Being the fifth child of eight has its unique and, one might say, predictable effects. Ah, those middle kids. Not so special as the oldest and not the cutie like the youngest. Middle kids end up solving problems and getting things done just to be spared the arguments of who was supposed to do what. Now, hanging up laundry was girls’ work, and since my two sisters were older and there were only three females among the eight, I hung up a lot of clothes while I was growing up.
In the fifties and early sixties, we didn’t own a dryer. Mom had an ironing roller for her sheets, pillowcases and other flat laundry. Seriously, we ironed our sheets! Mother was especially picky about the way clothes were hung out to dry. Virgo efficiency meant there was a right way and a wrong way to hang up clothes.
Laundry for eight kids and two adults is never-ending and always abundant, so maximizing the clothesline and clothespins was essential. Our clothesline must have been about 40 feet from the back porch to the corner of the garage, but still, we always seemed to run out of clothesline. Mom would show me tricks to maximize space; she always made it work. Her system: share clothespins, put similar items together, stretch flat articles to make ironing easier, and hang pairs together. And, yes, on sunny winter days, we hung out clothes to freeze dry like the Amish still do in our neighborhood.
It’s April, 2014. I am visiting my friends Cecil Wright and Sonya Newenhouse’s certified eco-house. Overall, the little house is very low energy, thick walled and only 1,000 square feet between both stories. Sonja is giving a tour, and I can’t help but notice her impressive clothes drying solutions in the small space.
Above the washing machine is an ingenious clothes rack made of wooden dowels filled with clothes drying. Outside, another line hangs in front of their chicken coop.
I can hear my friends and relatives, even myself, sermoning on the virtues of the dryer. Come now, how much difference does it really make to hang your clothes rather than let them tumble dry? The dryer has to be less energy than ironing sheets! Does hanging your clothes really make a squat of difference toward saving energy, especially when you look at all the other ways we release CO2? Plus, how will I get all that lint off my clothes without the dryer?
There is data that makes a persuasive case for hanging your clothes: A household running a dryer 200 times a year—or three to four loads for the entire household each week—could save nearly half a ton of CO2 by switching to a clothes rack or washing line1. If half of our local village of Viroqua switched to line drying, this would keep a 13 watt CF light on for 8427 years or would take 188 cars off the road for a year2.
But perhaps there is another reason to hang up clothes. “We need to ground environmentalism on something other than data,” suggests Charles Eisenstein in “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible.”
And here emerges that better reason one might choose to hang up clothes. There is something perfectly logical and common sense about hanging clothes. Why have a machine do what nature can do on her own—what the wind and the sun and even the cold can accomplish with no tax paid? Isn’t it the simple, supposedly insignificant acts that ground us in our place on the earth and connect us to the seasons? There is something beautiful when one feels satisfaction from simple acts that utilize nature’s services. I salute the clothesline! I toast to small random acts of intention. May they spread quietly and joyfully.
And I salute my mom. She sang when she worked and I thank her as I do enjoy hanging up clothes.
Here are some hints I’ve picked up: Spot clean clothes when they have one or two stains but are otherwise not that dirty. Never wash towels with anything other than towels. Keep a lint roller around for those dark clothes. It really works.
Now, we want to hear from you! Send us photos of your clothesline and we’ll post the top three and send the winners a surprise gift!
1The Guardian, Green Living: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/green-living-blog/2010/nov/25/carbon-footprint-load-laundry