When Spending Money Equals Happiness: Why I Bought A Roomba
I bought a Roomba. Yes indeed, I am the owner of a $259.98 robot vacuum (affiliate link). And I’m pretty happy about it. Let me tell you why.
I have competing passions in my life: 1) I like to save money; 2) I love a clean house; 3) I love to write about money MORE than I love to clean my house; 4) I have two kids (who I love!). Lots of love here.
I’ve balanced these conflicting tenets for years but the birth of our second kiddo (last February) pushed me over the edge in terms of dirt and time.
Here’s a platitude I dislike: “Don’t clean while your children are young. Instead, relish every moment with them.”
I’ve heard this–a lot–and it irks me for several reasons:
- So what, we’re supposed to not clean for five years straight? How’s that going to work out? Is there a service that comes at the end of those five years and burns down our house and builds us a new one for free? Because I’m pretty sure that’s the level of remediation we’d need if I didn’t clean for the next five years.
- I’m supposed to “relish” every moment? Parenting is hard enough without the expectation that I’m loving every minute.
- Kids (mine, at least) put everything in their mouths. Everything. ALLLLLLLLL the things. Littlewoods snatched up a piece of raw onion that fell from the cutting board yesterday. Ate it. Seemed fine. This, by the way, was the least offensive thing she ate off the ground yesterday.
Since that platitude doesn’t work for me in real life, I’ve been grappling with how to keep our house not-condemnable without duct taping a broom to my hands. We don’t wear shoes in our house and we also don’t wear our outdoor farm work/hiking clothes inside, all of which minimizes dirt, but doesn’t eliminate it.
I Am A Neat Freak
I want to acknowledge that I am a neat freak. A clean-lover. A despiser of dirt. A maven of meticulous organization and cleanliness. I’ve run out of ways to explain that I like things clean. I have learned–through therapy and conversations with my husband and close friends–that my cleanliness level is higher than many other people’s. I’ve also learned that I can’t change this about myself. I’ve accepted that cleanliness is a core pillar of my personality. I’m not especially proud of this.
I wish I could be more easygoing about messes, but I’m not wired that way. Non-neat freaks do not understand this and classify me somewhere on the OCD spectrum, and they’re not entirely wrong. There is most certainly a level of OCD to my cleanliness. Fellow neat freaks understand the embedded emotions I feel surrounding cleaning and the presence of dirt.
What I’ve learned about myself (only took me 35 years… ) is that I can’t let go and live in a messy house. Clutter and dirt manifest as clutter in my brain. It’s tough for me to be centered and focused if my house is in shambles. Dirty kitchen countertops derail my thought process. I cannot sit down and write cogent articles at a messy breakfast table. This is, quite simply, part of who I am. And my cleanliness is unrelated to visitors or guests; I clean for myself and for my family.
After I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and anxiety last summer, I began to understand my need for clean within the context of my broader anxiety. Having this awareness–coupled with the medication I take (Zoloft, FYI)–has allowed me to reduce my cleanliness standards. A tad. A tiny bit. Enough to give me breathing room and less concern over every last crumb.
I’m not as fastidious as I used to be, which is refreshing. I can’t maintain a level of show-home-ready-cleanliness with two children while working a career I love while also, ya know, living on a farm. But I do require cleanliness in order to be an effective person.
When I hit my breaking point of dirt + kids + no time = stress, Mr. Frugalwoods and I outlined several solutions:
- I surrender to a dirty house.
- We hire a cleaning person.
- We buy a Roomba.
I Hired A Cleaning Person. Once.
Since #1 isn’t a sustainable option for me, I tried #2. Believe it not, I paid someone $100 to clean my house. I learned, through this experience, that hiring a cleaning person is not for me. While I was thrilled to support a small, local, woman-owned business, the whole thing stressed me out far more than it alleviated stress. I have a precise (some might say “ridiculously picky”) way that I like things cleaned and I realized it just wasn’t going to happen if I outsourced the work. So, that was a one-time adventure that didn’t pan out for me. A worthy experiment because you don’t know until you try.
