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Embarrassing Confession: What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Erin Zammett Ruddy

There is one mom/wife/human skill I truly suck at. And it haunts/taunts/plagues me night and day. Any guesses?

Embarrassing confession: I am not good at doing laundry. Like really not good. Once when I was in college, my roommate and I realized (three weeks into the new semester) that we were using fabric softener instead of detergent. We were juniors living in an off-campus apartment—no excuse. Since then I have learned to use the right soaps but I haven’t excelled much past that. And as a mother to two messy, sticky children and a wife to a guy who likes to wear fifteen layers when he works out, I have a lot of laundry to do. I don’t really mind the washing so much, it’s the folding and putting away I hate. And the stains. And the missing socks. And anything that says hand wash (really? do I really have to?). And forget about ironing (I do). I also apparently don’t know how to hang pants properly or fold sweaters as Nick (who worked at Banana Republic for a short but influential stint in college) has not-so-kindly pointed out. But the worst part: There are always, always, piles of clothes in our rooms waiting to be put away. Always. Piles. Laundry is a never-ending sisyphean task and it makes me crazy.

Most mornings after I make my bed, I’ll dump the clean laundry baskets on top assuming I will get to put them away at some point during the day (see photo). And then at 11 p.m. when I fall into bed, I gather the clothes up in my arms and move them to our bench or back into the laundry baskets. It’s my process and I’m not proud of it. Laundry is one of the few adult, domestic life skills that I have yet to master. I keep my house neat and clean, I cook healthy, yummy dinners, my kids are bathed and read to, but the laundry remains a mystery to me. My mother was and continues to be a master laundress and, I’m not ashamed to admit, she still bails me out if I have a particularly tricky stain to deal with (I will throw some clothes in a grocery bag and drop them off at her house and miraculously they come back sparkling, smelling clean and folded—score!). My mother loves to do laundry. Seriously. She finds it a challenge and a task that she can accomplish with immediate, satisfying results. I find it the bane of my existence. Nick helps with the laundry too but, while he excels at the folding and hanging, he hasn’t quite grasped the whole separate the colors/right-side-out the shirts/un-ball the socks thing. His way of helping is to throw whatever’s on the laundry room floor into the washer, add some soap and hit start. And so I beg him not to help. Unless he wants to fold and put away, which he will do when we hit a critical mass.

I have been so affected by laundry lately that I decided to write a little story to illustrate my issues, inspired by a kid classic (apologies to Mr. Carle). Here goes:

The Very Large Laundry Pile

In the light of the moon a little shirt lay on my bedroom floor. 

One Sunday morning the warm sun came up and revealed that the shirt had friends: a scattered but very large laundry pile.

I started to tackle the pile, which had some dirty clothes, some clean (the line between them blurring by the day).

On Monday, I washed one load of whites...but the pile was still there.

On Tuesday, I washed two loads of darks...but the pile was still there. 

On Wednesday, I folded and put away three loads of workout clothes…but the pile was still there.

On Thursday, I “hand washed” the sweaters and washed and put away four loads of towels (towels are easy)…but the pile was still there.

On Friday, I stood in Alex and Nora’s rooms for an hour and hung up five loads of their clothes, while bagging up the stuff that no longer fits…but the pile was still there.

On Saturday, I sprayed the stains from one piece of chocolate cake, one grassy knee, one splotch of spaghetti Bolognese, one syrupy pancake, one magic marker and one smear of red glitter.  That night I had a headache!

On Sunday, I put away the last of the kid’s clothes and hung up my (wrinkly, un-ironed) shirts. And after that I felt much better.  I crawled into my cocoon of a bed and dreamt of empty laundry baskets and butterflies. But when I woke up, there were two dirty socks balled up in the corner of the room (not in the basket in the closet, mind you) and so, my nightmare begins again….

Does anyone else have this kind of relationship with laundry? Do you ever feel like there is no possible way you will ever get ahead of it? Do you ever throw out clothes just so you don’t have to wash them? (I have—only the very old or very icky, I swear.) Is there a solution to this insanity or do I just need to grow up and suck it up? Let’s discuss.