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.