Tools of the Trade
My cousin (who, according to my husband, looks like a Disney princess) came over yesterday and started asking me about my laundry system. I tried not to get too excited or talk too fast, because this system has changed my life to such a degree that I’ve contemplated knocking on strangers’ doors to share with them the good news of freedom from laundry. But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.
First, a little background. I am a crippling perfectionist. As such, I used to believe that the only way to do housework is to do it thoroughly, painstakingly, and above all, perfectly. If maximum time and effort cannot be expended on a certain task, it isn’t worth doing at all. You might think such an approach would result in sparkling, gleaming organization as far as the eye can see, but you’d be wrong. In fact, chaos and disorder were my most predictable result. If I don’t have an hour to spend on cleaning the bathroom, I might as well leave the toothpaste that just splashed on the mirror until I can get out a spelunker’s light and a toothpick to clean all the mold from the caulking around the bathtub. It makes sense, right?
Then, a few months into my married life, Caleb and I moved into a little house down the street from my best friend Ramah. I spent many mornings having coffee with her and their little baby, Lucy. Watching her approach to housekeeping literally changed my life. One morning, we were drinking coffee and talking really fast when, headed into the kitchen for a refill, she glanced at the top of the TV armoire and said, “Wow, that’s really dusty.” Then she kept chatting about shoes or the state of the Union or whatever while she got out her duster and dusted the top of the TV armoire. Just like that. Then she put away the duster and got some more coffee. In that moment, I realized the way I was doing things was ridiculous. I just didn’t know that you could do things as they bothered you like that, one at a time, and never have to be a slave to a perfectly clean house.
So, a few years later, when Ramah had three small children and was drowning in her laundry, I watched with baited breath to see how she would solve this unsolvable housekeeping dilemma that has driven many talented and capable women to the brink of sanity. Here’s what she said: “I have to figure out how to plan for what’s REALISTIC, not what’s IDEALISTIC.” She then went on to identify the breakdown in the traditional system: You wash the laundry, you dry the laundry, you put the clean laundry in a basket, you fold it, then you put it away. Sure. But in reality, you wash the laundry, you dry the laundry, you put the clean laundry in a basket, you set it on your bed or on the couch, and you tell yourself that while the kids are napping you’ll fold it. Then while the kids are napping you decide you’d rather put on a bra or maybe take off the chipped toenail polish that’s been there since last summer, and you don’t end up folding it. Or maybe you do fold it, and then you put it back into the basket and tell yourself that you’ll put it away in the kids’ dressers when they wake up. And then the kids wake up and you’re busy making dinner and telling the kids not to swing the toy golf clubs at the baby’s head, and you forget all about the clean, folded laundry until tomorrow when the baby’s diaper leaks all over his jammies and you open the dresser drawer and it’s empty so you rifle one-handed through your basket of beautifully folded clothes looking desperately for the right sized t-shirt at least so the baby doesn’t run around naked and then when you’re done you can’t tell anymore what’s clean and what’s dirty.
So the breakdown is in the process of folding and putting away. For Ramah anyway. She says everyone has to find their own non-negotiables and then plan around them. (BTW, I keep telling her she needs to write a book and she laughs. But I’m not joking.) So instead of making promises to myself I can never keep, I instead tell myself the truth: I am probably not going to get around to folding and putting away the laundry. Here’s what I do instead:
As they come out of the dryer, I put the clean clothes in the sorting basket. And then I sort them into their own baskets: Violet’s pants, Violet’s shirts, Violet’s jammies and underthings…etc. Then, when Violet is getting dressed, I send her down to her baskets where she is free to rifle through the unfolded, clean laundry and find clean clothes to wear.
How are you fellow perfectionists doing? Have your heads exploded? (Hi, Mom ;)) Here’s the thing: if I still want to fold my laundry, I’m welcome to fold my laundry. But in the meantime, all of my clean clothes that are as yet unfolded have a home. And when it comes to baby and kids’ clothes, folding is entirely superfluous. The only reason I ever did it was because I thought I had to.
This system has an endless list of benefits. Packing for a trip? No big deal. Just bring the suitcase over to the shelves and start throwing stuff in. Unpacking? same thing. Caleb has actually said, more than once, “The laundry turnover in this house is amazing.” Let me make this clear - it’s not because I spend my life doing laundry. It’s because I followed the advice of a genius and embraced what’s realistic and not what’s idealistic.
This idea has made its way into other areas of housework as well. For instance, I have found that I am not someone who will ever get around to ironing. I wish I would, but I just won’t. I can’t. I hate it. So instead of trying to change myself into a person who enjoys ironing, I gave up and bought a Jiffy garment steamer. It’s true that it doesn’t do a knife-edge crease down the front of Caleb’s work pants, but neither does not ironing them! See? Realistic vs. Idealistic.
And then there’s the floors. I have 2 things to say about cleaning the floors.
A broom, a mop, a bucket, and (ideally) a scrub brush used to be the non-negotiable tools for cleaning the floor. But, thanks to some honest evaluation of what I will and won’t do, these two beauties have extended Ramah’s laundry method all the way to my floors. And realistically, when I’m on the way up the stairs, I can grab the Shark and steam the kitchen floor…and nothing else! Thank the Lord for insightful, talented, and honest friends.
So there. Hopefully it all means that at some point, the system will run smoothly enough that whatever is left of my ingenuity will find its way into my ‘art’.