It's clean sheet night. I love clean sheet night. My friend Denise reminded me not too long ago that I have had a thing for bedding since I was a little girl. When I first began to babysit, I made 50 cents an hour. Denise and I had quite a little business going there in Navy housing in Charleston, S.C. I saved my quarters until I could buy a $28 dollar quilt from the Sears catalog. I still remember that quilt. It was the beginning of a lifelong romance with linens. I love a well-made bed. There's something about the feel of cool cottons in the summer and warm flannels in the winter. There's something about the way a change of sheets can change a sickbed into a bed of recovery. And oh, the way a quilt can lend personality to a room! I do love beds. I love towels, too. Big, fluffy, super-absorbent towels that wrap the delicious dimples of damp babies after baths. Linens are truly lovely.
Laundry hampers full of dirty clothes? Not so much. The reality is that I spend far more time in my life tending to the latter than the former. Sheets get washed once a week. Towels, twice a week. The rest of the laundry is a never-ending hymn sung from that narrow room off the kitchen. Maryan asked about laundry and I'll share a bit here, but really, I know that my laundry system won't be her laundry system. Laundry is one of those tasks every woman must think through for herself. The biggest key, however, is simple and universal (and much like refrigerator cleaning): just do it.
Laundry is a big deal. This is evidenced by the fact the Cheryl Mendelson devotes 200 pages to the topic in Home Comforts--far more than any of us really need to know. What we must know first is that care of clothing and linens must be woven into the day. Let's begin with the end. A dirty boy at the end of a day of play wearing mud-stained clothes is ready to disrobe and take a bath. Where will he put his clothes? In my husband's childhood home, he'd drop them on the floor just outside the bath and they'd magically appear in a drawer, clean and folded before he awakened the next morning. I still can't quite figure out that magic. In our house, it makes sense to have a hampers in the bathrooms. There is one for lights, for darks, for towels, and for Daddy. I like to keep Mike's clothing separate from the mix because he's frequently packing and unpacking and it just works better not to have his clothes tangled up with everyone else's.
Everyone but Karoline knows how to sort into the right hampers. I know there are folks who can't be bothered by sorting. But I likes my whites to look white, my pinks to be pink on purpose, and my colors to stay colorful. By setting up the hampers this way, we bring a little order to the laundry before the process is really begun.
When I launder is very much affected by the reality that our hot water heater is too small for the needs of our family. So, I have to wash at times when no one will need a bath or shower and no dishes will need to be washed. But I can't fold at those times because I'm either busy with the school day or I'm out of the house. [See I told you my system makes sense for me, but is unlikely to be used as is by someone else.] I wash and dry when water is available. I fold without fail every single morning, before everyone is awake and often again in the evening. I need to wash, dry , and put away at least two loads of laundry a day to stay afloat, sometimes three. This includes cloth diapers, linens and a never-ending number of sports uniforms. Rebecca suggested to me that it would be a good idea to have all the sports uniforms in their own box in the laundry room. I'd wash them, dry them, and return them there. They'd never get into circulation with the rest of the clothes. This idea appeals to me and I'm working on a way to implement it. In a smaller family, it is inefficient to do laundry every day. I do laundry every day because I have the full loads to make it efficient. If you don't have full loads, it's more efficient to wait until you do.
It is possible to do small amounts of laundry several times a week or every day. This system actually tends to work best in large, highly organized households, particularly those in which someone stays home to keep house. But it tends to be adopted, as a kind of default system, in more disorganized households where no one stays home. Frequent laundering geared to need of the day makes it hard to get properly sorted and balanced loads. Besides, this method never gives one a sense of repose, freedom from an accomplished chore. (Home Comforts)
If you live in a large family, you might feel as if this job is never finished. But if you have a system for it, you can reach the end of the day knowing that you have fulfilled the duties necessary to the day. Until the day everyone goes naked all day, this is as close as you're going to come to finishing the laundry. If you are facing Mount Never-rest and it looms formidably in front of you, begin with the jeans. Pull them all out of piles and wash them all at once. These are big and bulky and will give you a jumpstart. Then move to towels-- again they take up a lot of space in the hamper but they are so easy to wash, dry and put away!
