling pressed for time undermines our well-being, and using money to buy more free time cheers us up. No surprise there.
But the enlightening revelation in this report - it surveyed 6,000 adults in America, Denmark, Canada and the Netherlands - is that it indicates time is more precious to us than things. It concludes spending money on more possessions ultimately does little to improve our happiness.
Dr Ashley Whillans, the report's lead author, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, explained: "People who hire a cleaner or pay the kid next door to mow the lawn might feel like they're being lazy, but our results suggest that buying time has similar benefits for happiness as having more money."
One of the problems of our times is that many of us set ridiculously high domestic standards for ourselves. We crave clean, serene and stylish homes. We want to make it all look effortless. Essentially, we want the lives of Edwardian aristocrats without the full household staff. We put an inordinate amount of pressure on ourselves, particularly we women, and yet there remains so much guilt attached to hiring someone to clean for us. Even in these days when other manual jobs - from barber to barman - have been elevated to hipster hero status, we still feel a bit squeamish about admitting we pay someone else to do the vacuuming.
This can only come from an internalised snobbery about the job itself. Personally, I feel that all jobs are equal, unless you're actively saving lives. As long as you pay someone properly and treat them well, isn't it a job just like any other?
Cleaning is often a keen source of domestic disharmony.
I have many women friends whose partners are adamant not just that they don't want a cleaner, but that they don't need one. And yet these chaps seldom shoulder their fair share of domestic responsibilities, apart from the manly taking out the bins once a week. Many men seem capable of tolerating a level of grime that a lot of women find uncomfortable. And even when they pitch in, it's to "help" (a word guaranteed to give most women a stressy little eye twitch. It's on a par with those self-proclaimed heroes who seem to want a medal for "babysitting" their own kids).
My own husband can set a beautiful table, wax a floor, sew on a button and run an iron over a shirt, and is so highly domesticated that many of my female friends openly admit their envy. But when he, even he, this homekeeping superhero, announces with such pride, "I've done the washing up," it leaves me wondering if I have time in my schedule to put up the bunting and plan the requisite parade. I don't think I have ever in my life announced: "PEOPLE, I'VE DONE THE WASHING UP. REJOICE!"
Many men will do household tasks when asked, but with all but the most fastidious, the capacity to step over a pile of laundry on the stairs, or leave bone dry dishes languishing on the drainer, or fail to run a cloth over the counter tops after completing the washing up is strong. The truth is that while now many men shoulder a fairer share of childcare and cooking duties, women still do most of the housework.
Many men simply don't see the need to set such high standards. And perhaps they have a point. If you don't care about the tide of dog hair gently buffeting the skirting board, why should you take care to sweep it up? But a female desire to keep a clean house is not innate. It's because we still feel judged by the cleanliness of our houses in a way men seldom do.
A recent Oxfam survey also found that women spent two days more a month than their partners on housework. Deeply unsexy numbers, those. For your sanity, and certainly for the state of your relationship, I would say money spent on a cleaner is a better investment for most people than money spent on couples' therapy.
It means you won't spend your weekends hauling the vacuum cleaner upstairs, scrubbing out the bath, and scouring the oven. Or, worse, resenting your other half for not doing it.
I have had my share of disastrous help. There was the cleaner who went through the drawers to find new and random photographs to put in all the frames (hello ex-boss I haven't seen for 20 years, goodbye granny), and then the onewho went missing and was being hunted by Interpol.
Then came Darina, who brings order and calm wherever she goes. If she ever left, I would be utterly bereft. I've always known she does more for my happiness than any spa day, any number of material possessions, and now I have the stats to back it up.
The dos and don'ts of having a cleaner
As with all intimate relationships, the path to harmony in the relationship between the cleaner and the cleaned is riven with potential bumps and potholes. Here's how to avoid them:
- Explain up front exactly what you expect and pay a decent wage. There's something unbecoming about haggling over an extra pound an hour with the person who is quite literally going to be polishing the family silver. Don't be cheap. Be fair. It's the quickest way to a harmonious and long-lasting relationship.
- Never ask your cleaner to do anything you wouldn't do yourself.
- Have realistic expectations. Why would you expect someone else to clean your place from top to bottom in two hours a week when you couldn't manage that yourself? ? If you're going on holiday, give plenty of notice. If they rely on the income, they may need to find extra work to tide them over while you're away.
- Supply the cleaning products they prefer. If you are a vinegar/lemon juice/bicarbonate of soda person, be prepared to explain how to use them.
- The Telegraph, London