My Mom Taught Me “Postage Stamp” Vacuuming and I Still Do It Today

published Aug 1, 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!