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The Case of the Missing Moisturizer

The Case of the Missing Moisturizer

By Amalah

Hi Amalah,

Long time listener, first time caller here. I have a situation I’m hoping you can help me sift through. Ugh. So a couple months ago I tried out Philosophy Hope in a Jar on your advice and I’m hooked. It’s awesome. I don’t usually splurge on beauty stuff like that but wow, it’s really great stuff.

Advice Smackdown ArchivesLast week, my little tub of it disappeared. On a day when our house cleaner was here and, later, we had a babysitter. Both were in the bathroom at some point that day. I hate this because I trust both of them and never had any reason not to. But I have looked everywhere and it’s not here. (And unlike many things in my mess of a house this is something that doesn’t roam from room to room, and it’s not within reach of the kids).

So did I mention that I hate this? I don’t know who took it. I am not much of a confronter, and I can’t picture any conversation about it that doesn’t smack of weird privilege issues. Really, how does this sound? Someone took my face cream! It must have been you! You covet my face cream! Bleh.

But the deal is that this incident raises major trust issues for me. I’ve known the cleaner for a year and a half and never had any suspicions or problems. She’s self-employed and does the whole by-the-book tax filing for what I pay her and everything. She has come to clean the house when we were on vacation. Total trust.

And the babysitter? She has been sitting for our two kids 2-3 times a month since last summer, and she was employed (and recommended) by our day care provider before that.

Our kids are 4 and almost-2, so we’re still in the territory of having to take the babysitter’s word on a lot of things.

So what would you do? My current idea is to talk to each and simply present my predicament, that I don’t have any reason to suspect either, but obviously someone did it, and I need to know that I can trust people in my home when I’m not there. But what purpose would that conversation serve? Other than making me feel like, whew, I did something about it. I’m not pining for a dramatic confession, and I can’t see firing someone because *maybe* they (or someone else they’ve never met) took something from my bathroom counter. My husband thinks I should drop it. But then what if one of them is taking stuff and I’m trusting someone I shouldn’t? Ayudame!

-Not eager to take on the role of matron firing the help over petty theft.

“Hey, so this is weird, but I’m hoping you can help me solve a little household mystery. My jar of face cream appears to have vanished off the face of the earth — or at least the bathroom counter. Have you seen it, by any chance? Small white container, black lid? Do you remember moving it somewhere, or seeing the kids carrying it around? No? Okay, if you could just keep an eye out for it, I’d really appreciate it, because man, it’s driving me crazy!”

You can indeed ask AND give your sitter and housecleaner the benefit of the doubt at the same time. Like you said, you have no reason to suspect that either of them took the item, other than the fact that they had access to it. But for most people — even people who AREN’T depending on their good standing and trustworthiness within a household to keep them employed and paid — access to the contents of someone’s medicine cabinet does not result in casual theft of used beauty products.

(The more tempting and less-obvious offense, I’d think, would be to sneakily use the product bit by bit while leaving the container behind, but that has absolutely nothing to do with anything, other than the fact that I’m clearly putting too much thought into a life of cosmetics-related crime.)

Like you, we have a part-time nanny every week, and a housecleaner who comes twice a month. There is absolutely no way to overstate my agreement with you that your ability to trust people who come into your home is extremely important. I trust our sitter with the lives and well-being of my children. I trust our housecleaner to take care of our home and possessions and to not root through my jewelry box while dusting. I am very, very fortunate to have these women in my life, both from a perspective of privilege AND because they provide invaluable, sanity-saving tasks for me and I really value what they do for our family.

But the thing is, stuff’s gone missing for us sometimes too. The first time it happens, I imagine it’s only human to suspect that it’s been “taken” but the fact is 99.99999% of the time it’s actually just gotten moved. And it turns up, eventually. Stuff gets put in a different cabinet after coming out of the dishwasher, similar-looking kids’ clothing gets put in the wrong closet, beloved toys get left outside and let’s not even try COUNT the times my children have been directly responsible for swiping something I SWORE was “out of their reach.” There’s honestly just no such thing or place, unless you’re talking about a locked and thoroughly child-proofed cabinet. My two-year-old can absolutely get his mitts on things on our bathroom and kitchen counters that I THINK are pushed too far back, but oh, he used a hanger or my hairbrush to knock it over and it rolled right off, or he pushed a stool over, or I absentmindedly left a jar of face cream close to the edge one morning and the five-year-old wandered off with it because he wanted to use it as a table for a LEGO-person picnic. Seriously. ALL THE TIME, this happens.

