FARGO - For Jenny Frueh, the decision to hire a housekeeper to clean her family's home was a matter of time.

She wanted to spend her free time with her husband and kids, not scrubbing floors.

"When I started to feel like I needed to give something up, I didn't want to be giving up time with my family. That was far more important," says the married mother of two.

But the decision didn't come easily.

Frueh, 33, of Fargo, works full time outside the home, but thought she should be able to handle the cleaning on top of everything else.

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"I would always have these justifications in my mind," she says. " 'Well, it's not that big of a house.' 'I only have two kids.' 'Other people work outside the home.' 'It's not this fancy, high-end home.' "

It took a while to let go of those thoughts, but now, two years later, she says her only regret is not doing it sooner.

"The relationships that I build with my family are far more important, and no one else can do that for me, and someone else can do this," she says.

Frueh is one of many in the Fargo-Moorhead area enlisting help with household upkeep, but it's not something you hear about in day-to-day conversation, though she'd like that to change so it becomes a more accepted practice.

"For moms, whether they're stay-at-home moms or working-outside-of-the-home moms, who live in an apartment or live in a big house or live in an entry-level, first-time home, whatever it may be, we all kind of do the best we can with where we're at, and if there are things that we can do within our means to help us do a better job of the things that are really important, we need to give ourselves some slack, and not compare and judge so much," she says.

Frueh says it helps to talk about it with friends who have the same pressures and concerns.

"As my husband reminds me, it makes me feel so much better to realize that other working moms do the same thing, so I kind of owe it to the moms like me that might be out there feeling the need to be super-moms," she says.

She and others say talking with friends is also the best way to find a reputable, trustworthy housekeeper. That's how she found hers.

Savanna Sagvold, who owns Fargo-based Perfectly Clean LLC, says she's noticed that people are getting more comfortable talking about it, which has helped her business.

"That's how I've gotten all my customers - through word of mouth and referrals," she says.

The 23-year-old Fargo woman, who's been cleaning homes since she was 11, says there's a "huge demand" for it, which she expects will grow as needs and attitudes continue to change.

"Women are taking on more jobs," she says. "They might have two part-time jobs or a full-time job and a part-time job."

Mary Stende, 55, of Fargo, who's had a housekeeper since she was put on bed rest while pregnant with her now-21-year-old twins, says it's become more common over the years.

"I think women of my age value our time, and if finances allow, we would rather spend our time with family or on ourselves rather than cleaning. Younger women with full-time jobs and a family are even more strapped for time," she says.

Frueh says she doesn't think women, no matter their age, intend to keep it a "secret," it's just "something they don't talk about because of those internal pressures that we put on ourselves."

Women may have hesitations, but Sagvold says in her experience, it's the men who're more skeptical about it, partly because many men - especially older men - were raised to believe cleaning is "the woman's responsibility."

"They think it's kind of an expense they could live without," she says, adding that it usually only takes a few times for them to realize the service's value.

Once you've picked a cleaning service, Sagvold recommends establishing open lines of communication right away.

She starts all new clients by going over her service agreement. For example, she and her four employees don't baby-sit, nor do they do dishes.

"They know what to expect, and I know what to expect, from the get-go," she says.

Frueh and her housekeeper call, text and leave notes for each other regularly so that when a concern does arise, it's not a big deal.

After all, like any in-home service provider, a good relationship is necessary for a successful arrangement.

But for many families, the housekeeper becomes more than a cleaning person.

Stende, for example, has worked with the same self-employed woman for the past 10 years.

"Previous to Shirley, I had a retired lady that my kids would think of like Alice from 'The Brady Bunch.' She didn't live with us but cleaned once a week and would often be there when the kids got home from school," she says.

Sagvold's a little young to be an Alice, but says her personality has helped land her jobs.

"I get to know all my customers on a personal level," she says. "To them, I feel like part of their family, so I think that makes them feel comfortable letting me into their home and helping them with things."

To let someone into your home is personal, let alone to let them tackle your dirt and dust.

Frueh stresses, however, that her housekeeper's not the only one who cleans. She wants to teach her kids to have some responsibility for the environment they live in, so they pitch in, too.

And, now that she has the outside help, she has more time to help teach them how to do it.

Tips for interviewing a potential housekeeper

• Find out how long they've been in business and how many clients they have.

• Ask for a few references, unless they were recommended by a friend.

• For additional peace of mind, run a quick background check on them.

• Ask which services they provide and which they don't.

• Ask if they bring an assistant, and if they use your cleaning supplies or their own.

• Be clear about what you expect from them, and ask them to be clear about what they expect from you.

• Find out how they'd handle a few theoretical situations that might arise.

• Make sure their personality is a good fit with yours.

Sources: Jenny Frueh, Mary Stende, Savanna Sagvold and www.care.com

Readers can reach Forum reporter Meredith Holt at (701) 241-5590