Thursday, July 13, 2017

Suck it up (a vacuum cleaner repair story)

Today's blog post is brought to you by the letters "R" and "E", my favorite letters.  These combined letters, for example, lead off almost every word in the list that Bea Johnson (my Zero Waste Hero) uses to avoid trash:
  • Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot (just barely missed the 'e' on that last one!)
And for frugalists, there are also the words "Receive" and "Repair", which will be the themes of the rest of this post.

Enter the main characters of today's story: the vacuum cleaners.

Twenty five or more years ago, before I even moved to this city (much less into this house), I bought a canister vacuum cleaner from Sears.  About a decade after that -- after I married my husband, moved to this multi-story house, and acquired a hair-shedding dog -- we got a second vacuum cleaner.  I vaguely recall the reason being something like this:  the original vacuum cleaner stopped working, so my husband naturally assumed the correct response was to get a new one, while I naturally assumed the correct response was to take the vacuum cleaner to a repair place, and we both followed our natural inclinations.  That might not be the actual reason -- we might have just decided it made sense to have a vacuum cleaner on each floor.  But the truth is, it was convenient to have both an upstairs and a downstairs vacuum cleaner, and the original cleaner did at some point get repaired.

Since that time, both vacuum cleaners have started having what you might call "personalities".  The upstairs (original) vacuum cleaner has been working less and less well, making incredible amounts of noise and appearing to work hard while having little noticeable effect on the dirt.  (In this way, the vacuum cleaner isn't entirely unlike its teenage users).   The downstairs, "new" vacuum cleaner developed some kind of electrical glitch so that the electric carpet brush would do its spinny thing only while we pushed forward, but would stop all action when we head backwards (I can't decide if that describes anyone in the house or not).

My husband started making more and more frequent comments along the lines of "we need to buy a new vacuum cleaner".  Naturally, I resisted, procrastinated, and urged a "wait-and-see" approach.  A new vacuum cleaner would get just as much mauling from our energetic sons as the old ones did; maybe we could limp along with what we had a little longer; yadda yadda.

I actually did poke around a bit on Craigslist.  Vacuum cleaners, even used ones, are much more expensive than I remembered -- running $100 (or even $500!) used.  Dang.

And then, in the way these wonderful things have their way of happening, some neighbors on mentioned they were putting a vacuum cleaner at the curb -- anyone who wanted was welcome to come get it.  Bingo!  I love getting stuff I need on the cheap, even better if it's free.   I popped the trailer on the bike, peddled my way down the tree-lined boulevards to our neighbors' home, loaded the new-to-me vacuum cleaner into the trailer, and toodled back on home. That's the REceive part of this story.

Alas, this vacuum cleaner ALSO had a personality, in that the brush head seemed not to work at all (although the machine worked just fine for bare floors).  So now we were up to three vacuum cleaners, only one of which actually cleaned carpets anymore, and even that one only when you pushed forward.  J-son started balking at his weekend chores, saying the vacuum cleaner wouldn't work at all and we needed to buy a new one.  I handed him a broom, and he figured he'd rather vacuum pushing forward.

But still, it seemed like it was beyond time to go find a good repair shop.

Part of the reason I'd hesitated so long (aside from the time aspect of not wanting to think about this while I was working long days) was that the most recent, nearby repair shop I'd been to was a little sketchy.  So I hunted about a bit on the internet and found a place that seemed highly ranked at the long, long distance of 8 miles from my home.   I put the two non-working machines in the car (sigh), drove to the repair shop, and dropped off the vacuum cleaners.  After the guy repaired them both, I dropped off the forward-only vacuum while picking up the fixed machines.

Man, I love me a good repair shop.  They're often owned by really interesting people, for one thing.  This shop was run by a guy who'd inherited the place from his father, who started selling and repairing vacuum cleaners in the 1940's when a bad back forced him off the factory floor.  Bluegrass hymns played over the speakers, and a cat slept under the cash register.  When I picked the vacuum cleaners back up, the owner spoke earnestly and even a little lovingly to me about the fixes he'd made: replacing ball bearings in the rollers, filters, belts, and electrical connector cords.  He'd cleaned the innards of each machine out, and they looked much, much better than when I'd brought them in.

And, wow, when you've been using a vacuum cleaner with a personality, it's such a treat to bring home and then use a vacuum cleaner that actually picks up all the dirt.   On the first pass.  Wow.

So, what's the takeaway from this repair?
  1. We now have THREE vacuum cleaners that work, for the price of buying one new machine.  Whoop!  (We don't currently need three vacuum cleaners, of course, but when the kids start moving out, we can gift one or two of them with the extras, so they'll come in handy in the near future.)
  2. We kept THREE vacuum cleaners out of the landfill.  The only trash was a couple of broken belts, dirty filters, bad ball bearings, and cut cords.   Well, plus whatever exhaust comes with making three 16-mile round-trip automobile trips to the repair shop.  
  3. We avoided the need for the world to produce three new vacuum cleaners (with all the plastic, copper, energy, etc that goes into making them).
  4. We supported a local family-owned business.

Two of my three (working!!!) vacuums,
enjoying the sunshine by the back door,
on their return home from their trip to the vacuum salon & spa.
What a great getaway vacation they had!!!

And those are some REally good REasons to RElish REpair shops. 


  1. Me too! I love to get things repaired. Recently I took two sewing machings in to get repaired and what a difference THAT makes. Good job!

  2. I think one of my little happy moments in this story is when the repair guy, in the midst of explaining the ball bearings replaced, the supremely clogged filters he'd excavated, etc, the electrical cords that had shorted out our been severed, the hoses that needed shortening because of damage, etc., pointed to our broken handled and said , "I wrapped duct tape around that. It seemed to work."

  3. Love it! I know you likely did basic repairs yourself along the way too. I love to do little repairs on vacuum cleaners to keep them running strong (tho the Dyson my husband got as a present does befuddle me, and I wish I hadn't sold my sturdy, cheap, easily fixable one). I have pulled many a vacuum cleaner out of the dumpster at my school, and almost all of them have the "they don't work" complaint. In a dorm full of females, want to guess why they don't work?

    A pair of scissors and a giant pile of hair later, and I often end up donating several vacuums to the thrift store each year. Agreed that repairs help a lot. I share your sadness at the urge to buy new instead of fixing.

    1. Good for you! I am embarrassed to admit that I have done very, very little maintenance on these vacuums. The repair guy was actually somewhat in awe of just how clogged the filters (and motors?) had gotten, and of how much work he had to do to clean them out again. So tsk-tsk on me.

    2. I wager you have less hair issues than our dorm full of gals ;-) But, yes, maintenance is important. I make my husband service our current vacuum. He desperately wanted a Dyson, so his mom bought him one for Christmas. I don't really like it, and he loves it. Ergo, his job!