October 21, 2010

How we make 12 weekly loads of laundry feel like only 10...

Laundry is a necessary part of running any home, and as a young bride oh-so-many years ago, I was overwhelmed by the task.  My husband and I built up what we disdainfully referred to as “the pile” each week in our tiny apartment’s single bedroom.  Many domiciles and children later, I’ve learned a thing or two, and would love to share our approach with you.  Mock it or emulate it as you please.  Some people can be inspired to do laundry because they love their family so much, they consider it a joy to wash their unmentionables no matter their condition.  That doesn’t work for me.  I love my family, but I do not love their underwear.  I need something different to inspire me to wash it.
Dirty laundry is filthy and ugly by virtue of its name and its condition.  So why not pretty it up?  Who says you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear?  For many years now I have used a sorting cart that was flimsy but functional.  Recently I asked my dad to build me a sturdy wooden frame for it in place of the plastic bars on which it was precariously perched.  He came through beyond my expectations, thinking to keep a portion of the back open in order to allow for some ventilation, and kept it on wheels to preserve its necessary mobility.  I’ve now painted it with semi-gloss white (Pale Bloom, to be specific… it’s used throughout our home) and got to work with my Sharpie collection, decorating it in keeping with the inspiration piece I’ve used for years.  (My girly, flowery dishes inspire me.  But that’s a story for another day.)  The semi-gloss keeps it easy to wipe up, and the flowers… well, they’re homespun, but they make me not dread the daunting laundry task quite as much.  Our laundry area is a part of our kitchen, so keeping a hamper there demands that it not be an eyesore.

The functionality of the sorting cart is equally crucial.  Many years ago I noticed one my very organized sister-in-law had, and when I saw the benefits, it beat “the pile” for sure.  I like the three-compartment type, which is what she used.  It holds the right volume in each section for a good full load, and allows us to sort the clothes into darks, lights, and then a section for towels, underwear, socks, and gross stuff that needs bleach and hot water.  Keeping the darks and lights separate keeps red things and jeans from ruining other clothing, and keeps my daughter’s pretty pastels looking spiffy.   And keeping the gross stuff separate has obvious benefits.  Goodbye, E. coli!
The kids are expected to sort their dirty clothes each time they change.  My husband and I have a hamper in our bathroom, and when it’s full I sort it into the cart.  When every section of the cart is full, it’s a laundry day.  The kids all help me move the loads through the system, washing and drying the contents of each section of our cart, all the while dumping the dry contents on my sofa.  Yes, it’s a pile, but it’s a clean one.  Nothing gets folded until everything is clean.  This saves unnecessary steps.  Trust me.  Then the kids come along, and we sort the clean pile into mini-piles for each bedroom and one for towels and sheets.  The owner/owners of each bedroom then take their pile, fold it, and put it away.  I handle the Mom and Dad pile as well as the towels, which go to so many different locations that it’s just easier to fold them and put them away myself, rather than involving the kids in that domain.
I’ve tried other approaches – a load or two a day, which resulted in washing loads that were too small, which is wasteful for us… once a week, which was insane… twice a week on designated days, which led to me serving the routine, not the other way around as it should be.  We’ve tried it all, and this is what works.  So, about every other day or so, when the flowery sorting cart is full in all three sections, the sofa spends its day drowning in Wilbur clothes until the process is complete.  But isn’t that what sofas are for?

This is what works for us…  keep experimenting with what works in your home, and when you strike upon anything that reduces the laundry anxiety, stick with it!  Don’t worry about what everybody else does.  Do what works for you!


  1. I have the same laundry sorter. It works for me and ever so often I take the sorter off the flimsy frame and wash it. I had to cut a hole to get the metal pole that held the lid down but it easy goes in and out now. I'm with you, it just me and I don't do laundry until it's full. Laundry is my least favorite chore and there is just no other way to say it. One day I hope for a magic closet that keeps the clothes clean (a.k.a.The Jetsons) :-)

  2. Great post. I love laundry, but do you have any suggestions on sorting socks! Summer and flipflops are my favorite, but it's back to sock season now and everytime you need to buy a new package, it seems the store doesn't carry the same kinds anymore, so I have some short, some tall, some with gray heels, some with grey feet, some with pink toes, Samuel's, Jon's, Jacob's, and the girls. Often I just wear my husbands, so that there is one less size to sort. Any tips on washing and sorting them?

