in: Homeownership, Lifestyle, Podcast

• Last updated: March 27, 2024

Podcast #973: A Butler’s Guide to Managing Your Household

It’s a tough job to manage a household. Things need to be regularly fixed, maintained, and cleaned. How do you stay on top of these tasks in order to keep your home in tip-top shape?

My guest knows his way all around this issue and has some field-tested, insider advice to offer. Charles MacPherson spent two decades as the major-domo or chief butler of a grand household. He’s also the founder of North America’s only registered school for butlers and household managers and the author of several books drawn from his butlering experience, including The Butler Speaks: A Return to Proper Etiquette, Stylish Entertaining, and the Art of Good Housekeeping.

In the first part of our conversation, Charles charts the history of domestic service and describes why the practice of having servants like a butler and maid ebbed in the mid-20th century but has made a comeback today. We then turn to what average folks who don’t have a household staff can do to better manage their homes. Charles recommends keeping something called a “butler’s book” to stay on top of household schedules and maintenance checklists. We then discuss how to clean your home more logically and efficiently. Charles shares his golden rules of house cleaning, the cleaning task you’ve probably neglected (hint: go take a look at the side of the door on your dishwasher), his surprising choice for the best product to use to clean your shower, how often you should change your bedsheets, and much more.

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Cover of the book "The Butler's Guide" by Charles Macpherson, featuring a butler illustration and information about etiquette, entertaining, and managing household.

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Brett McKay: Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness Podcast. It’s a tough job to manage a household. Things need to be regularly fixed, maintained, and clean. How do you stay on top of these tasks in order to keep your home in tiptop shape? My guest knows his way all around this issue and has some field tested insider advice to offer. Charles MacPherson spent two decades as the majordomo or chief butler of a grand household. He’s also the founder of North America’s only registered school for butler’s and household managers, and the author of several books drawn from his butlering experience, including The Butler Speaks: A Return to Proper Etiquette, Stylish Entertaining, and the Art of Good Housekeeping. In the first part of our conversation, Charles charts the history of domestic service and describes why the practices of having servants like a butler made ebbed in the mid 20th century, but has made a comeback today.

We then turn to what average folks who don’t have a household staff can do to better manage their homes. Charles recommends keeping something called a butler’s book to stay on top of household schedules and maintenance checklists. We then discuss how to clean your home more logically and efficiently. Charles shares his golden rules of house cleaning, the cleaning task you probably neglected. Hint, go take a look at the side of the door of your dishwasher, his apprising choice or best product to use to clean your shower, how often you should change your bedsheets and much more. After the show’s over, check at our show notes at All right, Charles MacPherson, welcome to the show.

Charles MacPherson: Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Brett McKay: So you have served as a professional butler for over two decades, and you now run an organization that trains butlers and other professional domestic staff. And I think most people when they think of butlers, they think of butlers as men who served English aristocrats and American robber barons, the 19th and early 20th centuries. But butlering is still alive and well today. And I wanna talk about what it looks like today. But before we do, can you kind of give us a brief history of domestic service? What was it like 100 years ago? When did it reach its peak, etcetera?

Charles MacPherson: So that’s a great question because I think understanding history allows us to really understand where we are today. So let’s very briefly, let’s start back 150 years ago or so, we’re in the Victorian era, Queen Victoria’s on the throne, and there is a huge amount of domestic staff. In fact, it’s the second largest employer, if you will, in the United Kingdom compared to farming, right after farming, which is number one. And so these people are required that the amount of domestic staff are required because the homes of the day didn’t have rain water, didn’t have electricity. And so for the wealthy to live, as we all know, when we watch PBS and watching Agatha Christie and so on, that took a mountain of people to be able to undertake. And so that’s the height of the most number of domestic people. And then we go Queen Victoria dies, her son King Edward, so we go into the Edwardian era, World War I, and now for the first time in history, we have people leaving domestic service.

And so all of a sudden, this is when men start to leave domestic service really. And so now this is where women are starting to really become prominent in domestic service and they’re now serving at the dining room table, which society is shocked by to see a woman in the front of the house. And then all of a sudden we go through World War II, now we’re into the 1950s and all of a sudden the world has changed. And there is now the modern conveniences based on the war. So we have clothing that’s available, we have food that’s available, we can go to grocery stores.

And so being a domestic service is a dying art. And as we go into the 60s, into the 70s, there is no one going into domestic service. It’s really has come to an end and it’s just the very few that are left. But then we get into 1980 and Ronald Reagan becomes President, Margaret Thatcher becomes Prime Minister, and we have Reaganomics. And now all of a sudden, we have a huge amount of wealth that’s being created by a very small group of people. And so as they acquire their wealth and they start to acquire toys of homes and boats and airplanes, they want to live comfortably. And so all of a sudden there’s, well, let’s hire a butler, but there really are no butlers except some old timers.

And so all of a sudden there’s this demand for butlering and people start to go back into private service. And so all of a sudden as we get into 2000 and up, all of a sudden there’s a huge amount of demand for private service because the wealthy continue to be wealthy and to generate money. And so it’s incredible the career that it’s become. And so now it’s really a career where you can make a lot of money and where it’s no longer being in servitude like you were 150 years ago, but being in domestic service today is actually an honorable career. And so it’s really interesting how it went from the height to almost being extinct in the 60s and early 70s. And now all of a sudden here we back are at 2024 and there is more demand for domestic service than can actually meet. So the supply, we just don’t have the supply.

Brett McKay: That’s interesting. So at its peak when in the Victorian era when you had just a household of staff, if anyone’s seen Downton Abbey, they’ve probably…

Charles MacPherson: Exactly.

Brett McKay: That’s what people typically think of domestic service. Like how many people did a typical aristocrat have in their home?

