I am not the most awesome housekeeper in the world. (Just ask my cleaning lady.) But I have laundry down. My mother taught me when I was six years old.
It is true that at college I disregarded her advice about color sorting on occasion, and ended up with grey clothes like Claudia and Jamie when they ran away to the Metropolitan Museum in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I was always chronically behind, which I am sorry to say continued (and even multiplied) after I was married. Then I decided to use cloth diapers when Axa was born. I can tell you, when you have a choice between washing a load of diapers and washing a load of clothes, eleven times out of ten you decide you’re O.K. with dirty clothes. But I always felt like I had to sneak into the laundromat at odd hours so nobody would see me dumping my bag of dirty diapers into the washing machines they used to wash their clothes.
After college, I was happy to graduate to an apartment with its own washing machine. But I still had a hard time keeping up with the laundry. So you’d think that moving to Italy, where dryers are almost unheard of, would have compounded my problem. However, I found it to be the opposite. When you don’t have the option of doing six loads in a row on a catch-up day, you are forced to resort to organization. It took a while, and some days of laundry drying on every spare surface in our house, but I eventually started to stay more on top of the laundry. This was all the more miraculous considering the fact that in Ireland the clothes often had to dry for days in a steamy bathroom with no ventilation but a skylight leaking ceaseless rain. Snowy Italy in the winter was no better, but I managed, and even kept mostly ahead. In Florence, things were made more unmanageable by the diminutive size of my washing machine, but I undauntedly used it as an excuse to implement child labor. Just like my mother.
After having done laundry for so long under such adverse conditions, moving to Tunisia, where I have five long clotheslines on a large balcony, and the sun and heat dry everything in a matter of hours, made me suddenly feel like a laundry virtuoso. I now have a beautiful system for laundry. And sure enough, just like I learned from Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the key is sorting. Perhaps excessive sorting.
I keep our dirty clothes in a cupboard next to my washing machine with three long shelves, each divided in two. The first shelf houses browns on one side, greens in the middle, and greys (that’s natural greys. I no longer indulge in color mixing) on the far side, since I have the least of those three colors. Shelf two has whites on one side and blacks on the other. The bottom shelf, which the children can reach, houses blues and reds/pinks/purples, because I have a boy and a girl and their clothing is mostly stereotypical. I purposely have blues, blacks and browns on different shelves, because they are the three colors most likely to get mixed, and hardest to separate once they are mixed. The only colors unrepresented are yellow and orange, of which we have very few articles of clothing. Oranges mostly belong to Axa, so they typically get washed with the reds. Yellows often end up in the greens, even though I can’t really justify that decision. Even less can I justify washing an entire load of yellows consisting of only two items.
I’ve also learned that I now love the small washing machines I find overseas. Not only do they allow me to obsessively refuse to combine colors, but they have also eliminated the overwhelming feeling I used to get when an entire load (or two or three or four) had just come out of the dryer and was in need of folding right then before it wrinkled. Now when I have a spare moment I can just pop outside and hang up an armful of blues, and then come back inside with a newly dried armful of whites. No more piles of dirty (or clean) laundry.
For those of you who are flylady disciples or naturally perfect housekeepers, my delight over conquering laundry probably sounds a little pathetic. But for me, it is a major victory. Maybe next I’ll start dusting. Maybe not.