Gimme a smile: Laundry challenges

Two adults plus three kids equals seven loads of laundry two times per week. Somehow I never learned that particular equation in math class. I’ve become quite the expert since.


The first step to successful laundry is the sorting. Darks, lights and whites — pretty straightforward, right? Not so fast! The appliance mechanic who installed my new washer after the other one wore out (must have been those 14 loads a week) instructed me on the proper method of laundry sorting. It comes down to linguistics, as a matter of fact. You must pay close attention to the definition of the word “lights” — do you mean light vs. dark, or light vs. heavy? Color sorting is great, I learned, but more important is the weight of the clothing. Never mix jeans and t-shirts (even dark blue ones) in the same load, because the heavier jeans will overwhelm the lightweight t-shirts, and throw the washer off balance. Who knew?

After sorting out this homonym issue, I still find the sorting stage of laundry to be a challenge. Some garments could be considered light or dark, depending on how you look at them. Then there are those that are clearly light, by anyone’s definition, but they have specific laundering instructions: “machine wash cold.” Since I wash my lights on warm, that article will have to join in with the darks. Darks co-mingle with lights, with no apparent logic to the uninitiated eye.

Sadly, the sorting doesn’t even stop when the washer gets turned on. Some clothes can’t handle “tumble dry low,” so they have to drip dry, or be “reshaped to dry flat,” which means I have to sort them between the washer and the dryer. If I were smart, I would just cut the instruction labels off of all my clothes, and go back to the darks, lights, and whites method.

The worst part about laundry (aside from fishing the used tissues out of the pants pockets, or untangling the wet and smelly sock balls — okay, so there are a lot of disgusting parts about laundry!) is the folding part. The challenge is to transform the baskets overflowing with clean laundry into a tidy set of folded piles, one for each family member. I used to put on a movie and work my way through the mound over the next hour and a half or so. If I didn’t have an hour and a half, the baskets (all five of them) would simply sit in the living room, and the kids would help themselves to a shirt or a pair of jeans as needed. “Are there any baskets?” became the refrain whenever someone needed clean clothes. Then I figured out that I didn’t have to go it alone, and the Folding Party was born. This family event consists of everyone getting together in the living room while I toss shirts and socks over to their respective owner. The kids snag the flying clothes and fold them to their own specifications. Then my kids informed me that a party is an event where people gather to have fun, and since folding laundry is about as fun as eating broccoli with no cheese sauce, I needed to rename this biweekly family event. Now I just say, “there’s clothes for you to fold” — not nearly as inviting as “Folding Party,” in my opinion.

After all these years of working hard to provide clean clothes for my family, I was faced with a unique laundry challenge this month. My daughter came home from Oliver! rehearsal bearing her orphan costume, with instructions to get it dirty. “What can I use to put stains on this shirt that won’t wash out?” she asked me. I know how to get blood out of cotton fabric, and how to pre-treat spaghetti stains, but I’m not an expert in getting clothes dirty so they won’t wash clean. We settled on tea dying and rubbing the fabric in the fireplace ashes, but even that washed out quite a bit. You never know what new laundry challenge you might face.

Seven loads of laundry two times a week. There’s probably one waiting for me right now!

• Peggy McKee Barnhill is a wife, mother and aspiring author. She likes to look at the bright side of life.


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