I’m Returning the Robot You Bought Me For Christmas, Honey.

Roomba-880-Lifestyle-2This year, my husband gave me an iRobot Roomba for Christmas. Oh, yes he did (that was to your, “No, he didn’t!”). There was a time early in our marriage when I distinctly remember telling him NEVER to buy me a vacuum cleaner, because I couldn’t bear it if our marriage reached that depth of despair. I thought he was listening, but maybe not.

He has struggled in the past with gift ideas. He knows I always have cold feet, so one year he bought me electric foot-warming slippers. They plugged into the wall, so I guess they were only for reading or watching TV on the sofa. They didn’t work out for me because (1) they looked like shaggy carpet-covered clogs, and (2) I was afraid I’d forget I was wearing them and fall flat on my face when I got up to grab a beverage. I understood the sentiment behind the gift, and I thanked him. Then I returned them.

I was initially a little stunned by the fact that he’d apparently forgotten the “no vacuum cleaner gifts” rule we’d established. He unpackaged the robot and its charging base, and he and my sons set about charging it up and reading the user’s manual to understand how it worked. My first thoughts were that it couldn’t possibly pick up much and that it would get stuck under furniture, or on lamp cords, or work its way into a corner and stay there, spinning in circles.

I was wrong. It’s actually surprisingly effective at picking stuff up. It’s heavy, and it has a beater brush, so it can really get a lot of stuff up off the floor. It has no suction (it’s technically, then, not a “vacuum” cleaner, and maybe that’s how the man justified the purchase), so it misses some stuff here and there. But overall, we were impressed.

After giving it a few test runs, he was convinced that it was a successful gift item and encouraged me to “get to know it.” As if it was a new member of the family or a new pet. I was still avoiding it like a pile of clean, unfolded laundry.

Finally, after the Christmas break was over and he went back to his office and the kids went back to school, I decided I would try to like this thing. I put it in the middle of the kitchen floor and pressed the “clean” button on top.

It’s a bit loud, first of all. But it’s amazing to watch this thing in action. It finds the edges of the room, or the edgets of a piece of furniture, and it sweeps all the dust and dog hair right up into its (too small) waste reservoir. When it heads towards an object or a wall, it slows down about two inches before it hits so as not to blemish anything. It doesn’t get stuck in corners, on power cords, or under furniture.

The patterns the robot makes are seemingly random, but it seems to focus for a long time in one room before finding its way into the next. It cleans for a good 45 minutes before it makes its way back to its charging station and backs into its spot, blinking a “full” icon to indicate it needs to be emptied.

Amazing. So why am I returning my new robot friend? I’ve used it daily for two weeks now, and I’ve reached the conclusion that it’s not saving me any time or effort. Here’s why:

Before setting it down to get it going, I spend too much time clearing the room of potential obstacles. The drapes in the living room, for example, which puddle on the floor and slow it down, or the dog bed in the family room. This doesn’t have to be done; it’s my own OCD tendency.

The dog is terrified of this thing. Not skittish, not wary. Terrified. He hears the thing begin to whir and he slinks quickly and quietly up the stairs with his head down and his tail tucked between his legs. It just makes my heart sad. He is NOT like the confident dog in this picture:

roomba10

Photo Creds: http://www.onegreenplanet.org

The reservoir is just too small. I have a little mutt that sheds like five Alaskan Malamutes combined. The reservoir fills up within the first ten minutes and then the rest of the time it’s roaming around picking up nothing because nothing else fits. I suppose I could empty the reservoir every ten or fifteen minutes but what’s the point? Where’s the time/effort savings in that?

The worst issue: I follow the damned thing around the whole time it’s cleaning. I try to sit at my desk and do work, or make a phone call, or even just sit and read a magazine, but I have to know what it’s doing. What was that it just bumped into in the dining room? Did it just move that potted plant? Is it getting stuck under the coffee table finally? Why didn’t it pick up that little piece of thread in the middle of the carpet? I’m so intrigued with this thing, I can’t just leave it alone and ignore it.

So, again, my sweet and thoughtful husband, thanks but no thanks. I truly do understand that your gift was intended to give me some respite from the neverending drudgery that is vacuuming, and I love you for it.

Let’s make a deal. Never buy me another vacuum cleaner, and I promise never to buy you a nose and ear hair trimmer. Now, let’s never forget we had this conversation.

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