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The Household Appliance That Legit Changed My Life

Photograph by Twenty20

A little over eight years ago, I became a mom for the first time. Having a child changed many things about me, but one thing that remained the same was my lack of ability to keep a home, a room or a square foot of my living space tidy.

In almost all the baby photos of my son, it's not hard to spot piles of clothes, toys and (sometimes) trash lining the walls in the background. The photos that might make you think the room was clean only appeared that way because I'd shoved the debris out of the frame before snapping the pic.

My husband and I are both pretty laid-back on matters like these, but we could never have company over without a full day of cleaning to prepare. Even then, visitors would have been closed out of our bedroom. Not for the sake of privacy but because you could never see the floor or tops of our dressers.

But then, for Christmas one year, I bought myself a robotic vacuum. It was a used, early-model Roomba. It didn't work all that well, but it triggered a profound change in the way we lived.

The coolest thing about most robotic vacuums is that they can be programmed to run on a schedule. They don't have quite the suction of an upright, but I figured if it ran every night while we slept, our carpets would have to be cleaner than they were with our "only vacuum when the floor is disgusting" schedule.

For the first time in my life, I was cleaning every night, religiously, before bed to avoid being woken up later.

I programmed it to run nightly and a magical thing happened: The vacuum would wake me with beeping every night when its brush got tangled up in charging cables, socks and other random junk hiding in the corners and under furniture. Before we hit the sack every night, we cleaned up the floor and double-checked that the vacuum wouldn't encounter any obstacles. For the first time in my life, I was cleaning every night, religiously, before bed to avoid being woken up later.

My Roomba was training me.

Over time, we as a family have learned to pick up every night. Having the excuse of "You don't want the vacuum to eat your toys, do you?" is very effective at motivating my kids to put their things away. Now, we can have company over with very little notice, and it doesn't mean shoving our mess into closets and under beds.

I'm a "messy creative." I've come to terms with that. But I'm also finding ways to force myself to develop tidier habits. We've upgraded to a Neato robotic vacuum, which follows a logical path through the room instead of bouncing around randomly like the Roomba. It's so lovely to wake up to fresh carpet lines on a spotless floor as if I'd been cleaning in my sleep.

It turns out that being a messy creative doesn't mean I have to live in a garbage heap or that I can never have company over. And now our baby pictures feature … babies. I just needed a little robot to eat my toys when I left them laying around.

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