  3. Socks - they were torturing me too, until I developed a consistent system for each person. I slowly replaced our boys' socks with Hanes. Hanes makes them with different colors of their name on the toes. Scott wears an adult size, so he has blue; Zach and Daniel green. Joe has a different brand of white socks than Scott to keep them separate from each other. His dress socks are all black. Keep it simple! Audra being our only girl, all frilly ones go to her. She is the only one allowed to have a variety in our house! More than one girl like you have, I am not sure... I guess I'd say teach them to sort them! I, like Joe, have one consistent brand of white, and one of black, by mine are ankle height and his are taller, so they're easy to tell apart. In addition to all this, I stopped having the boys pair theirs up. They're terrible at making those little balls! Instead they put them all in the drawer singly, and grab two each morning. Audra pairs hers when she folds her laundry, and when she has a stray she puts it in her drawer until its friend comes along later! Hope this helps. All I can say is don't let socks bring you down! It's impossible to keep them together through a large family laundry system. They'll catch up to each other when they're good and ready!

  4. Ok, so you've made laundry bearable... but my least favorite chore (by far!) is cooking!!
    Any tips?

  5. I hear you, Lori! Coming soon...

  6. Thanks for the tips! I'm going to look into Hanes. I've always just looked at the store brands, but I think a few extra dollars will be well spent if they have a color system!

  7. I told the girls we were going to try laundry Wilber style today (they had seen the picture of all your laundry piled on the couch). We all thought that would be fun, until we got to reading time and realized our couch was piled high with laundry and their was no place to all snuggle up and read - the floor's just not as comfortable! They wanted to sit on top the pile of laundry, but I nixed that idea because I said it would cause the clothes to wrinkle under our weight and I am NOT ironing unless it's a wedding or a funeral! So it was fun, but I guess we'll go back to keeping it all the baskets until we get ready to fold, then we'll make the mountain - because, after all, it's going to be sooo much more fun to fold if it came from a huge mountain instead of the usual boring baskets!

  8. I love your ironing rule! I'm with you 100% on that!

  9. After checking back to this post to see the comments, I have decided to stick in my two cents. So... I LOVE living in an apt that's all on one floor. My HUSBAND washes the laundry - that's right ladies! YOU might think you have the best husband - but really, MINE is the best! ;-) The Best for me, anyway!
    It is actually a matter of the way things worked out. He washes, and I fold and put away.
    Generally speaking, it works best for putting away when I put it away as each load finishes. That way, there is no pile of laundry to be folded. And, the least amount of times you touch a single item, the better. I generally don't create additional piles of folded clothes - though burp clothes, socks, and the like seem to be the exception to the rule. Bekah's clothes get thrown back in the basket, carried to her room, and put away as they are folded then.
    Depending on how many loads of laundry your home already does, switching to the kids doing their own laundry (I started doing the household laundry when I was 9) will potentially eliminate help with the giant pile.
    Another family I know does their laundry together, then separates their laundry into little totes/baskets as it comes out of the dryer. Then, that person is responsible to get their laundry, fold, and put it away. With 12 children, they had to develop a dotted tag system to tell who's was who's, but it was SO effective!!
    Ok, this was longwinded - hope it helps!

  10. Lori, it sounds like you're just as passionate about an efficient laundry system as I am! I can see that your way works well for your family, and of course I'm well acquainted with the family you mentioned, and their way works great for them. That's very much the point I made in the post - find a way that works for you. Each family's situation is unique, and each has to deal with the necessary chore of laundry their own way, ready to adapt it as circumstances change over time. Just wait until Bekah is big enough to bring mud into the mix! It's coming! :)