I’ve worked with some families recently who are struggling with laundry issues. What is the best method for taking control of laundry? It took me years and a broken wrist to figure it all out. Read on to find out how breaking my wrist led me get control of the laundry. I grew up in a small home with two working parents. I attended elementary and high school during the 1960’s and 1970’s. My mom struggled with time and task management. I remember piles of laundry on couches and a huge pile of ironing in the corner of her bedroom. I also remember that most of the items in the iron pile that belonged to me or my younger sister were outgrown – not ironed and worn.
My mom’s method of doing laundry was to gather all the clothing, towels and sheets and sort them into like colors. In other words, she mixed everything together with focus on color only. She washed light colored sheets, towels, underwear, shirts and pants in one load, and then she repeated the process with medium colors, and dark colors. My father’s work clothes were done separately as he worked in a boat manufacturing company and his clothes were covered in fiberglass. The result of this method was chaos although I did not recognize it at the time.
The chaos continued …
I married, had three children and found that I was doing laundry the way that I was taught. I had chaos too. I did not have an ironing pile thanks to the invention of permanent press. Instead of ironing, I pulled the wrinkled garments out of the never ending pile and put them back into the clothes dryer with a wet wash cloth. So why did I use this method if it wasn’t working for me? Because it was how my mother did it and it was how I’d always done it.
During the late 1980’s and 1990’s I realized that I was not at all organized and started reading books to help me. I gathered lots of information and applied some of it hit or miss. By 1998 I had conquered the chaos and discovered organizing principles.
A broken wrist changed everything
The catalyst for getting the laundry under control occurred in 1996. I broke my wrist. It was, thankfully my left wrist but I still could not do laundry for a couple of weeks. My husband, John decided he would help. He did the towels – just towels nothing else mixed in – now that was a novel concept. They ended up in a pile on the couch, but big deal, it was only a pile of towels.
John decided that he would start washing his own clothes to help me out. He did his whites and put them away. This solved a big gripe of his. With my previous method, his socks were getting mixed up with our boy’s socks. They were 13 and 16. He used to really complain because the boys would grab his socks out of the communal pile.
What an eye opener. Suddenly I realized that I had been doing laundry all wrong. I had been doubling or tripling the work by mixing everything together. I analyzed the process. I was taking dirty laundry from five rooms and sorting it into colors. I washed and dried the specific colors. I then had to fold and sort all of those clean items into piles to return to the five rooms. The sorting process took a lot of thinking (brain cell usage). I would have to look at the size label or compare items to determine whose garments were whose. No wonder the method that I had learned from my Mother wasn’t working; it was crazy!
Disclaimer: The folding and putting away only happened when I was expecting company and believe me that was not often. Usually the process stopped at the pile stage. White clothes on my bed, dark clothes on the couch…you get the picture.
The sensible way to manage laundry
I placed a hamper in my laundry room for dirty towels. Each family member is suppose to take their own dirty towels to the laundry room after the final use. When the hamper is full, a load of towels is washed and dried. The towels are folded and put away if there is time. If life is frantic or rushed the clean load is piled on a sofa, bed or chair in a designated non-public room. Can you believe a professional organizer is telling you that you don’t have to fold towels? Usually folding towels is a quadrant four activity. According to time management expert Stephen Covey, quadrant four activities are not urgent and not important. Folding towels becomes a quadrant one (urgent and important) activity if you have your house for sale or you have frequent overnight guests or perhaps a quadrant two (important but not urgent) activity if you do not have a non-public area to pile them. My towels are neatly folded and put away about half the time. If I am too busy then the family knows that they can find a clean towel on the sofa in the basement (near the laundry room). Should you dare to give yourself permission to do this, I can guarantee that on your death bed you will not say, “If only I had always neatly folded my towels and put them away”.
Personal laundry is handled easily by placing a basket or hamper in each bedroom (his and hers in master or one per child in a shared room). When its time to do laundry for that individual, sort the items by color. Usually there will be enough in the hamper to run a load of lights and darks for that individual. Do not be tempted to mix in clothing from another room. When a load is washed and dried the clean items are returned to the room and put away.
Unlike folding towels, folding and or hanging up clothing is important. It is a quadrant two activity. Putting away your clothing will save you time and energy in the long run; there are no extra minutes spent searching for or de-wrinkling items. When you implement this laundry system you no longer have to go through the process of figuring out whose item is whose. Brain cells are preserved. The beauty of this system is in the opportunity to teach children how to do their own laundry. All family members should be doing their own laundry by age twelve. My daughter who was six at the time of my enlightenment was doing her own laundry by the time she was in middle school.
Bed linens should be washed separately by room as well. The simplest method is to wash them and put them back on the bed. A popular solution is to have one additional set. You strip the bed, put the fresh set on, wash the soiled set, fold them and put them away. I recommend only two sets of sheets per bed under normal circumstances.
I’ve helped several of my clients implement this system in my years of working as a professional organizer in the Knoxville area. If you are buried in laundry, try it for yourself. I know it works. I’m living proof.