Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Laundry Musings

(after all, laundry skills are something that my children need to learn)

Growing up my mother did laundry everyday. The washer and dryer were in the kitchen and the rocked and hummed all day. There were 2 adults and 4 children in the household, so I assumed she washed so often because she had to.

I married a man who had been taught to do his own laundry at an early age. He'd wash a load with 3 items in it if that was what he needed clean. Again, there was a washer and dryer in the garage at his home, and easy access quite often means frequent washings.

However, for our first year of marriage we had to take our laundry to a room and share washers and dryers with other tenants. The horror! You could wash all of your clothing, only to find that there were no dryers available and security planned to lock the doors in 20 minutes. I came to hate laundry. We did it maybe once a week, sorting everything into huge piles on the living room floor, then hauling everything downstairs and back up again. Soon I devised a system whereby we sorted out clothing as we took it off, and that helped some.

Let me say, as soon as we moved we chose an apartment with a place for a washer and dryer, and from that point on we have never lived without (although we have frequented the laundromat the times our washer was on the fritz). But the weekly laundry habit had taken hold. Even when we had babies, we washed our clothing once a week. Later, once the boys were a little older, I settled into a twice a week rhythm, combining their clothing with ours.

With a weekly system, you need at least 8 of most any item of clothing you wear, and a few more for emergencies. With the twice-weekly plan we could lower that to 5, with extras for the boys. So I had 5 short-sleeved shirts, 5 long-sleeved shirts, etc.

On the actual washing front, I'm not a bleacher or a user of Tide. There is no Oxy-Clean in my home. We use eco-friendly detergent and no added softeners. My whites aren't white, which is always made clear when a piece of boy clothing is left to be washed at my mother's house and returns to us the color of fresh snow. My towels don't smell Downy fresh - in fact, I wash towels only once a week, not daily as my mother did.

When T-Guy was really little I hung a clothesline across the patio and dried all of his tiny little clothes out there. Later, once I was washing diapers for 2 boys I would hang the diapers that hadn't dried after one pass through the dryer.

That all passed, however, and I happily used the extra capacity dryer that "matched" my oh-so-BoBo (Beourgeois Bohemian) Kenmore Elite He3T front loading washer (chronicled in the book Trading Up, but in the form of the Whirlpool Duet, its sister).

***Let me just note here that I enjoyed reading these books, was able to poke fun at the places where I saw myself, and have changed a lot since then in terms of consumerism, although I still think a front-loader uses less water and soap.***

Lately though, I've been concerned about peak oil and dwindling natural gas reserves. I decided to hang a clothesline. The little part of me that still likes cool gadgets and likes to spend money wanted this clothesline. It is made in the USA out of renewable/recyclable resources, but at $200 it would take me a really long time to reach payback. In fact, I calculated my usage, and drying 8 loads of laundry a week costs about $55 ayear with a gas dryer. So I am obviously not doing this for the money.

I have a pretty stubborn frugal streak, so I improvised, finding some of the old clothesline and pins from 1999, plus a few old-fashioned clothespins that had been purchased for a craft. I strung the line between the crape myrtle and the basketball hoop. I could creatively hang about 1 load of laundry - a small load, not the super load my machine can handle. Scrounging up some more clothesline and investing $2 in pins meant I could string a second line from the basketball hoop to the palm tree, as long as I take it down whenI am done so the boys can still shoot hoops. All in all, I have appoximately 30 feet of clothesline.

This means I needed to wash everyday - even on weekends - to keep up with the laundry and not need the dryer. After several weeks of doing this I came to a startling revelation: We have far more clothing than we need. We could probably get by with 3 of any particular item, even 2 if it's something you wear more than once, like jeans or sweatjackets.

Now, I though back to my mom and how she did laundry everyday. And I thought back to last winter when I was complaining to Papa that each boy had 6 pairs of pajamas and growing up I never had more than 2 nightgowns. Come to think of it, I had a handful of shirts and just a few pairs of pants. I never had more than one sweatjacket. My sister and I shared a dresser and no one needed to move out the winter clothing to make room for the summer clothing. My mom knew the secret - washing often means you need less.

I am paring way down. My clothing is easy - I've lost enough weight that I only have 1 shirt that actually fits, and it is stained (not that I don't wear it anyway). I have 1 shirt that's a little big that I wear too. I've been wearing capris from 3 years ago, and they are too big and the inner seams are developing holes. I needed clothing that fit, so we thrifted yesterday with no luck, and today we went to Kmart (our next step up acceptable cheap place to shop). I bought 2 pairs of capris, 2 t-shirts, and 3 pairs of underwear. I didn't need anything else. I didn't buy anything with hip embroidery or little wooden beads; not that I don't think it's cute, I just want to be sure I can wear the new clothes until they wear out or no longer fit.

A month ago I thought the boys needed socks. With the new washing plan they have plenty, even if they do wear 2-3 pair a day. Their dresser was overflowing, so I took away more than half of their underwear. T-Guy has 3 pairs of pajamas (leftover from last year) and I thought he needed one more, but now he is fine. I even think I need to go through and take away some of their shorts, just to make it easier for them. I'll store the shorts and if any of the pairs in current use wear out we can "shop" from the box.

My boys are thrilled with line drying. It's funny how that is. Someday they'll learn more of the lessons I'm trying to model as I stand out there and hang the laundry. Eventually there may come a time when fashion rears its ugly head and we have to have some discussions about consumerism, lookism, classism, etc....but for now they're content to run around in hand-me-downs and thrift store finds, oblivious to whether or not orange shirts actually match red shorts.

It's time to hang the laundry....

3 comments:

Blissfulbee said...

LOL!! I have that washer and dryer too! I do love them, I save on detergent too, and can get my whites brighter without bleach. Gotta love that, also the front loader (like you said) uses less water, but spins them to a state of almost dry, so my dryer time is quite minimal. I love laundry off the line! The fresh smell!!! Sheets are the best!!! I agree with you on the more often thing. I may have to cut back on our clothing just to save me dreaded task off climbing Mount St. Stinky all the time!!!

APKimberMama said...

It is a great washer, but in the end (after playing with it for a few months) it is far more than we need. But you can't get a really efficient front loader without getting all the bells and whistles.

Plus, mine has been repaired at least 3 times, and now the extended warranty is up and they want $500 for 3 more years. Heck, if it breaks in that time I'll buy a used top loader for a couple of hundred bucks.

Blissfulbee said...

Oh yeah I agree! That stinks that it is a lemon. Mine is going strong, we bought it in August I think of last year. I hope it keeps up for us. I love that i can wash all our linens in one load, blankets and all (from one bed that is). When Im caught up though it does sometimes feel like you need to wait until you have a larger load, but apparently it senses how much water to use and wont use too mcuh even if its just a couple shirts, but who knows!

I agree, we dont use most of the functions except for big loads. LOL