Laundry Blues

It used to be that every housewife had her own little quirks when it came to laundry. One insisted that denims be washed separately, another required a special detergent, yet another ironed everything from underwear to sheets. My ex-sister in law even ironed socks and tea towels! Today, we're so busy that we hardly have time to do the laundry, much less be super picky about it. There is no one right way to do the laundry, but there are a lot of ways to make it less work for you and your family. What follows are some strategies that can help you to minimize this necessary evil in your life.

  • If you do laundry at home, pick your laundry day and stick to it. Have enough clothes and under ware so you need only do the washing once a week, instead of twice. It takes almost exactly the same amount of time wether you do a large or medium size load so save yourself one whole session and use that time to do something much more enjoyable.
  • Ask yourself why you do so much laundry. Do you wash clothing after every wearing and towels after every use? Many items of clothing can be used multiple times before they really need to be washed. Towels can go for a week, and sheets can often go for two. In our household, the only items we reliably wash after each use are socks, t-shirts and underware.
  • Clean out your closets! Some people believe that it is best to keep enough clothing to avoid doing laundry for several weeks in a row. I think this is crazy. Hardly anyone has this much storage space, and this method practically demands that you go to a laundromat to do the twelve or fifteen loads that result. If you have children it means that you'll be trying to manage an enormous wardrobe for them. Keeping track of what they've outgrown, ripped and stained is pretty difficult when each child has twenty-five pairs of pants, forty shirts, etc.

  • Cleaner, sparer closets also mean that your fresh clothing won't be crammed back in only to get wrinkled before the next wearing. There's nothing worse than paying five bucks to get a shirt dry-cleaned, and then having to iron it again yourself before you can wear it.
  • After you've cleaned the closets and dressers, make sure you have adequate storage for the clothing you own, and make sure it's easy to use that storage. If you need to buy a bigger dresser or renovate, then do it! Remember to have lower hanging bars put in for your small kids clothes, then they can be responsible for hanging their own duds! But without adequate closet and dresser space, it's a certainty that the clean laundry will just get piled on the bed, shoved onto the floor, walked on and maybe stuck back into the hamper. (A friend of mine discovered her son doing this whenever he didn't want to bother to hang up his newly washed gear!!)
  • If you do laundry at home and you're really behind, load it up in the car and go to the laundromat. You can do ten loads in the same time it takes to do one, and it's worth the money to get caught up.
  • It seems obvious, but you need a hamper in each bedroom. It's important to make it easy for your family to get the clothing into the hamper. And make it their responsibility to empty it before or on laundry day.
  • We keep two hampers in our bedroom - one for lights and one for darks. This way the laundry is presorted. If you can also train your family to turn things right-side out, empty pockets and unroll cuffs before tossing things into the hamper, you've won half the battle.
  • Forget what your mother told you about sorting laundry into tiny little picky loads. The extent of my sorting is "lights and darks", and my clothing has never suffered. Hard to believe, but some people create lots of extra work for themselves through extra categories such as "towels", "denims" and "delicates". Buy two zippered mesh bags for your light and dark delicates, and toss them in with the rest of that color wash.
  • Socks can also go into zippered mesh bags hung on the front of the hampers. This saves a lot of sock-sorting time, and is especially good if you have kids with similar socks.
  • Any family member who creates special laundry problems like handwashing, dry cleaning or ironing should be responsible for that work themselves. Of course, you can save yourself a lot of trouble by avoiding the purchase of high-maintenance clothing in the first place!
  • Don't be so picky about the laundry that you are the only person who can do it. Don't be what my mom calls the "laundry fairy", that invisible entity that causes clean laundry to show up in the kids' bedrooms as if by magic. Laundry should be a fairly standard event in your home, and your kids are going to need this skill when they grow up and leave home, so teach each family member how to do a load of darks and a load of whites, and assign a different laundry day to each of them. If necessary, complicated or stained items can be saved for a day that an adult does the wash.
  • Don't fold the laundry as though you work at Lord & Taylor. This is one area where something worth doing is really not worth doing well. If it must be free of wrinkles, hang it up.
  • If someone in your home has a lot of trouble remembering to empty pockets, pin a sign on their hamper reminding them.
  • Provide a basket or box in the laundry room for items that need special attention - stains, missing buttons, dry cleaning and the like. This prevents them from being accidentally tossed in with the rest of the laundry. I've been extra careful ever since Dave threw a pair of my silk pants into the wash (they survived the experience.) Also set up a repair kit with stain stick, needles, thread and scissors here so that you can attend to this stuff while you wait for the dryer or watch TV.
  • Don't get more than one load behind on the folding and putting away - this is less likely if you have a schedule. Do it in front of the TV, or find some other way to make this happen. Provide some sort of container to cart clean laundry back to the bedrooms and linen closet. And get your family to pitch in!
  • Set up an "out" basket near the laundry room, and you can easily sort out items that need to be given to Goodwill or removed from circulation because they are too small, out of season or damaged.
  • If at all possible, move your laundry facilities out of the basement and closer to the bedrooms. Nobody likes doing laundry in the basement.