Roomba + Zoloft
Mr. FW then suggested we buy a Roomba, which is a robot vacuum. I resisted. After all, I write about NOT SPENDING MONEY and I am physically able to clean my own floors. But then, as I try to do (with mixed results) when I have a visceral reaction, I reflected.
I thought about how much time I spend sweeping and vacuuming (a lot). I thought about how irked I am by dirty floors. I thought about all the other ways I’d prefer to use my time (writing, hiking, yoga, reading books to the kids) and I relented.
Pre-Zoloft, my anxiety around a purchase like this would’ve shut down all further conversation. Post-Zoloft, I recognized that I spend too much time cleaning and that my time could be better used on other projects. Projects that cannot be outsourced to a robot vacuum. I accepted that, in this instance, spending money was likely the best solution.
I used to invest a ton of mental and physical energy in the following activities:
- Identifying the dirt on our floors
- Being angry about the presence of the dirt
- Mapping out when and how I would remove the dirt
- Worrying about the dirt on our floors
- Then, when I finally had the time, cleaning the dirt
I was intrigued by the prospect of eliminating this grueling mental exercise.
A Note On Mr. Frugalwoods
You may at this point be wondering, “Where is your husband in all of this? Why doesn’t he just clean?” A valid pondering. Mr. FW and I operate our household according to a division of responsibilities. We are each in charge of a portfolio of chores that we’ve discussed, agreed upon, and ironed out in the 10.5 years of our marriage. House cleaning falls under my domain.
So much so that when Mr. FW offered to clean, I turned him down. It’s similar to when I offer to cook. He turns pale and ushers me out of the kitchen so that he can get down to business. He has indeed cleaned before and, I’ll be honest, I end up cleaning up behind him (no offense, just a fact).
Mr. FW performs half of our household chores (including all of the cooking and grocery shopping) and ALL of our outdoor homestead chores. Given his already heavy load, heaping cleaning onto his portfolio didn’t seem equitable or fair.
Helpfully, Mr. FW is the neatest man alive. He owns few things and he picks up after himself assiduously. He too appreciates a clean and organized home, which is why we’ve come around to the ethos that…
A Minimal Home = Less To Clean
Seems obvious, but it took me awhile to figure this out. The less stuff we have? The less I have to clean. The less stuff we have? The less I have to organize, store, and maintain. The less stuff we have? The less I have to buy. Owning less stuff delivers greater peace of mind and Mr. FW and I are both happier in an environment devoid of clutter. I also find this approach makes parenting A LOT easier. Our home is a tad sparse, which makes it baby-proofed, which means our kids are able to roam and explore independently.
The book Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids had a profound impact on how we parent and especially on how we think about stuff in relation to our children (affiliate link). The author posits that when kids have too many toys and too much stuff in their home environment, they have trouble focusing and playing earnestly with any given toy. They’ll flit from thing to thing without engaging in deep, concentrated play. Music to a quasi-minimalist’s ears.
We don’t have glass figurines on a side table waiting to be knocked over. We don’t have house plants waiting to be munched. We don’t have rugs for them to trip over.
Some might say our home is stark, but for us, it’s blissfully streamlined. I refer to our interior decorating style as “simplified preschool classroom.” Sums it up well. My approach isn’t the “right” or “best” approach, nor is it necessarily what you’ll want to do.
The idea is to orchestrate your home in a way that facilitates your lifestyle. In a way that brings peace, not in a way that creates chaos. I’m not a hardcore minimalist because I have tons of stuff stored in our basement. I don’t give everything away that doesn’t spark joy. I own way too much clothing that I never wear. My goal isn’t to force myself into a preordained definition of minimalism, but rather, to apply its principles to my life in the ways that work for me. This is precisely how I encourage people to apply the principles of frugality. Figure out what works for you, do that, and ignore the rest.
Spending To Increase Happiness?
Whoa, Mrs. Frugalwoods!! What you talking ’bout?! I bought a Roomba because I can afford it and because I identified that it will increase my happiness because it will give me back time and a modicum of sanity. Would it have been more frugal not to buy a Roomba? Obviously so. At the same time, I want to be frugal with my time as well as with my money. As I’ve written, there are many instances where I save BOTH time and money, but cleaning was not one of them.