Obviously, I have no real idea what happened in your case, and sure. Some people steal. I’d imagine, if you do have someone with a sticky-finger habit in your house, that something else will go missing in fairly short order. But one isolated incident over a period of over a year? Personally, I’d chalk that up to the mysterious Household Underpants & Missing Sock Gnomes and not let it eat me alive too badly. I’ve had stuff mysteriously reappear weeks and months later — sometimes turning up somewhere completely bizarre (a missing necklace of mine turned up inside a plastic nesting barrel toy that I didn’t think ever got played with anymore) or sometimes turning up in a place that I swear I already looked a good dozen-and-a-half times. Even if an item never reappears, there’s always the simple chance that it accidentally got knocked into the wastebasket, or something. Again, I’d have a hard time getting too bent out of shape over ONE household mystery with a good dozen possible solutions that involve total innocence (or simple carelessness), and I wouldn’t allow it to cause “major trust issues” or anything like that. (Unless, you know, you believe your gut instinct is trying to tell you something. But my gut instinct tends to be just as disorganized as my bathroom counters.)

By all means, ask your sitter and cleaner for help, but tread VERY carefully, and don’t jump into accusations, because they deserve better than that. Imagine you also had a dear friend or family member over in the timeframe of the Missing Hope in a Jar and wanted to find out if they saw it before it walked off. If someone DID take it, saying something at least alerts them to the fact that 1) hey, you NOTICE stuff like that, and 2) it’s probably a good idea to NEVER DO IT AGAIN, even if they claim ignorance this time. But if I were the person who DIDN’T take it, I would be pretty freaking offended — even devastated — that someone would think that I was the sort of person who steals USED MOISTURIZER, for the love of God.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Robin

    January 26, 2011 at 7:22 pm

    I agree with Amalah on this one! I have a house cleaner who comes once a week, and there have been a number of occasions where something has gone missing in my house and (unfortunately) my first instinct is to ask myself if the house cleaner took it. On every single occasion I have been extremely relieved that I didn’t say anything because the object in question has always turned up! From the perfume bottle that I found in my shoe (!) to a piece of jewelry that finally turned up behind my dresser, things have a way of just appearing. I would recommend that you at least wait a few weeks before saying anything, just in case it magically appears.

  • Liz

    January 26, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    Yeah, I’ve got to give a big AMEN to Amalah on this one.  I mean, do you really think you’re that organized that you couldn’t possibly have lost/misplaced/had a four year old find it and eat it in the backyard?
    I only say this out of experience because I thought a friend had stolen money from me once.  I kept it in a plastic drawer thing, and one day it was gone.  I looked in that drawer probably 20 times, searched my whole apartment and was getting really angry and ready to confront her.  Luckily, I looked in the drawer one last time, and the money had gotten stuck in the back, like behind the drawer.  I felt sooooo crappy for even thinking my friend could have taken it.  And if I would have confronted her, there would have been some major trust issues I’m sure (as in her no longer trusting me).  
    I would totally assume it’s your bad, but you could definitely ask if they’ve seen it.  Good luck! 

  • Eva

    January 26, 2011 at 9:45 pm

    If you really, really think it couldn’t have been one of the kids, listen to your instincts.

    I’d bet on the babysitter taking something instead of the house cleaner, and here’s why – your house cleaner has a reputation in her profession to protect. Presumably she cleans for other households, and her reputation and livelihood depend on her honesty and trustworthiness with other people’s things.

    If you really, certainly believe that someone took your personal face cream – that’s stealing, intrusive, and upsetting.

