Monday, July 13, 2009

My Laundry List

The laundry is a microcosm of my spiritual life. Allow me to explain--

Last week, in the confessional, among other sins, I confessed to disorganization and a general lack of discipline with certain household tasks. While I try to maintain an orderly home, my house contains certain "hot spots" or regular problem areas where disorganization is the rule, rather than the exception. Throughout the years, the laundry is consistently one of these areas.

With each child there is more laundry, and the disorganization grows. I have tried different systems, kept them for a very short period of time, and then resorted back to the periodic laundry emergency system (PLE system)--the kids have no clean clothes so it it time to spend the entire day doing laundry. About once every day 7-10 days, we would hit crisis mode. Mr. Red wants me to let all our readers know how mean I am to him when the emergency periodically arises.

The periodic emergency system has seen some small improvements over the years. After the last baby I started doing at least one load per day, but do not take the time to fold or sort the clean laundry. This resulted in the periodic folding emergency system, also known as the PFE system. This is the system currently in place.

On most days our guestroom serves as a very large disorganized dresser. At any given time, there are about 8 loads of clean laundry dumped in a very large pile on the bed. Eventually the emergency strikes, and I have two children and my husband spending 1/2 hour each morning sorting through clean laundry to find a matching pair of socks. Mr. Red rarely complains, as he sees the PFE system as a huge improvement over the old PLE system--clean lost socks are better than dirty socks, right? Our daughter disappears for hours at a time looking for a specific treasured outfit. Our son simply wears whatever is left in his dresser, regardless of color scheme or season. Eventually, we are late for something important because nobody can find their clean clothes, or someone is dressed in a completely inappropriate outfit. I then declare an emergency, temporarily suspend all unnecessary activities, and spend several hours folding laundry.

During confession, I began to explain my laundry system to a good priest. He said that in many ways, the laundry represents my spiritual life.

I'm good in a crisis. When an emergency strikes, I can really buckle down and get through the rough patch with focus and concentration. I don't get overly stressed by the "fire" or "emergency" AND I feel a real sense of accomplishment when the job is complete. I always feel really great when I am finished folding the laundry and everything is really organized. The way I see it, the messier things are to begin with, the better the rush when the folding is finished.

Spiritually, I rely on God very well in times of crisis. Each rough patch seems to remind me to pray and seek God's help. When the emergency passes, so does my perceived need for prayer and assistance. Daily discipline is where my prayer life needs the most work. Taking a specific time each day to offer my whole self to God is a constant challenge for me. I will spend time daily doing so many other tasks, but praying only seems to make that priority list when the going gets rough. A set time of prayer, even just 10-15 minutes, must be a part of my daily routine.

I tend to make things part of my routine when there is an immediate consequence for failure to accomplish the task. Kitchen cleaning, for example, is something that has to happen immediately after a meal. If the dishes sit, they are much harder to clean. If pancake mix dries on the counter, it takes 5 times longer to scrub it clean. Ants make a permanent home in my kitchen if things are not thoroughly wiped down each evening. For all of these reasons, I clean my kitchen well each night. While I am sometimes rather tired, I do this task with a general sense of peace, a purpose, and I am able to offer the work to God.

As a busy wife and mother, my household tasks, when offered to God, will be my main mode of prayer. Offering each folded sock and each folded shirt as a prayer for it's owner is much easier when my folding is done as part of the rhythm of our week. Currently, my system of emergency folding makes this sort of offering almost impossible. When emergency strikes, my sole focus is on getting the task accomplished in as little time as possible, not in offering my work as a prayer for those I hold most dear. I become task-oriented, not people-oriented. I tend to view my spiritual life this way as well. Time with God can become something to check off of a "to-do" list, rather than about fostering a life-long relationship. Living in emergency mode only increases my tendency to focus on the task, rather than the person.

