Friday, May 17, 2013

Laundry Ideas

The other day I realized that I'm pretty good at managing laundry. Because I am surrounded by so many loving and efficient families with many more children than our four, I think of ours as a "beginner family." But I can hearken back to when I would have thought four children's laundry was overwhelming, an impossible amount to manage. My how perspectives change!

My husband and I were talking about domestic tasks and him trying to get me to relax a little bit more, to do less domestic work: Trying to convince me, he said, "You know, other people have a lot more laundry crises than we do," his point being that I could afford to do less laundry. Of course, I interpreted it as, "Exactly! We don't have laundry crises, it's actually something I do well!"

Please don't ask me to write a blog post about meal planning or cooking unless you want to read the litany of my failings. But about laundry, I can open up the discussion!

I am writing from the perspective of a mother whose children are all still too young to be of real help with doing laundry. This is quite different than the mother who has numerous helper-age children. My eldest, John, is six-and-a-half, so I plan to teach him to do laundry basically starting now. I'd like to hear from more experienced mothers about when they began teaching laundry skills and how they did it. My plan is:
  1. to have John start shadowing me, but I think he will "get it" so rapidly that 
  2. I plan to transition to me shadowing him: just standing with him, watching him do it, and speaking up if he makes a mistake. 
  3. And then I will hand off some portion laundry to him entirely! (I think I will first put him in charge of towels.)
    1. Question: How do you divide up laundry responsibilities? Some mothers have the child responsible for his own laundry (or his plus a younger sibling's laundry). There is merit in making the child responsible for his own self. The risk is that the child doesn't do his laundry and then has a laundry crisis: no clean clothing when his parents want him neat and clean. Also, there won't be enough dirty laundry to create dark versus light loads, and I'd rather not mix the clothing, which causes increased wear and tear on the outfits. Another risk I see (the one most problematic to me) is promoting the idea that one is responsible only for one's own messes, as opposed to assigning the child "to do laundry on Wednesdays," for example, which promotes that we are all in this together, working for the good of the family. Thoughts?

But back to the family with children too young to help.

First of all, the children can begin "helping" as soon as they can toddle. Toddlers just love to pick lint from the lint screen or be handed one clean, wet item at a time to toss in the dryer. Plus, by bringing the children with you to do a laundry task together, that is one less opportunity for an unsupervised child to get into mischief. Right now my 4- and 6-year-olds transfer laundry as a team, with one sitting on top of the washer, pulling out the wet items, handing them to the other child standing on the ground, who tosses them into the dryer.

How Much Are You Washing?

I have observed that families with big families usually start to dramatically reduce the number of outfits each person owns. A single person needs more outfits in the closet unless that person wants to be doing tiny loads of laundry every couple of days. But a family with many members does laundry basically daily (more on that later!), so only needs even as few as several outfits. I know one mother who gives her children two play outfits and one Mass outfit, and laundry is done every two days, so they're never short of clothing. Do the clothes wear out faster? Sure, they last one season, but kids grow out of outfits so fast that this streamlined approach works for her.

The outfits of my four-year-old girl, excluding a couple that were in the hamper that day, 
and the underclothing and a couple of nightgowns in the bureau.

I have more clothing for babies and toddlers because they get messy--very messy--every day and sometimes need outfit changes. I have fewer outfits for children ages three and up because they learn how to be neat(er). I am still at the stage at which I will change my child's outfit if it gets grimy during a day but I've heard what I consider perfectly legitimate practices in bigger families of mine: unless we're going somewhere where we need to be neat, then you can stay in your grimy outfit today instead of giving us more laundry to do.

I also have more outfits than I think needful because we receive some beautiful hand-me-downs from the cousins. Plus I like to sew, so that creates new outfits. But really, Jesus told us that anyone who has two shirts should give one away to the poor (Luke 3:11), so clearly I have work to do in this area!