Charles MacPherson: Well, so when you think about it, it really comes down to what was the size of the house. But some people could have 20, 30, 40, 50, or 100, so it was all… Remember, farming was all done by hand, so there was a huge amount of people on the estate just in dealing with the farms, which generated income for the estate. But to run the inside of the household, there’s no microwave, there’s no fridge, there’s no electric mixer. So just in the kitchen alone, to be able to produce the meals they did, you needed an army of people. And then the washing of all the dishes and all that stuff was done by hand, of course ’cause there were no dishwashers, there’s no electricity. And so those houses often had 20, 30, sometimes 40 people because that’s how much staff it took to be able to make all that happen.

Brett McKay: And the butler at that time, like his job was just to oversee that, manage all that?

Charles MacPherson: So the butler at the time… So if we go in the 1800s, the butler at that period is really… Yes, he’s running the household and he’s the one who serves that table and he’s the lead, but he’s really running the front of the house. So he’s running everything that the guests and the family see. And it’s the head housekeeper who runs the back of the house, who is dealing with the housekeepers and the laundry and all that kind of stuff. And then chef was responsible for the kitchen. And if you were really fancy back then, you had a French chef that was de rigueur of the time. So butler really is front of the house, head housekeeper is back of the house, then chef is the kitchen. So it’s still interesting that there’s still three very senior positions, but the butler ultimately was responsible for overall everything.

Brett McKay: And then you highlight in this history that you did of domestic service, that in the 19th century and early 20th century, there’s all these really detailed guides written by butlers and other domestic servants on how to do what they do with the professionalism. Like they really took their job seriously.

Charles MacPherson: Yes, absolutely. And I think that, well, what’s interesting is that when Mrs. Beeton wrote her book on Household Management in 1861, that’s considered the first self-help book to ever be written. And that was as we’ve gone through and we get the first industrial revolution, we’re getting into the second industrial revolution in the 1870s, so all of a sudden we have the birth of this middle class, and so they want to live, but the problem is they don’t know how to live. And so Isabella Beeton writes this book on household management, teaching the middle class how to run a home, and if they are lucky enough to have a servant or two, how to manage them and so on. So it’s actually quite interesting. So as that first book kind of takes popularity and is still in print today, which is quite interesting, and that is then we have other people who see that and everyone kind of jumps on the bandwagon and everyone says, well, if she can write a book, I can write a book. And so that’s where you have all these books being written in the late 1800s, early 1900s.

Brett McKay: But I think it’s interesting speaking of how domestic service started to wane in the 20th century. I think it’s interesting that whenever I read biographies or histories of famous people who were… They weren’t rich, they were probably solidly middle class, maybe upper middle class, even in the early 20th century, they would usually have a maid and a cook. And you rarely see that today.

Charles MacPherson: Well, when you think about it, again, those homes were hard to manage. They didn’t necessarily have running hot water. A lot of things were still oil lamps or candles at nighttime, so all that had to be taken care of into the dust and the soot, which is actually how spring cleaning came to be ’cause everything was closed up all winter. And so you had all this dust in the house from your lighting implements. But if you were middle class, you usually at least had a housekeeper or I should say a maid. A housekeeper is different from a maid. They’re two different things.

Brett McKay: What’s the difference?

Charles MacPherson: So a housekeeper is truly a professional who is able to manage the household, if you will, employees can report to her. Where a maid is just the worker bee, if you will. The maid isn’t in management position. So the management position is really the housekeeper or the head housekeeper.

Brett McKay: Okay. And so yeah, through the mid 20th century, many upper middle class families had that, but then eventually it went away.

Charles MacPherson: Well, it went away because the world is changing and first of all the cost is becoming prohibitive. But what’s fascinating is that during World War I, world War II, we were able to mass produce to be able to keep the war machines going. When the war comes to an end, there’s this excess of capacity for production. And so that’s why all of a sudden foods and clothing and everything become so readily available after World War II because the capacity of these factories is there and they have nothing else to do. And so they start producing for the mass markets. And as we get the burst of the middle class that continues to grow in the 1950s, it allowed you to be able to function without staff.

Brett McKay: ‘Cause you have washing machines, dryers, vacuum cleaners, all that stuff.

Charles MacPherson: Exactly. All those things are starting to come in. And so those appliances that are saving time. At the time, when you think about it, particularly in America, the dream was 2.2 kids and a dog and a white picket fence and mom stayed home and took care of the house while dad worked. And so she kind of fairly or unfairly becomes the maid and takes over, but at least she has the appliances to be able to make it easier. It’s not easy, but to make it easier.

Brett McKay: Okay. So domestic service started going down throughout the 60s and 70s, but then in the 80s you started to see the revival of it.

Charles MacPherson: Yeah.

Brett McKay: How did you get involved in butlering, and then how did you learn how to be a butler when it kind of became a lost art?

Charles MacPherson: So what’s fascinating is that in the 1990s, I was in the catering business. I was in the off-premise catering business. And one of my clients was one of Canada’s wealthiest families that every Canadian knows and loves. And I had mentioned to the lady of the house one day just in conversation, I was thinking of maybe leaving the catering world and to do something else. And she said, oh my God, what are you gonna do? And I said, I haven’t figured it out. And she said, well, Rick, my butler is going to be leaving soon, so why don’t you come and work for me? And so I said, well, let me think about it. And I told my mother. My mother said, absolutely not. I don’t want you to be a servant. I said, well, I think it’s a good job. And I thought about it, and of course I did the opposite of what my mother recommended, and I took the job.

And so it was the lady of the house who taught me how to butle. And so that is a verb that you can use correctly. And so every week she would give me lessons on how do you drive the car so the person in the backseat isn’t nauseous? Or how do you get the grass stains out of her children’s t-shirts and jeans? What’s the difference between a breakfast table, a luncheon table, a dinner table? Where does the oyster fort go? How do you open the door for someone? How do you take their coat? How do you put their coat back on? How do you walk with someone with an umbrella? It was quite fascinating. So after a year, I was the majordomo for the household. The family had three homes. I had up to 30 full-time staff that were reporting to me throughout the year. And it was really an incredible opportunity.