I am not naive enough to think that we can have a system or a routine for everything in our lives. In the life of a mother emergencies will inevitably occur. For this my disposition is a huge blessing. But living with emergencies that can be easily controlled and avoided by basic discipline has poor consequences for my relationships with other people, and especially for my relationship with God. In all honesty, the laundry, absent some terrible stomach bug or a recent return from vacation, should never be an emergency as it is as predictable and certain as the mail. While failing to fold on a particular day doesn't have the same immediate consequence as leaving a bunch of dirty dishes in the sink, it's consequences are long term, and have an effect on my relationships with other people. The days when I am folding, I rarely take the time to just sit down and play with my children. It is hard to enjoy their presence when I am thinking about the task that lies ahead. Similarly, my relationship with God suffers as I struggle to be docile to the Holy Spirit when I'm frantically folding my 7th pile of laundry.

And it is these relationships that are the real call of my vocation. I organize my home and accomplish many tasks each day, not because I fear the consequences or because it feels good to look at an empty laundry basket, but to serve the wonderful people in my life. Such service is done in the most loving manner when it is regular, timely, and always focused on the person behind the task. And this is my new resolution with the laundry.


NC Sue said...

Thank you for sharing this post. I will look at my own habits of daily life in a new way after reading your thoughts here.

God bless you,


AWOL Mommy said...

An empty laundry basket is such a wonderful site, just don't let your diaperless 18 month old in there....

Mary Alice said...

This is a terrific post, thank you for sharing this with us. I have thoughts about both the laundry and the spiritual side of things, but just reflecting on all of this is a really good start, I think.

AWOL Mommy said...

I think I meant "sight." Although, I guess for the toddler boys it is also a site.

Gina said...

This post hit home. I have no children, but I share your "distaste" for laundry. I have the exact same system in place: spend a treasured day off off my million other obligations doing laundry when I'm out of skivvies, the spare room as my extended closet, piles of clean clothes through which I spend far too much time fishing for something to wear.

I have no discipline in that area of my life, either. you are so not alone.

Kyra said...

This was so, so timely a post. I had the good fortune of being able to spend an overnight away from the family with friends, but I returned home today matching clean clothes! One clean towel! One clean bib! And, in the washcloth container, one dirty washcloth and one...bib. How'd that get there?

One strategy I've employed is doing serious prayer time during laundry. In my house, I can only do laundry nowadays when my son is taking a nap, or asleep for the night, because otherwise he ventures into the laundry room or chews and drools on the clean clothes.
So whenever I'm folding laundry or ironing, I use it as a time to do prayer petitions. I've really found this has helped make laundry time less of a chore that I neglect and more of a reflection time that I actually look forward to.
I usually use the time to pray for our sponsor child, thinking about how many articles of clothing my son has compared to him. In addition, almost all of my son's clothes were either gifts from family members or hand-me-downs from friends and neighbors, so as I fold the clothes I pray for the people who bought them or gave them to us. I'll pray for people who don't have running water, and for people who don't have washers and dryers in their homes or apartments, because I remember how much of a pain it was in my college years to lug everything to the laundromat! Also, since our dryer sounds like it's on its last leg, lately I've been praying for people who don't have the money to get their appliances fixed when they break.

JMB said...

A few years ago Danielle Bean posted a wonderful piece about laundry and her advice was "just do it". I have four kids, a busy household and I do at least 3 loads a day, save for Sunday. I start a load in the morning, and I do a white, dark and light colored just about every day. Every other week I do all the sheets on one day, and I do the towels one day a week. When I have 2 loads done in the basket, I take it upstairs and I fold it. It usually takes all of 10 minutes to do a basket. The kids take their pile off my bed and are responsible for putting their clean clothes away.

Try not to over think simple jobs, because if you timed yourself folding laundry, you will probably discover that it is far less time than you think.

Mary Alice said...

Kyra, that is great advice, Kimberly Hahn gives similar advice in her book, Graced and Gifted. She prays for her children as she folds their laundry.

In our house, we have a saying, "nothing says "I love you" like clean underwear."

