Mary McCarthy chats to Silvi Uustalu about growing up in Estonia, starting her cleaning business and enjoying a job well done
Silvi Uustalu is a cleaner and the owner of Cinderella’s Housekeeping
When I started my first cleaning company 12 years ago I had no experience with managing accounts and the business ended up failing.
I set up my second cleaning business around 2015 and now I know what to do. Myself and my daughter, Diane, do the work and we have two girls helping two days a week. People think cleaning can be done quickly, but it depends what they want. I ask people first if they want a facial clean, or to go deeper.
For the really big spring cleans, including sorting out the wardrobe, I need to first see how they keep things, so I can put them where they would be looking for it. A cleaner should not try to hide things.
There is big demand. Many businesses, like pubs, ask for help, I would love to do every job but I have limited time.
For my first company I did not keep receipts, expenses, the tax went so high I could not afford it and closed down. Back then I was always worried about overcharging. I used to feel really uncomfortable talking about money. Now, I am strict with my customers.
I love cleaning, I love my job. Some people’s houses are nice and tidy anyway. We just need to do a basic clean, but some customers call me to put their house together, to go through every press and drawer. I enjoy this.
My customers are lovely. A few don’t appreciate us and normally I leave them. They go on my black list. The bad customers want too much for very little time. They have no idea about cleaning times.
I have a cleaner myself. When I come home, everything is done. No laundry or ironing, every bin emptied. This is what a good cleaner does.
I was not great at school. My mum died when I was nine from cancer. I grew up on a farm in Estonia. My father drank, so at 4am I was milking the cows and at the first lesson I was asleep.
I left home when I was 12 and have had jobs since then. My friend’s mum was helping and I went to live with them.
At 16 I did two years in a secondary school where I trained to be a chef and a hairdresser. I got married when I was 18 and went to Florida to do housekeeping in the Radison in Orlando. .
We stayed six months then got the bus to Montreal. It was hard work but the people were nice. At this stage I was seven months pregnant. My boss, Bernadette, said congratulations, but when I told her I was not pregnant she sent me to her GP. When I came out I could not say a word, I was so shocked. I had been told by a doctor I would not be able to get pregnant.
We were happy for a year and a half but then the judge told me, “you and your daughter can stay, but the father has to go”. At the time we still had a good relationship so we all went back to Estonia. I was 21 and working in a factory when I heard it was possible to get a job in Ireland. A friend of a friend of a friend was working in a restaurant in Enniscorthy and I started as a chef there.
When my daughter came over I moved to Wexford. It did not work out with my husband. He left and I met someone else.
I spent five years working for Whelan Cleaning Systems in Wexford. Jim Whelan was a very nice boss, and so was his son who took over from him. Myself and Enda are still friends, I can ring him if I need information. I also had a second job at Provident, lending money as an agent.
I was thinking of opening a beauty salon but it was too expensive. With cleaning, you only needed a hoover.
I have been working very hard since I was nine. That’s why I have all my illnesses. I have had a hip replacement, my knee is like an old person’s even though I am just turning 42. I myself am not vaccinated. I don’t understand vaccination and I know some friends who have been sick after it. I believe everyone’s time comes when it comes. If you have to be sick or be dead.
Not everyone can be a good cleaner. You don’t just hoover the floor, you move the sofa out. I am fussy and Diane is the same. Sometimes she tells me “that’s not done”.
Before I would work from 9am to 7pm, but that was too much. I need one day for paperwork and two for my other daughters, Maria (7) and Darja (11). So we can watch movies or I can lie down if I want.
I love cooking because the food I cook is so nice, everyone loves it. When I was growing up, very rarely did I hear ‘well done’. Nothing makes me so happy as when customers are delighted with the job I have done. I feel needed. I am not like an empty person. I am doing good for somebody.
I drop the kids to school and start work at 9.30am until 3pm. After that, Diane goes to the playschool where she cleans. I go home, have a shower and send invoices if I need to. I cook soup for the kids and help with homework – though not with maths or Irish. During Covid, when I was out working my daughters could do the online learning themselves. They are very good kids. Our neighbour Michael helped with the maths if they needed it and they walked his dog.
I did not go back to Estonia for 10 years, but now I go once a year to visit a medical centre. I don’t have any family left. My dad died when I was 12. I only visit graveyards.
I feel sorry for him compared to my experience. He did not have many nice things in his life. He had a lovely life with my mum, but then became an alcoholic. Sometimes when I was depressed I had this problem. So I had to stop. I can’t drink because of my health. There is a Russian joke – if the drink is spoiling your work, then give up work. But I decided a different way.
I speak five languages. It opens the mind and I love learning new things and new information.
Ireland is very nice compared to Estonia. The weather is not too hot or cold and people are friendly. I would not go back. It is harder for people to live in Estonia as wages are much smaller. That puts people under pressure.