September 19, 2011

Lighten the Load

Welcome to the first of what I hope to be a weekly series, in which we can share tips, techniques, experiences, advice, and wisdom. Where we can come to inspire, be inspired, and support one another. Please feel free to share with us! This will be a safe, non-judging environment with no right or wrong answers.


For this week’s installment, I’m going to share some things I’ve found that work for my family in this season of life on how to keep Mt. St. Laundry under some semblance of control, as opposed to it controlling me.

Let me first share my family with you: We are a family of 5. BB works full-time in the corporate world, and enjoys wood working and “tinkering” in his free time. I’ve a 5-year-old son, and two daughters 3 ½ and 18 months. We also have 2 cats, but they don’t wear clothes, and so don’t contribute too much to this installment. I grew up in a family of 7 with both of my parents working full-time outside the house. I hope this helps you understand where I’m coming from in my tips below:

  • Create a Routine: However it works for you, find one and stick with it until it no longer works. Mine is a designated laundry slot on my calendar. Yup, I schedule doing laundry. Since it is a fact of life, like eating, it needs special treatment. I have a designated day for that being the “chore” on which I focus. I don’t ignore the other things around the house and in the family, but that is the primary focus for the day. This works in general. I realize that I have kids who don’t stay dry overnight, who still take cups of milk to bed with them, and who aren’t quite in tune with getting to a bathroom when they’re sick. For the most part, though, I can make it with once a week laundry sessions. In part because we have enough clothing items to allow for that, and also in part because I’m at home full-time, and can spend a half or full day in the process.
  • Ordered Chaos: Each of our bedrooms has a laundry basket in the closet for dirty clothes. This means that only what is in the basket gets laundered. It teaches the kids responsibility and respect. It keeps things off the floor, and gives them a sense of ownership in the process, making them more willing to pitch in. It also provides me a place to sort and store the laundry on laundry day. I can sort all the clothing in my chosen way: jeans/trousers, colors, whites, sheets/towels, and diapers (which stay in their pail until they get put in the machine). I can carry the basket to the laundry room, while the other baskets live in our upstairs hall until their turn. I don’t get overwhelmed, I don’t lose items on the way to the washer, and it insures that it gets done!
  • Conscript the Troops: Your family members create the dirty clothes, therefore, they need to assist in getting them clean again. Have your kids help with age-appropriate tasks – sorting the dirty clothes, putting the dirty clothes in the machine, getting the wet stuff into the dryer, matching socks, putting their clean items away, folding, carrying baskets etc. This includes your husband helping!

The above tips help with making it easier, but not really lessening the work. Below are some ways I can do less laundry:

  • Respect the Garment: treat stains as soon as you can. Check for loose buttons, pulled threads etc, and fix them ASAP prior to laundering the item. Fixing that button or clipping that thread could save that item completely as well as extend the life of your machines. Nothing to get tangled or snagged or jammed!
  • Re-use Towels: I know some of you don’t agree with this, but in general, unless you’re sick, injured, or cleaned up something unsanitary, you can hang your towels (dish and bath) to dry and re-use them again. We use our bath towels for a week unless some bodily fluid has gotten on it. Think about it – you just took a shower, or used soap to bathe your kids. There is no dirt, oil, or germs on that towel. Just make sure you’ve got ample towel bar space or hooks, and that they can hang to dry completely between uses. Unless you live somewhere really humid, aim for one week of use! Dish towels get tossed into the dirty laundry every few days, unless I’ve cleaned up raw meat juice with it. I have a separate cloth for wiping Littlest One’s hands and face from that used to wipe the table or counters. I only buy white so they can be washed in hot water and bleached.
  • Put it Back: If you just got home from the office and you know you’ll be doing something like painting a room, or mowing the grass, you change first right? Well, unless you spilled or have a “dirty job”, you can probably hang those trouser up in your closet and wear them again another day. Same with that blouse you wore for 2 hours at Church! I personally re-wear items other than socks and undies up to 3 times, unless I’ve spilled or been really sweaty. Teach your kids to do this. It will save the amount of clothing in that basket, and it makes the clothes last longer. This applies to those items you layer too! That cardigan you had on over that shirt? Unless somebody snotted on you, or you spilled, is NOT dirty.
  • Event Specific Items: If you know you’re going to change the oil, you’re not likely to wear an expensive or “nice” pair of pants and shirt. You’ve most likely got those loved, stained items that you use for painting, or gardening, or working out. You also probably have items that are specifically for going out. I know I have a different set of things I wear to Church or for errands, than I do for the days I’m hanging out at home “just” being a Mom. If an event only takes part of the day – say the morning I go to Bible Study, or the few hours of Church Services – I know that I’m coming home and will change out of those clothes into something else. The stuff I just wore? Unless I spilled on it, or got something from the kids on it, it goes back into the closet to be worn again.

