Has your laundry burden reached mythological proportions?
Oh, Laundry. You are the most daunting of all Sisyphean household tasks. It's enough to make nudists seem like real geniuses. Once in college I actually bought more underwear to avoid doing my laundry before packing for a trip. Sad but true. Like it or not, having a family of five has taught me a thing or two about laundry because buying all of us new underwear when we run out is not really in our budget.
Perhaps you have shared my laundry dread. If you have piles of clothes around your house, you might feel it currently. These piles are visual reminders of procrastination. Don't underestimate the power of such piles (and clutter in general) to weigh on you and your family.
There are actually podcasts devoted to doing laundry. If you have yet to find a system that works for you, rest assured that you are not alone and there is a lot of advice out there that might be a good fit for you. Even if you are a bit of an expert, you can always find some new way to make improvements.
The following are things I have learned from others and trial and error. There are many ways to do laundry. Some people are very passionate about their method being the right one. I say do whatever keeps you sane for your current season of life and try to put as much enjoyment into the process as possible. As long as it gets done and you aren't making yourself miserable, you are golden! Here is what that looks like for us right now broken into steps.
Adulting (accept it and make a plan)
Our clients often lament that though keeping their house tidy is so much easier after decluttering, the laundry is still a hassle. Our advice is always to come up with a plan. Decluttering is removing your stuff from the equation, but dirt removal through cleaning and laundry is just a fact of life that's not going anywhere. The first step in laundry is acceptance that it needs to be done by someone. The next step is to come up with the best game plan for your life right now and schedule. Bonus points if you can Mary Poppinsize it and make it fun! (I forgive you for rolling your eyes. So did I.)
Your plan can (and probably should) involve delegating tasks to your "team" if you have one. If your family laundry routine does not involve a team and you would like it to, or it's time to make a few adjustments to the current plan, a friendly meeting over a plate of cookies might be in order. Sometimes having a team might seem like more hassle than it's worth, especially when you are doing most of the coaching. It is worth it. Not only will you have good help in the future, but rookies need to learn. You, the coach, will benefit from the lessons in patience and flexibility.
Divide and Conquer
Perhaps you can accomplish the once-a-week laundry approach if you have a smaller family, have an older family who can refold and re-wear unsoiled clothes (because they aren't constantly soiling them), are super-focused and disciplined, or have a large chunk of time to do so. I am happy (jealous) for you. In our current season as a family of five with little kids who dirty almost everything they wear everyday, linens, towels, and cloth everything (diapers, wipes, napkins, etc), the once-a-week laundry approach would be pretty overwhelming and we would poop out or procrastinate till our last pair of skivvies and never recover. If this sounds like you, perhaps take the advice given by many seasoned moms and grandmas: do a little each day.
We want our weekends free for travel, projects, fun, and rest. We (mostly me in this season) do the laundry on weekdays. Laundry is part of our overall chore schedule* where tasks are coordinated and work with our schedule:
*cloth diapers-as needed (every couple days)
It might help to have a visual schedule on your fridge until it becomes a habit. This is also helpful for your family. My husband knows his softball shirt will be washed on Tuesday and if he needs it again before then, he can make sure to throw it in with another load. There is reliability in the system.
Jan and The Machine (learn to play your insturment)
As tempting as it can be to claim you are a laundry doing machine, don't forget to give the actual machines some credit. Machines can come with a million bells and whistles (well a buzzer at least). I still don't know what half of them do. I like to keep it simple and reading the manuals is never very appealing. There are some useful settings that I have stumbled upon or have been told about that are worth knowing.
The delayed start feature on washers is a great way to get a jump on your laundry for the next morning. Throw in a load at night and set the delay (ours goes up to 12 hours) so that the load is washed and ready to dry. Ideally this could happen when you rise before the kids. This is not always the case.
As for the stain load, on my "stain load Fridays", I treat missed stains and toss them into the washer. My front loader has a stain setting that works wonders. Since the stain spray needs a bit of time to work it's magic, after I turn the dial to the stain setting, I hit the delay start button to start the load in an hour, after the spray has had a chance to work its magic. We order Puracy's Natural Stain Remover on Amazon. I like that I can order refills. (We use Charlie's Soap in case you wondered.)
