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The Super Practical Gift That’s Surprisingly Romantic

Roomba vacuum with a smartphone displaying the iRobot app beside it
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by iRobot.

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I’ve always been a bit frazzled by what it takes to keep up a home especially when I like mine to be as close to sterile as possible. But maintaining a minimalist, clean look isn’t easy when you work a full-time job and have other demands outside of caring for your home. It’s worse, I imagine, for caregivers who also work eight hours a day, or for people who live in bigger spaces than I do.

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One example of my maintenance exhaustion is how often I cook, which dictates how dirty the kitchen floor gets during the week. During quarantine, I swapped my weekly meal prep regimen—which allowed me to do one big cleanup, rather than many small cleanups—for cooking whenever I needed to eat. I was fastidious about sweeping afterward, but I found it always delayed my evening plans a bit, which were already a bit delayed by cooking. So I was elated when my boyfriend got me a Roomba last year for my birthday. A vacuum isn’t the most romantic gift in the world, but he gets me. (Did I mention I like my home sterile?) Finally, I thought, I don’t have to sweep every day!

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I appreciate anything that takes something off my to-do list, and now, with my Roomba managing the day-to-day floor cleaning, there’s one fewer thing that I have to do. I can focus instead on any number of tasks—relaxing, work, calling family, seeing friends—or just go to sleep a bit earlier.

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How well does it work? Setting it up is really easy. I connected it to my Wi-Fi and Alexa within 15 minutes. The initial charge was the longest, most excruciating part, mostly because I was excited to see what it could do. In fact, I had a particularly messy floor for it to tackle—I’d cooked lunch that day, and I hadn’t had a moment to clean up the kitchen.

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When I got it up and running, I was completely captivated with it. As Caroline Mullen so eloquently described for Food52, I, too, spent the first day or so shadowing the Roomba, making sure it did what it said it was going to do. And, like Mullen, I was both enthralled and appalled by how much dust it collects over the course of a week. (I have mine scheduled to run every weekday at 6 p.m. after I’ve cooked for the day.)

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Like everything we love, there’s a downside. It’s pretty loud, so I give myself a reprieve on Saturdays when I catch up on my shows and eat takeout; I deep-clean my apartment on Sundays, so I give it a day of rest then as well. And I don’t recommend it for more than replacing your daily sweeping. I learned well from my nana that nothing beats a standing biweekly appointment with a standing vacuum. (Invest in that Dyson. Thank me later.)

Still, during the workweek, I enjoy the ease it brings. I can do something else while it wanders around the apartment, hopping over rugs. It rarely knocks into things now that it knows my space. You do have to be mindful of any cords on the floor, and of the Roomba running over your foot or getting stuck behind something. (I had to rearrange my bathroom so that the Roomba would stop getting stuck between the tub, the toilet, and my Squatty Potty. And, no, I don’t understand how it got trapped behind a squatty potty either.)

It’s also low-maintenance—my running theme here—and the iRobot app has alerts for when certain parts of the vacuum need to be serviced. But a general rule is to empty out the dust bin every week and replace the brushes every six months. IRobot, the company that manufactures the Roomba, sells a replenishment kit with three filters and one set of new brushes for $49.99.

I consider my Roomba a small investment that’s totally worth it for effortlessly clean floors and a bit less stress. As the holidays approach and we scramble to clean up for—and after—guests, I can’t think of a better gift to yourself or someone you love.