Now let’s look at some cost-saving ideas:

  • Cold Water: how does this save money? First, it saves your garments from stress of hot water, making them last longer, which means less trips to the store (less gas, less impulse shopping) to replace them. Second, it saves on your utility bill because you’re not using water that has to be heated by electricity or gas.
  • Line Dry: this also saves wear and tear on your items – that heat in the dryer can literally fry your clothes right into the rag-pile! You can avoid shrinking that favorite sweater or your husband’s college t-shirt that he’s had since his Freshman year. It also saves money because you’re not running the dryer, which, in some cases, means you’ll run your cooling system less! Even the most well-vented dryer will emit heat into the room, making your home warmer. In the winter, this is GREAT – in the summer heat? Not so much! Weather you have fans, window units, or central A/C, if you can avoid heating up the interior, you save money when you don’t have to cool it as much! This also helps in that you’re less likely to have to iron items, which saves electricity, time, and wear and tear on your clothes.
  • Use Less: Whether it’s detergent, water, or softener, any time you can use less, it will usually result in more money in your bank account. Check your machine for load-size and duration. How to know if you’re using too much soap? Toss a load in without any, and check the machine during the “wash” or agitate cycle. If you see any suds, your clothes aren’t getting fully rinsed. Cut back by 1/3 to ½ the amount you normally use, and see what happens! I personally use homemade detergent that costs pennies on the dollar compared to others. I don’t add any perfumes, and obviously there are no dyes. I create less waste (no plastic jugs) and storage is easy! It works GREAT – better than most name-brands in fact.

I hope this helps, and I know it’s a not a surefire way of suddenly NOT having laundry, or even cutting it in half, but if you can take a few small tips away that make you feel better about the act of laundry, well, that’s a bonus! Please, take some time to share your tips, techniques, go-to answers for stain removers (I always wonder if club soda will really work on that stain!) etc.

And, now, without further ado, here is the recipe I use for my homemade laundry detergent:

1/3 bar of Fels Naptha brand soap (found in the laundry/cleaning supplies aisle)

½ C Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda (NOT baking soda!)

½ C Borax 20 Mule Team Cleaning Powder


2 Gallon (minimum size) container for storage

Grate the Fels Naptha into a large saucepan, and add 6 cups of water. Place on low heat until soap is melted.

Add the washing soda and borax powder and stir until dissolved.

Place 4 C hot water in your bucket, add your soap mixture and stir well.

To the bucket, add 1 gallon PLUS another 6 Cups of water and stir well. Cover and make sure the lid is sealed.

Let it sit 24 hours before first use to allow the soap to gel somewhat.

Use ½ C per load, more for heavily soiled items, and less for lightly soiled items. This is a low-suds soap, so don’t look for lots of foam. You can add ½ to 1 oz of essential oil if you want scent.

I use this on Littlest One's diapers, ½ C per load, on hot water. I sometimes do an extra warm water rinse to insure all the soap is out, but it seems to rinse well!


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