The Beauty of the Mundane

It’s hard to take so much time off. What do I come back in with? Part of me wants to write what my ex-social worker friend calls a “narrative” about our last month, to process it all. But, geezus what a daunting project. I thought instead I would break myself back into the business gently, with a delightfully over-obsessive inquiry into something beautifully mundane.


During our very difficult last month I, rather amazingly, kept on top of the laundry. I mostly kept at the cloth diapering, even though I had fortified myself heavily with a stock of disposables. And apart from a few rainy, exhausted days in which the dryer’s proximity to the washing machine lulled me into complacency, I kept up with my chore of hanging all our laundry. I even managed to put a few hampers of clean clothes away.

I am not telling you this in order to gloat. Because let me also fill you in with the parallel truth of my two gorgeous kidlets, sitting brain-sucked in front of Dora the Explorer for 3-4 hours of every day. Or 5, or dear god, 6. On our most rock bottom day, I am pretty sure that the 2yo watched movies during every waking hour.

And, you know how I feel about that.

Would I trade my neatly folded, sweet-smelling, crisp laundry piles for even just a few hours less of that vacuous look in their otherwise earnest, perfect eyes? Oh yes, if I could. If I could have summoned the strength. But while the job of mothering was almost incomprehensible to me, the job of laundry was so attractively clear cut. Open washer, fill with clothes, turn on. Remove wet clothes to basket, take outside into the fresh air and one at a time, pin by pin, hang on the line. A task completed.

For the first week, I was thinking that being a mama was helpful during such emotional upheaval. It helped me keep my shit (mostly) together. Helped me keep up with walks and outings every day, keep putting some form of dinner on the table, keep from crawling under the covers and crying away the day. But as our month moved along, the motherly task of emotionally and psychologically giving, giving, giving completely undid me. I began to have very unmotherly feelings like, get the fuck away from me, you little shit. I will admit to a passing fantasy about a large dog kennel. I felt stingy with my energy, with my self.

A friend pointed out that maybe allowing myself these ungracious feelings, allowing myself to plant the kids in front of the screen for hours of the day while I devolved, will keep me healthy in the long run. Mentally, and even physically. And I can see that. Makes some sense. At any rate, I tried to release all guilt about the screen time. I plugged the kids in, and went to hang up the laundry.

I love hanging laundry. It’s my favorite chore, hands down, and that is the sole reason I am so ‘good’ about keeping at it. The rest of the laundry chores are not so very. Gathering the laundry together? Meh. All that crawling around on the dirty floor, sniffing armpits, assessing stains. Putting the clothes into the machine, that’s neither here nor there. Folding clothes I could do without, and having to put those motherfuckers away, each in their own pile, in their own room, after the whole long process is almost just insulting.

But ah, the hanging on the line. The gentle breeze, the warm sun, the stiff feel of wet cloth, the snap when you shake each piece out, the wood clothespins fitting neatly into place, the satisfaction of baby shirts waving in the wind. It’s just lovely.

Do you hang laundry? Do you love it? Hate it? How did you learn to do it? I feel lucky to have had a few teachers. Although it sounds mind-numbingly simple, there are a few tricks to hanging laundry well, things mother would have passed on to daughter in days gone by. And just the fact of respecting it as a chore. I recently put our little flimsy piece-of-shit plastic table at one end of the laundry line, and I can’t believe how much of a difference it makes. How wonderful to have a place to set your basket, so you don’t have to bend over each time you pick up the next thing. When you repeat a task every single day, gains in efficiency and pleasure don’t have to be big to add up quickly.

Do you know the trick about using one clothespin to hang up two edges? Four rags can be hung with five clothespins, instead of eight, when you overlap the edges just a bit (we go through a shocking number of rags).

Do you hang jeans upside down or right-side up? How about tee-shirts? I generally hang them right side up, but have had problems with them becoming mis-shapen. Once when my MIL, also a clothes hanging fanatic, was staying with us she went outside and re-hung my entire load of laundry, upside down. I would have been annoyed except that she is probably one of those girls who learned from her mother the “right way” and couldn’t bare to see it done wrong. I considered the tee-shirt issue carefully and tried hanging them upside down for awhile. Now I have given up hanging tee-shirts on the line altogether, since they are so prone to getting stretched out, and started looping them over the stout wood dowels on my drying rack instead. No line, no stretching. In case you care. I for myself don’t, but My Man does.