    It’s so odd as to what people think they can get away with. My trusted sitter stole prescription painkillers and denied it. (She was the only one in the house, my child was 1, no excuses, but she denied it.)

    I’d ask the babysitter straight on, and judge her reaction. I think you should be able to tell if it’s straight up surprise or potential guilt. Go by that, and give her the benefit of the doubt. Good luck!

  • kenandbelly

    January 26, 2011 at 10:26 pm

    I second Amalah’s thought about it getting knocked into the wastebasket. Is there a cat around? I ask because mine has been known to tip things off the bathroom counter just for the heck of it. I’ve fished my watch out of the bathroom bin a couple of times.

  • J

    January 26, 2011 at 10:32 pm

    eek! not to sound insensitive, but a missing jar of face cream doesn’t even come close to being on the same level of things to worry about as missing prescription painkillers (that are presumably thoroughly accounted for.) the babysitter has just as much of a reputation to maintain as the housecleaner does because chances are she’s watching other people’s children (more important than things) and may be responsible for light household chores as well. this may lead her to being a professional nanny. amy’s approach seems to be the most appropriate given the circumstance that this is the first time the OP has noticed something to be not where it should be. just a casual “hey have you seen it in your travels? could you keep an eye out for it?” will do what amy said of letting them know that you do notice when things go missing. good luck and keep us posted!

  • kari Weber

    January 27, 2011 at 12:05 am

    Seriously… if I were to start out on my life of crime… a jar of face cream is NOT were I would start out.  Not only is it OBVIOUSLY something someone uses EVERY day, therefore, noticeable… but, out of ALL the things in a house… THAT is what screams “I have to have it”? ( … hmmm maybe I am also looking into a life of cosmetic crimes?…)  I think that Amalah’s response saves EVERYONE’S dignity and I don’t see any way to see it otherwise.

  • Oh, Crap

    January 27, 2011 at 8:48 am

    As a former nanny, I totally agree with Amalah. One family I worked for had me do some tidying after I got the kids to school, and part of my routine was to go into the parents’ ensuite bathroom and clean up after them. I’d wipe down the sinks and put things back in the drawers.

    One time, the mom couldn’t find her cream and she came to me, really annoyed and confrontational sounding, and she said “Have you seen my REALLY EXPENSIVE face cream??? I can’t find it ANYWHERE and you’re the ONLY person who would have seen it last.” I went back with her to the bathroom and showed her where it was, in the wrong drawer, my bad. She could have just said in a more nonchalant tone, “I can’t find X, can you help me?” and I wouldn’t have had to feel so insulted.

    Anyways, I didn’t need the job all that much so I quit the following week. I didn’t need to be working for someone who automatically suspects me – what happens when something important inevitably goes missing, calling the cops? Too bad for her, because I was an awesome nanny.

    So that’s the flip side – if you accuse your housecleaner or your babysitter outright and they didn’t do it, they may be 1) so insulted that you would suspect them and 2) so fearful that you will suspect them again in the future, that they quit to protect their reputations from someone so hasty and quick to accuse.

  • Melanie

    January 27, 2011 at 8:53 am

    I totally agree with Amy’s response. This kind of stuff has happened to me and I have no kids/babysitter/cleaner to blame. Sometimes stuff just gets moved, shoved into a drawer, or whatever. Gently let them know you’ve lost it and and would they keep a lookout for it and be done with it. Also, I’m not sure how your cleaning lady works, but every time my DH cleans the bathroom I lose everything because he just randomly shoves it in a drawer or moves it and forgets to put it back. I don’t complain because Woohoo! he cleans the bathroom! But, that could be a possibility, too.