Bins of clothing in the girls' closet

At this point in my parenting, I am keeping outfits to hand down to future children. Some parents choose not to keep clothing, even if they're having a big family, and I've come to see their logic too. For now--because I receive some really high-quality hand-me-downs and because I invest so much time in ferreting out modest clothing choices--I keep and limit myself to one bin of clothing per gender per size (e.g., Girl Size 3, includes both winter and summer clothing). In the girls' closet I keep the two bins of sizes which each girl is growing out of and into (e.g., size 2 and 3), and the same goes for the boys' closet. All the other bins are in the attic. If we are blessed with more children, I won't have the closet space to keep so many bins in the closets, so they will all go in the attic.

How Often Are You Washing?

One theme I see consistently in home management books (e.g., "Home Comforts" by Cheryl Mendelson, "Large Family Logistics" by Kim Brenneman) is that a large family needs to be washing laundry daily (except Sundays for us Christians!) in order to avoid laundry crises.

Some mothers set a goal. The author of "Large Family Logistics" writes that she aims for "four by four": four loads of laundry daily completed by four o'clock.

Around here, what I find currently works is a rotation: wash darks one day (2-3 loads), lights the next day (1 load), linens the next day (1-2 loads), repeat for the next three days, don't do laundry on Sundays. I also have a hamper in the downstairs laundry room where I toss the many rags I use to wipe faces, counters, dishes, and spills, and this I wash on an as-needed basis several times per week.

I have had numerous friends talk to me about their laundry crises and then explain that they're on the go so much that they're not home to do the laundry. That is a conundrum! Even in the homeschooling world, there are mothers who are very home-focused and mothers who sign up the children for a lot of activities. Right now, I am one of those home-focused mothers, but I could see that changing as my children are older.

Where Are Your Hampers?

Because I am the person who does laundry, I keep all the hampers in one place: the upstairs landing, accessible from all the bedrooms.

If one day I switch to having individual members wash their own laundry, they will have individual hampers in their bedrooms. But for this stage, I think it's fraught with laundry crises to allow young children to have hampers in their rooms. I can always glance at my hampers and know just how full they are: I lose this knowledge if children keep hampers hidden away in their rooms.

And how does one get the children to put dirty clothing--and only dirty clothing--in said hamper? Well, you tell me, more experienced moms! At the ages of my children, I still have to remind them every single night and "inspect what I expect" (as the author of "Large Family Logistics" says). Otherwise clothing builds up on the floor, which is Where Everything Belongs according to little people. I still have the children show me their clothing so I can say what is clean enough to go back in the drawers: I don't know when children become old enough, with teaching, to make this judgment call themselves. I know one mother who charges her children a fine ($1 per item, I think) for putting clean clothing into the hamper because it wastes her labor and the family's economic resources of soap and water.

When Do You Do the Laundry?

Personally, I fold the laundry as it comes out of the dryer. I won't take a load out of the laundry until I have the five minutes (that's all it takes!) to fold a load. This keeps me from getting overwhelmed with a monster pile of laundry to fold at the end of the day--when I'd rather be relaxing and getting off these tired dogs of mine! Another benefit is that doing laundry and folding it too when children are awake allows them to learn this skill and to participate in supporting the family. If I do all my cleaning when they are asleep, which in one sense would be much easier, I am denying them that opportunity and I am allowing them to become lazy, ready only to be served instead of to serve others.

Why am I so insistent on folding laundry as soon as it comes out of the dryer? Because the iron and I are not exactly friends! I iron clothing once or twice a year. I knew it was bad when my husband came to me recently and asked, "Honey, do you know where the clothing iron is?" and he pronounced it like "clo-th-ing i-ron" as if speaking to someone for whom English is a second language . . . or to a wife who never picks up the iron! So, fold the fresh laundry and you won't have to iron, that's what I say!

So, I toss in my first load of laundry in the morning, either when I wake or after breakfast and dressing. It's early. Each time I come downstairs from the schooling either to take a toddler to the potty, change a baby's diaper, or serve snack time, I take that transition moment to switch laundry or fold a load.

