- A good washday is a wonderful thing.
Doing the laundry is probably my favorite of household chores, aside of course from cooking. Laundry is satisfying, and it’s segmented, so you have a chance to do other things at the same time. And it doesn’t involve stirring up dust, so it spares my allergies. (Vacuuming and dusting are my least favorite.)
When you are living without a clothes dryer, you do your laundry based on the weather rather than the fullness of the hamper. I always like to dry my clothes outside when I can, and whenever I am living in a place with a clothesline, I always try to plan my washday by the weather in the warmer months. Here in Maine, laundry is always a little adventure, and it disrupts our kitchen space a little bit; but it’s a task I really enjoy in general, and I have a lot of fun with it up here because it involves some really smart little technologies.
- The Lady Kenmore at work.
First, the Lady Kenmore. This Sears washing machine from the 1970s spends most of its time as counterspace in our kitchen, but on washday, it’s rolled out from the wall, its cutting-board cover is removed, and it’s hooked up to the faucet and plugged into an outlet, and the washing begins. I find using the Lady Kenmore a real delight for some reason, one I think has to do with the fact that it isn’t a built-in appliance, but one that you only take out when you need it. I think I like the task of setting it up: it’s roughing it, but not really. (I guess it hits that sweet spot of do-it-yourself where you feel like you’re more actively engaged in the process, but the marginal effort is small. I’ve done laundry in the tub, and that just sucks.) I also think I like the fact that it’s almost a secret: just another unassuming enamel box sitting between the stove and the fridge. And it’s a little workhorse: it just works great. When you’re done, you’ve got a cutting board again.
- Two of my favorite laundry technologies.
The next thing I love is hanging out the wash. This involves two great and underappreciated tools: the pulley clothesline and the clothespin bag. The bag hooks onto the pulley or the line, so your clothespins are right there at hand. (When I was growing up, we did not have one of these—the pins were all in a little brown plastic basket that sat on the porch rail—so this is a true delight for me.) The pulley clothesline, though, is the real treat: this is the gold standard of clotheslines, because it moves instead of you. (Early 20th-century home economists probably loved it for this reason. I can just imagine home demonstration agents going around the county, advocating the use of pulley clotheslines to farm wives.) The one we have here is way too short, but the length is simply a limitation of our yard. (The one I grew up with was the classic backyard line: from back porch to a high post at the far end of the long skinny lot. Our street was full of pulley clotheslines, and on a fine summer day you could look all the way down the block through the backyards and see the wash drying.)
- A well-ordered clothesline.
Though the pulley line is the best, it requires forethought, as it’s usually high up enough that you can’t just go pulling items down as they dry and replacing them with items from the next load. You have to plan. It’s a FILO stack, so the items that take the longest to dry go out first, and the quickest-drying items go on last, with a gradient in between. I’ve always found it best to sort as you go, keeping pants, shirts, underwear, and pairs of socks together: this makes it so you can fold easily as you remove items from the line. Depending on the height of your line and its location, you may need to take other factors into account, such as the weight of the items (if you put the heaviest ones in the middle, you may weigh the line down too far, so that clothes are brushing the ground) or what parts of the line will be in direct sun. Because the line here is so short and low, and partly shaded by the oak tree and the house, depending on the time of day, my standard longest-drying-first method needs modification each time; but because I can reach the line from the ground, if I screw up, I can go and move things around without taking everything off in succession. This was not a luxury I had growing up, but it was offset by the fact that our line could handle two loads of wash at a time.
Someday, I shall have such a clothesline once more. For now, I am simply glad to have a pulley clothesline again.