Red, you do such a great job of providing a wonderful home and delicious, healthy meals to your family all on a tight budget, I am sure that you are going to get this conquered with time, it is all about building habits with baby steps, so I think the fact that the laundry is usually clean is a huge step. Ours is clean and folded, but only gets put away once or twice a week, usually when a kid runs out of pajamas.

One thing I find helpful is that we own fewer clothes, so they do run out and the clothes cannot pile up in the laundry.

I think that it is important here to focus not just on doing laundry with love but also on the insight that you do so well in a crisis (I always call you when I need a rosary said right away), but that you struggle with staying calm everyday. Perhaps in the morning you could fold last night's load of laundry while offering a morning prayer, so that you really can hit the ground running?

I am finding lately that keeping myself strict about 5 minutes of personal meditative prayer time has been really helpful -- when I tried to start with half an hour I would never get through it. Right now I am being strict and using a timer, 5 minutes of gospel, 5 minutes of spiritual reading, 5 minutes of silent prayer, and I have really noticed that every day that I do this is a better day.

Also, maybe you need to put "time just with the kids -- no task" on your "to-do list" for the day, schedule it on your yahoo calendar and treat it like a real appointment -- take your task oriented nature and make it to your advantage. Perhaps tie it to the laundry, tell the kids they need to help you get the folded laundry put away and then you are going to sit on the playroom floor for fifteen minutes. Or a helper of the day gets your play time?

I find with laundry that the little extras, like putting away washcloths and dishtowels seem to pile up, so the twins have been helping with that, help with laundry is a task on their chore chart, and that little bit of help means the task gets fully complete instead of leaving those extra last 5% which seem to compound and take over if they don't get done.

Perhaps it is timely that this month we are focusing on having a generous spirit? Maybe I will do a post about our Character Building discussion.

Juris Mater said...

Great post, Red! Laundry is my very least favorite task... my husband is puzzled at how I can look forward to cleaning a bathroom but when laundry morning rolls around I'm insufferable. I do it all once a week, encouraged by Mother's Rule for Life. We set aside one morning, I prepare the laundry the night before, I get going with the machines early, and the only thing I HAVE to get done is laundry, the other things (like arts and crafts or playtime outside between changing loads) are extras. It's a relief to get it all over with and then forget about it, and the kids often pitch in because they know it's only once a week and they want it to be over as much as I do. Doing it once a week makes it a near-emergency each time, which puts the emergency spin on it so I feel like I'm tackling and accomplishing a major project (I also work best under pressure), but it's never really out of control because I know it's on the schedule.

And in the spirit reducing the volume of this miserable task, one practical thing I read somewhere that was good for me to hear: don't toss things into the laundry when they're not really dirty, allowing the laundry basket to take the place of the dresser. Younger kids trash their clothes, but Bella at least is getting old enough to keep her clothes clean and re-wear them many days. Helps a lot.

Red, thanks for your openness, and for encouraging me to re-examine why and how I do chores. It's amazing how they can be either oppressive or an offering, it's up to me to choose! Your post is really great. And you must have an excellent confessor! : )

Karen said...

Thanks for your honesty about your struggle with laundry, sometimes I think I must be the only one with this problem.

Lately, braking chores into 15 minute blocks helps me take advantage of those rare moments when someone is not screaming my name. Focusing on just one task simplifies my life, creates less stress, and I actually get something done.

I do at least one load a day. At bedtime I put a laundry basket in the hallway and everyone throws their dirty clothes in. After everyone gets dressed in the morning, I start my load (that way I can throw pjs in too). I don't separate, I just use perm a press and low dry for all it and it all comes out just fine.

Next to the dryer I have a basin with each child's name on it. When the clothes are dry, I put their clothes right in their bins and ours goes in the basket. Hanging as much as you possible can on hangers helps it go a lot faster too.

Anonymous said...

