When my old, cheap vacuum recently bit the dust (sorry, couldn't resist the pun), I realized that perhaps I didn't actually need a vacuum. It's not a lack of appreciation; they're handy tools, and sometimes even beautiful. (Living in Sweden last year, I was sorely tempted to bring home Pia Wallen's gorgeous special edition Electrolux Ultrasilencer.) But when you live in a tiny apartment with hardwood floors and only a couple of rugs, a vacuum isn't necessary, and there's a more eco-friendly option. Though more energy-efficient vacuums are being introduced, any electric vacuum has a carbon footprint, plus the impacts associated with manufacturing and transportation. Cheaper vacuums often break easily and aren't financially worth repairing (or can't be repaired), sending them quickly to the landfill.
For those in small apartments, using a broom is ideal for hard surfaces, and rugs can be dealt with the old-fashioned way: carpet beaters. Just hang the rug on a clothesline, if you have one, or over a balcony railing, and whack away. If you don't happen to have a carpet beater on hand, a tennis racket makes a nice substitute. (If you're looking for somewhere to buy a carpet beater, Kiosk sells a nice traditional rattan version from Finland).
For those with carpets, carpet sweepers are an electricity-free option. Last, another good option is just borrowing a vacuum. New product-sharing services available online make this easier than ever: Frenting lets you quickly ask friends when you need to borrow something like a vacuum, and Neighborrow, Neighborgoods, and several other sites offer similar services. Manufacturers are offering more and more eco-friendly vacuums, but as with anything, the ultimate eco-friendly choice is not to buy anything at all.
(Image: Flickr member nationaalarchief)