If you struggle with the dreaded pit stain issue, consider switching to natural deodorant (if the health concerns weren't enough already). Antiperspirant cause stains. Right now you are thinking you tried Tom's of Maine in college and it made you smell worse than wearing nothing at all. There are many more brands to pick from now. I like Nature Love and my husband uses Schmidt's or Herban Cowboy which I order from Thrive Market or find at T.J. Maxx. (I can only enter that place with blinders on and a determination not to browse and impulse buy.) My sister swears by Native brand. We have found that we only stink after consuming animal products, which is much less often then before. Basically, they are harder to digest and rot inside of you (not super good for you) and that stink comes out of your pits. TMI maybe, but there it is. Ok, I am veering off into personal care products and nutrition which are topics for other posts.
The active wear cycle is for sweaty athletic apparel that hold the stank. My husband runs, so I am well-versed in this category. More on that digustingness in the gross laundry section.
A Rebel Approach (Laundry By the Person)
Everyone has their own hamper in their room and I wash our clothes by the person. Everything in their hamper goes into the washer. Unseparated. TOGETHER. I'm a crazy person, I know! Perhaps this makes me happy because of some underlying need to go against authority. Those tags aren't the boss of me!
The hampers are used properly for the most part. One day maybe we will even turn our clothes right-side out and check our pockets before placing them into the hamper. A girl can dream. Eventually, my goal is to have the kids do their own laundry so they aren't completely clueless when they launch.
Back to the not separating thing. Perhaps you are a rule follower and this is weighing on you. I use common sense, but I do not follow the precise garment instructions on every article of clothing. I would never wash a new pair of jeans with white clothing and never dry sweaters in the dryer, of course. I'm not a complete moron (when it comes to this topic at least). To do this without much risk, I wash clothes in the tap cold setting on the washer. This conserves energy and is gentle on clothes. I use a zippered mesh lingerie bag to wash delicates (ok bras) and throw it in with the rest.
Gross Laundry (Eww! What do I do with that?)
Sometimes life is gross and we need to clean it up. It's character building. It may be convenient to cut out steps by buying paper products and tossing the mess into the trash, but that doesn't feel good to me at the end of the day. Also, my husband isn't going to start wearing disposable running clothes, but I'm sure some company is working on a patent for them. I have friends who have thrown out their kids clothes after a blow out. Not us. Paper towels are only brought out on the most special throw-up sort of occasions. We certainly aren't drying our hands on them. That's so eighties!
So how do we deal with gross laundry? I consider gross laundry anything wet, sweaty, very dirty or all of these. After rinsing some of the grossness away, we hang dish cloths, cleaning clothes, etc. on a drying rack in the laundry area. Sweaty cloths are hung on a rack as well. The stink is not welcome in our bedroom, as that is where our hampers are kept. Cloth diapers have a system, but I won't get into that here.
Once the gross things are dry, they get tossed into a basket to accumulate over the course of the week and are washed on hot or the active wear cycle on their scheduled day. These baskets are used more like hampers. They are wicker unlike the 3 big plastic rectangular ones I use to carry laundry around the house. As much as I love the wicker ones, the shape doesn't lend well to arranging file-like rows of vertically folded clothes. More on that weirdness (awesomeness) soon.
Is it weird that looking at this picture of my laundry from last spring makes me super happy? Maybe it's weirder that I take pictures of it. Hey, this post has been a long time in the making!
Drying (Not a Dry Topic)
We use accordian style drying racks and a stacking mesh sweater rack in the basement laundry area when the basement woodstove is roaring in the winter. I dry outside on the line in warmer dry days. Otherwise, I dry on the lowest setting with three wool dryer balls. It's a fun little game to find the dryer balls as you get the clothes out of the dryer. (The end of a sleeve is always a good guess.)
Air drying is good for clothes, the electric bill, and the environment. All that lint in the dryer vent is clothing slowly dissolving away, after all. Any missed stains are easier to remove when they haven't been set by high-heat drying. Of course, when you dry outside, the sun whitens whites wonderfully too. Besides all of that, drying on the line is a pleasurable experience. The kids come out to play. I absorb some much needed vitamin D. I notice all the pretty flowers blooming and birds singing. Often I do a bit of gardening while I am out there.
At this point I offer you a word of caution. You may find yourself feeling a bit like Laura Ingalls Wilder and bursting with pride as you remove your beautiful air dried clothes from the line on a sunny afternoon. If you are not careful, you may get a bit inflated. It's at this point you will notice bird poop smack dab on the middle of a favorite tee shirt. Appreciate the moment with a chuckle and accept your lesson in self-righteous eco smugness.
