One Load at a Time

Sunday, October 9, 2011

In May, when we were in the middle of moving the Tigris and Euphrates across town, my friend Bryant wrote a blog post that landed in my in box. I started to read it but it was calm and thoughtful and introspective, like all of her posts, and that was so far from where I was at that point that I just couldn’t do it. I talked to her a few days later and said, “I saw your post, Bryant, but I couldn’t read it. Too much, too much. Too much else in my head.”

She said, “You should read it, it’s just what you need.”

I read the post a few days later. She was right.

It was about doing things a little at a time, which was really what we needed to hear at that point. I’m someone who likes to get everything done at once, so I can just get it over with and move on. (Which, paradoxically, is why it takes me so long to get to things — if I’m not sure whether I can finish something completely, I don’t even think about it, leaving me with many unstarted projects scattered about my life.) So it’s good for me to be reminded that sometimes doing things a little at a time is a better approach than trying to do them all at once. In the end you get the same amount of work done, and it usually takes a lot less out of you.

One of the things I’ve really focused on the past few years has been trying to get some semblance of organization in my life. Like most people of my generation, housekeeping was a big issue for me — I could never manage to get things done and I always felt like everything was a mess. Inspired by Home Comforts (among other things), I was eventually able to figure out a system for keeping things more or less in order without undue amounts of work or stress.

Dishes, kitchen, bathroom, linens — one by one, I had taken control of things that always seemed a mess and had come up with systems for maintaining them. The last hold out was laundry.

Despite the fact that I wear the same things all the time and really have hardly any clothes, I still couldn’t manage to get to a point where didn’t keep finding myself with no clean clothes and piles and piles of things to wash.

When I started thinking about it, I realized that the fact that I didn’t have that much was actually part of the problem. It seemed silly to do a load when I didn’t have that much, but then I’d get busy and wouldn’t think about it again until I had way too much.

A small amount of laundry I can do easily; it fits into the spaces of my normal routine. I can throw a load in the machine, then fix breakfast and eat and read the paper, then hang it on the line on my way to the office. At the end of the day, I can take it off the line and bring it inside. Takes ten minutes going up, ten minutes coming down. Before I go to bed, I can fold it and put it away. Less than ten minutes for that, too. Everything done in one day.

But if I wait until I have a lot of laundry, then I have to clear out time specifically to deal with laundry. I wait until all of the loads have run through the washer before hanging any of it, and it takes three times as long to get everything up, and three times as long to take it down, and three times as long to fold it. It doesn’t work to squeeze it into my normal day because it takes so long it’s disruptive. I have to think about it and try to make time for it. And that’s much harder.

Eventually I decided the solution was to do one load on a regular schedule, and then add a second load if I need to. I don’t have to wait until I have a critical mass of clothes; it’s not going to hurt anything if I wash something when it could be worn again.

And that pretty much solved my laundry problem.

I still occasionally get backed up, and end up with piles and piles of things to wash and dry and fold and put away, but I realized that at that point, what I need to do is to increase the frequency of my one-load strategy. Instead of trying to deal with three or four loads at one time, to get everything done and taken care of (which is  my natural inclination, I want to get through everything, get it all out of the way), I should do one load, then a day or two later do another, then another, until I’m back down to the normal level. All of the loads fit into my normal routine, it’s not disruptive, and before long, it’s all taken care of.

I took last week off from work (along with most everything else), and now I’m behind. But I’m so far behind, and with so many different things I’m behind on, that my only option is to do a little bit at a time — a little bit of each of them, tag team, until I get to the point where I can focus on one thing again.

So I’m trying to think about Bryant’s post, and how I get through my laundry when it gets backed up, and how one load at a time is often a much better strategy than everything all at once.

4 Responses to “One Load at a Time”

  1. withheld Says:

    Good luck with the laundry. It is the Sisyphan stone of every mother’s life. Here’s another approach; http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/tech/james-mclurkin.html If you open the transcript the part about laundry is not far from the top.

    Also want to make sure you’ve seen this http://citymuseum.org example of reuse in action.

  2. lessisenough Says:

    Wow, that museum looks awesome! Thanks for the link.

    I know laundry is a killer for moms, but I don’t have kids and I don’t even have a job. You’d think it wouldn’t be so hard.

    The link about the engineer is interesting. I have to say that when I first moved back to North Carolina, I was living in an apartment that had no laundry facility, so I did my laundry at a laundromat. I know most people think doing laundry at a laundromat is torture, but I actually liked it, every other week I’d drove to Cosmic and get a burrito and then take my clothes to the laundromat and sit on the bench on the sidewalk in front of the laundromat and eat my burrito and read and then not have to think about laundry at all for two more weeks. It was great.

    One of the things I remembered when I was thinking about trying to figure out a new system was Amy Dacyczyn talking about how she discovered that if she did a load of laundry every night, it stayed manageable and also they could have less clothes. So that was sort of the strategy I had in my head — total opposite of the engineer who says to do laundry the fewest times possible. I just need to make sure I remember it. Laundry is still the part of the routine that is most likely to get knocked off balance when I get busy.

  3. Robin Says:

    We recently bought a high-efficiency washer which, because it has no agitator taking up space, holds what seems like twice as much as the old washer. So I’m always trying to wait until I can fill up the machine to do a load (not that I’m all that eager to do laundry anyway), and in the meantime we’re running out of clean underwear. I’m trying to shake that mindset, and your perspective helps.

    I’m impressed that you hang your laundry out to dry. I haven’t done that since 1996, when Hurricane Fran took down the trees that my clothesline was attached to.

  4. lessisenough Says:

    Yes, that was what was getting me in trouble before, always trying to maximize the load. But I discovered that a regular schedule, even if it isn’t a full load, works much better.

    And I really like hanging my laundry outside, though it’s a drag when you have to rearrange your schedule because of the weather. But, again, that’s where doing things on a shorter schedule works much better — if I’ve waited until everything is dirty and then it rains for three days in a row, I’m in trouble. If I’m doing it every week, it’s not a big deal to wait until things clear up.


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