Devils and dust

I used to have billowing piles of dog hair drifting around my house like tumbleweeds, until along came the little wussified vacuum cleaner that changed my life forever.

Published May 25, 2005 7:28PM (EDT)

I don't like shortcuts when it comes to cleaning. My mother taught me that cleaning isn't just character-building, it pretty much defines your character. Those who know how to scrub a bathtub on their hands and knees using that scratchy green Ajax powder, who really get their backs into it, who engage in hand-to-hand combat with dirt? They're a cut above the rest of humanity. They've achieved a higher level of consciousness than the rest, those who use, God forbid, disposable wipes or self-wringing foam squeegee mops or that "scrub-free" spray-on-and-wipe-off stuff that's strong enough to leave you brain-damaged. My mom taught me that the sorts of people who take shortcuts with dirt are pathetic and spineless and hopeless, and they usually grow up to be drug addicts or sleazy politicians or, at least, end up folding sweaters at the Gap. (To my mom, the Gap was akin to purgatory.)

Needless to say, then, I was aghast when my friend bought me a Dirt Devil Sweeper Vac as a housewarming present. Not only did it look like a skinny, ineffectual, wussified vacuum cleaner, but it had some sort of Swiffer-type thing at the bottom that required you to buy Swiffer-brand "Dry Sweeping Cloths" in order to use it. (My mom had also taught me to be extremely suspicious of any product that requires the continued purchase of brand-name supplies.) On top of that, it was rechargeable, which meant it had to be plugged in most of the time, using up one of about five outlets in my entire house.

Then I got a little yellow and white puppy, and as my puppy got bigger, she grew more hair, and soon there were big, billowing piles of fluffy yellow and white hair drifting around my house like tumbleweeds. When I tired to sweep up these drifty hair piles, they'd float peacefully away from my broom, and land in some other corner of the room, undisturbed and unthreatened. Unwilling to let them get the best of me, I'd get on my hands and knees and wash the floors with Murphy's Oil Soap and hot water. Now, when I had an apartment, it took about half an hour to wash the floors in this semi-masochistic manner. The floors in my new house, unfortunately, took more like two hours, and even after all the floors were cleaned, my dog could glance at them and they'd be covered in floating hair clouds again in a matter of seconds.

After several weeks of spending most of my waking hours scrubbing my floors on my hands and knees, in a weak moment, I resorted to charging up the Sweeper Vac. The next day, I wielded it against a migrating herd of dust bunnies and hair piles. The experience was breathtaking! Light, easy to brandish, it glided across the floor, picking up everything in its path! Like magic, the dust and hair that wasn't sucked into the small vacuum was whisked up by the Swiffer attachment! A hairy room could be cleared in a matter of minutes, and nothing could compare to the satisfaction of throwing out that hair-matted Swiffer pad or dumping out the massive wad of accumulated hair and dirt in the vacuum's chamber. And, while at first I was disappointed that the battery ran out so quickly, eventually I came to understand the Zen of the Sweeper Vac: You're supposed to use it casually, effortlessly -- say, when you're in the middle of something else. Baking a cake, and notice a hair pile? Whip out the Sweeper Vac and five minutes later, the kitchen is clear. Expecting guests, and see a few dust bunnies under the dining room table? Break out the Sweeper Vac, attack those dust bunnies, empty it, and plug it back in -- all without breaking a sweat!

Of course, it goes without saying that my character has deteriorated substantially since I started using my Sweeper Vac. I'm the first to admit that I'm more pathetic and spineless and hopeless than ever, and I may very well end up folding sweaters at the Gap. But at least my floors won't be hairy in the meantime.


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By Heather Havrilesky

Heather Havrilesky is a regular contributor to the New York Times Magazine, The Awl and Bookforum, and is the author of the memoir "Disaster Preparedness." You can also follow her on Twitter at @hhavrilesky.

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