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:
- to have John start shadowing me, but I think he will "get it" so rapidly that
- I plan to transition to me shadowing him: just standing with him, watching him do it, and speaking up if he makes a mistake.
- And then I will hand off some portion laundry to him entirely! (I think I will first put him in charge of towels.)
- 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!
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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!