Eight Tips for Taming the Laundry Beast (or I don't hate laundry and maybe you don't have to either)


I have a slight homemaking confession.

*nervous throat clearing*

Laundry...has never really bothered me.

*ducking and waiting for the tomato ceasefire*

I feel just a wee bit apprehensive admitting that because so many women seem to loathe it so much.  I struggle with keeping up on other things but laundry?  That's never been an issue.  I don't know, maybe it's my charism or something.  I know it sounds super overly saccharine, but every time I throw something in the washing machine and push the button, I think about how easy it is and how women of old scrubbing at the creek or heating their giant tubs of water over the wood stove would covet such a machine.  I really do.  When you think about it, for us modern ladies, laundry isn't a whole lot of physical, knuckles to the bone, sweat-dripping work work, right?  

It really is more of an organizational issue and about finding a routine that works for you.

I actually love the fact that a person like me who loves to accomplish and make every moment useful can find a bit of rest knowing that even though I am sitting and reading a book or picking up the knitting needles and enjoying a moment to hang out with my husband, at the same time I am still doing laundry while that washer or dryer is running.  It does get monotonous, sure, but once you find a routine and system that works for you and you feel like you own it, there is a certain sort of pride in your work that comes with that, too.      

So what do we do?
In the early days I had a weekly laundry day.  This worked well for before John Paul was born and then until we added another little one.  As long as we had enough underwear to last a week and since we weren't making enough laundry to do it more often, it made sense at the time to just devote one day to laundry.  So I'd do three to five loads on that one day.  Eventually that one day had to turn into a bi-weekly thing.  That worked well for those days.  But as our family grew I needed to switch it up a bit.

Now that we're a family of six I do one load of laundry every day.  Except on warm summer days when I love to hang the laundry outside to dry, it happens at night.  My days are filled with other chores that keep me busy and I find doing laundry during the daytime too distracting and I always seem to forget it's in there.  So once dinner is over or at the end of the day, the kids change into their pajamas as soon as possible.  I try to throw the load in by 6:30 but obviously if we're out it can be much later than that.  Sometime later I make sure one of us remembers to switch it to dry and while Brian and I relax on the couch, and one or both of us fold.  Or on one of the increasing number of nights that one of us is gone, the other one takes over.  Clean laundry is then piled neatly back into the basket ready to go up the next morning before breakfast.

(One notable caveat:  We do use cloth diapers but I don't consider them part of my "normal" laundry and see them as a separate chore.  Those are done as needed, usually every two to three days and usually during the day.)


Here are some of my laundry guidelines that keep me sane and help me keep our load to one a day.  Maybe, just maybe, they'll help someone out there learn to love tolerate the laundry a little bit more:

::Don't wash what is clean::
You'd be surprised by how often we are washing things that really are clean.  In fact, I think we Americans get a tad bit obsessive when it comes to cleaning things plus it really takes a toll on clothes.  I wash things that need an obvious freshening but if I'm unsure, I will use the sight and smell test.  No stains, no smell, no wash.  I am not above having the boys fold their jeans back up in the evening if they aren't stained.  This happens more often in the winter, of course, especially when they're not playing outside in just jeans.  In the nicer weather, their clothes get pretty filthy but they're usually wearing shorts and one shirt which take up half the room in the washer anyhow so it kind of evens out.  We reuse towels.  (Make sure to fold them and hang them on a bar rather than hanging them from a hook and there is no mildewing or musty smell.  They dry so much quicker that way!)  Pajamas are reworn a few days in a row.  Sunday church clothes are changed out of after Mass and unless they are stained or need freshening, they are folded back up and put in the drawer.
And I promise you that despite this approach, my kids don't look any worse for the wear than other children around.  Most of the time.

::Stop the over sorting madness:: 
We sort by colors and whites and that's it.  I've never noticed a difference when separating light and darks and different materials.  There is no "towel load" or "delicate load" or "baby load" (remember when you used to separate out all the baby items and have a baby load?).  It all gets washed together unless something is really disgusting or muddy.  If something is brand new and looks bleedable, then of course I'll wash that separately a time or two but after that it goes in the colors.  I usually have to do whites every three to four days and the rest of the days are the colors.  At night when it's time to put the load in, I (or one of the boys) grab any kitchen rags or bathroom towels that might need to be washed and throw them in, too.  And it all gets clean and no one dies from my lack of responsible sorting.

