My Mom Taught Me How to “Postage Stamp” Vacuum and I Still Do It Today

published Oct 4, 2023
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someone vacuuming rug
Credit: Joe Lingeman

I don’t know any child who’s grateful to be doing chores in the moment, but I for one (looking back) am glad for the cleaning habits I learned as a child. Although you never would have seen it coming if you saw the state of my bedroom as a teen, being raised in a clean and organized home set the standards I have for my own home now — and the environment, I hope, is affecting my kids the same way.

So many of the specific home habits I have come straight from what my mother taught me, either overtly or by example. I always let my bed air out in the morning and open the blinds immediately. My vacuuming habits are also influenced by the cleaning we did in my childhood: My mom always put a wet paper towel over the dirt to keep it from scattering into the air when she emptied the vacuum cleaner. I still do that to this day, along with another vacuuming habit she taught me: postage stamp vacuuming. 

I’m pretty sure postage stamp vacuuming is unique to our family. I’ve certainly never heard the term anywhere else! But when I go to grab my vacuum cleaner, I often think of the phrase and put it into practice. 

So what is postage stamp vacuuming? It simply means vacuuming the easiest, most accessible space in a room in the quickest way possible. This is in contrast to a thorough vacuuming job, in which you vacuum under furniture, or an even more thorough job where you move furniture and get behind the furniture and under the couch cushions. A postage stamp vacuuming is a quick and effective way to uplift the room, even if you don’t have time for a complete vacuuming session. 

When I recently asked my mom about postage stamp vacuuming, she thought she had been telling me when I was a child not to vacuum just a “postage stamp,” but to put more work into it and vacuum under furniture. But that’s not the message I took into adulthood. 

Choosing at times to do a postage stamp vacuum has helped me let go of perfection and helped me have a pretty clean house most of the time instead of a really clean house some of the time. Rather than not vacuuming at all unless I have time to do a “proper” job and then either living in a dirty space until I have time for that or trying to (stressfully) squeeze a thorough session into the time I don’t have at the moment, I can pick up my vacuum and do what I can without any guilt. 

By giving a quick vacuuming session a name, it becomes a technique I choose instead of a lazy copout, and this reframing has powerful implications both for me mentally and in my daily life at home. In fact, having the option of a postage stamp vacuum session in my mental cleaning checklist makes me pick up the vacuum cleaner more often and, ultimately, helps me enjoy life at home. Thanks, Mom! 

This post originally appeared on Apartment Therapy. See it here: My Mom Taught Me “Postage Stamp” Vacuuming and I Still Do It Today