When I fold, I take out of circulation anything I think is past its usefulness or state of good repair. I keep a giveaway bag in the laundry room for this purpose. I match socks as I can and toss the inevitable unmatched socks into the sock basket for matching later. My husband is great about pairing his socks and turning them down at the top to keep them together before putting them in the watch. Most of my children are not so good at this. I put ironing into a basket of its own to be done on Thursdays. I fold everything else into baskets according to bedroom. The big kid in the bedroom is in charge of putting them away. I put away my clothes, my husband's clothes, and the baby's clothes.
Before January, the only time I'd used my ironing board was when I inverted it against my bed and laid on it ninth moths pregnant to try to get a breech baby to turn (didn't work, by the way). This was not good for the ironing board. It was also five and a half years ago. From that time on, I ironed on occasion if necessary on my bed or wherever. My husband has a vast collection of very nice shirts. When my uncle died six years ago, Mike inherited all three of his wardrobes. My uncle had amazing style-sense and these were all wonderful clothes which fit Mike perfectly. Wonderful, very high maintenance clothes. I used to take all his shirts to the cleaners. In January, Mary Beth's dance teacher asked her to add another class. In an effort to find some discretionary income and not impact the budget, I eliminated the cleaners and added ironing to my regular routine. And I found that I pretty much like it. Ironing on a regular basis is different from the kind of ironing I used to do. Taking the time to smooth the wrinkles is really rather satisfying. Trying to iron while someone stands in front of me in his underwear, shifting from one foot to another while glancing nervously at the clock is not at all satisfying. It's really rather maddening and not a little guilt-inducing. Better to do it on a regular basis. Ironing is great thinking time. My hands are engaged but my mind is free to roam. I find myself thinking about the people who wear the clothes I iron and I often am inspired to pray for them during that time. Margaret Peterson writes that ironing "requires attention but not thought and so leaves the heart free to meditate on whatever comes to mind, all the while hands go through the familiar steps involved in turning wrinkly things into smooth things" (Keeping Home). I have also found that when I iron on a new ironing board and I use scented ironing spray (or linen water), I get the unexpected benefit of scenting our whole room for several hours. The hot iron makes a sweet-smelling steam and I'm all about aromatherapy!
When I first broke free from my habit of taking clothes out to the cleaners, I was encouraged and somewhat emboldened by Cheryl Mendelson's assertion that "commercial laundries do not do nearly as good a job as you can at home, cause much faster wearing and fading of clothes and linens, and will rarely give the individual attention to cherished garments or expensive linens that you will" (Home Comforts). And all this time I thought "the cleaners" were so much superior to what I could do!
Putting clothes away was a major chore before the mighty purge. We simply did not have room for the clothing and linens we had. The linen closet was so jammed full that a child would throw himself against it to get it to close and the hinge was broken from the force. No more. 42 bags later, we have no more clothes or linens than we have room to store neatly. There are very few sheets in the linen closet now. I have one set of summer sheets for each bed and one extra per mattress size. I recently had a chance to test whether this would work during an illness and I'm happy to report we all did just fine. In the autumn, I will add a set of flannel sheets per bed. On sheet changing day each week, I wash and dry the sheets and put them back on the bed. Towels are stored in the linen closet or hung on hooks in the bathroom. Colleen passed along a tip she'd read on the message board: put all the sheets sets inside a pillowcase. You can tell at a glance which sheets are which, the sets are all together and there are no messy edges from the fitted sheets. I truly love this tip and I loved it even more in the middle of the night when I needed to change sickbed sheets!
Laundry is critical to the smooth running of my home. I can't tell you the tears I've shed because someone was packing and I didn't know where the "whatever" was. I remember being reprimanded by a referee when my child wore the wrong color socks with his uniform. The color matters. It's no fun being a bad soccer mom. And I've noticed that as the laundry goes, so goes the rest of my house. I'm not sure whether it's the chicken or the egg, but it does bear itself out time after time. If I let the laundry slide, everything else is sliding, too. Better, instead, to do it well.