Then there is the bleaching issue. The sun will bleach your clothes out, quite quickly down here. If I were a better wife, I would turn My Man’s dark clothes inside out when I hung them, and therefore keep the outside color intact. But I have only recently given in to separating colors for the wash. One can only go so far. I have learned to not leave clothes on the line much past dry to avoid any extra bleaching, which I consider progress.

I figured out some time ago that when I can fold the clothes outside, as I take them off of the line, everything runs smoother– the clothes avoid the crumpled-in-the-hamper wrinkles (I have been known to let baskets of clean clothes sit around for weeks before folding and putting away), not to mention that I am much more likely to put said basket away when they are folded and ready to go. Plus the task of folding feels like much less of a task when it is part of taking the clothes off the line, and happens outside in that lovely breeze. This is another enormous advantage to my new ‘outdoor laundry table,’ it gives me a good space for folding. If I take down the clothes in order of where they go– ie: all My Man’s shirts first, then pants, then the 2yos, etc– I save myself from having to sort it out later as well.

Here’s one last good laundry tip. Stop folding your 4yo’s clothes. If she is anything like our 4yo, getting dressed is not a static event occurring once/day, but rather a continuum of dressing and undressing. I set up this clothes bin for her some time ago, and have never regretted it. She can go through the clothes to her heart’s content and pick what she wants, she can even (theoretically) put them away (never happened yet). I don’t have to get outraged that she’s disturbing careful piles, and when it comes time for the reality of me picking up her floor, putting the assortment of outfits away is easy.

Do you have any banal laundry tips to share with us? What makes your laundry rituals more pleasant and efficient? What’s your favorite household chore to set your mind straight?

27 thoughts on “The Beauty of the Mundane

  1. I love everything about this post. It felt so personal. My husband got mercury poisoning several years ago, when mine were 2 and 4. He lost 40 lbs in 4 months, ran a fever every afternoon, had chronic diarrhea. Doctors told us his blood tests showed he was mostly fine – so I spent all my “extra” energy trying to figure out what the hell was going on while he shivered under a down comforter (in early fall). That on top of trying to feed an entire family an elimination diet, getting kids to and from pre-school, running a household, and working from home. I grew up without a tv, so you can bet I don’t like the idea of technological entertainment – since that time (because of that time?), I have learned that a video is better than crazy scary-eyed mama losing it.
    And I hang my laundry out. I couldn’t for many years because of location – but as soon as I could, we dug a little hole and stuck in a rotating clothesline. That and my composter made me feel like I was almost a real grown up. I have a borderline obsessive love for this thing. I do overlap pins, I do fold as I take down (in order), I do sniff the sheets as I unclip them. I’ll use that line well into the chilly weather, just because it gets me outside. I convinced my mom (my laundry teacher, but not a natural solution finder) to put her basket on a little dolly, held on with bungee cords, so she could roll it out to her line. Wet sheets are heavy. I have a chair next to my line – since it rotates, I can set my basket on the chair, and hang from one place.
    Anyway – glad to hear you’re all on the road to recovery. You have many silent fans, as well as the vocal ones. Thanks for putting all our raw words and thoughts down on paper, so eloquently, and with such humor.

  2. I feel pretty much the same way you do about laundry, I think. After the birth of our daughter, my mother-in-law thought it was crazy how I’d keep up with the laundry daily, no matter how tired (line-drying in February in New England). But hanging is so satisfying!

    I’ve plopped a chair by my line, and have folded outside. Tomorrow, I’m moving a table there. Duh; why didn’t I think of that?

    T-shirts–I learned from another blogger–I hang over the line at the armpit, pinned at the pits. They don’t get misshapen (and if they did, it would be pretty much hidden under your arm). Jeans right-side-up, going on the theory that I always hang by the heaviest part, to avoid pulling things out of shape.

    What I’d love to learn is to remember to put my clothespins away after I use them, so they don’t get all rotted and black (and stain the corners of my laundry!). I hate that I’m so careless about it, especially with the old ones I’ve gotten at tag sales–a million times better (stronger, larger) than modern ones. That’s my best tip, I think–buy old clothespins!

  3. Just wanted to say thanks for posting that picture of the rags on the line. I always feel a bit like the neighborhood dirt-bag when I hang my rags, which look…well, raggedy…on my clothesline. I know all the reasons I use rags instead of paper towels but I’m sure other people wonder why I bother washing the poor decrepit things in the first place. Anyway, knowing other people are doing the same thing makes me feel less weird about it.
    My best laundry tip…a few drops of tea tree oil in the rinse water (I put it in the fabric softener dispenser with some plain water since I don’t use fabric softener anyway) It keeps the clothes from taking on a yucky smell if you end up having to hang them indoors on rainy days.

