All this social distancing has gotten me thinking a lot about laundry. It is one of the constants we have that has taken on greater significance during this time of uncertainty. For me, doing laundry has always helped me feel grounded. Whenever I have to start a difficult project, I usually do a load of laundry first and it feels like I have a clean slate to move on to the more onerous task.
Cleaning one’s clothing is a universal practice. Every culture in the world has some method of accomplishing this if they are fortunate to have access to ample clean water. Having been born in the United States, there was a time when I took my access to electronic washing machines and the ease at which I could do laundry for granted. For years, I barely gave doing laundry a thought. I would throw in a load while talking on the phone, giving my son a bath or checking my e-mail. Then one day, I realized that I had done several loads of it and I had no recollection of the experience. So, I decided to pay attention to it.
There are times when doing laundry can feel like an endless task that really has no beginning nor end. You sort: whites, darks, colors; you load, transfer, dry; fold and put away. And after all that, there is always another load lying in a heap awaiting its fate. And there are the socks that seem to disappear into the dryer.
When I was dating my husband and visited his home for the first time, I noticed a small room off the hallway with mounds of unwashed laundry piled on top of the washer and dryer. I could not believe he could live like this. But he seemed unphased by it. He could sit at his computer for an entire Sunday and not give a thought to his unwashed laundry. He waited until he had no clean clothes left to do it.
I think my sister is afraid of her laundry and buys new clothes instead of resorting to the dreaded task. When my son was little, he didn’t seem to care at all about laundry either. He would leave his crusty socks in the middle of the floor of his room and walk right by the piles of clean laundry I would routinely leave on a chair outside his room.
A good friend of mine claimed she had the best solution for tackling laundry. “I just do all my laundry on Tuesdays,” she boasted. “You occasionally run out of a favorite shirt here and there, but at least I don’t think about doing laundry the rest of the week.” The next time I visited her, it was on a Friday and there she was throwing a “quick load” into the washing machine.
Some people are fortunate enough to send their laundry out to be done by someone else. I tried this once and it came back stuffed into a laundry bag: the clothes folded so tightly, they stuck together like slices of processed cheese. Others prefer to have someone come to their house to do their laundry. But let’s face it, laundry is a private affair.
I once saw a movie that featured a woman who died doing her laundry. Just as she was about to transfer it from the washer to the dryer, she collapsed. “What a way to go,” I thought.
I can recall visiting friends who had a new baby. Throughout the weekend, I watched them run up and down the basement stairs with alternating baskets of dirty and clean laundry, the dining room table piled high with folded onesies, tiny tee shirts and pajamas. The constant flow up and down never seemed to cease and their laundry doing seemed to take on a rhythmic pattern as if they were on cruise control. “I’ll just throw in another load while you hold the baby,” my friend informed his wife, seemingly unaware that he had been doing this for the past two hours. I thought about all the things they could have accomplished had they not been consumed with this monotony. And after all those loads I looked down at the bottom of the staircase and saw more piles waiting to be plunged into soapy water and spun out into damp clean masses.
But despite all this, I must admit that there is no greater joy than clean fluffy towels fresh out of the dryer. Or crisp, neatly folded shirts stacked dutifully in drawers. I only wish that at some point I could say, “My laundry is done.”
I suppose laundry is like life: it goes on and on. Perhaps it is true that “cleanliness is next to godliness,” but clean laundry always seems so near yet so far.