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.

Laundry.

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?