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!