  • Katie

    January 27, 2011 at 9:30 am

    I was convinced that our babysitter (who had her own baby along) took a super cute pair of leggings that my daughter wore all the time. I know! It sounds really awful now that I am confessing this! But, we used these leggings all the time, they were the best at staying on, blah blah, and then they just disappeared on the day the sitter was there with her baby. I looked everywhere and was 100% positive they were gone. Of course, a few days later, I found them somewhere in the house (don’t even remember where). I hate that I tried to blame someone else. But, I also know it is a kind of natural instinct where there is a really mysterious disappearance that you just can’t seem to explain…. anyway, I think you should try to fight that instinct, maintain the trust you have in these people, and look forward to seeing your face cream reappear. 🙂

  • Kate

    January 27, 2011 at 11:55 am

    So my grandmother is elderly and has quite a bit of paranoia induced by the beginnings of dementia. Sad. But sometimes when she accuses the neighbor of stealing *half* of the newspaper or the 30-something housecleaner of stealing her old, stained, grandma sweater, it gets a little comical. Guess what? No one has ever taken her stuff. (and because of the dementia, it often turns up in odd places. Keys hidden in the pillow case?) I’d say you probably just misplaced it, or accidentally threw it away. But I like Amy’s advice on how to approach the two women!

  • Susan

    January 27, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    Amy – your answer here was perfect!

  • liz

    January 27, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    I love your answer, Amy!

    And yes, OP, please check the trash. You would not BELIEVE the number of times I’ve found stuff in there.

  • Jay

    January 27, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    I like the idea of asking if they’ve seen it and/or saw one of the kids walking around with it.
    I also want to point out that many of these responses seem kind of naive to me. Hate to say it, but people steal and kleptomaniacs don’t always steal the obvious things of value–it’s more the thrill of taking something, anything. A friend of mine’s family had a housekeeper for eleven years who one day decided to steal the valuable coin collection on a top shelf in her parents’ bedroom closet. Completely random, and they couldn’t pinpoint when it was taken, but taken it was and no one else had been in the house. It made them wonder about all the other little things that had gone “missing” over the years–knick knacks, the change on the counter, magazines. You can never be too careful, and letting these women know something might be up without accusing them is the best way I can think of to preserve innocence but also not be foolish.

  • grammy

    January 27, 2011 at 4:43 pm

    Forty five years ago, I was a harried single mother trying to take care of my adorable son and work full time and keep some semblance of a house that the health inspectors wouldn’t condemn. I couldn’t afford nannies or housekeepers, but had the help of a few wonderful friends who babysat for a pittance or for free so I could work. One day, my birth control pills went missing. Luckily for me, I wasn’t in need of birth control at the time, just taking them as a precaution in case Prince Charming happened into my life some day. So, while I searched frantically EVERYWHERE, they were clearly stolen. Not a trace. Which of my dear friends would have done such a thing? None of them. Oh, Please, let me be crazy rather than think one of them did this.

    The baby was not yet walking, so he was too little to have gotten hold of the compact and removed any of the pills and, even if that had happened I would have found the tampered-with compact and called poison control. Not a trace. So I had to stop taking them and wait till my next cycle to get back on the Pill.

    Several months later I was going to make a big pot of soup and crawled way back in the back of the lower cupboard to get out my huge soup pot that was rarely used. Inside was my little pink compact of Pills. Obviously none of my dear friends had put them there. Junior was playing around in the “safe cupboard” (the one with nothing he could get hurt with) and decided to play one of his favorite games of moving things from one object to another and no one saw him do it.

    Amy’s answer is perfect. You might check in your kids’ toyboxes and closets for your expensive face cream. If not there, look in the big soup pot in the back of the lowest cupboard in the kitchen.

  • Lisa

    January 28, 2011 at 12:26 am

    I don’t know how relevant this is, but it’s on my mind. We have cleaners every other Wednesday. Every other Wednesday my face wash is missing from the sink. Of course I notice it every other Wednesday night, when I start to wash my face and it’s not there. I always find it eventually. Medicine cabinet, under the sink, cabinet over the toilet; it’s like a game! Last night it was in the shower, lined up with my shampoo and conditioner. I have no explanation for this, everything else is pretty much left in the same place it started out. Apparently Tasha just really disagrees with keeping face wash on the sink.