  4. Those every day tasks that are sometimes so excruitatingly relentless can be a godsend every now and then.

    Don’t sweat the teev hours… in a lifetime, they add up to not much at all. x

  5. I never hang laundry out except when the dryer is broken, or if we are varnishing or painting something. We have a gas dryer and if using it at that time the clothes get a funny burnt smell. Not sure why. I do hang a lot of clothes on hangers in the laundry room to dry…dress shirts, bras, tights, anything I don’t want to shrink. I also have drying screens for laying out good sweaters and tops that need to dry flat. Hand wash stuff goes to hang from the shower rack.

    I know, things are supposed to smell better, save electricity etc, but I am gone 9 hours a day. I do my laundry usually in the middle of the night. I enjoy folding heaping baskets (no lie) that I have shoved over to the kitchen table. Making stacks of towels and seeing how high I can get them before they tip. I did use to fold the children’s laundry…now I just throw their stuff loose in a basket and they have to go from there. Right now only have one child at home. But my son and his girlfriend bring their laundry here every other week or so…they have to do it themselves, though I will move it from washer to dryer.

    I do love seeing laundry flapping in the breeze…have a neighbor here who hangs laundry all the time…can watch her family grow by what is on the line. They just had a grandchild…back to the itty bitty stuff next to his work clothes.

  6. Luv the clothes bin idea! Don’t sweat Dora…it’s about the long term parenting and frankly, you managed the crisis like a pro. Give yourself a pat on the back.

  7. I love your post! I also have been thinking a lot about laundry lately, as one of those everyday, repetitive tasks that can be a gateway to becoming still inside. When times are hard, sometimes doing the same thing over and over can quiet the little hamster running inside my head and make life semi-tolerable. And there’s a great feeling of accomplishment, especially when I actually follow through and put the folded clothes away. Anyways, welcome back and regarding the tv — oh well, we do what we can.

  8. I used to hang sheets, towels, jeans and socks on the line when I was a girl “helping” my mom do the laundry. After reading your post, I realized that for the most part everything we hung up was white (obviously not the jeans)–didn’t know about the bleach effect of the sun. Duh.

    Where I live you get in trouble if you hang your laundry outside in your back yard. Yeah, you heard me. I live in an association where you can’t have backyard chickens (unless you conspire with your neighbors) and no front yard veggies. Honestly, I hope the Apocalypse happens just so these people get a clue about what’s really important–OK Maybe not the Apocalypse but some sort of brief power shortage or such. Pffft. I’m envious of your simple household freedoms.

    Glad to see you back and running–I missed your humorous posts!

    For me it was Sesame Street–that’s how my oldest son learned to count and spell. My second son never sat still long enough to watch anything. :)

    Go easy on yourself. You’ve been through a major trauma here. Just flow with the River–and that includes the Great Energy River.

  9. Keep doing what you need to stay sane… kids watching TV or DVD’s for a few hours a day while you all recover from this ordeal, well, that’s nothing… try not to feel guilty about it, because it won’t be like this forever. I have gone through nothing, and still feel like ‘leave me the fuck alone’ to all of them, at times!

    Hanging the clothes on the line is a beautiful guilt-free time for mothers… “No, I can’t do ….., I am hanging the clothes up” and “Just a few minutes more, you go play & I’ll be there when I am finished hanging the clothes on the line” and “I’d love to see you do ….. (for the hundreth time), but I am just getting these clothes off the line”. I do love line drying clothes, so maybe that’s just me!

    Laundry tips… wear less clothes & don’t buy or make ones that don’t need ironing.

    Blogging tips… people love ya, CJ, whatever you write about… I think we are just relieved to hear from you, whether you talk about the last month, your new philosophy on life, or just your dirty laundry! No pressure, of course…

    1. (Meant don’t buy clothes that need ironing… ironing is just plain wrong on all levels!)