Cleaning is free for me to do from a financial perspective, but that calculation didn’t take into account my usage of time and my resulting mood. My happiness is important. Your happiness is important. Endless spending does not equal happiness. However, sometimes, in some instances, targeted spending has the ability to increase your happiness, or at the very least, decrease your stress.
The ultimate goal of my frugality is to enable myself to spend money on the things that matter most to me and to have the ability to do so without fear about my finances.
There is no universal calculation for when it’s wise to spend and when it’s foolish to spend because this is a different metric for every person. This nuance of personal finance is what makes managing money so challenging. It’d be lovely if there was a little rubric we could all refer to that gave us a thumbs up or a thumbs down regarding any given purchase. But there’s not. Given the individuality of my decision to purchase a Roomba, please don’t misconstrue what I’m saying as: “everyone should buy a Roomba because it will change your life!” Not so. Instead, what I’m weaving (through this long-winded tale) is the concept that sometimes, spending in some instances yields a degree of happiness.
Should I Buy This Thing I Want?
While there’s no rubric for when to spend, there are some guiding questions I ask myself when I’m thinking about buying something that’s moderately expensive and not a routine purchase (such as my Roomba toomba!):
- What are the alternatives to buying it?
- My alternatives in this instance were: hiring a cleaning person, accepting a dirty house, or sacrificing my time in order to clean.
- Other considerations: do you own something similar that would suffice? Is this a one-time use item that you could borrow from a friend instead?
- Could you buy it used for a lot cheaper?
Is this a longterm or a short-term purchase?
- For example: when I choose to spend money going out to dinner with my husband–which we do every month–I’m consciously choosing to spend money on a short-term pleasure.
- I view the Roomba as a longer term purchase since I hope to use it for many years and it delivers repeated value.
- There’s nothing wrong with either of these types of purchases. I find that knowing which category a purchase falls under helps me calibrate how much I’m willing to spend. This is why I usually don’t spend $259.98 going out to dinner, for example, but why I was happy to spend that amount on a Roomba.
- Is the purchase representative of a spending spiral?
- I liken this to the junk food spiral, which goes like this: if I eat a few Cheetos (my weakness), I will quickly (like immediately) rationalize that I might as well eat the whole bag. I figure if I’ve eaten four Cheetos, what’s another 50???I’ve already fallen off my healthy-eating bandwagon, so I might as well go whole hog. This, in case you’re wondering, is why I don’t buy Cheetos very often. Just sometimes. When I’m in dire need of faux cheese.
- I apply the reverse mentality to my spending. For example: If I buy a pair of shoes, will I also rationalize buying a pair of pants and a dress too? Because I’m already buying clothes here on this website, so… why not add a few more things to my cart? Beware the spending spiral!
- This is why I advocate judiciously tracking your spending and considering each purchase on its own and with mindfulness. It’s so easy to load up a shopping cart–virtual or otherwise–because we’re already in the autopilot mode of buying.
- Can you afford it? Honestly?
- This is kinda what it all boils down to. Do you have an adequate emergency fund? Are you in debt? What are your financial goals? Are you able to contribute to a retirement account? What about other investments?
- If this question feels massive, and you’re not totally sure what your financial goals are, then you might consider taking my free Uber Frugal Month Challenge, which will guide you through an in-depth exploration of your money and your relationship to it.
- There were junctures in my life when I couldn’t afford to buy a robot vacuum. At this juncture, however, I can easily afford it and it’s not going to make a significant dent in my finances.
Following My Own Advice (sometimes I manage to… )
It’s so much easier to just tell you guys what to do! Hah. My mom used to joke, “Do as I say, not as I do!” In reality, my mom does a lot of good, so I try to do as she does. And I also try to do as I say. You may be familiar with my infamous 72 hour rule. If not, go here. If you’d rather not go there, I’ll relay the pertinent points for you below:
The 72 hour rule: do not buy anything (except for out-and-out necessities like prescription medication) for at least 72 hours after you initially consider buying it.
Here’s a step-by-step breakdown:
- Next time you feel the urge to buy something, write it down instead (or save it in your online shopping cart).
- Allow 72 hours to elapse.