And I call it my Shirley MacLaine moment, you don’t know if there really is reincarnation, but if there is such a thing, if I am fortunate enough to be reincarnated from a previous life, I was very lucky I was either a butler or a nobleman who had a butler because this career just seems so logical to me and so evident of just what to do. It was never a mystery. As I was learning, I realized that what my job was about was logic and just to think about, well, what’s logical? And that’s really how my education became, was because of this lady and just continuing to learn on my own and meeting others.

Brett McKay: So back 150 years ago, the duties of a butler was to take care of the front of the house. What are the duties of a butler in 2024? What’s a typical?

Charles MacPherson: So in 2024, the butler is now an expensive commodity, but the butler is actually managing the household. And so some households, the butler may be in the front of the house for serving. In some households, the butler doesn’t serve, the butler is purely an administrative position. But when you think about it, the butler is actually managing the household from a perspective of that the average household spends more money and has as many or more employees than very small businesses in the US. So you’re really a business person taking care of a business. And so you’re taking care of everything from, whether it’s staff management, whether it’s putting together operational manuals of how the household’s going to run, when are things cleaned and when are things maintained, taking care of accounts, when plumbers are coming or electricians to fix things because things always break down in those homes.

Making sure that those bills are authorized for payment and that that work’s been completed. Making sure that the household is running. And so the butler today really is trying to be at least one or two steps ahead of their employer to always be thinking and anticipating what’s going to happen, what needs to happen for the family. And so it’s quite fascinating actually, but it’s not as much of a service role, but it is a very detailed role that keeps you really busy. When you think of these large homes, they’re actually commercial facilities with the amount of when you’re talking about 10, 20, 30, 40,000 square feet, we’re talking about commercial cooling units and commercial kitchens. And so it becomes complicated. It’s not just the little furnace that you and I grew up with and probably still have in our homes today.

Brett McKay: So it sounds like a butler today is like a chief operations Officer.

Charles MacPherson: [laughter] That’s a great way to put it. Absolutely.

Brett McKay: Does domestic staff still live with homeowners like they did a century ago?

Charles MacPherson: Oh, great question. And so the answer is no. Domestic staff today have a life. They have a family and so they don’t live in, and in fact, it’s hard to find people who want to live in and if you’re going to live in, you actually can make more money than if you live out ’cause that’s considered a premium to be able to live in versus live out.

Brett McKay: Okay. And the way you’ve made it sound like is that being a butler or being on domestic staff like this could be a lucrative, very fulfilling career.

Charles MacPherson: Oh, absolutely. Where can you go to butler school, which is 4, 6, 8 weeks and you walk out with a job starting at 65, $70,000 a year, and a good butler by the time they’re within 5 years with the right experience, they’re at a 100, 125,000 plus benefits, full benefits and the retirement plan. And we have butlers that are making anywhere from a quarter of a million to $350,000 a year based on the home that they’re managing and the work that they do. So you can make a lot of money if you’re good at it, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of. I think it’s an honorable career to be able to manage a household. And what I love is as I jokingly say, but it’s you’re kind of seeing history happen from being a fly on the wall and watching the movie stars or the captains of industry or the politicians that are coming to the household for your family and seeing what’s happening and knowing what’s gonna happen before the rest of the world knows what’s happening. And I think it’s pretty fascinating. I think it’s a really great career and I think a lot of people don’t actually think of it as a genuine career.

Brett McKay: So you’ve written several books based on your insights and experience as a butler that can help the average person who might not be able to afford a butler, how they can improve different facets of their lives. And I wanna focus on this conversation today on what we can learn from butlers about managing a home and making it not only a place that runs efficiently, but it’s pleasant to spend your time in. And I start off, you talk about that butler’s traditionally had this thing called the butler’s book. What’s the butler’s book? What sort of information does a butler keep in a butler’s book?

Charles MacPherson: So the butler’s book is really the bible for the butler of how the household run and it keeps track of everything. So whether it’s contractors telephone numbers or how do you use the remote control to go from the DVD player to the satellite dish to regular cable television so that you’ve got the kinda like the cheat sheets in there, or you’ve got household schedules of when employees are working, you have things like inventory. So for example, in my butler book, one of the things that I used to keep was all the inventories of the different Chinas so that when we were entertaining and when I’d be sitting with Mrs in a meeting and the chef and we’d be discussing about a party that would be coming up and everyone would say, well it would be nice to use the green dishes for that thing.

And then I’d be able to look in my butler’s book and say, well, there’s 36 people coming for dinner and we have 35 dinner plates, so we’re short of plates, so either we have to change to a different service, or I have to go buy some more of this green service if I can find it kind of scenario. So you keep cheat sheets like that that are there for you or master things on when are you taking care of certain inventories or mechanical things around the household or what are the spring cleaning projects and all that kind of stuff. So all that’s in the butler’s book. So the butler’s book really is the Bible. It’s the one place when you need something that’s where you go.

Brett McKay: And I can see this being useful for just anybody who has a house.

Charles MacPherson: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

Brett McKay: Yeah. My wife and I run into that experience where we’re hosting a party and we think, well, do we have this thing? And we’re like, well, I don’t know, we kind of, we have to spend 30 minutes looking for it. And we’re like, well, we can’t find us, let’s go buy another one. So you buy another one and then after the party happens, like, oh, here’s this thing that we were looking for, we just waste of money.

