In 2016, I purchased one of the most expensive items I’ve ever owned. It wasn’t a pair of Gucci flatform sandals, though I want those desperately, nor was it a plane ticket for the vacation my therapist has been begging me to take. It was much better than either of these things: a Miele Compact C2 Canister Vacuum, and aside from my dog, it’s the first thing I’m saving in the event of a fire.
The notion of finding calm in cleanliness is hardly new. But for a generation raised by working parents who had less time than in generations past to teach their children how to take care of a home, the rediscovery of something simple like how a sparkling-clean baseboard can transform a room or, more to the point, the value of a high-quality deep-cleaning brush roller does seem somewhat novel.
Many overworked, stressed-out parents of millennials struggled to keep the dishes out of the sink and the mud outside. Few of them, in my experience, had the time to sit us down and explain that crown molding needs to be vacuumed with a brush attachment to keep the walls looking sharp, or that vacuuming the mattress and bed pillows a couple times a year extends their longevity (I do this monthly, however, because … dog).
While some blessed people have been clean freaks since they first learned to tidy their play areas in pre-k, I was not. My high-school bedroom was a war zone, complete with trenches created by enormous piles of clothes and books. But even still, every Saturday morning, my assigned house chore was to vacuum my family home before I could go out into the world, and this was when, despite my otherwise total rejection of all things tidying, that I unwillingly learned the value of clean floors.
There’s a sense of peace to be found when vacuuming the carpet and it turns a richer, purer color, liberated of the dust embedded in it. There’s a calmness that descends after dragging the hand-held hose over my despised West Elm sofa to temporarily free it of my dog’s hair, which somehow gets woven into the upholstery itself.
The advent of the two working parent-household coincided, more or less, with the decline of home economics class (which has been re-branded as “family & consumer sciences”). Originally designed to “uplift” the perceived value of women’s work, as Tove Danovich reported in an NPR piece on the subject, it became a target of feminist frustration by the 1960s. Today, only 15 percent of adults report that they learned cooking skills in school; overall, the existence of home economics courses declined 38 percent between 2004 and 2014 (although gender representation is closer to equal in what few classes there are left).
To our credit, a 2018 industry survey found that millennials “deep clean” their homes more often than Generation X or Baby Boomers, despite this lack guidance. This fascination with cleaning and tidying might have among its inspirations the lack of control millennials have over our environments and futures. We’re saddled with trillions of dollars in debt, our wages haven’t budged in years, we’ll be working until we’re 70 at least, and the insect apocalypse and a hole in the Antarctic ice foreshadow an imminent end to the environment as we know it. Is it any wonder that we’re turning to anxiety baking and spring cleaning in October as cheap but emotionally fulfilling pursuits, and as a way to exert control when we otherwise have so little? Further, is it any wonder we put off buying things like vacuums for so long, try to make do with Swiffers and paper towels? Thanks to austerity enforced by the sad state of our economy, we have a greater need and desire than ever to maintain our immediate environments, but don’t have the same resources our parents and parents’ parents enjoyed.
This attraction to control over our immediate environment can also be seen in Marie Kondo fervor, whose recently released Netflix show has had its fair share of criticism. But it has also inspired, according to the New Yorker, a surge of consignment store donations as the show’s watchers “KonMari’d” their wardrobes, kitchen cupboards, and junk drawers. I witnessed this myself, on a recent visit to both the Container Store, which was more wildly packed than I’d ever seen it, and Beacon’s Closet, where the racks were bursting.
Although the pressure to keep a clean home can cause stress, having one may help alleviate it. A 2010 study found that married women who described their homes in negative terms (cluttered, for example) experienced higher cortisol levels and more depression than those who described their homes in “restful” terms. The study controlled for baseline neuroticism, so the results held regardless of whether the subject was prone to anxiety anyway. (I’d love to see a follow-up study that tests the cortisol levels of subjects before and after cleaning their homes!)
All of this is to say that if you want to encourage yourself to clean more — which I’d recommend since it’s probably good for your mental health and, obviously, you get a clean house out of it — I’d like to make a suggestion: buy a good vacuum.
I’ve had a number of vacuums over the years, and prior to my Miele Compact C2, they were shit (I’d like to make clear that this post is not sponsored and I’ve never received any sort of gift or even communicated in any way with Miele). Among them was a $200 Shark, which was heavy, didn’t do well on upholstery or carpeting, and broke down after two years; and a lower-end Miele that was definitely innovative but ultimately difficult to use. My current vacuum, however, has never broken down or put up a fight. It’s good enough for my god awful tweed sofa, gentle enough for my vintage velvet armchair and ancient, hand-me-down Indian rug, and has a long handle to which I can attach the brush accessory to vacuum lamp shades or bookshelves.
At a cool $599 on Amazon, it’s absolutely not a casual purchase. But I can personally attest to its longevity: my parents have had a similar Miele vacuum for at least 15 years, and according to my mom, it is “still going strong!” That equals approximately $40 a year for the expensive Miele, as opposed to $100 a year for the Shark vacuum.
A simple task like cleaning my kitchen or vacuuming my rugs may seem small and relatively unimportant. But research shows that feeling control over elements of one’s life can help reduce stress, so is it any wonder that our generation is so attracted to the concept of home improvement? The capability to transform a chaotic environment into an orderly one can take my anxiety from a nine to a five or four; having a vacuum I don’t have to fight makes my pursuit of tidiness and eventual mental peace closer to effortless.