Who but another post-partum mom could believe that I had a meltdown over doing laundry? I literally fell into a weeping puddle of self-pity, certain that I’d never get caught up. Nursing a newborn day and night, tending a toddler and a preschooler, homeschooling the older two, cooking, cleaning, laundry, church ministry, not to mention being a wife to my husband—it was just too much.
Our boys were 9, 7, 4, 2, and 3 months. I was 38½ years old, going on 80. We had made it through Christmas and were trying to get back into the routine of homeschooling, but I just couldn’t seem to manage. I went to bed tired. I got up tired. Clearly, I needed more help than my vitamin bottle offered. I wasn’t bouncing back as I had from my other pregnancies.
Something had to change. All I could think of was how to escape. Sobbing, I offered my husband two options: hiring a housekeeper or letting me run away from home. To his credit, he didn’t laugh at me. But we both knew that the first wasn’t in the budget and the second obviously wasn’t an option either.
Bless him, he heard me out and hugged me until the tears subsided—exactly what I needed. Then we talked it over and he helped me identify precisely which straw was about to break this mama’s back—the laundry. I decided that if I had help with the laundry, I might stay home and raise his children after all. At his suggestion, I offered the task of doing the family laundry as a paying job to one of our sons.
Our second son was eager for some extra pocket change. I had my doubts about whether this ambitious 7½-year-old could really handle the mountain of laundry our family of seven generated. After all, the weekly pile covered an area the size of two bathtubs and came up to his waist, and this didn’t include the towels or sheets.
But after a bit of training, he cheerfully gathered, sorted, treated, washed, dried, and folded the laundry for the princely sum of $5 each week. He continued doing the family laundry (all except my personal items) for three months until I was back on my feet emotionally and physically. It was the best $60 we ever spent. And I eventually did get a handle on the laundry. Here are some ideas that worked for us.
START FRESH. We all know that each load of clothes has to be sorted twice—once by fabric and color when it goes into the washer, and again when it comes out of the dryer to determine ownership. The toughest items to sort are underwear and socks, especially if you have several same gender children who are close in age.
To save time when sorting clean laundry, I bought each boy a different brand of underwear—a two-week supply to give me a little margin if the laundry didn’t get done every week. It was easy to sort when all the size 10’s were Hanes, the size 8’s were Fruit of the Looms, the size 6’s were Penney’s, and the size 4’s were Mickey Mouse: all I had to check was the color of the waistband to know whose pile they went in. As a boy grew into the next size, he inherited a new brand. Even though the size tags had long since vanished, the waistband colors remained. So whether I did the sorting or called the boys in to claim their own undies, it was an easy task.
Likewise, each boy had a different type of socks. One had socks with two stripes, another with three stripes, another with no stripes, and another with gray feet, making sorting a breeze. This system guaranteed that each son could have no more than one unmatched sock coming out of the drier. When every sock they owned was the same color and style there was no longer an inventory of orphans in the dresser drawer awaiting a grand reunion each laundry day.
What about girls who wear outfit-matching colors? My mother had a clever way that worked for the socks in her two-daughter household. She would put one dot of red nail polish on the sole of my socks and two dots on my sister’s. As my sister grew into my socks, Mother would add a dot to them so she continued to have two-dot socks until I moved out of the house. I considered the same option with the boys, but they wouldn’t hear of having nail polish on their socks. Maybe I should have offered permanent marker instead.
It does take some courage to give away perfectly good underwear and socks to start a new system. And if sorting isn’t a challenge in your family, don’t change what you’re doing. A friend, who has eight children still at home, does laundry every day so it doesn’t pile up. She washes the laundry from one bedroom each day so the sorting is only for 1-3 children in a load. She places the folded stacks on her bed so the children must pick up their clean clothes before she can go to sleep that night. Ask God to help you find a system that works for you.
SIMPLIFY SORTING. Place three hampers in each bedroom closet, including your own: one is for whites, one for colors, and one for darks. I like to use tall hampers or tall kitchen wastebaskets because they hold lots of clothes, especially as the children grow into larger sizes. You could use boxes or laundry bags hung on the back of the door if floor space is a challenge.
Teach your children to undress in front of the hampers, placing their dirty clothes in as they change clothes. This keeps clothes off the floor and it teaches them to sort by color at an early age. Hint: My boys were more inclined to use their hampers if we left the lids off—they made a game of shooting baskets with their rolled up socks.
When you are ready to throw in a white load, have each child aged ten and under bring his white load into the laundry room for you to add to the family laundry. If you have an eleven-year-old, he is in training and assists you all year until he absolutely knows everything you know about doing laundry. When he turns twelve, he does his own laundry: he is working you out of a job. Eventually you are only doing laundry for yourself and your husband. This frees you to drive your young teens to their various meetings, lessons, and jobs. And it teaches your children to take care of their own clothes.
As I look back, my Laundry Day Meltdown seems a little dramatic. But it contained the seeds of reformation. I learned to look at my routine tasks in new and creative ways to free up my time for those most important to me.
Often our greatest fruit is harvested from times of tearful frustration. Our tears water the seeds for the new crop the Lord is planting in the garden of our hearts. He uses irritations and aggravations to draw us close to Himself for comfort, just as my husband comforted me on that dark day in the laundry room. And then He instructs us in the way we should go. Remember: He cares about every little thing in your life—even matchmaking lonely socks.
©2017 by Marcia K. Washburn who homeschooled for nineteen years. Excerpted from the entire article found here: MarciaWashburn.com. For more home management tips, check out Managing Your Home from Marcia’s Management for Moms series available at MarciaWashburn.com. Follow her at https://www.facebook.com/MarciaKWashburn for conversations about homeschooling, parenting, music, and eldercare. Request your free copy of Mommy Tips at Marcia@MarciaWashburn.com.