Charles MacPherson: Exactly, exactly. No, but I think the butler’s book would be able to tell you the kind of thing where you keep those things and as long as you put them back where you’re supposed to, then you’re in good shape. But the butler’s book is really this tool that makes you more efficient and more successful at doing what you want to do.

Brett McKay: So what sorts of information do you think just a lay person should keep in their own butler’s book for their household?

Charles MacPherson: I think that just keeping simple things like all your telephone numbers for the plumber, the electrician, where is the electrical boxes if you have more than one in your household, and where’s the main disconnect to turn the power off? And when do you open your pool if you have a swimming pool, and when do you close it? So kind of keeping a calendar. Or when do you wanna clean the eavestroughs? When do you wanna be able to deal with certain things in the yard or when do you wanna clean the windows or put the storm windows on, or take the storm windows off? When do you wanna do a bit of a deep clean inside the house? And so what’s interesting is that when you start to look at all these projects, when you look at the calendar, it allows you to be able to spread it out throughout over the years so that there isn’t one month where you have nothing to do and in the following month you can barely keep up.

So that’s what’s great about the calendar within the butler’s book is that it allows you to plan things, so that way you can plan things ahead of time so you know that you wanna have your windows washed in April, and so in January or February as you’re just kind of looking ahead of things that you wanna do, you say, oh, let’s schedule the window cleaner now and let’s get it done so that at least they’re scheduled. So it’s not the last minute when you’re trying to get ahold of them when everyone else is. And so the butler’s book is really there as the tool to help you plan and just to remind you of what needs to be done.

Brett McKay: Where do you recommend keeping your butler’s book? Is this in a physical book that you keep around?

Charles MacPherson: Well, traditionally the butler’s book was always kept in the butler’s pantry, which is between the kitchen and off the dining room kind of scenario. But most of us don’t have butler’s pantries today. So I always love it in the kitchen somewhere because I think that’s where everyone can find it. And I’m also a really firm believer that the butler’s book is a living, breathing document. And so you shouldn’t be afraid to write in it when something changes or when you learn of something. And so maybe it’s something that just is always kind of handwritten or maybe once a year you sit down and you type out all the changes and then you just print off a clean copy. But I think that the butler’s book needs to be in a place where everyone knows where it is, everyone has access to it and where you’re not afraid to write in it, to update information.

Brett McKay: And I was doing some research before this conversation about modern butler’s book. There’s actually software that modern butlers can use these days where they basically create a butler’s book, but it’s in the cloud. So I know a lot of butlers for really affluent families who have maybe two, three, four homes, they have to know what’s going on in all these different homes. So they have all this stuff just on the internet.

Charles MacPherson: Yes, but I’m not a firm believer in things becoming overly computerized in a household. I think that it becomes overly complicated and you end up being a data entry person versus a manager. And so I’m actually a real firm believer that the butler’s book, as an example, should just be in a three ring binder that’s in a place where everyone knows where it is. Now you can keep the master document in a word file, for example, that’s in the cloud so that you can check it from wherever you are if you need to look something up. But I’m not a firm believer that everything should be in the cloud because if the power goes out or you can’t turn the computer on for whatever reason, how are we gonna access this information in the cloud while we’re in this emergency kind of scenario? I think the theory is always really great and this great fantasy, but I don’t think it actually works in reality. And so I think it’s much easier to be able to have it printed where you can take the book with you to the mechanical room that’s telling you how to do something so you can follow the steps. I think just makes it easier.

Brett McKay: So you mentioned one of the things you can keep in a butler’s book is a calendar of home maintenance. I know it’s gonna vary from location to location and home to home, but generally what sort of home maintenance regimen do you recommend people keep to keep their home running in tip top shape?

Charles MacPherson: So I think you need to first of all think about where you’re located. So for example, if you’re gonna be, for example, in Florida or you’re gonna be somewhere warm, you’re gonna have obviously very many different requirements than if you are going to be up in the north where there’s snow, for example. So first of all, based on your physical location, where there’s snow, which is where I happen to be right now, the butler’s book would say to me in October, for example, okay, so you need to get ready because winter’s coming. So do you have salt? Do you have sand? Do you have a good brush to take the snow off the car? Do you have enough windshield washer fluid? So it kind of gives you those checklists of things to do as you get ready so that once you have that first snowfall, it’s not a panic kind of scenario of not being ready for it. Or you’re going to the hardware store to go and get sand or salt or whatever, and it’s all sold out because everyone’s thinking at the last minute.

And then when you’re down south, simple things like how do you get your house ready for hurricane season if you’re in Florida, for example? Or what do you need to think about if you’re in Arizona from a temperature perspective from the outside of the physical house? What are you gonna do for the air conditioning unit? Does it need an overhaul once a year? And if so, what time of the year are you gonna do that? So I think you start with the location of where your house is, and then the kind of home you have. Whether it’s an apartment or whether it’s a physical house or a townhouse or whatever, everything needs some kind of maintenance. And so the other thing, the reason I like the binder concept is that as you put your calendar in the butler’s book, you might not think of everything right away.

And so you can start to fill it in over the year as you go through the life in your household. And so when it’s the first day of that first snowfall and you’re not ready, you think, okay, now I know I need to get ready. And so now you make a note in your book of what you need and to get ready for that particular item. Or when are you gonna open the pool if your pool closes in the winter because you’re in the north? And when do you open it again kind of thing? Or when do you wanna be able to fertilize or do what you need to do to your roses that are in your garden? So I think there’s always something. And I think it comes to you really easily as you go throughout the year in the life of living within your household.