- During this waiting period:
- Consider whether or not you actually need the item.
- Calculate what else you could do with that money.
- Explore if you already own something that could suffice.
- Ask yourself if it’s something you could find used for a much lower price.
- After 72 hours, reevaluate how you feel about the item. Do you still want it? Do you need it? Or has the desire faded?
Having a self-imposed waiting period on purchases enables me to evaluate my lizard brain reaction of, “I want it and I want it now!”
I find that the larger the purchase, the longer I like to wait before buying it. In the case of the Roomba, I’d say I halfheartedly considered it for years and seriously researched it for about a month. This sort of delay helps me avoid buyer’s remorse and it also reminds me of my values to not over-consume and to not own too much stuff.
Life With A Robot Vacuum
You may now be doubled over with curiosity about what it’s like to live with a robot vacuum. In a word: amazing. In a few more words? Oh twist my arm. Here are the details on the ‘bot we bought:
- Brand: iRobot
- Model: Roomba 690 (affiliate link)
- Price: $259.98
This price included the Roomba itself, its charger, and a virtual wall, which allows you to isolate Roomba to a certain spot and/or keep Roomba out of an area.
I have to add that we bought Roomba with our Fidelity Visa cash back card, which means we got $5.20 back. More about our credit card strategy–and how to earn cash back points–is here.
Why We Chose This Particular Robot Vacuum
There are cheaper, knock-off robot vacuums, but we decided to go with the slightly more expensive, name brand iRobot Roomba for several reasons:
- The iRobot brand has a reputation for longevity and can be repaired.
- Roombas are well built.
- Roombas are intended to be repaired if needed (they sell replacement parts) versus the knock-off brands, which, for the most part, aren’t repairable.
- We’d rather buy something once and take care of it for the longterm, rather than buy something cheaper and need to replace it.
Roombas have been around for awhile.
- iRobot has been making ‘bot vacuums since 2002, and so we figured they’ve figured all the ways a robotic vacuum can go wrong.
- This model of Roomba (Roomba 690) was top of the line a few years ago and, for our use case (more on that below), it seems to be the right trade off between price and features.
- It’s not the cheapest and it’s not the most expensive, which is usually the midpoint where Mr. FW and I end up with our purchases.
- Additionally, some of the newer, more expensive Roombas use computer vision to navigate around the house. These Roombas run in straight lines, which is good, BUT you have to keep the lights on for them, which is a deal breaker for us because we run Roomba at night after we go to bed.
How Does A Roomba Work?
Like magic. You turn it on and it vacuums the floor all on its lonesome! I really do find it magical. Different robot vacuums are programmed to vacuum in different ways and ours is a random Roomba, which means it doesn’t go in straight lines. It sort of bobs around the room, vacuuming as it goes and, eventually, it cleans the whole room. It has intelligence programmed in: for example, it’ll figure out that it’s going around a chair and will pivot to circle each leg of the chair.
We set our Roomba to vacuum the main floor every night right before we go to bed. It’s not exactly quiet (as in, you couldn’t have it vacuuming the room you’re trying to sleep in), but we don’t really hear it up in our room with our noise machine on (affiliate link). It vacuums the downstairs and then docks itself in its charging station when it’s done. In the morning, Mr. FW (who has become the Roomba’s body man), empties its dust bin into the trash can.
Then, I deploy Roomba upstairs in each bedroom once a week so that every room in the house gets vacuumed in rotation. I close the bedroom door so that it doesn’t stray outside of the room I want it to clean. Additionally, Roomba has a cliff sensor (I’m sure that’s not what it’s called), which means it won’t fall down the stairs. Thanks to that feature, it vacuums the upstairs hallway too. The only area of the house it can’t clean are the stairs. So, I sweep the stairs and then have Roomba clean up the detritus at the bottom of the steps. I have to stay, it would be really cool if Roomba could climb stairs and vacuum as it went…
I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how much dirt Roomba collects each night. I was worried it wouldn’t clean corners well and would miss spots, but overall, it does quite well. There’s a little brush-like arm that rotates underneath the Roomba to collect and funnel dirt, which seems to help with corners and edges of rooms. Before getting the Roomba, I figured I’d have to sweep and vacuum too, but so far, I haven’t. I do spot clean during the day sometimes when we experience a dirt event (such as spilled Cheerios or wood from the woodstove), but other than that, I don’t clean up after Roomba. I’ve fully outsourcing my vacuuming and sweeping and I’ve never been happier to stop doing a chore.
