Saturday, May 26, 2012

Breaking It Down: Laundry, Simplified

For as many things as there are under my care that I'm continuously trying to improve on, there is one major category that I actually feel like I have a good grip on:   
The Laundry.

Now, my husband may be snickering even as he reads this, he does live here after all, and has witnessed every miserable fail there's been in the laundry department... but all things considered, I think we're doing all right.  When we got married 13+ years ago, I had never (never!) done a load of laundry.  It's taken many years to develop my current system, and trust me, there were years of empty drawers, indistinguishable piles of dirty and clean, moldy onesies, not a pair of socks to be found... you get the picture.  Years.  It's not perfect, but it's a working system that serves this big family well.  Here are five of the key elements:

1.  Limit dressers!

We have 8 (soon to be 9) people in this house, and we have exactly 3 dressers.  It took me a long time to come to this realization, but I finally figured out that they're just not necessary.  In fact, they make things a whole lot more difficult.  I had a dresser that I used for years for the kids that had 10 drawers.  I thought it was great for children's clothing because it had many small drawers for small items.  Then one day it hit me, exactly how many times I had to open and close each one of those little drawers each week!  It was an older dresser, as were all of the others in our home, bought used or inherited, and the drawers didn't slide too easily, making it quite tedious to put clothes away each day.  Then there's the fact that no child in my house could EVER properly close a drawer after opening it.  They always managed to look sloppy, with half-closed drawers with clothing peeking out of one or more of them.  And don't get me started on the tops of the dressers.  Can we say CLUTTER MAGNET?

So we made some adjustments.  I also knew that we weren't making good use of the space under the beds, so I picked up four under-bed storage bins on wheels, and designated one to each of boys #2, 3, 4 and 5 (ages 10 down to 3).  They're easy to pull out and drop clothes into.  They fit nicely under the beds, hold a season worth of clothes, and are out of sight, freeing up space in the bedroom for other things.

We even stopped bothering with the lids, it's easier.

For Mr. Smith and our oldest son (age 12), we have an open shelving unit in the laundry room in the basement.  They're both fine with getting dressed in the basement, and theirs is the bulkiest of the laundry, which I'm now saved from having to haul upstairs to put away.  We have a small dresser next to their shelves, to keep their socks, underwear, t-shirts, ties, belts, etc. in.  I'm able to fold their clothes as they come out of the dryer, and set them right onto their shelves immediately.

In our bedroom I have one large dresser for all of my clothes, and a smaller dresser for baby clothes.  It's handy to me to have the babies' clothing in my room, since I'm the one putting it away and dressing them each day.

Admittedly, we do not hang many of our clothes.  We don't own an abundance of particularly dressy items, and just have one section in the boy's closet for suits and dresses.

2.  Don't have too many clothes circulating at once.

I try to be really careful with each change of season, to take out only the amount of clothes necessary to get each person through a week.  We do keep a lot of extra clothing in storage in the basement (the frugal part of me won't let those go, knowing how many kids are up-and-coming to fit into those, and how quickly things get worn out), but I don't want the boy in a size 6 to have access to every article of size 6 clothing in the house at any given time.  The under-bed storage helps with this, as those bins can't hold much more than the basics.  Having just enough clothing out also keeps me accountable on laundry -- We can't let the piles of dirty clothes build or no one will have anything to wear in a week's time.  We just did the clothing switchover for summer, and each boy basically has:
  • 1 pair of jeans
  • 2 long-sleeved shirts
  • 1 hooded sweatshirt
  • 1 pair of khaki pants
  • 2 church shirts
  • 4-6 pairs of shorts
  • 6-8 t-shirts
  • sports uniforms/clothes
  • 2-3 pairs of pajamas
Now I do totally get it that this may only be possible with boys.  Girls seem to have a need for more types of clothing, and tend to care more about what they're wearing and how often they change.  My boys are pretty easy this way.

*Note:  The younger the boy, the more clothing they have out.  My older boys can easily wear an outfit 2 days in a row, but the younger ones tend to get messy much faster.


Several years ago, I read a tip about sorting laundry and implemented it right away.  We've never looked back.  I got four hampers and wrote in permanent marker down the sides of them:  DARKS, LIGHTS, WHITES, TOWELS.  These are kept next to the washer and dryer.

We keep one more hamper outside the bathroom for all dirty towels, and dirty clothes go down the chute.  No dirty clothing on the main floor, and no wet towels down the chute to mix in with clothing and create the possibility of mildew.