The exception to my general laundry-in-the-daytime rule is for cloth diapers. When I am using cloth diapers, I wash the diapers every two to three days at night after the children are asleep. This allows me to wash all the cloth diapers at once, including my fabulous wet/dry bags, while not having any newly created wet or dirty diapers collecting during the process. Then when the baby wakes in the morning, his or her clean cloth diapers are awaiting her.

I know some women like to fold laundry all at once during the evening while watching TV, but that just doesn't work for me.

Where Do You Fold the Laundry?

We don't currently use our dining table in the formal dining room except on special occasions, so I fold laundry there throughout the day. Each person has his or her own stack of clothing and each carries up his or her own stack after dinner upon walking up for the bedtime routine. Someone else carries for the baby and toddler. John puts away his own clothing. I thought Mary (not yet 4-1/2) was too young to hang her own dresses so I've been doing it for her, but last week she got into a "little mommy" mood and hung all her own clothing perfectly. So, now I know better!

If we come to use our dining table for eating or schooling more often, I will have to revisit where I fold clothing, since I certainly hope not to have to climb the stairs several times per day to fold clothing in the bedrooms--but then I'd probably be thinner and more fit!

* * * * *

Some of my readers might think I'm a total nut for writing at length about laundry. I share this only because I've had numerous mothers inquire how I do laundry and I know that I've inquired the same of many mothers! It's a topic that always seems to enjoy lively discussion when it comes up in a group of mothers, so I think it must be of interest to our cohort anyway.

Please add any tips or experiences in the comments!


  1. I am someone who enjoys doing laundry for my family of five (soon to be six) but I will admit it can be slightly overwhelming at times. I do laundry daily at least two loads. For cloth diapers, I wash at night for the same reason you stated. Although we now have two children potty trained save for at night so we are using less diapers.

    I really dislike ironing too but when I'm not pregnant I do it once a week usually Friday or Saturday nights. When I am pregnant, my husband does the energy waste process of running it through the dryer on wrinkle control. Poor thing.

    I have recently invited my children out into the garage with me to do simple tasks like loading the washer and transferring the clothes from the wash to the dryer or pouring in the soap.

    Folding clothes is a hassle for me but I tend to do it during nap time or a night. I will have to start doing it when the kids are awake and forcing myself to put it away the same day. Thanks for the tips on one of my favorite chores!

  2. SO HELPFUL!!! Laundry and I DO NOT, I repeat, do not get along at all! I dislike, and it the most challenging part of being a home-maker.

    TELL YOU WHAT: Ill do a post on cooking, since I love it...and then we will have traded secrets in the areas we really struggle with!!


  3. LLove this topic! I do not do laundry daily, but almost. And I do a lot less separating. I do laundry that gets bleach, and laundry that does not get bleach and then diapers. Rags for wiping babies and counters go in with bleach washes.

    Here is my newest issue with laundry: I used to do all non bleach washes in a day (maybe three) and the next day I do bleach wash. And would end up washing maybe three days a week (not including dipes). At the new house I hang all non bleach washes and dipes outside on the line. But I only have space to hang one load and they take longer to dry then in the dryer, depending on weather. So often I can not get more than one load done or maybe one load and a load of dipes...So I have been doing wash more days of the week and there is a pile of dirty clothes on the floor of the laundry room waiting for washing...but I can say we are never in a crisis. Everyone has clothes to wear.

  4. I love that you posted about laundry!
    Great tips!

    We have it pretty streamlined. I do *all* the washing and drying, though I let the kids do a load every now and then to keep their hand in. I wash, dry, and dump into wire baskets that I keep in the laundry room. Every few days, all the clean laundry gets dumped on my bed and the children all work at folding and putting away until it's done. They use the opportunity to listen to audio stories on the computer. There are no laundry baskets anywhere except one bucket in the kitchen for towels. Laundry comes out of the room every morning right into the dirty pile in the laundry room. (I love having a ranch style for this reason.)
    Dave has his own basket of laundry and he brings it up once a week or so. I actually do his laundry myself, mostly because I enjoy it. Folding everything the same size and going the same place - lovely. He doesn't wear dress shirts to work so we don't worry about ironing anything.
    I totally agree with being home as the major factor. Recently I was having my home painted and other handy things happening Monday thru Wednesday each week for a month. In order to keep the kids out of the paint, I was leaving the house every day all day. Boy, the mountain I returned to - I only recently dug myself out of it.
    I do two to four loads a day including one load of kitchen towels. That is my first stop when I wake up, before even coffee - start a wash. I totally agree with you that the number of outfits each person has makes such a difference. Especially when you have one or two in the "try everything on every day" stage!! :)
    Thanks for the tips!