::Get rid of that hamper::
Seriously.  Get rid of it.  Or use it to store the dress up clothes like we do.
A hamper is basically an invitation and excuse to put off doing laundry.  Train your children (and yourself) to bring laundry to the laundry area immediately.  Train them to put whites in the white basket and everything else in the color basket (or however you choose to sort).  That way you know how much you really have at a time.  For us this means that one of the daily tasks in the morning is that the last person dressed brings down the scattered underwear and socks and pjs that need washing and takes them directly to the laundry room into a basket.  This also works as a little incentive for them to get dressed and make their bed quickly rather than lollygagging (I just said lollygagging) around their bedroom so they aren't the last one down.  Because bringing down six pieces of laundry is so hard. ;)

::Laundry - same time, same channel::
Find a routine that works for you.  You might do better in the morning.  In the summer months when I know it will be nice I do often opt to put in the daily load first thing in the morning so I can hang it on the line (which I really really like doing).  But in most other weather, we keep laundry to at night after dinner.  It's part of the routine and becomes habit after the kids change out of their clothes into pajamas to bring them into the laundry room and start the daily load.  Now that our laundry is on the first floor, it's much easier to remember when to switch to the dryer but if you have a basement or upstairs laundry consider putting a timer on to remind you when it'll be time.

::Get rid of half the clothes::
You know you want to.  Most kids and adults have way way more clothing than they need.  Trim down the dressers and closets by half and most people would still have more than they need.  Keep the wardrobes simple.  If a child has only two or three pairs of shorts, then by necessity you need to keep on top of the laundry.  It helps when you just don't feel like doing laundry to realize that if you don't someone may be without something to wear the next day.  I think you'll find putting things away is even somewhat cathartic when it's going into a well organized and not overstuffed drawer or closet.

::Have one pair of sheets per bed::
So what about sheets?  I only have one pair of sheets per bed.  When they look, smell, or just plain feel sufficiently dirty, I wash them in the morning and have them back on the bed by late afternoon.  Oftentimes I'll do two or three beds at a time and as long as my mom isn't reading, I'll tell you that I only wash them about once maybe twice a month, if that.  (Do you think she'll be mad if I tell you she irons her sheets?  She does.  Maybe she's the one with the laundry charism.)  I don't have them in a rotation but just wash as they seem to need it.   Keeping to one pair of sheets per bed means that the sheets have to get washed and put back on before bedtime and prevents the laundry room backup that can occur when you know you can put clean sheets on the bed without having to wash the dirty ones first.  This also works with towels.

::(If you have the option) Get the largest capacity machines you can::
If and when you need to replace your machines and you have children, get the largest capacity that you can.  You end up saving time, money, and energy in the long run by being able to do as large a size load as possible at once.  Our washer in this house holds about double what our last washer did and that makes a huge difference in keeping up with the laundry.
While we're on the topic, when you're researching machines, find out how long a cycle lasts.  While I appreciate the large capacity of our washer, the normal wash cycle is almost an hour long.  I think that's fairly typical for front loaders.  Our last one was a top loader, took only thirty minutes, and got the clothes cleaner.  I'm not a big fan of the front loaders for a good wash or soak.  BUT front loaders are nice because children can help with the switching.

::Make your folding intentional.  Literally.::
As soon as the dryer is done, aim to get your laundry out.  This almost negates the need to iron (ha, not that I would anyway.  Unlike my mom, I iron basically never.) and keeps you on the ball.  If you're doing it at night, it also lets you feel done with your day and free to get to bed sooner.  Take the time to fold the clothes well, sorting by person and piling back in the basket to be returned to dressers and closets.

Almost every single time I fold (ha, maybe it's because it's night and they're sleeping ;) I'm reminded of how blessed we are.  How we have these little people that fit into these little clothes.  How we are able to need and afford this many socks.  How fast they are growing.  I think about how skinny Michael is and how much David likes this shirt and how some of those grass stains that won't come out are a sign that my boys are blessedly healthy.  And sometimes I even manage to remember a prayer for that little person whose shirt I'm folding.  I know.  It's corny but usually true and it changes everything.  I see the order emerge from the chaos and it feels good.  Once I finish waxing poetic over the basket, it's then ready to go up and be put away the next morning before breakfast while the boys are getting dressed.

I know sooner rather than later we'll likely need to do two a day rather than one load and I do have the goal of having the boys assume more laundry responsibility as they get older.  Any possible daughters-in-law will appreciate that, I hope.  Things will change but for now, this little system works and works well.  And that's about as good as it gets when it comes to laundry :)

Any tips to share on keeping up with the laundry?
What works for you?



29 comments

  1. We live in an apartment with a communal laundry room on the first floor. Needless to say, I've already implemented MOST of your tips and tricks! On laundry days (generally every 4-5 days) I do a white (with bleach) load and a non-white load. I've pared down my wardrobe and my kids' wardrobes to just what we need, and I get the laundry ALL done on that day (washed, dried, folded, and put away). :)

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    1. That's exactly what I would do when we were first married! Except I had to take it every week to my mom's or friend's house because our apt. had no laundry :)

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  2. The only thing on this we can't get away with is 1 set per bed. We have regular sheets and winter flannel sheets (and must have to keep the heating bill from soaring in the winter in our area), and most beds have 2 sets of sheets just because you never know when the stomach bug is going to hit or a potty training regression will happen. But that's what works for us. (We also keep extra towels for that reason, plus the fact that our basement floods about 1-2 times a year and those towels pull double duty).