Getting Stuck: The Tale of A Sad Roomba
The biggest challenge our Roomba faces is an occasional lack of awareness about its height. Periodically (I’d say about once a week), Roomba gets itself wedged under a piece of furniture and can’t get out.
This only happens under our couch and under the coffee table that holds the kids’ toys because both of those pieces of furniture are just slightly (like less than a 1/2 inch) too short for Roomba to slide underneath.
Roomba glides underneath all of our other furniture, vacuums, and glides back out. Not so with the couch. The upside is that Kidwoods thinks this is hilarious and likes to help “rescue” Roomba in the morning.
I’m pleased that Roomba doesn’t get stuck in corners or anything, just sometimes wedged under too-short furniture. Given this, Mr. FW plans to make little risers for these two pieces of furniture to make them Roomba-able.
Ideal Use Case
One thing I want to point out is that the Roomba works really well for us, in part, because we have what is probably the ideal set up for a Roomba. Our house has:
- An open floor plan
- All hardwood or tile floors
- No carpets or rugs
- Minimum thresholds
- We pick up everything off the floor every night (Kidwoods picks up her toys and then Mr. FW makes a pass to gather any forgotten items)
- Mr. FW does one minute of furniture re-arranging every night to minimize the Roomba’s opportunities to get stuck
Roombas are in fact designed to vacuum rugs and carpets, I just don’t have any so I can’t speak to its abilities in this regard. If you have a Roomba + carpets/rugs, please share your experiences in the comments section and I’ll update the post!
Roomba = Endless Fascination For Kids
If you’re looking for a way to fascinate/terrorize your kids (and pets too, I imagine), you can’t do much better than a robot vacuum. Kidwoods (age 3) keeps a respectful distance from the Roomba and regards it with an equal measure of reverence and fear.
She quizzes us periodically about the nature of the Roomba’s existence since it operates on its own, but doesn’t appear sentient. The epitomization of her curiosity over Roomba’s potential humanity was in the following question, which she posed to Mr. FW:
If I touch the Roomba, will it feel like skin or like wood?
Deep thoughts by Kidwoods. Littlewoods, being a year old, is flat out terrified of the Roomba. Given this blend of fascination and fear–and since the Roomba is noisy and scattershot in its movements–I find it easiest to run the Roomba when we’re not in the room, though you certainly don’t have to do this.
Final Thoughts On Life With Roomba
This Roomba represents a lot for me. Might seem silly, seeing as we’re talking about a robot vacuum here, but it was a pivotal purchase and represents a subtle shift in my mindset. For me, the Roomba is emblematic of:
- My desire for simplicity in all aspects of my life. I need things streamlined so that I have a prayer of making it through each day with both children, my home, and myself intact.
- My acceptance of half-measures and imperfections. The Roomba equals my embrace of ‘good enough.’ Roomba is not an ideal cleaner-upper and sometimes misses some dirt and sometimes gets stuck under the couch. But Roomba is good enough. Accepting this good enough solution means I’m free to engage in more meaningful pursuits.
- My realization that sometimes spending money can make my life better.
- My ongoing commitment to spending money on things that matter and that are priorities. What this ultimately means is that I’ve admitted–to myself–that clean floors are a high priority for me. I don’t need to militate against that desire any longer. I don’t need to dwell on my frustrations, I can acknowledge them and solve them.
For a long time (years, I tell you), I didn’t want to admit that I wanted a Roomba. I didn’t want to be a person obsessed with clean floors. I wanted to embody a carefree mentality vis-à-vis floor dirt. But that’s not who I am. That’s not honest about what I need. Accepting that a Roomba actually does make my life better is kind of embarrassing. But it’s also liberating. Hi, I’m Liz and I love my Roomba.
Do you have a robot vacuum? How’s it working out for you? (P.S. if you have rugs/carpets, let us know how it does on those!)
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