Six children and two adults make for a bit of laundry each week. Large family logistics seems to be a topic of interest to the general population. “How do you do it?”, is one of those very frequently asked questions. For the most part running a family of eight isn’t that much different than running the more common four person household — the scale isn’t so different as to make that much difference. But in laundry you can feel the difference.
For many years I have really compounded my laundry problems by simply having too many clothes. My mother-in-law made the observation when she was watching the children while I was having Josh and I actually did take the advice to heart. We just have too much in the way of clothing and linens. At some point after my mother-in-law made her pointed and on point observation I started seriously trying to assess the laundry problem. The basic situation is frustrating, broken and ridiculously time consuming. Too many clothes means more time collecting, sorting, washing, drying, ironing (or not), folding, storing and trying to find the one thing you need when you need it. It also means the laundry system is more prone catastrophic failure due to the slightest disruption. One damp washcloth in the wrong basket can lead to a not so nice discovery three days later in the middle of the summer. So something seriously has to be done.
Pegging the Problem
I realised that while I was growing up my mother had a system for doing the laundry that I had more or less followed and the problem wasn’t really the washing as much as the management. She was washing for four people and I am washing for seven usually and that breaks her system. My bottle neck is one of volume. Basically for our family laundry problem beings in the closet and dresser, maybe even the store and certainly in those very kindly and very appreciated boxes and bags of donated clothing from friends and family.
The reality is that I have a problem with my laundry and then I also have a problem with the children’s laundry and they aren’t exactly the same problem.
Once upon a time I was a clothes horse. I love buying clothing, sewing clothing, wearing clothing and I could always find an excuse to spend a little extra on good construction and fine fabrics. In fact some of my clothing from 10 years before would still in good shape. Not because it has been in storage, but because it was quality to start with. I would meticulously care for my nicer things, my silky under things were always hand washed, the dry cleaner was on a first name basis with my skirts if not myself and (despite being a natural slob) I took care of those items because I valued them.
Somewhere between having children and staying home that stopped. I am not completely sure why, but I haven’t really thought about it before today and it makes me sort of sad in a way. It feels sort of like I have given up on that part of myself and I am somehow discomforted by that realisation.
One of the first things I realised that my “fussy” stuff never got washed once I had child number four. When I was working fussy stuff got dropped off at the dry cleaner, but after a bit of time home I realised that my “dry-clean only” bag was actually a dry-cleaned-never bag and out it went. But then the few hand washed things started getting washed less and less too. They just hung around not getting washed. Little stockings and delicate slips sat accusingly silent on the dryer each time I walked into the laundry room wondering why I had given up on them. Oh, I had my reasons, I was too tired, too out of shape, pregnant, nursing, taking care of a small baby who would likely puke on me approximately 54 seconds after I put on something special… so why bother? Socks became a much higher priority.
Maybe since my youngest is two I am starting to think it would be pleasant to wear something other than t-shirts and whatever pants fit this week, or over sized sundresses that hung off my shoulders somewhat resembling a tent. I don’t know but this is an idea I will have to play around with a bit more. It is sufficient to say that, for the moment, my clothing needs some serious rethinking but this evening won’t be the time to do it. It would be nice to be at the point where my clothing is practical for my situation and station in life, but still pleasant and beautiful. I know how to work this problem, this I can tackle, but it will require some inventorying and planning.
Which is basically how I started working on the far larger problem of the children’s clothing. Once I realised that the volume of clothing we own surpasses what we need or can even deal with I had to find a way to cut down. So, being the geek I am, I started researching wardrobe planning for children on the internet. I found some good basic information on wardrobe planning, it reminded me and reinforced what I had learned in my clothing design coarse in highschool, but these weren’t what I really needed. I stumbled on a document that was a clothing list for children of various ages in foster care and then that got me thinking and I spent a little time researching the recommended clothing lists for a few boarding schools. This was mostly to give me an idea of what was sensible for a child to own. Not that I couldn’t come up with it on my own, but looking at what these various institutions recommended gave me a better and more realistic starting point for my own children’s clothing lists which I eventually made out, put into a neat little spread sheet and then went to work de-cluttering the children’s clothing.
What does the typical child really need in the way of clothing? I must admit I really liked the basic, straightforward, practical and simple list of the boarding schools. They acknowledged, some through centuries of use, that children have lives that require a variety of clothing. Church and parties, shopping and museum trips, athletics, art, nature hikes and just lounging around. But they also are places where space for storage is either at a premium or essentially non existent so having too much stuff isn’t an option for anyone. So the list of what is allowed is basically limited to what is actually needed. A few were even specific enough to say that extra clothing would be sent home… they mean business apparently, but I doubt any of their charges didn’t have appropriate clothing for everyday and every activity.
So taking these lists I sat down in front of my spread sheet and thought about what my children do and what they need. We don’t have a uniform per say, but it wouldn’t be hard to say that one shirt = one uniform shirt and a study pair of jeans or slacks serves for uniform slacks. Jumpers and turtle neck sweaters take the place of uniform jumpers and uniform turtle necks and a homey sweater serves for a school uniform sweater quite nicely. Add in ballet leotards, swim suits, and dump the school blazer off the list and before long I was looking at something manageable. For the babies and toddlers I planed on five days of normal wear, a couple extra pair of sleep wear and pretty much followed the same plan.
I got to the end of this, looked at the list a felt a wee bit overwhelmed. It seemed like a lot of stuff. Ten ones-ies for a baby, four short sleeve shirts, 4 long sleeve shirts and so forth. But when I got down the the actual going through the clothing I was shocked. Even being generous and letting an extra t-shirt or two in I was basically halving the clothing the children owned for most things and in some cases I was getting rid of a lot more. Then there were a few things that we didn’t have. Christopher had way too many socks, Josh not enough, this was something I knew but hadn’t taken the time to really sort out because I was too busy digging through a ton of unmatched socks trying to find something close to what I needed.
But dumping so much of the extra made it possible not to just fit everything in the drawers, but to also store the off season things sensibly. When I got one of those sweet people in my life handing down clothing I made myself get rid of something old… and this lasted for a long while then I ended up getting about eight bags and boxes of things within about a month. The structure couldn’t hold up so now I am going through things again and getting us down to the essentials.
On to the laundry room
The system I use for the actual laundry is wonderful for us. It works, it’s simple, it makes sense. First off we invested in the most energy efficient and high capacity washer and dryer we could afford. Not a matching set, because we found that often one item of a set was rated far higher than they other, so they don’t match but after doing the research on the models available to us and within our budget we ended up with what we have. When we bought our first energy efficient washer I noticed a real drop in our electric bill. I think it paid for itself in less than two years.
We have five baskets. Four tall ones and one small one. The tall baskets sort the laundry into whites, light colors, heavy/dark colors and towels. The small basket holds the kitchen towels. This makes it easy to keep the loads sorted and to see what needs washed “right now”. Even the little kids can handle this sort of sorting system.
More on my laundry system