Derek Markham is a man who is as comfortable in front of a washing machine as he is in front of a computer. But was he always that way?
Growing from a boy to a man to a father certainly changed my outlook on laundry, but the changes happened so gradually that I didn’t notice it unless I contrasted how I am now vs. how I was then. I’m now as comfortable in front of a washing machine as I am in front of my keyboard, but as I look back on my life in laundry, it appears that there were some clearly defined stages to my laundry evolution:
1. The Kid Stage: As a young child, my concept of laundry consisted of dropping my dirty clothes on the floor somewhere, which then disappeared and were magically returned to me clean and ready to wear. The washer and dryer were sources of interesting noises, intriguing buttons and knobs, and where the stuff in my pockets ended up.
2. The Older Child Stage: Having reached an age of some responsibility, laundry now became a chore – something to be done when I’ve been nagged enough, and then only grudgingly. It really didn’t matter to me how it was supposed to be done, it only mattered how I could do it with the least amount of effort. Sorting by color? What’s that? And why do I need to fold them if they will just get worn again?
3. The Teenager Stage: I have my favorite clothes, which must always be clean and ready to wear at a moment’s notice – but I also tend to expect that the magic laundry fairies will take care of that for me. If the laundry fairies don’t show up on time, I learn how to wash and dry one set of clothes at a time, while everything else ended up in a big pile on my floor. Weaseling out of laundry duty is high on my list of priorities.
4. The Single Young Man Stage: By now I know that if I want my laundry done when I want it done, I just need to do it myself. And when I accept the fact that I will always need clean laundry, I begin to work on my systems and to improve my laundry game. For me, the emphasis was on speed and efficiency. I still subscribed to the teenager method of keeping my favorite clothes (the ones I think make me look cool/handsome/manly to women) in heavy laundry rotation. Socks, underwear, towels and bedding are only washed when I absolutely have to, or right before a date, whichever comes first.
5. The Couple Stage: Now that I share a home with a partner, I attempt a combined laundry strategy – washing hers with mine. And after early failures, I learn her way of washing clothes, while insisting to myself that my way is right. I learn all about stain removers, fabric softeners, and which scent of dryer sheets are her favorites. I also learn what happens when you wash a cheap tie-dye with a load of her whites, and I get my first taste of laundry guilt.
6. The First Baby Stage: I can no longer maintain a separate laundry protocol. By the time you add in baby clothes, baby blankets, cloth diapers, washcloths, bibs, and baby bedding, not to mention both my clothing and hers (which now have only a five minute half-life of clean before accumulating bodily fluids and spilled food again) the amount of household laundry has just quadrupled. And of course, aspiring good man and father that I am, I step up and get ‘er done (the laundry, that is). My own clothes are now last priority, but who’s counting?
6a. The Cloth Diaper Sub-Stage: Having our baby wear cloth diapers instead of disposables makes the most sense to us, in terms of cost and comfort, but when the reality of it really kicks in (after the first month or so), I realize that: a) I wish I could afford a diaper service to wash them for me. b) I better get over my fear of poopy fingers pretty damn quickly. c) I have a strong desire to start learning about infant potty training. d) If I refer to the diapers we always have hanging out to dry as ‘prayer flags’, I can deal with it a little easier. The biggest lesson in laundry timing comes when I’m grabbing the diaper pail and running to the washing machine (or laundromat), because there is not a single clean diaper in the house, and we’re due somewhere in less than an hour.
7. The Second Baby Stage: What were we thinking? The arrival of baby number two has an exponential effect on everything in our house, and on our laundry in particular. I have experience before now, so this next stage helps to hone my laundry skills – if I wasn’t efficient at it earlier, I sure as hell need to be now. By now, there’s also an unspoken agreement with my wife, in which we both agree that all laundry will be washed, dried, and folded in the same general manner, and that under no circumstances shall an untried tie-dye or piece of brightly colored imported clothing be introduced to the family’s whites loads. And if it does happen, then we just get used to having pink diapers and socks…
8. The Third Baby Stage: I’m toast unless I can keep up. It’s all about volume now, so my laundry systems had better scale well! We’ve managed to up our game and do laundry in bulk, anticipating the empty-bureau blues and the no-clean-diapers dirge. (Here’s a hint: If you ever get so far behind that you’ve reached emergency laundry status, load it all in the car, grab some quarters, and head directly to the nearest laundromat. The triple-loader is your best friend, and using the spin-extractor cuts drying time in half. Plus, you can catch up on all the latest in People magazine while you’re there.) Luckily, our first child is now old enough to do laundry, so we’re now in the position our parents were in with us: begging, cajoling, threatening or bribing her (whichever seems appropriate at the time) to do laundry.
9. The Current Stage: We’ve now settled in to a minimal, low-cost laundry system at our house: We use a natural, unscented laundry soap which is affordable and gentle on our lawn (which is watered with the graywater from the washing machine.) We have a couple of clotheslines for all of the drying, and we never use any sort of bleach, as sundrying the clothes whitens the whites – and as a plus, solar clothes-drying is free. Because we’ve worked hard to potty train our children early, we’re done with diapers, so that cut down on laundry loads. We’ve also tried to instill the “if it isn’t obviously dirty and it passes the smell test, wear it again before washing it” mentality in our kids. Of course, now that we’ve got a teenager in the house, I get the feeling that might be an uphill battle.
What’s your current laundry life like?