      Do you guys have Rescue Remedy over there? I am sure you do? I find it helps for those edgy/ piss off/ everything is giving me the shits including the the things I love most in the world kind of days…

  10. I’d have to say that hanging washing is my favourite “chore”. Can’t explain it, so satisfying. There’s something about hanging up clean clothes so they can air out, and get kissed by the sun. I don’t own a dryer, it just wouldn’t be right! I hang t-shirts by the bottom, and pants by the top. I don’t seem to notice peg marks this way. I don’t iron many things since I had my babies, so I take them off the line and put them straight away. I’m usually home for a fair bit of the day, so when the weather is warmer, I pull a few things off the line at a time when I’m walking past and put them away. Less overwhelming than a huge pile of clothes. I wash everyday.
    Don’t sweat about Dora, she may have saved your sanity. Some people let their kids do this all the time, not just when they need a break. Take care x

  11. Glad to hear from you again. Please absolve yourself of all that guilt & use your mind’s time for something else!
    I organize closets, drawers, & the paperwork files to relief tension.
    Prayers for you & yours

  12. Yay, hooray, welcome back, yes, CJ, let’s talk laundry and also not murdering our children! Only, can’t just now, but I’ll be back soon, if the lil fuckers go to sleep or something. Love you!

  13. I used to enjoy hanging my laundry, till we moved to our new place, installed a pulley-system line, and found the birds enjoy perching on the top line and shitting on the clothes. This has made laundry much more stressful and involves a lot more re-washing than in times past. But since we never bothered to purchase a clothes dryer, I’m going to have to figure something out. (We first had a regular stationary line between two trees but those clothes came in unusually full of ants and other assorted wigglies, in addition to bird crap from the trees above. I think my new house hates us. A lot.)

    And wow, everyone’s systems for hanging different types of clothes makes me feel lazy (though I know I’m already a haphazard housekeeper) since I pretty much hang whatever’s in my hand in the orientation I happened to pull it from the basket. I’ve been doing that for five years and haven’t noticed any malformation of our clothes, but I’m also about as observant as I am meticulous. Ha.

    No tips! All learning here for me.I am finally inspired, though, to perhaps find something besides the edge of the porch to set my basket on, because I know that one of these days, my damn contrary house is gonna send the clean clothes sailing into the dirt below. Though, of course I can’t even be bothered to replace the clothespins, as I take stuff down, in their proper box and instead drop them in with the crunkled up laundry where they all stay for days in a laundry-and-clothespins soup until a few days later when my spouse is sleuthing irritatedly around the house looking for the MIA pins… so no promises.

  14. In this part of Australia it is pointless hanging clothes outside for half the year as they do not dry. The first load of washing that gets hung in the sunshine outside each spring makes me so very happy.

    Getting a glimpse of my washing dancing on the line always brings a smile to my face

  15. You have such a beautiful voice, even laundry is captivating. No baby yet for us, but I’m stashing the clothes bin organizer idea for future use – it’s genius! Putting away clothes is the chore I’m most resistant to, like a brain block. I’ve got stacks on my bureau and all over the bed in the spare room begging to be organized and put away. The upside: in my effort to avoid it, I end up getting a lot of dishes done.

  16. Oh what a lovely post. thank you so much for coming back to blog land all bruised and honest and willing to share again. I’ve grown up in an area of Australia where it is the norm to hang your clothes outside to dry and it’s been such an anchoring ritual in my life. I used to joke that it was the one chore I didn’t mind because outside at the line was the one place I could generally find a couple of minutes alone. The kids would avoid following me out there or interrupting because I would rope them in to help hang or take down or fold things. it was and is one of my small private pleasures- just me, the sky, the grass, the satisfaction, oh the sweet satisfaction of clean damp things flapping in sunshine. And yes, I pretty much second ALL your laundry techniques. It’s a quiet art isn’t it. My laundry lines flap over the top of some of my vegie beds and just to prolong the pleasure I often follow the hanging out with a little weeding or poking around in the plants.

    1. thanks Lucy! i don’t pass awards on, but i do use it as a reminder to update my Reader’s Blog Links in the sidebar, since it seems the point is to keep the love moving. i will get on that sidebar, it’s been awhile.
      thanks again!

  17. Hi – I have just discovered your blog and have barely read through your first post but I already know I am going to be going back through your blog drinking in your words. I love the way you write and you have drawn me in, making me want to know more, learn more.

    I can’t wait to spend a few hours just enjoying your blog!!!


  18. I love this post. I totally get the appeal of laundry, although it’s only come to me in my 30’s (which is fortunate as as I soon as I hit 30 and starting having babies I suddenly did a lot more laundry). The pegging, folding, sorting is like doing basic maths – routine, reassuring and with a definite end. Until you need to do it all again the next day, obviously. I run with a mother of 4 and we often discuss laundry. My best tip gleaned from her was to sort as you take the clothes off the line – makes it so much more efficient!

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