  5. Sarah: Yes, we'd love to have a ranch. They're great for a lot of reasons.

  6. Claire: Yes, please write a post on meal-planning and cooking!

  7. My kids all know to put dirty laundry immediately into the hamper. We never really consciously worked on this habit, it just started once they could toddle. They also each have their own sock bag in their color, which helps me a lot! The boys' hamper used to be the bigger kids' closet but we needed the space for Legos so now it's in the little boys' room. It's never been an issue for us. Just "The Way It's Always Been Done."

    If they have a question about the cleanliness of something, they ask, but I only very rarely have to remind them to pick up. We have pajama bags made by my mom that we hang on the closet door for PJs that they are going to wear again. A place for everything, lol!

    Right now I do parent laundry on Monday, children's laundry on Tuesday and Friday, linens and towels on Saturday (when I also do my heavy cleaning), and diapers every other day (including Sunday if needed). I do loads as early as possible so I can hang to dry outside and maximize the sun (my line is in shade by 3 PM). I like to have the laundry done before we leave if we happen to be going out in the morning (rare). I'm definitely a home-centered homeschooler at this stage too!

    I used to do the boys' clothing once a week, but in the past year we went to smaller wardrobes and washing twice a week. I'm also of the philosophy that unless we are going somewhere you can get as grimy as you want during the day- no clothing change necessary. They have three play outfits, two going out outfits, and two church outfits.

    I'm considering going back to once a week and letting them have a full week's worth of clothes because with four kids it would be really easy to wash one person a day, plus linens and adults and have Sunday off (minus diapers). The plan is to put the two older boys completely in charge of their laundry. They already know how I sort, wash, dry, and fold so I'd only have to lightly supervise.

    I fold laundry upstairs if I'm machine drying or as I take it off the line if I dry outside or on the inside lines. (I don't watch TV, but I often am listening to a podcast!) Then the troops rally to put their own clothes away. And yes, a two and four year old CAN hang!

    My only other "trick" (not strictly laundry related) is that I keep clothes hung by outfit. Then even the toddler can dress himself and there are no creative combinations.

  8. I knew there was something else!

    Hand-me-downs: I recently read a post from a mom with a large family and she doesn't keep anything that won't be used within four years. For example her three youngest are a girl-4, boy-2, and newborn boy. So she's not currently saving anything from the four year old because it would be five years minimum before it was used. I thought that made sense. With four boys spaced two years apart, though, I am saving most things! Recently, however, I did give myself the general rule that after something had been worn by two kids unless it was a dressy outfit or in PRISTINE condition, it was okay to let it go. My two year old just went through winter in a wardrobe that had been worn by the older two as well. I let most of it go when I did the summer switch. I only saved his church clothes and a few pieces he'd been gifted new.

    I save one bin per size too for both summer and winter (exception is all the 0-24 is in one). It's still a bit overwhelming!

  9. Courtney: I wonder how much is personality about putting clothes in the hamper? Even before reading your comment about how your children have always seen it done, so they just do it, I had calculated that I have probably been giving the talk about putting clothing in the hamper for 4-1/2 years now, which every night would be 1,643 times. Multiply that by saying it once to the boy in his room and once to the girl in her other room and it's more than that. Say I missed 20% of nights, that'd still be 1,314 times! And, yet, continue I must every night because, on the nights I don't say it, the clothing remains on the floor till I stumble upon it. Exasperating!

