Not a Great Housekeeper? Rosie the iRobot to the Rescue

Despite the fact that I work online, the truth is that I’m not that much of a techie. I don’t do Instagram. I don’t own a Kindle or an iPad. I don’t do even do online banking, or reserve campsites online, because I’d rather a phone conversation, with a live person. I’m not that much of a gadget person, either.

So although I’d heard about those amazing, vacuum-cleaning robots, and admired them from afar, I was pretty sure I’d be the last person on Earth to ever have one. I already had my cheapie all-plastic Eureka vacuum, and my trusty broom and dustpan, all of which seemed to do the trick.

My 600 series iRobot Roomba Vacuum Cleaning Robot came into my life as a house-warming gift from some dear friends, the Gores. I felt so grateful for their generosity to present me with such an extravagant present. Darcie, Jim, Laura and Jeff Gore are all extreme techie people, so I was not surprised that this would appeal to them. Plus, Darcie, Jim and Laura all have robot vacuums in their homes, and love them. The Gores could be Roomba ambassadors. For all I know, they are.

Darcie said that many people actually name their Roombas, which seemed absurd, since I’ve never named a new appliance before. Wait. Was this an appliance? But, OK. I humored her. I named my Roomba “Rosie” after the Jetsons’ maid, a dependable robot who cleaned, cooked and even acted as a defacto domestic adviser and grandmother.

The Jetsons family photo. Rosie the robot is on the left, and appears to be goosing George Jetson.

As a kid, the Jetsons, the family of the future, was one of my favorite cartoons. I couldn’t wait to grow up and buzz through in the sky in my flying car, and have Rosie the robot wheel around and clean up my messes.

My friends went home, and left me to get to know Rosie on my own.

She was round and flat and solid, with a little flip-up handle, I guess for carrying or relocating her.

She looked nothing like a vacuum. No cord to plug in. No messy dust bag. No long handle to grip and push back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. In fact, this was human-hands-off vacuum that sought out dirt and worked alone, something that blew my mind.

My little iRobot looked more like piece of athletic equipment that a muscle-bound person would throw during an Olympic competition.

I read the directions, and chose a location for Rosie’s docking station in the living room beneath a side table. That’s where my Roomba would charge itself, and after cleaning, return all by herself to the docking station where she would park and snap into place. What a world.

After Rosie was fully charged, I pushed the “clean” button to see what she would do. Off Rosie went like a shot, whirring, and wildly spinning her little under-belly brushes, dislodging and sucking up particles from baseboards, rugs and floors, racing back and forth in no particular order, at least not that I could discern.

I know it seems weird, but this is the only way for me to capture this video for tomorrow's column. It will make sense tomorrow. I hope.

Posted by Doni Chamberlain on Wednesday, January 24, 2018

She seemed in such a hurry! And she was unstoppable. If she hit an obstacle, she’d flip around and try another path, undaunted. About an hour later she was done, and returned to the docking station. She even sang a little instrumental victory song to signal her mission was complete.

I extracted Roomba’s small debris-collection bin and was shocked to find it filled to capacity with dust, crumbs, paper, thread, lint, and just all kinds of bits and pieces of little stuff, all of which I dumped into the garbage.

I could learn to love my little Rosie.

Since then, I’ve learned more about Rosie. Mainly, although she isn’t rattled by thick electrical cords (as demonstrated under the chair, in the video above), she is not fond of thin fabric that gets in her way. For example, my living-room drapes are long, and because I haven’t gotten around to hemming them yet, they sag on the floor. Rosie doesn’t approve. She’d prefer I not procrastinate. She’d prefer I shorten those drapes to make her job easier.

Rosie is a Love-and-Logic kind of gal.  She made her point when she sucked up my living room curtains, chewed them up and then refused to spit them out. She went on strike. I got the message as I carefully pulled the tattered curtains from Rosie’s undercarriage.

Rosie had her way with Doni’s curtains, but it was Doni’s fault for leaving them so long.