Checking the spring bulbs' progress while hanging on unseasonably warm days is good for my soul. Wicker really is prettier, but this is not the basket I normally take outside. It's a prettier picture though. I opt for function over beauty with my plastic baskets.
I have learned that when I hang on the line or drying racks, it makes sense to hang similar clothing together. Then when it is time to take them down I remove them in such a way that I wind up with a nice flat stack of, say, tee shirts. I can then neatly place them in the basket to stay unwrinkled until I can get to them. The dryer gives a more tangled mess. Which leads me to the next topic. Wrinkles.
A Wrinkle in Time
Some people really love to iron and steam clothes. I don't hate it, but I can think of more fun things to do. To remove this task from my life, I try to fold clothes right away out of the dryer if I can or at least pull out the items most likely to get super wrinkly. These are usually items that require hanging (my husband's dress shirts, for instance). I try to hang them right away. Most dryers will buzz to tell you to get your hiney over here and get the clothes out. This is an annoying but helpful feature. Some dryers have a dewrinkle setting. Throwing a damp towel in the dryer with wrinkled clothes sort of steams the wrinkles out too.
Vertical Folding (it's like clothing origami)
At this point, when the laundry is clean and dry, it is common to lose steam and abandon ship. Now is the time to persevere. I have actually come to like folding. I find the KonMari Method of vertical folding especially meditative, as loopy as that sounds. Sometimes I will enjoy this Zen-like task and be fully present as Marie Kondo recommends. This allows you to appreciate the clothes you love (if you don't love your clothes, consider decluttering your wardrobe) and take the time to look for disrepair (and make a choice to fix it asap or discard) or missed stains. Some other reasons I love vertical folding are: 1. Clothes are EASY to put away. 2. Clothes are easy to locate in a basket or drawer making getting ready a breeze. 3. Clothes stay nicely folded as piles aren't disturbed to remove an item. 4. Clothes aren't smashed on the bottom of a pile. 5. Clothes aren't forgotten at the bottom of a pile. 6. Folded clothes take up less space than hung clothes. 7. Curbs impulse buying as your wardrobe is easy to visualize. 8. Curbs buying as your space is defined and filled as opposed to stacking until toppling. 9. It helps create a more mindful wardrobe. 10. It looks nice which makes getting dressed happier.
Listening to a TED talk, podcast, or audio book is a great way to make folding more fun. My biggest laundry day is also our weekly lunch date with grandma. After eating our Neat-o Burrito take out, the two-year-old goes down for her nap, and then we fold laundry together. Sometimes we chat, but lately we watch an episode of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel together. My second time; her first. Yes, the first episode was very awkward!
Laundry folded and ready to be put away. A few stain items pulled out to throw into the next stain wash load.
I try to get the folding done during the day. If it's been "one of those days," I might do a bit of nighttime folding after the kids go to bed. My husband and I will find something good on Netflix or we just talk (gasp!). Either way, he pitches in with the folding. He knows the way to this mommy's heart. (swoon)
Filing Our Clothes
The last hurdle of laundry is putting the clothes away. This used to seem like an insurmountable challenge after coming this far! Since decluttering our wardrobe, our drawers are not crammed, so this is easier. My older daughters put away their clothes for themselves. One step closer to laundry independence!
When the three baskets of clothes are put away there are always three girls playing with (or in) the baskets.
Kick up your feet, make yourself a White Russian, and do less laundry. Abide.
Take It Easy (Not the Eagles, Man!)
Relax man! Channel The Dude. Wash your clothes less. At the end of the day, fold and put away clothes that don't truly need to be laundered. If you have a wastebasket full of lint near your dryer, than you know that you are literally throwing away your clothes wash by wash. If you love your clothes, you will treat them better and be more grateful for them. If you don't love your clothes, it's time to do a Closet Edit.
If channeling Mary Poppins or Laura Ingalls is not cutting it and I get down about the job, I try to remember to be thankful we have clean water to wash our clothes and aren't washing with knuckle-busting washboards. You can't be grateful and disgruntled at the same time. Namaste. (Yes, I know that makes no sense since it means "hello," but it feels like a very enlightened word, ok?)
I have been doing laundry for about 21 years and have been a mom for nine of them. I am still figuring it out and what we do will surely evolve. It's a work in progress.
If you could use a hand with decluttering your wardrobe or home, visit our website to learn more about our services. Yes, we will teach you to fold vertically. Financial assistance available.