    Re: outfit changes, maybe it's a boy versus girl thing. My boy probably wouldn't change outfits for most anything. And he almost completely skipped the phase of wanting to change into new and exciting outfits numerous times per day. But my two girls throw a huge hissy fit if they spill water on themselves. I say, "It'll dry within the hour, just stay in it! Next time be more careful!" But they weep and wail if I don't let them go change. Or if they get some oatmeal on their shirt, whatever. It's exhausting.

    Yes, I, too, have thought about starting to rid myself of clothing that won't be used within X years. I had Boy, then two Girls, so the boy clothing I'm using now hasn't been worn in six years. On the other hand, most of it really is in fantastic condition. And what I buy are classic styles, so they were boring and square when I bought them and they're boring and square now! ;P

  10. We do one load a day for the seven of us. (no cloth diapers) ... the rags go in with whichever color is being done that day. The only exception is with a big throwup sickness or a major athletic event in the mud. Once in a while with big kids gone we will skip a day. Everyone is responsibile for everyone's laundry, just as everyone is responsible for the cooking pots for meals when it's their turn. Our children have enough clothes that they can re-hang up non-gross clothes to be worn again later in the week, and night clothes can get worn for quite a while... I understand the advantage to not having too many outfits (the number one being that you can't expect kids to put clothes away if their drawers are already full) but having a week's worth of play clothes and two Mass outfits saves laundry in the long run...

  11. Well, I am glad you wrote this! I am not so great with laundry but have no illusions about it. We don't have "too many" clothes but aren't minimalists either.

    I stopped saving and have been giving away girl clothes since my youngest girl is six!

    Right now I have 2 hampers for my older boys, one for the girls, one in the kids' bathroom and one in our room. I am trying to have oldest two boys handle their own laundry after one too many times of seeing clean stuff returned to me not put away. I find that disrespectful of the value of my time. We are only a couple weeks into it and it is working for us (keeping in mind I'm very much treading water with laundry right now)

    I do not like to see my kids in stained anything and since I have 4, 2 and 1 year old boys.... There's a lot of staining. What can I say. I'm not fanatic about it but I do care about tidy appearance.

    I already tried tonight not taking stuff out of the dryer before I was ready to put it away. Thanks for that tip! I'll see how it helps this week. I'm hopeful. I have lots of room for improvement here!

  12. Haha, I love your comment about boys' clothes! Yes, we are boring and square too! (Minus a few beloved dinosaur tee shirts!) I have to say that the winter clothes last much better than the summer clothes since they don't come into direct contact with mud!

    We might not have any trouble with remembering to put laundry in the hamper but clearing the table is our issue!! It's not so bad at supper when we're all eating together. At breakfast and lunch I serve them then eat on the run while doing ten other things=less supervision=plates left abandoned while they (try to) run off and play. I've started charging the older two a nickel for every time I have to remind them. One is in the hole for $0.20 and one $0.25 so it's working, but slowly.

    I blame myself because for so long I bought into the "toddlers graze" attitude and just let them come and go while snacking throughout the day. Turns out that's a hard habit to break, and will result in kids who don't always want to sit for a full meal! The 2.5 year old does a little better since I never allowed him to do that but he can't open the dishwasher on his own yet to clear! We all have areas to work on!

    I think personality goes into the clothes changes because #3 did go through a short stage with wanting to change over small things. I had forgotten that, but it drove me crazy! Luckily I usually intercepted the not-dirty items before they made it in the hamper. The other two are oblivious, lol! I do think, though, that a little girl might be prone to multiple changes just for the sheer fun of it too!