    My plan once the kiddo is just a little bigger is setting up my laundry room so each family member has a basket and it's their responsibility to put those clothes away directly. Sort and fold directly from the dryer (whose ever job that is at that point) and then everyone gets their basket to put away.

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    1. Oh yeah, we have a few very threadbare sheets for emergency purposes during the middle of the night...just not used regularly. And a bucket of older towels for the same purpose as you...gross or big messes or washing the porch floor. Definitely a must have. I just keep the showering/bathing towels separate and there's only a couple so that when they get washed they have to be put right back and not pile up in the laundry room.

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  3. Um, I am with you - laundry really doesn't bother me (actually, I kind of like the completeness of it) And I do have first hand knowledge of handwashing the laundry in a stone wash basin - once from a trip to Columbia in high school and another when we stayed with my husband's family in the Azores. That work would give anyone a new appreciation for the wonders of machinery.

    For me:
    In summer, I put in a load at night, set the timer on the machine to go off about 5am (yes, my machine has a built in timer), and after the hubby leaves for work, I put it out on the line. I then put in another load and usually by 8am I have 2 loads on the line - with 9 of us, I average 2 or 3 loads a day. In the afternoon, I take it down, fold it, put it in the basket and when it comes in the house it gets put in piles by person on the table and then removed to the correct rooms. If we are having really yucky days, I will stockpile and do 4 or 5 loads a day to catch up with the good weather.

    In winter, same thing, it just goes in the dryer instead.

    I find for us it is actually easier for me to do all the laundry rather than trying to coordinate 5 or 6 different people using the same machines. Everyone is expected to bring the dirty laundry to me (if it stays in the bedroom, it doesn't get put through the cycle) However, all the children are able to do all the laundry from sorting to folding and putting away if I am not around or they feel like helping out (which actually does happen lol)

    I do have 2 sets of sheets for each bed and a set day (every other Tuesday) to change the sheets. That way if it is raining I can do the sheets on a good day, and to make it easier if we have the stomach bug hit us (it did a few months ago and I cannot tell you how great it was to have those extra sheet sets!

    So good to know I am not the only one who does not think doing the laundry is that bad.

    Blessings,
    Karen

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    1. 2 loads up by 9 a.m. is extremely impressive!! "I find for us it is actually easier for me to do all the laundry rather than trying to coordinate 5 or 6 different people using the same machines." Yeah, I think that makes the most sense to me, too. I don't know if you'll see this but I'm curious if people with older children who help out have them do ALL the parent's laundry...you know, including underwear and things. Is that a weird question? I was thinking about it the other day wondering if it would be weird for my teenage boys to be folding my underwear :)

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    2. ah! yeah, the boys folding the older girls and mom's unmentionables would be weird! I am blessed that my mother-in-law (who lives with us) usually folds the clothes when they come out of the dryer - her job at the house! When the boys help, they usually match socks and fold towels and jeans. They usually get their main folding experience by re-folding the clothes they get all over their room. lol

      I have to be honest and say we are a bit traditional in the roles generally: the girls work about inside the house and the boys concentrate on the outside stuff. They are familiar with both areas, but the main emphasis is girls in and boys out.

      such a fascinating subject - loving the comments on this as well

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    3. I would posit that having boys fold their sisters' or mother's laundry actually helps to normalize and make it not weird or creepy...especially since most men that are called to marriage will, at times when things are crazy, have to do the unmentionables as well, and it just makes it easier if they already know how than to have a harried, distraught, or sick wife explaining to them because they've never touched it.

      I grew up with the laundry being the girls' job, and I think in most settings, that's a good thing, especially if there are outdoor chores to be done. But I think laundry is a skill that all kids should learn well before they leave home, as it not only helps to prepare them for that responsibility, it gives them another way in which they can serve others, which I value highly.

      Love reading all of this!

      Blessings,
      Hannah

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    4. Great points, Hannah! My husband helps with the laundry and I hope it's a skill I pass on to our boys as well. Although, I laugh at him because fourteen years in and he still can't figure out how to fold the camisole tanks I wear!

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  4. Great list!
    I used to combine towels with other things until the fluffies started clinging to my older kids clothes. They object. :)
    We've also added two additional categories in the last few years (which increases laundry):
    1) teen boy laundry.
    2) sports apparel laundry
    Both stink to high heaven and the fancy performance fabrics require separate washing :(
    I do about 2 loads daily if I want to keep up with linens, clothes, laundry, and special loads. Sometimes I am just too busy and do a 10 load marathon!

