I didn’t do my own laundry until I went to college. Even then, armed with 30 pairs of underwear, I would rather spend four hours in a car from Boston to Staten Island to drop off a month’s worth of laundry with my mother. Americans have over complicated the laundering of clothing. There are too many rules! Apparently those itchy tags on the inner side seam of our clothing will detail how it likes to be washed. I don’t cook four separate dinners for my family and I certainly won’t customize a temperature and detergent based on the garment. Maybe the root of the situation is my disrespect for my clothing. My wardrobe has mostly been a variation of t-shirts, with short or long sleeves, yoga pants, leggings, socks, and underwear. I don’t get too attached so if there is a laundry snafu, like a color “bleed” or shrinkage, it’s easy to bid farewell.
Ironically my first husband’s family owned a dry cleaner. All of his brand-named clothing was professionally-tailored, neatly-pressed, and smelled like fabric dryer sheets. The aggressive washing machine only saw his underwear, socks, workout t-shirts, and the sweatpants I eventually made him buy. For the decade we were boyfriend and girlfriend and briefly husband and wife, he took many of my clothes without me noticing to get dry-cleaned and I would be pleasantly surprised to find them hanging on a cardboard tube on a wire hanger with a plastic bag around it.
My mother in law dressed in Hermes and Burberry and brands I only knew as symbols before her. When I was pregnant and my husband’s grandfather, patriarch of the family died, there was a 1,000 person funeral and she was nervous I wouldn’t dress appropriately. She told my husband she would buy me a maternity dress for the funeral, but I refused. I felt too proud even though inside I felt my outfit was never fancy enough, my hair was too big, and I wore too much eye makeup. Maybe I wasn’t fashion runway smart, but I could fake it to an average funeral-goer, I thought.
Nowadays weekly laundry day is a marathon workout. I usually do about 10–12 loads, more with sheets and towels. I capitalize on living in a building, so I use two machines on three different floors. I DO NOT separate my colors and my whites; I am not prejudiced! I throw it all together on “brights.” I do not measure the detergent, I count to three when I pour. I do not use dryer sheets because someone once told me they caused cancer and I’m always looking for a way to save some money. I’m not sure how I would use liquid fabric softener or Chlorox bleach, but I’m certainly not looking to complicate the system.
My phone timer becomes crucial in the juggling between floors and transferring to the dryer. My biggest laundry quandary is usually whether I can combine two washers into one dryer. Sometimes I overestimate and I take out clothes which are still damp and I have to spread them all over the bed, dresser, and piano in the bedroom. Other times I take out hot clothing I want to wrap around myself, and sometimes those have gotten a touch more snug.
Folding the laundry is round two of the marathon. Putting the clothes away, round three! Sometimes piles live on the piano for days and my 6-year-old daughter knows to look for a clean pair of underwear there.
Above all, I’m grateful to have electric washing machines. My mother describes a system with a washboard and a pail just 40 years ago in the Soviet Union. She also ironed all of our underwear. Progress.