Brett McKay: Okay, so your household maintenance routine, it’s very seasonal. And as you say, it’s gonna vary by where you live. But you have a good annual list in the book that can apply to most everyone. So for example, in winter, you have things like vacuum your fridge coils, flip the mattresses. Spring, change batteries on smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors, wash the outside of the windows, have AC inspected, get your outdoor grill ready. Summer, you’ve got clean out and organize your garage, wash out garbage and recycle bins. And then fall, you’ve got have chimney cleaned and expected and then clean the dryer vent. We’re gonna take a quick break for a word from our sponsors. And now back to the show. Something else I’m curious about, one of the things I’ve had problems with with managing my own home is finding good contractors and maintenance workers. Do you have any advice on that?

Charles MacPherson: So finding a good person, they’re worth their weight in gold, if you can find them. But once you do, you need to be able to stay in touch. So that’s… First of all, when you are looking for a trades person, go to your neighbors, go to people you trust, read reviews online, but you need to be able to be clear about what are you looking for so that when you actually speak to the trade person, you can actually ask them intelligent questions. ‘Cause you’ve thought about what do you need or why something needs to be fixed or repaired or why you wanna build something. It doesn’t matter what the situation, but you need to have a clear plan of what do I need this person to do so that you can be clear to them so that they understand what your needs are, so you can compare.

And I think that when you interview two or three people, you kind of get a gut feeling right away, who’s the good one and who’s not. And listen to your gut instinct, and then make a note of things in your butler’s book of okay, so we tried John the electrician, he was really good, but he wasn’t really clean. So the next time he comes, I need to make sure he knows to take his boots off before he comes in my house and so on and so forth because the work is good, but he just was a bit messy. And so just to remind yourselves that the next time John comes over, you can say, okay, John, remember I need you to take your boots off. Oh yeah, yeah. Okay, no problem. So I think that being clear about what you’re looking for is really important ’cause I think that’s where the relationship breaks down is that both parties aren’t communicating well with each other.

Brett McKay: Okay. And yes, if you find a good one, make sure you put that in your butler book for…

Charles MacPherson: Put in the butler book, but also, for example, pay them on time because then they’ll want to come back kind of scenario. So you gotta think of things like that too, and be nice to them and offering them a glass of water on a hot day or a cup of coffee. I remember as the butler, what we used to do is we used to make muffins and coffee for every trade that would come to the house every day. And so we became the popular house because they all wanted to come to us first thing in the morning to get their coffee and their muffin for free. That’s how I kept the trades happy. And so being nice to trades, you get it back tenfold. First of all, you should just be a nice person, and they’re doing a job that you need. But second of all, if you keep them happy, they’re gonna be more willing to come back the next time you need them.

Brett McKay: Let’s talk about managing the inventory in our home. So we mentioned dishes or things for parties. But I was actually having this conversation with a friend the other day, and he wanted to know, he was like, how much toilet paper do I really need to keep? And how do I know when I need to restock ’cause I’m tired of having to when I need it the most, it’s all gone? So any advice there on managing just household inventories. Could be dishes, cleaning supplies, paper towels, toilet paper, et cetera.

Charles MacPherson: So you’re talking about two different inventories. And so if we’re gonna talk about furniture, fixtures and equipment, which we call FF&E, that stuff like dishes and furniture and art and all those kinds of things. So that’s one kind of inventory that you’re keeping. So usually we do a picture of it, and then we record how many of that item there are in inventory and where it is in the household. But the inventory that your friend is talking about is what we call a consumables inventory. And so what we’re actually consuming, so everything within the kitchen, whether it’s a spice or a meat or anything that’s in the freezer, but then that’s also cleaning supplies. And there’ll also be toiletries, it’ll also be makeup and shaving cream and all that kind of stuff. So those are all consumables. And so the easiest thing to do, first of all, so let’s take the toilet paper, let’s answer the question to your friend, how much toilet paper do I need? So first of all, you need to figure out, how many bathrooms do you have? So you have two bathrooms or three bathrooms. So right away, that’s gonna be one roll in each of those bathrooms. And then you wanna have potentially a couple of rolls that are there for a change underneath the counter.

So if we have three bathrooms, we had three rolls plus we have two extra. So that’s nine rolls already just to keep the bathrooms full. And then on average, you’re going through, for the sake of the argument, you’re going through a roll a week. And so you’ll know at the end of the month kind of how much you’re consuming and how much you need, or you’re using two, three or four a week or a month. And so what we do is we do what’s called a minimum-maximum inventory number. So what’s the minimum number? We know we never wanna have less than nine rolls of toilet paper, but we never really need more than 24. And so once a month or every two months, you count the toilet paper. And when you get down to nine, then you know you need to order the balance to get you back up to 24. So you need to order 16 kind of thing. So it’s actually simpler than you think. Once you come up with the minimum-maximum, then you just set an inventory date and maybe it’s once every three months kind of scenario.

Brett McKay: Yeah. And I thought that was really interesting. You mentioned the FFE, the furniture, fixtures, and equipment inventory.

Charles MacPherson: Yeah.

Brett McKay: This would be good for any household to do ’cause this is important for insurance purposes, right? You wanna know if you have art or furniture, you wanna have a picture of it and like value of it ’cause if your house God forbid burns down, you’ll be able to have a reference to your property. You say, here’s what I had and you start making claims.

Charles MacPherson: So what’s interesting is that most people are underinsured, and the insurance companies will tell you. And so nobody really wants to spend their weekend doing a household inventory. But let me tell you, God forbid you should ever need it, you’ll be the happiest person in the world to have that. Because if God forbid something happens to your house and you need to make an insurance claim, they’re gonna wanna see all that kind of stuff. And what’s interesting is the insurance company, if you’re insured for the sake of the argument for $100,000, the insurance company doesn’t just write you a check for $100,000, you have to actually go and buy the stuff and the insurance company reimburses you. So that’s I think important to know right there. And second of all, maybe you’re insured for $100,000, but maybe you have 150,000 worth of stuff that you didn’t think about. And so now all of a sudden you have less than when you started. So do you have a stamp collection or do you have China or silverware or jewelry? Do you have books kind of stuff? What kind of art do you have? What kind of household tools do you have? All that kind of stuff is important. And so doing an inventory really helps you understand what kind of insurance coverage you need and then what you have in case of an emergency.