Even if I don't have time to run loads, I try to keep up on the sorting.  I take the incoming laundry one piece at a time, and this is where I do anything it might need done to it:  Right-side-outing, stain treating, pocket checking, setting aside for mending.  Then it goes into it's designated hamper.  This way when I do have time to run a load, I don't have to put any thought or time into it.  If it's in a hamper, it's ready to hit the washer.  By having everything sorted into the hampers, I also keep a good gauge on what my next load should be.  For example, we don't have as many whites as the other loads, so I know that if that WHITES hamper is full, people are going to start complaining about no clean socks or underwear, and I better run that one next.

One more element to sorting, and this is key:

Hamper = Dirty
Basket = Clean

This is another lesson learned after many, many frustrations.  I used to use baskets exclusively, and sure enough, clean would at some point get mixed with dirty.  Of course, this means chucking the whole thing and re-washing everything in the mix.  Everyone in the house knows that hampers are for dirty, and baskets are for clean.

4.  Don't be fussy.

It feels presumptuous for me to advise someone else not to "be fussy", when I could be totally wrong on this subject and off-base in my thinking.  But then I think, I have been at this a long time and this is truly how I feel, so I'll say it, and anyone is free to take it or leave it.  

I don't lose sleep over stains.
I don't worry about my 4-year-old continuing to wear a cotton shirt that has a small hole in the belly.
I don't mind that we don't have a wide variety of clothing to wear, or that we don't always look fashionable or wealthy.

I always make sure we wear our best to Mass, family get-togethers, and field trips.  Other than that, my kids are kids.  I will not spend hours researching ways to get a particular stain off of a t-shirt.  That boy will probably still wear that shirt, just not to church.  We're home so much of the time anyway, and so much of their lives is play, I just don't worry about the everyday clothes.  It's one of those things I've learned to let go of, knowing that there's more to life.

5.  Get the kids to help.

Over here, the kids:

     -Put all clothing down the chute.
Each morning I have the 6- and 8-year-olds hunt around the bedrooms, hallway, and bathroom for stray articles of clothing, and put them where they belong.

     -Bring laundry from chute to washer/dryer area.
One flaw in our house:  The laundry chute lands halfway across the basement from the washer/dryer hook-ups.

     -Haul dirty towels to laundry room.
A couple of times a week, Blake brings the hamper of towels from upstairs and empties it into the TOWEL hamper in the laundry room, then replaces it upstairs.

     -Put their own clothes away.
Because I'm making an effort now to fold laundry straight out of the dryer as often as possible, I needed a good way to get the folded stuff from the laundry room to its designated storage.  If I folded it all into one basket, I was finding that once upstairs, it was easier for me to just separate each child's clothes and put them away myself, rather than asking them to go into the basket to retrieve their items which were mixed in with others.  So I had Mr. Smith hang a shelf next to the washer and dryer, above the sorting hampers, and we placed four small tubs there.  Each one is labeled for one of the boys who keep their clothes upstairs in the under-bed bins.  They are big enough to hold one boy's items from one or two loads, but small enough that they can handle carrying them upstairs on their own.  They put their clothes away, and replace the empty tub back on the shelf.

     -Carry all other clean laundry upstairs for me.
Especially now, since I'm pregnant, my big, strong 12-year-old is priceless for this.

     -Put all clean/folded towels away.
This is an easy job for even the smaller boys.

Blake can start a load in the washer, but I don't have him do it very often.  He switches loads to the dryer for me all the time.  I prefer to do all the sorting myself, since that is my time to catch anything that needs attention, and frankly, I don't trust anyone else to do that!

I haven't gotten into the bedding end of things here, but basically, I wash all the bedding at once, as often as I see fit.  Sometimes it goes longer than I'd like, but that's life.  On those days, the boys strip their beds, I strip mine, and it all goes to a big pile on the laundry room floor.  I work my way through that first, and then move on to the regular laundry.

I think that covers everything worth covering from my perspective!  It's important to remember that gaining a little bit of control over a big chore like laundry makes it a much more enjoyable part of our lives.  Again, this is not a perfect system, but it works for us, and I hope it might help someone else out there who's struggling with their own laundry!

This post is linked up at Real Mom Resources.  
Go check out more articles on this topic and many others!


  1. Thanks for the feedback, Ladies! I appreciate it!

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