  • Olivia

    January 28, 2011 at 8:38 am

    So, the only time I have had the priviledge of having a house cleaner was when I was an exchange student in Spain. My house mother had a regular maid, and she would makes the beds in my room and do light pick up and sweep everyday. One time my roommates shoes went missing. Thankfully she didn’t accuse the maid of stealing because we eventually found them under a table that had a floor length table cloth on it. For some reason that is always where she put shoes that were left out. I think she was trying to mess with us/teach us a lesson. 🙂

  • cagey

    January 28, 2011 at 10:34 am

    Amy is spot on regarding this.  I have had two situations where I was missing items.

    Situation #1 – no kids, no babysitter, only a housecleaner.  I was missing some small perfume bottles,which had been tucked away in a far corner of my bathroom.  Normally, I would have written this off as my mistake, except for the fact that I had JUST seen them 2 weeks prior and specifically thought “Oh, those will be perfect for my business trip coming up.”  Two weeks later and they were gone.  After that, I requested a specific team of housecleaners and refused to have anyone else in my house.  One of the gals from that trusted team told me of some of the shenanigans from the other teams (including raiding the fridge – YUCK)

    Situation #2: two kids, a babysitter, no housecleaner – I had some gift cards tucked away, that went missing.  I hemmed and hawed over what to do because I was shocked shocked! that my babysitter would have taken them.  Well, the shock! was real because a few weeks later, I remember a hazy, foggy recollection of having SPENT the gift cards myself (I think they were to Target or something, easily forgotten)  I was HORRIFIED that I had thought my babysitter could have done something like that.

    Amy’s approach walks that fine line – a “hey, I noticed this is missing, have you seen it?  ”  that clearly says “if you did it, I notice this sort of thing” and “if you didn’t do it, hey, can you help me out?  I am a space cadet here!”


  • JenVegas

    January 28, 2011 at 1:05 pm

    I also agree with Amy on this. But and also…do you have a husband? I don’t have a nanny or a housekeeper but I do have a husband and 8 times out of 10 when I think something has gone missing or I am making my self craaazy trying to figure out where I put that sweater, or that box of whatever the culprit is my husband thinking he is being helpful but putting things in all the wrong places.

  • Jaymee

    January 28, 2011 at 5:18 pm

    I seriously laughed out loud when I read JenVegas’s comment. I have the same problem with my husband. He’s forever picking something up and putting it in the wrong place. I had to ban him from doing the dishes because It would take me forever to find things when I was trying to make dinner.

  • Melissa

    January 28, 2011 at 7:52 pm

    I think it bears pointing out that of the two people that feel that their cleaning person or babysitter did steal from them, neither really has proof that the person did it.  I’m not saying these people are wrong, but it just seems like the comments have about 20 stories of being proven wrong after suspecting someone, and 2 stories where it “must” have been stolen.

    However, I have lost stuff and asked the cleaning lady or nanny to keep an eye out for it.  I’ve lost and found enough stuff that I never think it’s that they’ve taken it, but, they’re in the house and the cleaning lady especially might be looking places I don’t.  So I think it’s ok to say “Hey, I lost my face cream, can you keep an eye out for it,” but be careful to do so neutrally.  

    And lastly, our cleaning lady has put stuff in truly bizarre places.  She once put an electronic remote log-in token in our medicine cabinet. Another time she put my water bottle someplace neither I nor the nanny could find for two straight weeks, but then when I asked her about it, produced it from somewhere in the basement in about 30 seconds.  

  • Melissa

    January 28, 2011 at 7:53 pm

    I think it bears pointing out that of the two people that feel that their cleaning person or babysitter did steal from them, neither really has proof that the person did it.  I’m not saying these people are wrong, but it just seems like the comments have about 20 stories of being proven wrong after suspecting someone, and 2 stories where it “must” have been stolen.

    However, I have lost stuff and asked the cleaning lady or nanny to keep an eye out for it.  I’ve lost and found enough stuff that I never think it’s that they’ve taken it, but, they’re in the house and the cleaning lady especially might be looking places I don’t.  So I think it’s ok to say “Hey, I lost my face cream, can you keep an eye out for it,” but be careful to do so neutrally.  