  13. It's nice to *meet* you as well, Katherine (Jessica's friend from PA again!).

    Let's see, as for our laundry, I taught my 7 year old daughter (at the time) to do laundry when I was expecting my fourth child. To make it easier for her, I wrote the steps down on an index card with a permanent marker and used packing tape to tape it to the wall next to the washer. I also marked the washing machine with a marker as to show her the correct settings for the type of laundry she was to load into the machine (at this point, I have 3 baskets to collect dirty laundry in our bathroom basket for towels and socks, another basket for "every day clothes", and a third basket for our "good" clothes, sweaters, and denim. So, anyway, she is able to load the towels and the every day clothes...those that also get dried in the dryer....the good clothes get hung up on a rack to air dry). Likewise, I wrote the steps down on an index card for using the dryer...this though, I taped onto the dryer. So now she knows how to do it if I need her to, but most days I am still the one to put in loads and switch them over to the dryer. If we are going to be out of the house after naps, I will just fold the laundry as it comes out of the dryer. If not, everyone helps fold and put away. My now 9 year old daughter folds and puts away large towels, socks, and kitchen dish cloths, my 6 year old daughter folds and puts away the hand towels, and my 4 year old boy folds and puts away the wash cloths...he often gets the help of my 22 month old daughter to put them away! But, the older girls do know how to fold all types of clothes and have often surprised me by folding a whole basket of laundry on their own! :)

    Oh, and for the kids' clothes, I always have a clean laundry basket on my dryer for the purpose of folding their clothes as they come out of the dryer and stacking them in the basket by person and unloading it upstairs 1-2 times a week or once it is full. The children also have to help with putting these away.

    I hope this gives you some ideas although it sounds as though you have a good system yourself!

  14. Courtney: Great idea to fine a nickle for your having to remind them to clear their plates. We have that same problem over here, big time. We are in parental discussions about giving an allowance just so that we have something to FINE. It opens up a whole new opportunity for discipline.

    What do you do for allowance in your family that the boys have something to be fined?

  15. Recently our 6 and 8 year old girls started doing their own laundry! Best thing ever and I just cannot believe how smoothly its been going. They seem to love it! I got them a basket that holds enough clothes for one load, had their names embroidered on it and placed it inside their closet. When the basket is full, they bring it to the washing machine and (get this!) put everything in together with a couple of color catcher sheets and use a cold wash. The when its done they pop it in the dryer and then put all their clothes back in the same basket and put them away. All by themselves . They really have risen to the challenge.

    I don't know if this is a girl thing.. I read your post on potty training.. we have a boy who is almost 36 months and is absolutely NOT ready!

  16. I do laundry very much like you do, Katherine - each "type" of laundry gets its own day. But diapers and kitchen towels as needed. I usually do not do laundry 6 days a week, maybe 3 or 4. (And I also make an exception for washing diapers on Sunday, if/when it is necessary.) However, folding, I don't fold right away. (bad habit) I usually wait until the evening (or two later!) when Michael helps me. I did try to fold it as soon as I could yesterday and it took me a good half hour to fold two loads of clothing! (how do you do it in 5 minutes??) (which I also did before Michael was home and while the kids were around.) I am also not good about making sure it all gets put away in a timely fashion.

    The boys (6 &4) help unload the dryer, and they fold all the kitchen towels and napkins. They also put the diapers in neat piles for me (mostly prefolds, and then I just leave them like that at the changing area.) I try to have them transfer laundry from washer (top load) to dryer once in a while, but they can't get the items at the bottom.

    I would be inclined to make kids wait to be responsible for their own laundry until I was sure they would stay on top of it. I think I will have them do that eventually, in addition to helping with stuff like sheets and towels and sorting, especially if there is baby/toddler laundry that those ones can't help with. We'll see!

    Question re: bed linens - Do you (all) put new sheets on right away or wash the sheets and put the same ones back on after they are laundered (to avoid having to fold them and put away)? Or does it depend on other factors? (e.g. king sized sheets are too much of a pain to fold, but twin is OK?)

    Another question re: load size - Is it important to you to have a full washing machine? If so, what will you do to make sure it is full? I, for example, usually do not have a full load of whites every week. So sometimes I wait another week or more, sometimes I just do a small load... but I'm not sure what is the most efficient for home management, energy, etc.

  17. I had also intended to mention that yes reducing the amount of clothes (and stuff generally) drastically reduces the burden on mama!