Monday is laundry day in our house. It’s taken me years to get the issue of laundry under control. In the beginning, especially when I was working at a job outside of my home, I did laundry willy-nilly, throwing in a load whenever there was a spare moment and waiting until the mound was taller than me before folding anything. This resulted in a near constant stream of laundry and some very wrinkly looks (I don’t iron). It hung over me all the time – I need to do the laundry, I need to do the laundry. It was never “done”. And once we were up to three kids the laundry threatened to overtake my life.
When I began working from home full-time, I decided that I needed to get laundry under control or it would make me nuts. I also decided that the kids needed to be aware that the laundry was being done, even if they weren’t quite old enough to do it themselves yet. And so Laundry Day was born. All the children know that if they want their clothes washed for the coming week, their laundry hamper better be in the laundry room first thing Monday morning. For awhile, my oldest solved the problem of getting his laundry in each week by just leaving the hamper in the laundry room and undressing there each night. Now I build a barricade of empty laundry hampers in front of the bathroom and they usually get the hint to put them back in their room. I know it seems like a minimal effort on their part (and it is), but it is a beginning.
Having a designated laundry day and holding the kids responsible for at least gathering and delivering their dirty laundry to the laundress took a little convincing in the beginning. There were weeks when my daughter was forced to wear every article in every drawer and on every hanger to make it through because she stubbornly refused to gather her dirty laundry. I take some responsibility for that erroneous belief. After all, for the better part of her life I dug the dirty clothes out from under the toys, books, craft projects and stuffed animals that litter her room. My youngest has the habit of pulling something out of a drawer, deciding it won’t do for that particular day and then depositing the unchosen clothing on the floor, later to be placed in the hamper, never to actually be worn.
Which brings me to another point about laundry. You don’t need to wash everything each time you wear it (or toss it on your floor unworn). When I sort the clothing coming from the offending child’s room, I take the things that have not been on his body (he makes this very easy for me since anything he has worn could easily be used on a Tide commercial) and folding it in to his clean pile. As far as my own clothes, I don’t wash them every time I wear them either. Unless I’ve been running, gardening, or messing with animals, they are most likely pretty clean. At least clean enough to save the detergent, water, and energy that it would take to wash them. And clothes break down with washing no matter how gently you wash them. Where do you think all that lint comes from? They’ll last longer if you wash them less. I give them a quick look-over and if I don’t find any food remnants, children’s finger prints, ink stains, or puppy tracks, I hang them back up. I don’t know where we learned that we needed to wash clothes so frequently. I know I didn’t have this same compulsion when I lived in college and the laundry was four floors down and required quarters. We tend to be a nation of clean freaks which isn’t good for any of us and certainly isn’t good for our environment.
Hotels are figuring this out too. Have you noticed the little signs in most hotel bathrooms these days? They say something about saving the planet by not washing towels if it’s not necessary. The drill is you leave it on the floor (just like my kids) if it needs to be washed and you hang it up if you’re willing to use it again. What a boon for the hotel industry this green trend is! Not only does it save them money in detergent, electricity, and worn out towels, but it makes their customer think well of them because they are so earth conscious. Still, I’m not complaining about their motivation, just so long as they are pitching in like the rest of us to preserve our earth.
Here’s a few other laundry trips that might make save you time or brain cells:
1) Keep a lost sock basket. Don’t try to track down the missing partner for every pair of socks. When the laundry is finished put the leftover socks in the sock basket. I assign my daughter the task of periodically going through the sock basket and pairing up socks. She loves this job. And don’t forget that leftover socks are great for cleaning mitts.
2) Keep a box or other container for clothing that needs to be repaired in your laundry room. I have an old Winnie-the-Pooh hamper from the baby nursery tucked in to my laundry room. When Grammy visits, it’s ready for her and her sewing skills (Alas, I have none).
3) Keep a box for unwearable clothing near your laundry area. Anything that is stained beyond recognition, too small, too inappropriate (my nearly 10-year-old daughter can still fit in to size 4T shorts, but that doesn’t make them appropriate!), or the wrong season, goes in this box. When it is full I take the time to divide things up between Goodwill, next sibling, next season, rag bag or compost. By waiting until I have an entire box (or two) to sort, I save time. It also means less clothing ends up piled on the dryer or the rocker in my room until I have time to put it where it belongs.
4) Keep a small container for all the items left by the laundry fairy. I don’t take the time to check pockets anymore, at least since my kids got old enough not to leave crayons or playdoh in them. So I have a large oatmeal container on a shelf above the washer where I deposit all the treasures that turn up in the washer or dryer. Each summer we take down the oatmeal canister and sort it out. We divide the spare change between the kids for our annual trip to Hershey Park. They count on it for spending money.
5) Hang shelving above your washing machine and dryer if possible. You always need more laundry space and usually this is dead space that could be utilized to hold your detergent, vinegar, measuring cups, and all the other garbage that collects on the top of the dryer.
6) Hang something educational or at least interesting in your laundry room. I fold clothes in my laundry and consequently I spend a lot of time in that room. The walls are gray (don’t know what I was thinking), so that’s depressing enough. On one wall are the marks where we measure the kids heights periodically which is nice to consider, but on the other wall I hung a huge map of the world. While I fold laundry, I study it and try to learn the names of more countries and places. This is personal effort on my part because I am incredibly bad at geography (so I can never win at Trivial Pursuit). Think of something you’d like to learn or meditate on or whatever. It makes laundry just a teeny, tiny bit more interesting.
7) Install a phone in your laundry room. You don’t need a phone jack to plug in an extension for most cordless phones. I finally thought of this after I missed phone call after phone call because I couldn’t hear it over the din of the washer and dryer. Plus, now I can pass the time along by catching up on a few phone calls while I fold. Multitasking at its best.
8) Now, I am not one to encourage you to buy things, but…buy extra laundry baskets. Their cheap and they can really simplify the putting everything away part of laundry. I dread carting everything to the different rooms and sorting it in to drawers. One day I realized that I didn’t need to be doing this for my older children. They are surely capable of putting away their own clothes. So I bought two extra baskets and now I put their clean clothes in the baskets and put the baskets on their beds (they’d never notice them if I put them on the floor amongst the mess). I’m sure you can guess what my oldest son did. He just dressed out of the basket all week. So I had to make a new rule – no basket, no laundry lady. If you don’t empty and return your basket, your clothes will remain unwashed. You wouldn’t think clean clothes would be such a motivator, but they are.
9) Keep a small container for lost buttons or other important items (like boy scout pins or school IDs) nearby for things that you can’t bring yourself to drop in to the laundry fairy stash. That way when they come up missing you know where to look.
10) Keep a pair of scissors in your laundry room for cutting off tags on new clothes and lose threads on old ones.
I’m sure you have some great laundry ideas of your own. Please pass them along. It takes a village to get the laundry done each week.
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