Brett McKay: Okay. We talked about home maintenance, talked about managing toilet paper inventory, talked about managing your big inventory in your house. Let’s talk about keeping our homes clean. First question is, what do you think are the pros and cons of cleaning your own house versus hiring someone to clean it for you?

Charles MacPherson: I think the main thing is if you’re gonna do it yourself is do you have the time to do it properly? And if you do and if you want to do it on your own, then I think that’s great. Then go for it. But if you don’t have the time and you want to hire someone, that’s okay too. But the biggest mistake is that people aren’t clear about what they want. And so a cleaning person will come in and do what they think needs to be done and then you’re upset. Well, I can’t believe they didn’t clean the chandelier, da da, da, da. I was like, well they only had three hours to be in your house, they can’t do everything. Or they didn’t iron the sheets. Well, are they supposed to? Did you talk about that before you hired them? And so most people don’t have a proper job description in place. And that’s I think where things fall apart the most is that the expectations are one thing and the deliverables are another and no one’s speaking to each other about what they’re going to do and so people are disappointed. So I think being clear about what your needs are, if you’re going to hire someone, but I think that whether you hire someone or you do it yourself, I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way. I think it just comes down to time and if you can afford that.

Brett McKay: Yeah. In the book, you make a distinction between house cleaning, housekeeping and deep cleaning. What are the differences between the three?

Charles MacPherson: Yeah. So deep cleaning is really when you’re pulling something apart. So you’re cleaning the chandeliers, you’re wiping the baseboards, you’re lifting the carpets, you’re taking the pillows and off the couch and you’re vacuuming inside the couch and underneath the couch. And so you’re really pulling the room apart is a deep cleaning. House cleaning is really just taking care of the house on a weekly basis, usually, or twice weekly where you’re vacuuming, you’re dusting, but you’re just keeping things going, you’re not doing the deep cleaning. And then housekeeping is really making a house a home and making it feel inviting that things are where they should be and that you need. So the housekeeping is everything overall, how do you feel within that space? House cleaning is what we do on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, or twice weekly. And then deep cleaning is those special projects. When we flip the mattresses, when we turn carpets around so that they wear evenly in every direction. So those are always the big jobs.

Brett McKay: Let’s talk about just house cleaning. You have these golden rules of house cleaning. What are some of those golden rules of house cleaning?

Charles MacPherson: Well, the golden rules of housekeeping or cleaning are really about making sure that you’re organized and that you have the right tools, that you have the right chemicals, and that you’re working methodically throughout the household. And you’re starting in one place and you’re working towards another so that you know where you are at any one point. And so the golden rules are making sure that we don’t cross contaminate. And so making sure that we understand that we have different cloths for different locations. And so we’re not using the bathroom cloths in the kitchen or in the bedroom and so on and so forth. And one of the golden rules that we remember also is remember that when you’re cleaning from a room, you always start from the top and you work your way down because dust of course falls. So that’s why you don’t wanna work from the bottom up. And so the golden rules are just about being logical about what we need to do.

Brett McKay: So one of the ways you recommend being logical and efficient about cleaning your house is to have a cleaning list. So just as your butler’s book should have a maintenance list for your home, you have different cleaning lists broken down by daily, weekly, and monthly. So here in the book, you got daily cleaning on the list, tidy clutter, wipe down counters and stove tops. Weekly, you wanna give each room in the house a good cleaning, dust all the surfaces, vacuum all the floors, clean the bathroom, that includes cleaning the shower, toilet and counters, replace the sheets on your bed. And a point you make on the weekly cleaning is that you don’t have to do all this in one day, you can break it up throughout the week. So one day you do the bathrooms, another day you do the bedrooms, and the next day you do the kitchen. And then for the monthly list, you have things like scrub shower grout, descale showerheads, clean doorknobs and handles, and dust vents.

Charles MacPherson: So to your point, it’s weekly, monthly, yearly kind of scenario, whatever, but it’s about what do I need to do every week in my bathroom? So I know every week I’m gonna need to be able to clean the shower and the sink and the counter, and I’m going to need to clean the toilet and the floor. But I don’t need to every week pull the medicine cabinet apart, or I don’t need to take the shower curtain off if it’s cloth and wash it kind of scenario. I don’t need to wash the walls down every week because the humidity actually captures dirt or the light fixture above the sink doesn’t need to be cleaned necessarily every week. You might give it a dust with a duster, but you’re not pulling it apart and really cleaning it that thoroughly every week. And so that’s what you’re really kind of keeping track of is every week, what do we need to do? Every month, what do we need to do? And then what are the special projects that we wanna do? And sometimes there’s no special project for that particular room.

Brett McKay: Gotcha. And one job I saw on these checklists that people probably don’t think about a lot is clean the dishwasher.

Charles MacPherson: So what’s interesting is that you think to yourself, well, what do you mean I need to clean my dishwasher? But that to me would be something that I would put on my quarterly list. I would say, okay, it’s March. I do it every three months, it’s time to clean the dishwasher. And so the side of the door, so when you open the door and the door is open, there’s the edge that runs on the three sides, the top and the two sides, that gets really dirty because as you’re putting dirty dishes into the dishwasher, food product falls in that area and it doesn’t get washed when the dishwasher door is closed. So you actually need to clean that. You need to… If you have filters in the dishwasher, in the bottom of the dishwasher, sometimes they need to be emptied and cleaned out. Sometimes if you have a very fancy dishwasher, it’ll do it by itself, but you need to keep an eye on all that kind of stuff. I’m not a really big believer that you need to run a chemical through your dishwasher, although there are those that are available, but you need to actually clean the filter if it is necessary and you need to actually clean the door, the sides of the door.

