In which our heroine gets the laundry under control for the first time in ten years.
I remember when I had just two children and they each went to bed very early in the evening, and each had an independent playtime and naptime during the day, and my laundry “room” (a closet, actually) was on the second floor right next to our bedrooms. And I would get up in the morning and start a load of laundry immediately, then throughout the rest of the day work on drying, folding, and putting it away. And that’s all that was necessary to keep up with laundry.
Then I fell pregnant with my third, and for some reason everything fell apart. 2013 is the last time I remember being caught up on laundry.
Things have just been complicated. There’s a lot more people with a lot more laundry, and just one washer/dryer at the Ham House (Jeremy recently set me up an extra washer on the carport.) Having to trek over to another building shouldn’t have been the mental obstacle that it was, but for some reason the prospect of juggling an infant, a basket overflowing with laundry, and (usually) a toddler with a Ruth complex* would just be overwhelming enough for me to push the task off as long as possible.
Then there was the sheer amount of time necessary for folding and sorting the clothes so that they could be put away. (Now, I know some large families avoid this by not folding their clothes, which isn’t a bad solution except we have always used lockers instead of dressers for the boys’ clothes. With lockers, if the clothes are not folded they will just all fall out–ALL of them–when the locker door is opened. Folding also seriously minimized the girls going into their dresser drawers and having to dig for one particular thing, throwing all the un-particular things around in the process.)
Sorting the clothes, however, was what took the largest amount of time. I actually did not know this was the case until after we implemented our new system which I will eventually describe.
Even if we could skip folding clothes, the clothes still had to be sorted. They had to be sorted by child and, really, if you wanted to avoid a bigger mess later, they had to be sorted by type, too. Doing a load of the boys’ clothes meant having to sort piles for each boy, then for each kind of clothing for each boy (depending on what time of day it was they would help with this) and with five boys, this could be very time consuming. Specifically since a lot of clothing matched (it seemed like a good idea at the time) so maybe you were holding Anselm’s shirt but maybe you were holding Clive’s, and you couldn’t know until you looked at the size of the shirt to know whose it was.
Looking at clothing tags probably accounted for 75% of the time I spent folding clothes. And since this huge task seemed to take place while the babies/toddlers were napping, I couldn’t ever get in their rooms to put the clothes away once they had been folded and sorted!
Then, If clothes were folded but not sorted, the sorting/looking at tags process still had to happen and usually caused a lot of accidental unfolding/necessary refolding so that they might as well not have been folded to begin with.
(Also, if this sorting task were left to the clothing owners without any kind of supervision, one day a big kid would emerge from his room wearing what were clearly little-kid clothes, and when you questioned him about it, he would respond, “But they were in my locker!” No, sorting was something that required my attention.)
But all of that is past! (It took a bit, but we did eventually get to this part.)
I don’t remember how exactly this plan came about. I think I was looking at cube storage online for the boys as they had outgrown the space the lockers could offer. Jeremy saw what I was planning on buying and said, in his classic way, “I can build that.”
So we made a plan for a full wall of shelves. One area for book storage/a desk, then six columns for clothes. One for each boy, and then one extra in case we ever have another son. (Also I took this opportunity to repaint the boys room, because I was tired of blue.)
The idea was to have several smaller shelves, then a tall space towards the bottom of each column for a hamper. I didn’t really put a lot of thought into this. It just seemed like it was a good idea for each child to have their own hamper. Then they could do their own laundry (if they were old enough.)
Since there is a sixth hamper but not a sixth boy, I use that one for bedding.
That’s it. When a hamper gets fullish, then it gets washed. It’s easy to see who needs laundry done and who doesn’t. And only people who need it get things washed.
I mentioned before that I didn’t realize how much of the laundry process was dedicated to sorting the clothes while folding, nor how time consuming that process was. I didn’t realize it until I first washed what was in Aurick’s hamper. Just Aurick’s clothes. Once it was dry, I brought it back to the house (in the hamper) and prepared to fold it and put it away.
The plan was to have baskets/crates on the shelves to hide the clothes for aesthetic purposes, but we hadn’t been able to source any yet, so the shelves were still open. All I had to do was take an article of clean clothing from the hamper, fold it, and stick it on the shelf where it belonged.
No piles. No sorting. No carrying piles of sorted laundry places. Just…fold and put away.
It took me three minutes to fold and put away that hamper of toddler clothes. I watched the clock! Three minutes!
Now, I would say that my problems with laundry were one part logistical difficulties, one part time-related difficulties, and one part mental block because of the known logistical and time difficulties. All of those parts were done away with after just…giving each boy their own hamper and not mixing their clothes in the laundry.
So of course we had to give the girls the same treatment.
The girls had an extra set of problems. Their very small dresser no longer fit the clothes they owned, but I hadn’t found a good replacement. As a solution, they had a basket of clean laundry (sometimes folded, sometimes not) perpetually sitting in their room. Usually I was the only person who knew the contents of said basket, so I was always needed to help find things.
There also wasn’t any room in the dresser for Flannery’s clothes, so she was still using my old nightstand for clothing storage (her things didn’t fit in there, either.)
The girls’ room is much smaller than the boys, and doesn’t have an available windowless wall like they did, so we improvised and worked around the window. We made four columns: One for each girl, plus one extra in case we ever have another girl. Like in the boys’ room, I use the extra hamper for bedding that needs washing.
Even though the girls had outgrown their dresser, they really don’t have an excessive amount of clothing. Each girl uses two of the four shelves above her hamper. The extra shelves have stuffed animals, blankets, and toys on them. I put baskets on the floor to hold underwear and pajamas. (Flannery’s basket has her diapers/wipes.) So not only is their laundry now totally manageable, they no longer have permanent laundry basket fixtures taking up space in their already-small room.
As I write this, it’s been three months since we built the boys’ shelves and about two months since we built the girls’. In that time, there has been no pile up of children’s laundry. Everything gets washed, dried, and put away quickly and easily.
Today I snuck into the boys’ room while Aurick was napping to fold and put away his clean clothes. I didn’t mind sneaking in because I knew it would only take me a short time (just a minute and a half–I timed it) and I wasn’t having to open and shut metal lockers, which would have awakened him for sure. I’m leaving the shelves open as it’s easier to put things away without having to pull out a basket or crate. And I’m currently thinking about how I can put this system into our room as well.
*where you go let me go, where you stay let me stay, etc.