I hate doing my laundry as well, and with 2 toddlers under the age of 3 and being 32 weeks along with my third it can be quite a challenge keeping the kids out of the clothes (they love to "dress up") and lug everything up and down the stairs. My big solution lately is "the family closet". I put up all our card tables and hung up a bar in the basement. Now I take the load of clean clothes from the dryer and throw it on the table, I hang up what needs to be hung up (on color coded hangers)and fold the rest and put them on the book shelf I have against the wall. Each person has their own shelves.
Everything is clean and folded, it doesn't make it upstairs (which can be amusing if you step out of the shower and realize that you forgot to pickout your clothes before hand), but at least we can find them!
Plus if it was put away upstairs the babies would just pull it out and scatter it all over the house playing dress up. *Sigh* I have very rambunctious children.

Mama on a Mission said...

I have been in every one of these situtations with laundry sometime in the past. But something that helps is older children! I believe that all children need to have some chores in the house for three basic reasons: 1) they need to learn the jobs of the house for their future homes 2)they need to learn how to work as team and have responsibility 3)it gives them self-confidence in knowing that they are contributing to the family.

Anyway, as your children get older, have them start helping out with the laundry. All four of my girls (6 to 13) know how to sort a laundry into three tubs by the washing machine. There is a tub for whites, one for jeans & my husband's work shirts, and one for colored clothes. Our laundry is in the basement, so we have one basket by the bathroom that everyone throws their dirty clothes, towels, etc. in. It is a habit now firmly established. I find no dirty laundry elsewhere anymore.

Every morning, my girls and I have our "morning" chores. Each girl and myself has an appointed chore. One is emptying out the clean dish rack and putting it away and setting the table, one is to do the animal chores, etc. But the oldest daughter at 13 takes the youngest, 6 to the basement to sort out all the laundry that was in the basket from the day before. She starts a tub of sorted laundry then. Then we set the timer and switch laundry. This continues until the laundry is done for the day. As the laundry is brought up, it is immediately folded. If I did not do this, I would never get it folded. But everyone helps fold. If they are to little to fold, a lot of the times they can put it away or at least into the rooms they go. Everything on the main floor gets put away right them. But the all the girls sleep upstairs. We have a basket at the bottom of the stairs that catches all of their clean clothes as well as any stray toys, books, etc. that need to be taken upstairs to be put away. Once again, in the morning when they first get up, we make all the beds, get dressed, and put all the things away including clothes that was in that basket.

It really is about getting into a good habit and having older children really does help.

Joy said...

What a thoughtful post!

I could really relate to what you and your confessor discussed about the whole doing well in crisis mode but lacking in basic discipline. I've realized this is really quite a struggle for me. I do believe I've said something along the lines of "I'm so tired of always being in crisis management"...

The laundry for me is not my place of crisis. It's the meal planning and grocery never gets done right or on schedrule and it's always a case of going, oh my goodness there is no food! (I have four kids from age 7-2, with baby #5 due any day.)

My husband pointed out when I only had two boys that perhaps we didn't need as many clothes as we thought- that has honestly kept my laundry manageable. I think the kids really only have enough clothes to last about a week and a half, and about 2-3 sunday outfits. I find I take better care of it all because I know it has to last. And I don't mind paying a bit more for better quality clothing that lasts longer. Obviously, this doesn't work for everyone, but I've found it to be helpful.

Thank you for your encouraging post full of exhortation today- it's really made me think.

sophie said...

I never thought about the spiritual affects of being good in crisis mode. What a great insight, that will leave me pondering for a while. Thanks!

I'm a big fan of first tackling laundry problems in the clothes selection. Most times, my kids wear an outfit 2x before tossing it in the laundry. Esp. shorts and pants. When they take it off, they just lay it out with their clothes for the next day. Esp. when in the summer we spend the bulk of our day just playing in the backyard or at the pool. In the winter as well, they are much more clean. They normally wear undershirts under sweaters and stuff so the outerwear doesn't need to be washed after just one wearing. Of course, being homeschooled helps this, there aren't any other kids around making fun of them for wearing the same pair of jeans 2x. ;)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the lovely post.
My daughter is a gifted child. So I usually have to buy her special toys. I want to try some new ones now. I was wondering whether you can tell me where to buy good educational toys for gifted toddlers