Brett McKay: Okay. So for your weekly cleaning, so this is when you’re kind of, it’s not a deep clean, but just sort of the maintenance cleaning you’re doing to make sure everything looks nice. You recommend to be efficient with this, to have a butler’s caddy. What’s a butler’s caddy and what do you keep in it?

Charles MacPherson: So a butler’s caddy is the caddy that you’re gonna carry around. So what are you going to have when you’re cleaning throughout the house? And so the caddy is gonna have your cleaning cloths in it. It’s going to have whatever chemicals that you happen to be using, your tools. So for example, do you need soaps or do you need any sprays to disinfect something? Or do you need a squeegee? Do you need paper towel? Do you need baking soda? Do you need like a cream cleaner for certain ceramic things that you’re cleaning? So it’s about thinking about where are you going to be cleaning and what are the things that you need? Because the worst thing is, is that as you’re cleaning, you’re kind of carrying everything in your hand and then you realize you’ve forgotten something and you don’t really wanna go back to to the closet, wherever you keep all your cleaning supplies or under the sink or wherever it happens to be.

And so you don’t really do it, you just kind of, I’ll do it next time. And you just kind of forget about it again. So the caddy just makes it easy. If everything’s in there, then no matter where you are in the house, you have what you need. Even for example, like the different color cloths. So I always have said blue for poo and pink for the sink in the kitchen so that we don’t have cross contamination. So that we’re using blue cloths in the bathroom and pink cloths in the kitchen and then a different color cloth everywhere else in the house. All that’s just in the caddy. And so it makes it really easy as you’re moving around the house that you have the right tools.

Brett McKay: So you mentioned about cleaning a room effectively and efficiently. One thing you mentioned is you clean from top to bottom. Any other tips on cleaning a room effectively and efficiently?

Charles MacPherson: So the most important thing is, as you’ve said, is to start from the top and to work your way down, but then you always wanna work in a circular direction. Now, it doesn’t matter if you go clockwise or counterclockwise, but you need to be in a circular direction because at some point you may need to stop so you know exactly where you were in that process, so where to go. But if you’re doing what I call the zigzag method where you’re just kind of moving all over the room, you tend to forget something because it’s not logical. But when you’re going in a circle, you know exactly where you are and what you’re doing. And I find that very helpful.

Brett McKay: Gotcha. Do you dust first then vacuum?

Charles MacPherson: So it depends on what kind of vacuum you have because some vacuums actually put dust out. So you have to think about it. So sometimes you’re gonna wanna vacuum first and then dust, sometimes you’re dusting and vacuuming. In my house, for example, I have a central vacuum. So for me, I would dust the room and then I would vacuum the room as I kind of work my way out of the room. So that’s how I do it. But you need to have a good vacuum to make sure it’s not putting dust in the air. What do you want is a good filter on your vacuum.

Brett McKay: Any tips on dusting?

Charles MacPherson: So dusting, the biggest mistake that people make is that they use too much water. You don’t need a chemical, you just need to have a really good cotton cloth. Cotton t-shirts as they wear out in your house are great to be able to cut up for dusting cloths. And so what you do is you wet your hands under the running sink, you give them one shake and then you dry them off in that cloth. And then that cloth at that point is the perfect humidity level to be able to dust ’cause you just want it to be able to grab the dust. But I think that we tend to use too much water, which actually does more damage than good.

Brett McKay: Let’s talk about bed making. How often should you change the sheets on your bed? I know it is a contentious…

Charles MacPherson: Oh, my God, it is such a contentious issue. And so there’s surveys, for example, in the UK where the average man changes his sheets every three to four months.

Brett McKay: Holly cow.

Charles MacPherson: Exactly. And that kind of shocked the nation when those surveys came out last year, but you need to do it at least once a week. And the reason you need to do it at least once a week, even if you are the only person sleeping in that bed, is the average person sweats give or take a liter of fluid throughout the night. And so we’ve got this liquid that’s going into the bed, first of all, and you just have skin that this falling off. We all have natural skin, dead skin that’s falling off. It’s not because you’re not healthy or sick, it’s just as normal. So we have that dead skin that’s falling in the bed, we have the humidity that’s in the bed and we all drool at night. We don’t like to think that we do, but we do. So all this kind of stuff is important. And so minimum once a week is when you should be doing your bed.

Brett McKay: Any advice on making a bed?

Charles MacPherson: Well, I wouldn’t make my bed as a kid. My mother and I fought about that bitterly until finally my mother said to me one year, she said, oh, I’m going to give you a present. I said, you are. She said, yes, I’m going to buy you a new duvet for your bed. So let’s go shopping. So I was all excited and I went and I picked out some new sheets with my mother and my mother changed the bed recipe for me. And so what she did is she put a fitted sheet on the bed and she gave me a duvet that had a duvet cover on it. And that was it. And I was told every morning if I wanted to come down for breakfast, I had to just give the duvet a flick so that my bed was made. And it was so simple, I actually did it. So I think it’s about being smart about the bed recipe versus maybe parents wanna have a more complicated bed. So maybe you have a fitted sheet and a flat sheet and a blanket and a duvet. All that’s really great, it’s just a lot more work. And there’s not one right or wrong way to do I, they’re just different. So I think it’s about thinking about the application of who sleeps in the bed, who has to make the bed and who has the time and ultimately what do you want?

Brett McKay: Do you recommend letting the bed air out a little bit before you make it?

Charles MacPherson: Oh, absolutely. For that exact reason that because of the humidity that’s in the bed, the bed needs to be able to air out. And bed bugs and bugs, they love that moisture and they love that humidity and they love that warmth. So if you make the bed right away, that humidity stays trapped in the bed, which is something you don’t want.