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    1. Ooh yeah. We haven't gotten to the smelly stage yet. Things might get real complicated real quick around here!! Yikes.

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  5. Unfortunately, one set of sheets and stomach bugs don't mix...ask how I know. So now I have an extra set for twin beds that only gets used for those sets of emergencies!

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    1. Ah, that's true. We do have some very threadbare old sheets for emergency purposes. We've even thrown down an old towel or blanket on the bed during a bleary-eyed midnight vomit emergency :) It is smart to have SOMETHING in the linen closet you can grab!

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  6. I love doing laundry too! Though I do a load every 3 days-ish. And a weekly towel load. What a great post for the non-laundry lovers. We absolutely limit the number of clothes we have in order to laundry more often and not clutter drawers and closets!

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  7. I don't mind laundry, though I'm not so good at keeping on top of the folding. You've covered some excellent tips! Really couldn't add to them at all.
    Though as we are a larger family with older children we've now changed from the routine you keep to a new one, we've been on this new rhythm for a few years now.

    Each child has their wash day assigned, and every child over the age of 7 does their own washing, though I will help younger ones hang and fold their washing (here in Australia we hang our washing on the clothes line, rarely using the dryer- so expensive to use with electricity). So child A & B wash Monday, Child C Tuesday etc. They take their dirty clothes back to a wash bin in their rooms after showers, unless wet (not wishing to make clothes moldy) and then wait till their laundry day.
    A post to explain it better if interested
    http://sevenlittleaustralians.blogspot.com.au/2011/08/soap-suds-and-pegs.html

    oh and we actually have 2 clothes lines (not the norm) so pics of clothes lines in Australia
    http://sevenlittleaustralians.blogspot.com.au/2011/10/real-mccoy.html

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    1. thank you! I know this will help as the boys get older! And I love your lines!

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  8. I don't mind laundry either. Here are some tips that have worked for me...

    We have one laundry collection area...it's a fairly small basket so it fills quickly and then laundry is done (usually every other day, but my family is a bit smaller than yours). I don't like to have it accumulating in our laundry room because it's so small and feels cluttered. I like to keep it in the master closet.

    One color of towels....all white. I can bleach them periodically to keep them white and keep them from smelling mildewy.

    I dump clean laundry on the master bed so I can't go to sleep until it's all put away. I like to start my loads throughout the day and then fold it all at once (usually after dinner).

    I have two sets of sheets per bed...for guests and illnesses. The "extra" sheets for the girls' beds are flannel so they are seasonal too.

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    1. Oh, I like white towels, too. The downstairs ones that the boys use are tan because they do double duty for dirty feet washing when they come in from outside. But ours are white. White towels look so clean and fresh!

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  9. I wrote about what was working for us laundry wise about this time last year. It's still working. We do sort more than you, but I've got daughters who wear bras that don't get tossed in the dryer (ruins the elastic too easily) and other delicate items that need to be hung up to dry, so it's easier for them to sort those out ahead of time and wash them all in one load. We also sort darks from lights because nowadays, with so many of the teenagers' jeans being that dark indigo blue color, they bleed so badly. We have two sets of sheets per bed but we also have a large size linen closet to keep them in. I do like all my towels to be white or a very light beige that I can bleach occasionally. I used to hate laundry after we had 3 children because that was when I could no longer get it done all in one day. Once I embraced the idea that it would never be "done" and just accepted it as an ongoing daily chore, my attitude improved greatly.

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    1. Yeah, I love the dark jeans but they do have to be washed a few times themselves before they can be put in with other things! And you're right...I bet my laundry would be a little more nuanced with girl clothes! Thanks for the link!

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  10. Mom taught is well- I don't let laundry get the best of me either, (although I don't iron much either). Every morning I do 2 loads - (diapers included) and fold and put away immediately and in between daily activities. Rob commented the other day about how the great laundry turn around time is in this house!! Wow I got a compliment!!

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  11. The only thing I mind about laundry is carrying it from the second floor to the basement and back again. And if I hang it I have to carry wet laundry up the stairs and into the yard. There is never a male around when I need one.

    I don't even mind ironing. It's nice to smooth out the wrinkles in a shirt, as it never quite works so easily in life.

    I often think of how easy laundry really is, because I remember watching my grandma down in her coal dust covered basement washing in a tub and putting the wash through the wringer, and then hanging it in the yard or in the same dusty basement in the winter. Her knuckles would be so red and cracked -- that was real work.

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  12. I was just telling my mom the need for me to cut down on everyone's clothes. I know that would make my life in the laundry department a WHOLE lot easier. Thanks for the great post!

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  13. Yeap, I admit, I iron sheets! We all have our little quirks, don't we??

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    1. My grandma used to iron and starch her sheets and I loved the feel. I remember how crisp and cool they were, even in the heat of a Texas summer with no AC!

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