    And lastly, our cleaning lady has put stuff in truly bizarre places.  She once put an electronic remote log-in token in our medicine cabinet. Another time she put my water bottle someplace neither I nor the nanny could find for two straight weeks, but then when I asked her about it, produced it from somewhere in the basement in about 30 seconds.  

  • Stephanie

    January 28, 2011 at 8:07 pm

    Amy’s advice is spot-on. When my daughter was 2 or 3, we lost an entire set of brightly colored rubbery coasters-six of them. For about a year. They weren’t expensive, but it drove me absolutely batty that they were just GONE. Then one day I was re-organizing a closet, tipped a clear plastic bin upside down as I was moving it, and there they were,in the bottom of the box with the duplo blocks. My daughter had obviously decided that they were hers (they were so bright and colorful! And sort of squishy, too!).
    And I certainly don’t think this is the case with your face cream, but I swear to God that my dog ate my very favorite Tiffany silver basketweave ring. It is the only possible explanation for its’ disappearance.
    My point is that your face cream will in all likelihood turn up, in some very strange place.

  • OP

    January 30, 2011 at 8:49 pm

    Hi, it’s the original poster. First off, I’m so flattered and feeling almost-famous that my question was posted here. I still haven’t found my face cream nor have I talked to anyone (except my husband) about it. I have scoured the house (well, the bathroom and nearby rooms) and it’s nowhere. I looked through the garbage a few times, in more than one room, and I’ve emptied and replaced the contents of the shelves of the bathroom a few times too. I’ve asked my daughter, who didn’t make funny face when she said no, she hadn’t seen it (I’m talking about the funny face she makes when she *does* hide something–and no, I have not dropped her from the list of suspects…) Thank you Amalah for your advice–I like the angle of “help me out here!” that really is so perfect. Because I really do have no reason to suspect anyone of deviousness (except perhaps for the 4 year-old) and I really do often lose things. Just not this kind of thing. (Keys yes, but face cream? I don’t carry it around the house and out to the car.) Anyway, next time the babysitter and cleaner are here, I’ll try this out. In any case, I do expect it’s more likely that I find it in a year or so, stuck between floor boards or in a pot of soup.

  • Melissa

    January 31, 2011 at 11:10 am

    Totally agree w/Amy here. Way too many things that I “KNOW” were RIGHT THERE… end up being ooohhhh in my daughter’s hot little hands… especially lately. And she can reach everything lately. I’d need shelves that I couldn’t reach if I wanted to ensure that she couldn’t reach them. Funny/true story. I lost my wallet… searched the entire house 16x over… searched the car up and down … finally called the husband at work and made HIM unhappy. Only to get a call from my daughter’s teacher at school asking why we sent a 2.5 year old into school w/credit cards in her BACKPACK… she had apparently gotten her hands on it and well, it’s funny now.

  • Tasterspoon

    February 5, 2011 at 4:45 am

    Agree with the above, but if this becomes more than a one-off and you become sufficiently suspicious you could always lay a trap. My grandmother had a guy who came around periodically to fix things around the house. I always got a bad vibe from him, but I could never put my finger on it – and he did indeed do a variety of handyman jobs for which I should have been grateful, as she was living alone, I was working in a nearby city and the rest of my family was overseas. So I was cool towards him and my grandma got the picture that I wasn’t his biggest fan, but I otherwise held my tongue. Then one day my grandmother announced that we wouldn’t be seeing him again. I was surprised, but she mentioned that she had noticed small amounts of cash go missing (for example she had boxes of change ready for highway tolls) but particularly from her cash stash in her bedroom dresser. She was an old lady, but not one to be trifled with. So she salted the pot: put twenty or forty bucks in the bedroom dresser location and waited for his next visit. When it went missing, she confronted him. He didn’t deny it, but simply left.

  • The gold digger

    February 5, 2011 at 11:20 am

    I never stole anything when I was a babysitter, but I could always find the hidden Playboys in the bathroom.

    My maid in Chile used the vegetable brush to scrub the toilet: