Friday, 23 September 2011

Swept away

Francesca @ FuoriBorgo

Is the vacuum cleaner an essential appliance? I've always thought so. But in the last few months, pushed by mechanical failure, we've discovered that, in fact, it may not be.

Our vacuum cleaner was a 4 year old small-size cylinder model of a well known Italian brand, mid-price range. It came with a 2 year warranty, and it worked very well. For two years, that is.

A few days or so after the warranty had expired, the hose split open. I sealed the crack with duct tape, and it continued working for another few months.

Then, one of the plastic wheels broke off. So I decided to do without wheels. At this point, my three year old vacuum cleaner looked like it'd been through the wars (which, in all honesty, is what vacuuming my house sometimes feels like), but it was still chugging along.

Then, just a couple of months ago, it stopped dead while I was using it, and no amount of coaxing, unplugging and re-plugging it back in, no gentle (or firm) tapping, did the trick. It was a goner.

Now, the repair shop is about a 3 hour round trip from my house, in a town where I rarely go unless strictly necessary. Partly because I don't have that time, and partly because gasoline has shot up to €1.60 a liter. But also because, in Italy you pay just to have an estimate for repairs, which these days cost far more than to buy a new item!

So I decided to do without a vacuum cleaner, at least temporarily, and to see whether a vacuum cleaner is in fact an indispensable appliance. In fact, where we live, this was a real test, with the mud and dirt of the surrounding forests and fields, the sand from the nearby beach, the ash and bits of firewood in a house that's primarily heated by wood, the dust and sundry bits and pieces from our ancient house. Not to mention our the three children (need I say more?)? So it's not like a vacuum cleaner wouldn't be handy.

My conclusions? A broom & dust pan don't quite measure up to a vacuum cleaner in three main ways:

1) Efficiency: much dirt and dust are left behind after sweeping, and there are many areas in a house that a broom can't reach properly.

2) Time: since sweeping isn't as efficient as vacuuming, I have to sweep the floors all the time.

3) Cost: though sweeping the floors is free (unless I pay myself an hourly wage!), since sweeping is less efficient I have to wash the floors much more frequently, which means paying for hot water and detergent -- hence, I'm not saving much money, and may actually be spending more.

In my opinion the vacuum cleaner is an essential appliance to get a necessary (and tedious) household task done efficiently and in a short time. Yet still I hesitate to have my 4-year old vacuum cleaner fixed, because I dread the inevitable diagnosis, and refuse to accept that things these days are made to cost less instead of lasting longer.

Does this mean that I'm coming to a new definition of "essential"?