I blame my parents for my unusual interest. My mother says that when I was a baby, I would crawl around the house following her as she cleaned. When I was two, I went to a party dressed as a Dirt Devil MVP vacuum. It was the easiest machine to make a costume for and I liked the red make-up.
I’m 19 now and I own nearly 150 vacuum cleaners. I can tell them all apart just by hearing them – I can do that with most models. My collection is stored at my parents’ house in Adrian, Michigan – it was even bigger at one point but my father threatened to sell the lot if I didn’t clear some space. I keep a dozen favourites in my bedroom and the rest are lined up in our family room in the basement.
My first word wasn’t Hoover but I was mesmerised by vacuum cleaners from really early on. Even at school, I would take out the vacuum at break-time and start cleaning the classroom. I would do half the floor one day and then the other half the next. Sometimes they would let me do the principal’s office or anywhere else that needed a clean.
My parents gave me a toy vacuum when I was one year old but I doubt they realised what doing that would lead me into. I became fascinated by the mechanics – each one is so different. In America, we tend to like upright vacuums and there are very few cylinder models, such as the Henry design you have in Britain.
My collection grew slowly at first, then I actively started looking for new machines to buy at garage sales and on the internet. Before I took over the basement, there were vacuums stored in our garage, two large sheds and also in my grandmother’s basement. She owned a Kirby model, which dated back to 1964 and was really heavy to move around.
Vintage vacuums are my favourites because they look and sound so unusual. The 1977 Kenmore Magicord is probably the one model I would never sell from my collection. It has that retro 1970s style, with fake plastic wood that you used to see on old car dashboards. I also own a Hoover Model O that dates back to 1908 and still works perfectly.
I try to use every vacuum cleaner I own on a regular basis. It’s good to start them up every now and again, just like you would with a classic car. At one time, I was cleaning the house five or six times a day. My mother couldn’t understand why I enjoyed it so much.
Looking back, it wasn’t because I longed for a clean home, I just loved the feel and sound of different vacuum cleaners. Once I vacuumed my sister’s Sindy doll by mistake and got into serious trouble. The hair became entangled in the bristles and there was a terrible smell of burning.
That was about the time when I realised that I could recognise the sound of every vacuum cleaner I owned. My local paper picked up on the story and I even went on television. I was blindfolded to test my knowledge – I guessed every vacuum right.
When I was nine, I started fixing vacuum cleaners – friends of the family would bring their machines round for repair, and I made a lot of pocket money keeping them going. I think I took away some business from the real vacuum cleaner shop.
I’ve just finished high school and plan to take a year off before going to college, to major in musical theatre. I actually made a lot of contacts in the entertainment industry through being on television, so vacuum cleaners could turn out to be responsible for helping my future stage career.
Some people think that I suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder but I don’t. My bedroom is a complete tip, just like any other teenager’s. What is the difference between owning 150 cars and collecting 150 vacuum cleaners? I just have a passion for something unusual, although my sister will be happy when I move out.