Dirty Laundry

One of my favorite episodes of “Designing Women” includes a conversation between Mary Jo (Annie Potts) and Julia (Dixie Carter) in which Mary Jo admits taking the shirt she’s wearing out of the dirty clothes hamper earlier that morning and ironing it because she is too tired and busy to do laundry. Julia’s response is one of shock and disgust, and Mary Jo rolls her eyes and says something like, “Oh, Julia, get real. Everyone has done that.” Julia replies, “I have never done that,” and Mary Jo says what every mom reading this right now is thinking: “You live in another world.”

And what a lovely world it probably is. A world where everyone always has clean underwear and matching clothes that have been washed, folded, and put away. A world where it is never necessary to re-wash a load of laundry because it has been festering in the steamy depths of the washing machine, forgotten for days. A world where children do not get dressed out of a big plastic bin of wrinkled clothes every morning. A world where articles of clothing are often “lost” or, admittedly, forgotten completely, because they are hanging over the pack-and-play or the shower curtain rod in the guest room where they have been “drying” for weeks.

I confess to never having lived in this world. I have always hated doing laundry, so I cannot blame my small children or my husband or our busy schedules for the flawed laundry situation in our house. Mostly I hate folding and putting away laundry, but I can throw things in the drum of a washing machine and close the lid like a boss! Fortunately I married a man who doesn’t really have any emotions about laundry and is willing to just do it because it’s a thing that needs doing. I will sort all the laundry into piles and baskets and start the first load, and then I will move on to other less abhorrent, more instantly gratifying tasks, like vacuuming, or I will sit down in the loft to watch a few minutes of a movie with The Girl, and two hours later I will remember the laundry, and I will reluctantly return to it, only to find Husband happily watching golf, already folding load two while load three sloshes away in the washer.

As a result of my distaste for the laundry process, I am very particular about how willingly I toss something into the hamper. There are tiers of dirty. First tier things go in after one wear, no questions asked: underwear, socks, sports bras and workout clothes that have actually experienced a run or other exercise, and anything that has encountered a spill that can’t be spot cleaned. The second tier typically has a two-wear limit. Tier two is mostly work clothes–shirts and pants I have basically worn at a desk all day–but also includes t-shirts I have worn around the house on the weekend and workout clothes that were doubling as “do nothing wear.” The third tier is everything else, and the wash frequency on these items relies on a case by case evaluation: jeans, sweaters, sweatshirts, yoga pants, everyday bras, and anything that cannot be machine dried. It is very scientific, really. Does this shirt smell like a bar? French fries? A Mexican fiesta? In the laundry it goes. When did I last wash this bra? Eh, now would be good. Does this sweater still bear the scent of my perfume? Excellent, fold it and put it away. Is that The Boy’s yogurt hand print on the shoulder of that tee? Toss. Three mile run today? Toss, toss. Dry flat and reshape before wearing again? You know what, just throw that away. Using this system keeps my hamper at or below capacity each week, so I can technically wash all of my clothes as one giant load.

I am still trying to impart the Three-Tier system to The Girl, who puts everything that touches her person into her dirty laundry basket regardless of how long she wore it, and with the occasional exception of pajamas, all of The Boy’s clothes are Third Tier items. As for Husband, I am sure he has…a system. He says he has a system. This is dubious at best, but because I don’t want him to stop voluntarily folding all our laundry, I am going to wholeheartedly agree here in this public arena that his system is AMAZING. I love how he carefully piles recently worn clothes on the floor along the shelving unit next to our bed. I think it is freaking fantastic how it always looks like four or five people have been raptured straight up to Jesus directly out of our bedroom. Freaking fantastic, I tell you. And the way he just knows if something lying on the floor is clean or dirty without even assessing it…like when I’m picking through his things as I sort all our clothes into piles, and I ask him, “is this dirty?” and without looking up from his book he responds, “Yes, but those aren’t.” It’s like A Beautiful Mind over there on his side of the room.

But I digress. Because this is not a story about laundry, really. It is a story about how time is a precious commodity, particularly for a family with kids and soccer schedules and school and very high toddler emotions, and we have to make choices, and sometimes I choose to giggle over Snapchat filters with my daughter over folding a basket of clean clothes, and sometimes I choose to spray my kids with the water hose over putting those wet things in the dryer, and sometimes I choose to pull a shirt out of the dirty clothes and wear it one more time. You might be turning up your nose right now, like Julia did Mary Jo, but we all have corners that get cut. For some of us it’s fast food over home cooked meals. For some of us it’s turning a blind eye to dirty floors and scummy tubs. For most of us I’m willing to bet the corners change with the seasons, both of the year and in life. Whatever the case, I’m learning with each passing day that laundry and dirty floors and sticky, crumb-covered counter tops are never going away. I can’t say the same about my kids, who seem to be growing out of their clothes faster than I can wash, dry, and fold them, and if making the most of my time with them means wearing a pair of jeans one too many times, well…that suits me and my anti-laundry ways just fine.


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