Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Tackling Mount Washmore

A long time ago, a reader asked about our system for dealing with clothing. Ours is an elaborate one, and will take several posts to fully explain, but I wanted to begin with something that we are focusing on at home right now: the laundry system.

One difficult thing about laundry, like other housework, is that it never feels "done" -- you can get all of your clothes put away, but unless you are naked while you do it there will be clothes in the hamper again before you go to sleep! I find this very frustrating, and I cannot be thinking about needing to do laundry all the time, so I have limited laundry to 3 nights a week. On the other nights I know that I am "off duty" for laundry, and I don't give it another thought.

Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights after dinner my children have chores. (Tuesday and Thursday afternoons we are out of the house, so this works well for us). While some empty the trash cans and diaper pails around the house, others bring all of the laundry from the various hampers (one in each bedroom) to the laundry room. Ideally, they use a laundry basket for the gathering so that the hampers stay in their places.

Once the children are in bed, I sort the laundry into three piles, whites for bleach, lights and darks. When we are in survival mode I often don't sort, but right now we have several new, bright red articles of clothing, so it is well worth the effort. With all of our laundry, I usually have enough for one white load, and three or four color loads. I use ALL Free and Clear on everything, so I do not need to wash baby clothes separately. Diapers do get their own load, though, usually last! Our washer and dryer are pretty fast, so I just start doing a load at a time while I clean the kitchen and do the rest of my evening routine. I pull out a few things to hang to dry but most of it goes in the drier. I try to be as non-anal as possible while still doing the job properly, it is all about getting it done! Once the kitchen is all cleaned, I put on the TV (reruns of John and Kate plus 8 are a favorite for this) and get folding. As I fold, I sort by owner so that I end up with 8 piles of laundry as well as a pile of kitchen linens (we use cloth napkins, dish towels and rags, so there is a fair amount of kitchen laundry).

In theory, the sorted clothes get put away by each family member first thing the next morning, but this is where our system was breaking down a bit -- if it doesn't get put away immediately, I find a crawling baby quickly knocking over piles of clean laundry, which is just depressing. This week, we have tried to fix this by purchasing eight small, handled laundry baskets. They stay stacked in the laundry room until it is time to fold, and now we fold and sort into a basket, so we wind up with eight baskets of clothes instead of piles. For the little kids, at the end we sort the laundry by dresser drawer so that they can put it away easily. Before breakfast on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday we empty the baskets and return them to the laundry room. If the morning is going to be very busy, we can at least get the basket to the right room and out of the living area, with a plan to put away the laundry at quiet time or before bed.

I will confess that I do not have a regular time for washing sheets and towels, which means that this does not get done as often as it should. I cannot decide whether it would be best to pile this on to one of the wash days or to do it on one of my "off" days. Making up 7 beds feels like a huge chore to me.

Sometimes, like after a trip or during illness, laundry piles up and gets out of control, at which point I don't mind devoting a day to getting back on top of things. If I am folding during the day, I have taught the children to fold napkins and dish towels -- helping with this saves me work and also keeps them busy while I fold the clothes!

So, this is what works for us, we don't own enough clothing to do laundry only once a week, and if we did the task would be too big for me. Doing laundry three days also means that if I miss one day for some reason I am not too far behind, but unless things are really out of control I try to force myself to wait until the next laundry day, I do think that it is important to have rest days set into any system. The kids help at the beginning and the end of the laundry job, and this makes a huge dent in what I have to do, especially when I am pregnant and tired, it is great not to have to carry laundry up and down stairs.

We put away our decorations this morning, and it is nice to be in an uncluttered home thinking about the routines that make our life hum along, using the extra time with Dad (our organizer) to improve the routines, and getting ready to embrace the comforting rhythms of ordinary time!


Jennifer said...

Hello, I am a friend of AWOL's and I have a comment/question. Thanks for this blog, you ladies are a real inspiration. Mary Alice- with 4 kids in my house, your laundry system is an inspiration. Laundry is the one task that really stresses me out. I seem to never be able to catch up unless my Mom is visiting and she likes to take over for me in the laundry department. I just started making my kids re-wear pajamas and things that really aren't that dirty. It has helped cut back on the loads. We live in Germany and have a small european washer that takes forever (almost 2 hours) and I really miss my gigantic american front loader.
Anyways, my question from your post is this....
I noticed that you use cloth napkins and cloth towels. I think this would be an excellent switch for my family. I usually don't do a New Year's resolution but this year I am! I am attempting to be not so wasteful. We recently switched to reusable bags (shopping, sandwich, and snack bags). Are you using a particular type of napkin or towel? I don't want to buy fancy cloth napkins for my 4 kids (age 6 and under) to stain up as they wipe mustard or peanut butter off their faces. I am considering making my own, but wanted to hear your imput on the napkin piece.

