In her Paris Review Daily essay, “This Is The Way We Wash Our Clothes” Sadie Stein looks back at how the great Sisyphean task of laundry figured into her childhood, and how her family, especially her mother, lived with and around it:
It was not until I went away to college that I realized how much laundry my mother did. I don’t mean that my family of four generated an unusual amount—none of us changed more than once a day, or had especially extensive wardrobes—or that she stood around an industrial-sized cauldron like Mrs. Buckets in “Cheer Up, Charlie.” Rather, at any given moment, some step of laundry-washing was in process. If the washer or dryer wasn’t running, clothes were being sorted. Large piles of lights and darks littered the hall floor. There was a wicker hamper of some description, in a nook under the linen closet, but things either didn’t make it there or were sorted with such dispatch that they never reached its limbo. And always, always, there was the folding. My parents’ bed was generally covered with a large pile of clean clothes; anyone who happened to be sitting on the bed watching TV would either fold a few napkins in the course of a show (me) or sit atop a mound, occasionally knocking clothes onto the floor (my brother.) Then there was the hand-washing, or those pieces my mother had deemed too delicate for the dryer: there were usually a few of these hanging damply in the bathroom. She did not work full-time back then; one wonders how all the laundry might have gotten done if she had.
I love hearing about how other people do chores, especially the strange emotional significance of them, and the negotiations we make, and the space we let them take up in our lives.
Growing up we also always had towers of folded and unfolded clothes, clean and unclean, on top of our washer and dryer and in different places around the house. It was ever-present.
Now it’s just ever-present in the “We should really do laundry tonight” way.
I think I had it mastered once, when I was living on my own and next-door to a 24-hour laundromat with drop-off service, but now I am engaged to someone who thinks dropping your laundry off and paying someone to do it for you is not only way too expensive (fair) but “cheating” (*side-eye*). Because of his radical yet firm anti-drop-off stance, my fiance is the one who is charged with actually taking the laundry to the laundromat and doing it, and then I fold it when he gets home.
This works in theory, but in reality we always end up waiting way too long, saying, “Maybe tomorrow” no less than three days in a row, and wearing our underwear inside out. Finally it will be 11 p.m. one night and he’ll decide now is the moment we’ve been waiting for, and I’ll complain that I don’t want to be folding laundry at 1 a.m. and he’ll say we can wait to fold it until the morning, but then I’ll think of him with his sad wrinkled dress shirts that he is somehow blind to, so I’ll beg him to wait another day, and he’ll refuse and I’ll give in and he will heave that huge yellow laundry bag onto his shoulder and head off into the night. EVERY TIME.
One day, though, we’re going to figure this out.