Brett McKay: Okay, I’m gonna ask you. This is a greedy question. This is for me.

Charles MacPherson: Okay.

Brett McKay: I clean the showers in our home, so I’m always looking for advice on how to do this job better. Any advice on the best way to clean a shower?

Charles MacPherson: So I think the best way is, first of all, is to have a squeegee in the shower and not the one that you buy for showers ’cause they’re not good generally. What I have in my shower is I actually have a squeegee that you buy at the hardware store for windows. So it’s got a proper black rubber tip on the end so that it squeegees perfectly. So first of all, I think you need a professional squeegee. But second of all, if you have the ability to somewhere either under the bathroom sink or somewhere to be able to keep some soap and a brush so that you can actually brush down the shower on a regular basis and then rinse it and then squeegee it. It becomes really easy because the more often you do it, the easier it is to do and the faster it becomes. The mistake that people do is that they wait too long and then the buildup starts and then it becomes really difficult to clean and then you resent it and then you don’t want to clean it. So having the ability to rinse down the shower, having the squeegee right there, that’s a good one for windows, allows you to squeegee whether you’re doing tiles or you’re doing a glass shower door or glass shower wall, which is what I do. It makes it really easy so that A, the bathroom always looks good, but B, I never get enough buildup that I never really resent that once a week when I use the soap or twice a week when I use the soap because it’s really not hard, it’s just a quick rub down.

Brett McKay: So you recommend squeegeeing after every use?

Charles MacPherson: Absolutely, because the problem is, the water marks go onto the glass and they don’t necessarily come off when it gets wet again. And so that just makes it harder to clean. And the problem is, of course, nobody ever wants to squeegee after you shower, everyone likes the ability to be able to just have a shower and thank you goodbye. And so that’s what you need to think about. Are you prepared to squeegee your shower or if not, maybe a shower curtain is the way to go.

Brett McKay: Best product for cleaning a shower?

Charles MacPherson: Well, I think the issue is that you need a soap. And so I’m a really firm believer in dish soap because it’s got a low pH balance, so it doesn’t really affect anything. It works fine on metal surfaces. It works really well on tiles and tubs and all that kind of stuff. So a dish soap actually is a great cleaner. But if you need a bit of a chemical, Pine-Sol is very good at getting rid of water stains. It is a great way to go. I’m not really a believer that you need to bleach the shower because there’s no bacteria per se in the shower unless you’ve got buildup that’s been there for years and years and then you’ve got mold and bacteria. But if you’re doing it regularly, there really generally isn’t a need to be able to use a harsh chemical. And so the most important thing is making sure that the bathroom airs out, that the door is open. And if you have a window, that the window’s open every once in a while to let the air and the humidity escape.

Brett McKay: One tip that I picked up recently that’s been a game changer for cleaning the glass, at least in the shower, vinegar seems to be really awesome, like a vinegar mixture.

Charles MacPherson: Vinegar and water is a great mixture for certain things. Absolutely. And there’s pros and cons to what they call green cleaning products, which in this particular case would be the water and the vinegar. So I think that, again, then it would be having a squeegee bottle with the vinegar and the water already mixed in it, that’s somewhere handy so you can grab it quickly, give it a little bit of a quick spray, and then you can rinse it and use your squeegee. So again, it’s about the easier you make it for yourself, then the more likely you are to do it. And the more often you do it, the easier the job becomes.

Brett McKay: So final question, in The Butler Speaks, you wrote that being a butler is about giving people the little luxuries in life. So after you’ve taken care of the big stuff of keeping a house, right? You’re doing the maintenance, the cleaning, managing inventory. What are some of the little luxuries people can give themselves to make their home a joy to live in?

Charles MacPherson: I think it’s about thinking of anticipating. So, for example, if you like to have a cup of tea in the afternoon, then that cup of tea can be a real pleasure if you have a nice teacup and you have a nice little teapot. You have some of your favorite tea, so that becomes a pleasure. So whether you’re making it for someone else or you’re making it for yourself, that becomes something really enjoyable. Or, for example, my mother, she likes to have a glass of wine in the evening. She uses a nice glass. She uses one of her crystal glasses from the dining room, not because she’s trying to be particularly fancy, but she just really enjoys that glass. And she says, well, I have to wash the glass by hand no matter what glass it is. So whether it’s just an everyday glass or a crystal glass, it’s the same thing. And so she gets more pleasure out of using the crystal glass. Or a simple pleasure can just be, for example, just having your bed made so when you come home and you crawl into bed, there’s nothing I think nicer than crawling into a freshly made bed. So to me, those are the little things that are enjoyable to try to think about.

Brett McKay: So this has been a great conversation, Charles. Where can people go to learn more about the books and your work?

Charles MacPherson: So the books, you can go to Amazon, which is anywhere in the world, and the books are available there. And you can go onto our website at And that’s where you can find out about a lot of things there too.

Brett McKay: Fantastic. Well, Charles MacPherson, thanks for your time. It’s been a pleasure.

Charles MacPherson: The pleasure has been all mine. Thank you.

Brett McKay: My guest here is Charles MacPherson. He’s the author of several books, including the book, The butler Speaks. It’s available on You can find more information about his work at his website, Also check out our show notes at, where you can find links to resources where you can delve deeper into this topic. Well, that wraps up another edition of the AOM podcast. Make sure to check out our website at where you can find our podcast archives as well as thousands of articles that we’ve written over the years about pretty much anything you think of. And if you haven’t done so already, I’d appreciate it if you take one minute to get us reviewed on Apple podcast or Spotify, it helps out a lot. And if you’ve done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing the show with a friend or family member who you think will get something out of it. As always, thank you for the continued support. Until next time, this is Brett McKay reminding you to not only to listen to AOM podcast, but put what you’ve heard into action.

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