Thanks in advance!

Elena said...

MA, Kudos to you on the laundry system. I actually do the laundry throughout the day and I need to involved the kids more. However, my one girl has taken it upon herself to take the clothes out of the dryer and switch them from the washer to dryer. Today I heard a wicker basket creaking its way up from the basement carried by a little girl struggling under its weight! In regard to sheets and towels: I change my husband's and my sheets every Saturday morning and the kids every second Saturday. The kids use duvets so I only change the pillow case and fitted sheet. I wash all towels every Monday morning and everybody has an assigned towel. I find that this routine keeps everything in good order and me from worrying.

4ddintx said...

MA, Thanks for sharing your system. Are the baskets you bought for the kids like the one in the picture?

I do towel changes once a week--I just pick a day and do it then. Sheets are more hit and miss. I'm trying to do half one week and half the next (we have 6 kids, too).

As for the cloth napkins, Jennifer. I have a ton of napkins that I got at garage sales. They don't all match and they do get stained. When it's company I either use paper or my nice cloth ones only used with my china. I love using the cloth everyday, though.

margaretjdmom said...

This is sort of off topic, but I saw something about cloth diapers. Mary Alice, do you use them full time? Do any of the other builders? I am having #4 in a few months and am thinking about switching but worry the laundry would overwhelm me. Any thoughts and if so has it affected laundry??Gotta go fold and sort!

Right Said Red said...


We have had a previous discussion about cloth diapering here:

Cloth diaperdom:

And another discussion here:

I hope this helps!

JesusThroughMary said...

You could get a bunch of paper gowns from the hospital for use on laundry day, and maybe some of those superabsorbent pads for the kids' diapers. That way, you can experience the bliss of having all your clothes clean and away with nothing in the hamper!

We can't be the only family that does this. Right?

momof4 said...

i have found a way to save my sanity and also save time when it comes to laundry. i went to target and purchased a three bin cloth laundry sorter for my families clothes (kids ages are 7, 5, 3 and 5 months) I put a label on each cloth bin. the first cloth bin is for "PJ"S, then i drew a picture of a sock and underware. the second bin has the words "light pink, yellow,light blue,light get the idea, for the kids in the family that can not read i wrote the color names in that color marker so they could just match their clothes color to the marker color. the third bin is for darks/reds and the words red, brown, black are written in the appropriate marker color. so now when the kids take off their clothes, they automatically are sorting it for me :) this makes laundry alot easier for me and the kids enjoy the "game" of sorting their own laundry. I do laundry 3x's a week and use all free and clear as well so that all of our laundry goes into the same laundry sorting bins. this system has worked wonders for us and i now do not have to spend an hour sorting clothes before i begin washing!

Gail said...

For everyday use cloth napkins, I just cut up a couple used men's work shirts and hemmed them. I wasn't concerned with how they look so they are all irregular sizes and not hemmed particularly well, but they get the job done.

Jennifer said...

We are a family of four, so not as much laundry as some of the Builders here, but one thing that I have found really helps speed up the folding is sorting the laundry before you fold it. I usually sort by person, kitchen linen and bathroom linen (sheets tend to get a little neglected in out house as well). That way you can go on small stretches of "auto-pilot" (for example, with receiving blankets or socks). I find it easier than pulling out random items of clothing.

Because we are living in a really small place, we only have one set of laundry baskets in a laundry closet - none in the bedrooms. I also get my 4 year old son to sort by lights and darks - YAY! Laundry does tend to accumulate in little piles in the bedrooms, but they never last the day.

I actually really like doing laundry, perhaps because I am a born organizer, and perhaps because I only have two kids right now. (Talk to me again in four years!) I am the oldest of four (three girls, one boy), and so I have very fond memories of sorting and folding laundry as a chore that got me out of the way of the rest of my siblings. In the mid-1980s, we had entire loads of pink laundry...

Catherine said...

Thanks for the tip, MaryAlice. I've been doing a load or two a day for our family of 6 and think I'll try your system next week!

Jennifer, I also got lots of cloth napkins at garage sales. I like them for the little ones because I pin them on so they can't pull them off like they do velcro bibs.