Yes, Rosie. Sorry, Rosie. I’ll get right on that, Rosie.

The thing I love most about Rosie is that she’s a much better housekeeper I am. For one thing, although I like the concept of a clean house, it’s rare for me to vacuum all the way under all the furniture, mainly because vacuums are usually too large and cumbersome to reach into all those narrow, confined spaces. That’s why God invented moving days.

But bless her little mechanical heart, my Roomba roommate has higher cleaning standards than her owner. In fact, her specialty is cleaning beneath furniture. One day, I caught her looking frustrated when she kept banging into my bed frame, trying multiple ways to gain access it, to no avail.

I hate when Rosie’s upset, so I bought bed risers so Rosie could zip freely beneath my bed and gobble up every dust bunny. I know she’s happier with this development. I can tell. She just sounds happier. She almost whistles when she works.

Although the Gores like to leave their robot vacuums to work while they’re gone, so they return home to the satisfying sight of vacuum tracks on the carpets, after a few rogue Rosie incidents in my absence, I feel more comfortable giving her some supervision.

There was the time I’d left Rosie to clean and when I returned, the house was quiet – no sound of Rosie working. But she wasn’t in the docking station, either. I looked everywhere, and still couldn’t find her. Finally, I looked under my bed. Sure enough, there she was, sleeping. Hey, what is a bedroom if not for sleeping? Poor thing. She worked until her battery died.

I had to crawl on my belly with a long stick to extract her from beneath the bed.  I tenderly set her in the docking station to recharge.

Another time I arrived home after leaving Rosie running through the house, and I found little pieces of red Christmas wrapping paper strewn everywhere, squished like little origami accordions. She must have found the paper under the couch. She didn’t have to throw it around.

I will do a better job of picking up paper, Rosie. I promise.

But even when I’m home with Rosie, she has a mind of her own. Once I was sitting, uh, in the bathroom when the door banged open. Just about gave me a heart attack. It was Rosie. Obviously, she hates when I shut her out. I’ve learned to lock the bathroom door if I want privacy when Rosie’s on the move.

Similar to people who clean before their cleaning person arrives, I’ve learned to Rosie-proof the house before put her to work. I pull all the cords and curtains up and out of her way. I’m a quick study. But then, Rosie is a good teacher.

I’ve learned that if there’s a room that I don’t want Rosie to enter – such as the bathroom – my iRobot Roomba came with a small Virtual Wall device that looks like a black plastic flask that does the trick.

iRobot’s Virtual Wall sends a signal that tells the Roomba to not enter.

When placed on the floor, the Virtual Wall sends out an invisible barrier that the iRobot Roomba will refuse to cross.

Mostly, like good housemates, Rosie and I have adjusted to one another. I’m hemming my long curtains. She doesn’t barge into the bathroom uninvited.

Even so, as wonderful as Rosie is, I haven’t given up my old Eureka vacuum, because there’s one extra thick bedroom rug that Rosie – Lord knows she’s tried – cannot manage to climb up and over to vacuum. So she just bangs into it, and keeps trying different sides of the rug, in hopes that she can gain access that way.

That’s how I discovered Rosie’s competitive streak. One day, while Rosie was busy vacuuming the living room, I got out my Eureka upright vacuum to clean that plush bedroom rug. Suddenly, Rosie burst into the bedroom, and slammed full force into that thick carpet. She stopped, that single green eye blinking madly, and went nose to nose with my Eureka.

A vacuum standoff between Doni’s Roomba and Eureka.

This would have been a good time for Rosie to learn the Serenity Prayer.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (thick carpet pile).
Courage, to change the things I can (the direction)
And the wisdom to know the difference. 

In the meantime, I’m so happy with Rosie that I’m considering broadening my technical comfort zone. Maybe one day I’ll get a Kindle, or an iPad, or even one of those Priuses that can parallel park.

But only if I get the green light from Rosie.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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