Saturday, July 16, 2005


This weekend is a typical weekend in the Brain household, and a good part of it is spent cleaning. "Cleaning" means sweeping and mopping the floors; scrubbing the bathrooms; vacuuming the carpets; helping the kids put away their puzzles, games, train sets, dinosaurs, dolls, cars, trucks, etc.; changing the linens; and generally straightening.

Then you add to that the normal daily cleaning chores like doing the dishes, cleaning the kitchen, doing the laundry, putting stuff away, etc.

And what you find is that the average American household wastes a ridiculous amount of time every week cleaning. 20 hours per week is not an unreasonable estimate of total cleaning time here at the Brain household. Keep in mind that we have four kids, but I'd bet even a childless household spends an average of 10 hours per week.

This is extremely sad because:
  1. If you take 20 hours a week and multiply by 52, you get 1,040 hours of wasted time per year. If you got paid $10 per hour for that time, it represents over $10,000 in wasted time per year -- Roughly 20 man-weeks of totally useless time.

  2. The work of cleaning has absolutely zero redeeming value. Cleaning is a TOTAL waste of time.
There are approximately 100 million households in America. If each one wastes 10 hours a week on laundry, dishes, sweeping, scrubbing and so on, that is 52 billion hours a year wasted. If that time is worth $10 an hour, that's $500 billion in wasted time every year. It is a shocking, staggering amount of totally wasted effort.

Within 20 years -- 30 years at the most -- robots will do all of this cleaning work for most people. That's why people in 2050 will look back at us in the same way that we look at people in the 1800's. In the 1800's, folks were so primitive that they were milking their own cows by hand, churning their own butter by hand, making their own soap by hand, picking and weaving their own cotton by hand and so on.

No "normal" American living today in an urban or suburban environment can imagine milking a cow or churning butter by hand. This is incredibly primitive labor in today's society. In the same way, no one in 2050 will be able to imagine the incredible amount of time that we waste cleaning today. They will laugh out loud when we tell them about getting down on our hands and knees to personally clean each toilet.



At 9:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A lot of these cleaning requirements are simply the result of poor design, and the resistance to change that accompanies human endeavors. Robots may be the kludge that finally overcomes poor design, but really how hard would it be to implement a self-cleaning bathroom, no robots necessary? Not at all; I recall reading about some gas stations doing this many years ago (put a drain in the middle of the floor, lock the door, activate a couple of high-pressure steam vents - presto! a clean bathroom).

I can't wait until the computer-industry mindset (i.e., automated systems design, self-maintenance and self-diagnostics, iterative improvement, etc.) pervades the home-building and architectural industries! Home-building today is a total kludge with more in common with the 10th century than the 21st.

At 8:19 PM, Blogger jackie said...

I don't know about robots cleaning our apartment. I live in New York City and like everyone else here our apartment is jammed with stuff we need, neat stuff we found or bought on the street, books, newspapers, magazines, and a couple of bicycles. I just don' think a robot would be able to sift out the stuff we want from the trash..

At 7:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sure it will. Think of how your spam filter works. You can have a box in your front hall. Stop by and retrieve anything that isn't trash and the robots will learn which things are which.

Actually, I'd just as soon not have the robot throw anything away. They'll empty the trash cans, but anything else left lying around will either be put back or placed in the box mentioned above.

If you are too lazy, you could always just say "trash" to your house before trowing stuff on the ground.

At 10:58 PM, Blogger pat said...

It's surprising to see how eager people are to diss things like the Roomba, even without having tried it, even if it means a lot more doing a lot more mind-numbing physical labor .

At 2:26 AM, Blogger Liron Shapira said...

I think this calculation is wrong:

If you take 20 hours a week and multiply by 52, you get 1,040 hours of wasted time per year. If you got paid $10 per hour for that time, it represents over $10,000 in wasted time per year -- Roughly 20 man-weeks of totally useless time.

The 20 man-weeks figure seems to come from taking the ratio of $10,000 worth of wasted time to the average American yearly income of $25,000 or so (40%). There are 52 weeks in a year, and 40% of 50 is about 20, hence 20 man-weeks. But this definition of a "man-week" would mean that there are only 40 man-hours per week (weekly hours worked at a full-time job).

Anyway, the correct number of wasted man-hours comes from dividing 1,040 hours per year by 168 hours per week: about 6.2 man-weeks.

Check out my own SadTech-type article about waiting in line at

At 3:29 PM, Anonymous Paul said...

Cleaning is a TOTAL waste of time.

My wife seems to think otherwise. Can I point her in your direction when I would rather be learning a new language instead of cleaning again?

At 2:36 AM, Blogger Braxton Perry said...

Home oxygen...

At some point we will be making hydrogen in our homes to use in fuel cell cars. Now the question is what do you do with the oxygen?

You use it to clean.

Bathroom water could be enriched with oxygen gas and clean as it is used. Washing machines could have a superwhite button and use lots of oxygen and no chlorine.

Lastly you put the oxygen in your ICE car and burn it! Why have mechanicly and cost expensive turbochargers and superchargers when you can have pure oxygen? it adds two cylinders in the same way that Mercedes and VW do mechanicly with turbos and kompressors as they call them.

People will be getting fuel cells soon enough, but they will have to wear out their ICE cars before they become fuel cell only households.

At 6:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

but what about the bennefits of churning your own butter and cleaning your own house. 1. the butter on the store shelves is crap and is completely toxic just like a million other products. If we churn our own butter sure time will be wasted at first but if we eat healthily we will live longer and make up for it.

At 10:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't dismiss cleaning as entirely a waste of time. Sometimes the drudgery of moving furniture, flipping over seat cushions, etc. can be productive and a lifesaver. Not all homes, furnishings and appliances are meant to last forever. Moving, touching, looking at these objects can tell you if it is worth keeping or just in need of preventive maintenance or major repair. What happens when you don't clean out the lint filter of your dryer? You start a fire in your laundry room! BTW-flipping seat cushions can be profitable as well.

At 6:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree! That is alot of time I could be doing something else. That's why I have a cleaning service. Well worth the money!

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