Laundry Solutions: Part I - Getting the job done

"This is the Way We Wash Our Clothes" by George Dunlop Leslie     


Mt. Neverest: 
For tired Mom's or Dad's: refers to the endless pile of laundry that never diminishes, despite washing, drying, and folding several loads day after day after day. – Urban Dictionary

Before I was married, even while I was in college, my mom did almost all my laundry. So when Tim and I were married, the few loads of dirty clothes we generated each week came as a shock to me. What a drag it was hauling them to the laundry room of our townhouse and waiting for them to run their cycles! Ha – if only I had known that eventually I’d be doing two or three loads every day instead of every week!

Next to feeding our families, keeping them clothed in clean and well-maintained garments is probably the most relentless homemaking job we do. (Nothing compares with the work of teaching and training the little souls in our care, but for plain homemaking duties, food and clothing have to be at the top.) I mean, at least technically it is possible to have your entire house clean for a few moments, but have you ever been completely 100% caught up on the laundry? (If you have, please don't read any further! This post is for the rest of us who, at least occasionally, struggle to keep up with the dirty clothes, diapers, towels, and sheets that our offspring create unceasingly.) Maybe your laundry room is waist deep with dirty clothes. Or maybe you, like me at times, don’t have a problem getting the clothes clean, but somehow those baskets of clean clothes languish for days before they get folded and put away. 

I used to scour home management books and websites for tips on how to make laundry simpler. Finally, we arrived at our family’s laundry solution.  I’ll say here what I’ve said before: what works for you at one point in your life may not be the optimal strategy for a different season. But taking the time to figure out the best tactic for your current family make-up  will go a long way to helping you conquer your Mt. Neverest with the least amount of fuss.

I. Timing’s Everything (Monday’s washday – or is it?)
It really doesn’t matter so much if you are a once a week laundress or an every-day kind of gal. Just pick a system and then work it! Here are the basic options as I see it:

A. Once a week: This can work fine if you have three or fewer children. The advantages are that you only have to spend one day washing, folding, and putting away. Also, this maximizes the efficiency of water and electricity use as all your loads should be full.

B. Daily: Do 1-3 loads Monday-Saturday. This is the approach we take with the modification below. Regular times to start and move the laundry along help. I want a load started first thing in the morning during chore time. After that, lunch break and after school make two other natural times to move it along and begin additional loads. This link tells how one family with seven children do their laundry with the daily system.
C. At our house we do laundry daily, but we have found it works much better to do the wash by room rather than pooling it all and then having to sort it out later. Each child or set of children with one over the age of 8 is responsible for his own laundry. Because our youngest is 8, this means that at least theoretically, I only do Tim’s and my clothes plus the towels, rugs, etc. Whoopee! But even when we had as many as five children eight and under, this system worked great. In the busiest laundry seasons we have scheduled who had which day, but we’re not finding that necessary currently.

II. Don't Go it Alone!
As your children grow, they can take on more and more responsibility for their dirty clothes and linens! Littles can begin folding dishtowels and napkins, moving on to more difficult jobs as they are able. Preschoolers should be able to put away folded laundry in their dressers or on shelves, and by mid-elementary age or so, children can start to take on the whole job. Here's another advantage to doing laundry by room: older siblings who share a room with a younger one be responsible for helping with their younger roommates. For detailed instructions on teaching children to do their own laundry, check this out.

III. Finishing the Job

For me, starting the machines running is the easy part. Actually making sure that the clean clothes make it from the laundry room to the correct closet or dresser, neatly folded, is the trick. It is just far to easy for baskets of clean clothes to accumulate in my laundry room folding annex, aka, the master bedroom.  And then those babies have been known to sit there for days. Here's what works for me to prevent the buildup of clean, unfolded laundry from filling your bedroom, dining room table, couch, or wherever it gets hung up at your house.

a. As much as possible, fold the laundry AS you take it out of the dryer. It doesn't take long at all. Honestly.

b. Line drying (more on this in Part II) makes folding clothes almost effortless.

c. Have set times for folding and putting away clothes. Make it part of your routine morning or afternoon chore time.

d. Involve your children. (See above.)

e. Pray for each family member as you hang or fold their clothes. This is actually my favorite motivator for what is otherwise my least favorite part of laundry. I've been kind of enjoying hanging Jonathan's clothes these days as his doctor forbade housework while his back muscles and vertebrae mend because it reminds me to pray for him as I handle his clothing. I remember in past years pulling baby sleepers from the dryer and just being so thankful that I had that sweet new person. Instead of resenting the laundry, use it as one more opportunity to love each one in your home.

IV. Nuisances Small and Large (Socks and Sheets)
I've tried many different systems for minimizing the stray sock problem. (Milk jug rings as a means of holding pairs together: FAIL!) But no matter what we've done, the lonelies proliferate. Where do they all come from anyway? Laila, author of the previous two links and chief blogger on Our Mothers, Our Daughters blog,  says:

Another reason single socks proliferate is that children take them off in random places. You will thank yourself if you establish early on your clear disapproval of the placing of socks in any other receptacle other than the hamper. Children figure a wet sock is a sock they want to forget about. They think nothing of leaving them in the middle of a room. They get hot playing in the den and off come the socks. If you register disbelief that anyone not inhabiting primordial ooze would throw his socks behind a sofa, and immediately require rectification of the error, you will find that these sorts of terrible misadventures rarely trouble you.
She also offers this suggestion: When you find socks left where they don't belong, in addition to having the owner take care of it, also give them the job of spending five minutes cleaning some windows using a clean single sock from your stockpile. I love it!

Here are a couple of other helps:

a. Use safety pins to hold baby socks together in the wash or put them in one of those little lingerie bags. I've had older children who used lingerie bags to contain socks as well.

b. Buy many, many socks of the same kind. (White, black) and then stick with that type of sock. The fewer varieties you have, the better.

c. Keeping laundry separated by room minimizes the family mixing which makes the sock headache grow.

d. When all else fails - hold a SockFest!
We used to do this regularly to deal with the basket of unmatched socks. I'd sit in the middle of the living room floor, tossing socks to children, each of whom had a different category. To provide diversion, Tim would read aloud to us.

Sheets: This may sound barbarous to you, but life got much simpler once I realized that my children wouldn't die if sheets were changed every other week instead of weekly. Typically I would have a child change his sheets on the 1st and 3st week of the month, and either a sibling's or Mom and Dad's on the 2nd and 4th week. Also, until they are old enough to handle a top sheet, my kids live with only a fitted bottom sheet. It's so much easier for little ones to make their beds when they don't have to wrestle with an unruly top sheet!

All right, that's enough! Next time I'll wrap up the laundry talk with a few money saving tips.


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