Simplifying the Process

When was the last time you did several loads of laundry, wound up with missing socks, had the dye from a new pair of jeans run all over your other clothes, and then ended up with a wrinkled mess after everything came out of the dryer? Everyone has had these laundry nightmares happen, but virtually all laundry disasters and mishaps can be avoided by taking an organized approach to cleaning your clothes.

Too Much Laundry?

While working out how to best do the laundry, think about the amount of laundry you do every week. Is there any way that you can decrease your load? Do you sometimes wash clothing that isn't really dirty or linens that could be used for a few more days?

In Simplify Your Life, Elaine St. James suggests that while automatic washers and dryers greatly simplify the process of laundering clothing, modern Americans may be spending just as much time doing laundry as they were fifty years ago. While modern conveniences have the potential to ease our backs and make the work less labor intensive, they may not actually be reducing the amount of time we spend actually laundering our clothes.

How could this be? Because of the great ease with which clothing can be washed, many people wash their clothes far too frequently. The frenzied pace of contemporary life can sometimes cause the illusion that it is actually easier to toss a once-worn shirt into the hamper than it is to take a moment and neatly fold the shirt and place it back in a drawer or closet. The contemporary obsession with cleanliness may also add to the myth that a shirt or pants worn once is somehow “contaminated” and must be washed immediately.

Elaine St. James, however, points out that this attitude is a great departure from the practices fifty years ago, when the effort involved in laundry dictated that all family members be more careful about clothes. She writes, “In the old days, for example, Grandpa would put on a clean shirt on Monday and after wearing it carefully through the week, it would go into the clothes hamper for Grandma to take care of on wash day. Now, we think nothing of wearing two or three shirts a day, one for exercise, one for work, one for casual wear, and throwing them into the laundry.”

The problem with clothing also extends to linens, according to St. James. Many people actually use a fresh towel and washcloth every single day, but this luxury can be costly in the long run. Not only does running the washer use water and energy, but it requires the vigilant efforts of a laundress. If each member of the family can reduce the amount of clothing and linens placed in the hamper each week, then the effort involved in laundering can be greatly reduced.

Elaine St. James urges her readers to try to limit the amount of time spent doing laundry to just one load per person per week. If family members know that only so much can be cleaned, they are likely to be more discriminating about what gets tossed into the hamper, easing the burden of the primary laundry caretaker.

Making Your Wardrobe Work for You

If you find that you consistently don't want to do laundry, try to get to the heart of the problem. Many times, resistance to doing laundry is related to problems in other parts of the house. If you've had a chance to decrease the amount of clothing in your closets and drawers, for example, you might find that you feel better equipped to do your laundry. If the drawers and closets feel overwhelming, you might be inclined to procrastinate on the final step of putting laundry away.

If this is your situation, take a break from organizing your laundry area and head back to the bedroom. Try to purge items out of a few drawers and see if a little extra space makes a difference in how you feel about putting clothing away. Drawers and closets that are packed too full are not only confusing to navigate early in the morning when you're trying to get ready for work, they also tend to leave clothes looking wrinkly and forgotten.

If you feel a sense of despair related to the idea of neatly folding your clothes, it might be related to the thought that no matter how gingerly you care for your clothes in the laundry area, they are still bound to get all wrinkled as soon as they hit the drawers. Conquer this defeating feeling by tackling the drawers and closets that are the root of the problem.

Think “Laundry Day” while Shopping

Another way to simplify your laundry is to resist impulse purchases. When shopping for clothes, don't just consider the aesthetic appeal of an item. Think also about the effort involved in cleaning it. Elaine St. James believes that life can be greatly simplified if you refuse to purchase clothing that needs to be dry-cleaned.

In certain professions, a dry-clean-only suit may be required, but for those who have the opportunity to dress more casually, eliminating dry-clean-only items from a wardrobe can reduce the hassle and cost of maintaining your clothes.

Elaine St. James also encourages people to simplify their lives by purchasing clothing that can be mixed and matched so that you don't always have to be laundering or searching for that one pair of pants that matches that one shirt. If you're really serious about simplifying your life (and you don't mind a little monotony in your wardrobe), purchase multiple pieces that are similar or the same. If you find a pair of argyle socks that you love, for example, buy four pairs so you don't have to waste precious time hunting down that one lone sock.

In Simplify Your Life, Elaine St. James has suggestions for women to help build a simple wardrobe. She has taken the principles of male wardrobes and adapted them to feminine standards:

  • Pick a simple, classic style that looks good on you and then stick with it. Forever.

  • Build combinations of outfits that work as a uniform: two or three jackets of the same or similar style but in different, muted shades, with two or three sets of the same or similarly styled skirts and/or slacks in different muted shades, and a few coordinating shirts, blouses, and tops. Each item should go with every other item.

  • Remember that men, for the most part, don't wear jewelry, don't carry purses, and wear only one heel height.

These suggestions may feel a little austere, especially if you are a person who loves color and variety. You can adapt the basic concept, however, to any fashion sensibility. These are not hard and fast rules, but simply one path toward creating a simpler wardrobe.

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