"Cows are my passion. What I have ever sighed for has been to retreat to a farm and live entirely surrounded by cows–and china." Charles Dickens

January 11, 2011

Laundry is What Happens When You Are Busy Doing Other Things...

...that is, in an ideal world. I could live in my laundry room, or any clean, well-ordered light-filled space (pantry, anyone?) with a worktable, if you let me. But I don't because I can't. I have to do other things like cook, clean, write, tend chickens, daydream, read, get on the computer.

This morning I was told by our youngest son, promptly at 7am because they did not have an expected snow day when the rest of the state seemed to have one (so he was already a bit upset), that if I didn't do laundry by tomorrow morning he and his brother would not be going to school. Later on, my husband echoed the same. He is on his way to get them now on this cold, blustery, semi-snowy day.

The images in this post were among those not selected by my editor for an upcoming laundry-related article. No Arm & Hammer® detergent was harmed in the making of this picture.

You see, I won't let anyone else do the laundry. They don't sort the colors out. Stuff gets shrunk or not cleaned properly (eg. whites in hot water is not a concept I can teach). Things aren't folded while hot from the dryer so I don't have to iron them later. (I like ironing, too, but have managed to avoid it for three years: yes, I have a few laundry baskets full of linens that require it.)

Yes, I collect laundry items, and some I actually use. And no, my laundry room is not always styled and neat as it was for a recent magazine shoot!

I suppose that I am such a perfectionist  that things don't get done unless they are done right. And most of the time, as a wife and mother, that would be me to do it. Yes, I could teach them and they would manage, and some day they'll have to do, but the reality is that I actually enjoy doing the laundry––when I allow myself the pleasure. I know: there is a weird anti-Puritanical madness at work here. Believe me, I know. I also like ironing and organizing cupboards…when I allow myself the pleasure.
'Ideally, one would live as if one were going to die the next day. I mean, if you were going to die the next day it would be well worth sitting and watching the sun set, or rise. It might not be worth doing a huge laundry.'
––May Sarton, interview, The Paris Review 

I won't deny it: it's hard for me to multi-task other things while doing the laundry. I don't know why this is. I have a very nice mudroom/laundry room in the doublewide and soon will have a nice big sunlit laundry room/workspace in the cottage across the street. I love to launder, and fold, and smooth, and bring the piles into the bedrooms. It's just the doing it that can be the problem. Or the putting away.

Some of my favorite memories of single life in Boston––when I was paying $366.66 a month for my third of a fifth-floor walkup on Joy Street on Beacon Hill––was my weekly ritual of doing laundry. I would get up, quite early, and be at the laundromat a few blocks away around 6am. Once the laundry was in, the morning sun streaming across the rooftops into the great glass windows of the quiet laundromat, I would pop into the adjacent corner store and get a big cup of coffee and a muffin. My laundry would be done by 8am, I would head back to my apartment to get ready for work, and walk up and over the hill, past the State House, and be at my desk easily by 9am. [In the colder, winter months, I generally brought my laundry home to our farm in New Hampshire. Later, when I unpacked my duffle bag in my apartment, the clothes smelled of clean air and woodsmoke from the farmhouse. They smelled of home.]

So, now that I'm doing laundry for five, my new strategy with motivation in such matters is to blast dance music, really loud, and move and dance while I'm doing it. Sometimes laundry requires a more peaceful approach: classical music or the lulling sounds of NPR newscasters and commentary. Or, I'll throw in some loads, after everyone is in bed, while watching television that I've recorded.

Kitties on friend Anna's washing machine, located on her back porch. 
I am going now. To my laundry room. I may be out of there by midnight. I will also have to make dinner. But, come Hell or layers of farm mud, clean clothes well-sorted and folded we will have.

You come back when you're ready!


NOTE: I feel compelled to share that, if you don't already know it, May Sarton was a poet and writer who did not have to worry about anyone's laundry but her own. But I love her anyway. Here is a blog I wrote about her over at In the Pantry on January 1, 2010, as it happens: 'A New Year's Renascence' [I highly recommend any of her journals: they are luminous.]


  1. Love this post Catherine! Not a laundry fan...I can scrub a mean potty and cook up a storm for folks far and wide but taming Mt Washmore has never been my strong suit :)

    The photos in this post were eye candy to me...if these are the non-picked, I look forward to seeing those picked!


  2. I love the picture of your friend's kittens on the washer!

    I do laundry frequently, especially in winter when I wear sixteen layers of clothing. I don't mind the washing and drying but I hate toting all that stuff upstairs. As a result, I have two leaning towers of Pisa (not Gail's Mt. Washmore) on top of my dryer. What a pain!


  3. Oh! You amaze me- love this post! And I am suffering much vintage laundry item collection envy! I do however have a vintage washing machine like your friend Anna's- my father in law had it stored in his mill, I saw it one day and was in love with it, so he gave it to me! (It's out in the garage unfortunately- someday it will have a place of honor!) It work beautifully too. Does a GREAT job! (the rollers scare me a bit though!) As far as laundry- well, I do believe it breeds itself! And when the kids decide to clean their rooms- well the pile turns into a mountain. Ugh! I too am particular about the washing- I get very aggravated when anyone "helps" by doing a load for me- (bathmats put in with fleece jackets- I think NOT!) I do take MUCH pleasure in hanging the laundry outside- is it spring yet? I long for that fresh sunny outdoors smell in the laundry!

  4. Yes, I can't wait for my clothesline and to launder all of our quilts (those that I can do that way) and to hang stuff OUT. Spring cleaning will have new meaning this year! It will actually be fun.

    My laundry article will be in the upcoming OLD-HOUSE INTERIORS, out February 1st. I'll post more in a few weeks.

    Thanks for stopping by! ~ C


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