February 5, 2007 at 11:11 am (culture, life, personal, thoughts)

This is sort of what our new vacuum cleaner looks like, only (for some strange reason) ours is purple, bordering on lavender.


It’s just a cheap thing, meant to hold us over til we spring for a Dyson, but it works just fine.

But as I was putting it to good use this morning, it got me thinking. It is a bagless model (pretty much 90% of the vacuums out there are bagless now, or so I learned Saturday morning while shopping at Lowes), which means that you get to see all the crud you’ve picked up when you go to dispose of it. Our old vacuum saw to it that everything got sucked up into an opaque tube and then whisked away into a white bag where you really didn’t give it a second thought.

I think, although I’m basing this on very little, that that represents a pretty interesting change from the history and development of appliances. It seems to me that the trend over the last fifty or so years was to remove all contact between the person cleaning and the stuff that needs to be cleaned; that with the invention and improvement of things like washing machines and dishwashers, the trend was really that you tossed all the gross stuff in there, magic happened, and then it came out clean.

But I think back to the introduction of the Swiffer (and a million other similar products) a few years ago. You attach this textured rag to a mop head (oh, basically) and then zoom it around your house. The crud sticks to the rag and then eventually you peel it off and throw it away. But you touch the filth in the process (you pretty much have to, to get the rag off of the mop head), and you see it as well. It doesn’t get taken off to some far-away land where you never have to deal with it and pretend it was never there in the first place. To the contrary – it’s right there, with your dirt and dust and cat hair sticking to it and made more visible than ever before. It seems to me that everyone who has ever owned a Swiffer has, at one point, taken the rag off and shown it to someone else with the reaction of “Omigod, look at this! Look at all this dirt! Wow!” I know I have.

Looking back on it, I’m slightly confused by the reaction I was expecting to get when I did this exact thing. Am I showing my loved one that we are filthy and disgusting for having generated so much dirt, or that we are clean and pious for having swept it all up? It seems to me that it’s a combination of the two. You have to be really filthy to get really clean. Maybe.

But okay, so here’s where this is leading: If we can call this “look at how much crud I have” quirk in the cleaning industry an actual trend, then what does it say about us? I can’t help but think that we love to see the filth we generate because it’s some sort of evidence that we’re actually here, that we actually are living in our homes and have people around us, and that not everything has just become virtual or meaningless or somehow completely artificial. Both blogging and creating art serve similar purposes for me. How do I know I’m actually alive? Well, I write in this thing, or I draw in my sketchbook – I create things that I can look at and put my hands on and know that I was there when they were made. Or, also, I shed hair and generate crumbs that get sucked up by my bagless vacuum and I get to say goodbye to those little bits of me before I send them off to a landfill forever. Right now, all these things (drawing, writing, generating crud) seem kind of like the same thing – evidence that I’m actually here and I haven’t checked out totally and someone forgot to tell me.



  1. kurt said,

    you have a point with the “proof i exist-i-ness.” i think it has to do with the freudian fecal stage. look at the poop i just made! plus, it’s proof your swiffer or vacuum is working correctly, you can see all the shit it caputured!

  2. amywilson said,

    1. We all knew someone was going to bring up the whole “staring at your own shit” thing.

    2. We also all knew it would be KURT!

  3. kurt said,

    am i that predictable?

  4. Andrew said,

    Have you read Junichiro Tanizaki’s essay, “In Praise of Shadows”? It’s good and it’s short. He has a similar, though different opinion on Western ideas about filth and crumbs.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: