After I wrote the series on Mega Food Planning, Shopping and Prep, a friend wrote me to suggest a post on laundry. Laundry is not and has never been my nemesis, therefore I’m not sure this will be helpful. But I’ll give it my best shot!
Years ago I read a description (click here) of what laundry day would be like in the “olden days”. Never again did I feel sorry for myself with the laundry job. What a boatload of work that was.
Success with laundry in the mega family begins with prevention. I think this is probably true no matter what the size of the family. But the effects are definitely more pronounced in the mega family.
Get rid of clothing that you do not need. Get rid of bedding that is not needed. Sometimes with excess, comes laziness or just a harder job managing the resulting chaos. Seriously, for a kid, five outfits is enough. Add in a couple of sets of “I don’t care how filthy my child gets in these” play clothes and a couple of nice outfits and that should hold you. Since I do laundry frequently, two or three sets of PJs is enough. If all the kids have twin beds, how many duplicate sets of sheets do you NEED? Not one extra set per bed. How likely is it that all the beds will need to be changed at a particular time and you won’t be able to leave a bed bare for the 2 hours it takes to do a load of wash? How many extra towels do you really need? Do you NEED to change your towel after every shower? Could you change it every other day? It is used to dry a CLEAN body after all. I do realize that if you live in a place with high humidity, you may have to change towels more frequently, as they may not dry fully between uses.
Do laundry every day. (This is the big family guideline. When my family was smaller, I did laundry M-W-F; when it was just the two of us, it was once a week.) The only day that is always “off” for me is Sunday. Sometimes we are out all day on another day and it doesn’t get done; then I play “catch-up” by doing double laundry the next day.
Clothes do not automatically need washing just because they have been worn — particularly for someone who works in an office or who happens to be especially neat. Consider the “smell” test plus the visual inspection, and rehang the garment if it passes. 🙂 The clothes worn by active boys, and mothers of young babies, almost always need washing after each wearing.
Supervise the dressing of children. By this I mean, check up on them. Make sure they aren’t needlessly changing clothes multiple times per day. Make sure they don’t leave clothes in inappropriate places. Clean clothes have a place (dressers/closet), and dirty clothes have a place (hamper). If clothes are left on the floor (not an appropriate place), it’s harder to tell what is clean and what is dirty, and I inevitably end up rewashing clean clothes.
Bed wetters. I currently have, and have in the past had, bed wetters. I’ve had days of washing many sets of bedclothes. I’ve come to the conclusion that it is more cost-effective to buy pull ups/diapers than to wash bed clothes daily. 🙂 Not just in terms of $$ but in hassle, time and gross factor.
Up until the time I had my 4th child, I did not have a washer/dryer. We lived in apartments, and I used the laundry facilities in our apartment complex. The downside of that is that you have to go somewhere to wash your clothes, and hope they are undisturbed until you return for them (or you have to sit there waiting — not very practical when you have three kids under the age of 4.) The upside is that, if you time it right (6 AM always worked for me), you can use all the machines available, and get the whole job knocked out in less than two hours.
Enlist the help of your kids… especially the littlest ones who are so eager to help mama.
Here’s what I currently do:
My youngest helper (Stephen) is responsible for bringing all the hampers of dirty clothes from the bedrooms into the laundry room each day. I also have a hamper in the laundry room for miscellaneous items than need washing. I aim to make it convenient to put dirty clothes where they belong. Also in my laundry room is a bucket for wet laundry. Things like dish cloths, pre-treated items, etc. I try to hang these along the edges of the bucket until they are dry so that they don’t get sour.
I spot treat any stains with Fels-Naptha bar soap that has been softened in water. Best stain treatment ever.
I sort the laundry three ways. And I sort, not the kids, though sometimes I have them help me. I’ve had episodes of pink boy underwear due to child-sorted laundry. It’s not something I enjoyed.
Hot/white – undies, socks, towels, etc
If there are items that are particularly filthy, I give them their own load.
I sort darks directly into the washer. The other two loads are sorted into hampers. Any empty hampers are returned to their homes promptly. I start the darks load right away. When it’s done, I hang it out on the line if it is a nice day or put it in the dryer on rainy days. My reasoning for starting the darks load first is that these clothes are the thickest and take the longest time to dry. This gives me the best chance of actually letting the sun do the job of drying all my clothes. I don’t have a set way of determining which load goes into the washing machine next. Whatever seems the most needful at the moment, I guess.
If the weather permits, I will hang all loads of laundry out on the line. I actually love hanging out laundry. It’s quiet and peaceful. I usually bring one of the younger kids out with me (to reduce the “mom is out of the house” chaos). We have a bit of one-on-one time. I take this time to check over the clothing for rips, holes or stains I may have missed. If the clothes look ratty, I don’t hang them, I just throw them in the trash or repurpose them.
I hang all of Don’s button-up shirts on a tension rod in my laundry room regardless of whether the rest of the wash is hung out or not. This way, wrinkles are kept to a minimum, and I have less ironing to do. (I HATE IRONING!!!) [One of these days, Don will figure out how to iron his own shirts. –ed.] I also try to buy clothes that are easy-care, to reduce the need for special laundry handling/ironing.
I often enlist the smaller kids’ help in switching loads. They are shorter, and it’s easier for them to reach deep into the front-loader than it is for me. I am there with them making sure to pull aside any items that are “hang-dry” if the rest of the load is headed for the dryer.
If I am going to be away from the house all day, I’ll try to start my washing the night before. I use the delayed start feature so that the wash is finished just at the time I’m getting up. I’ll switch the wash and put in a second load again on the time delay so it is ready for me when I expect to be home. That way, I do not get so far behind. I also plan the loads that have the longest wash times for the time when I will not be available to switch loads, so that when I’m home to finish later, the process can be completed in the shortest amount of time.
After all the loads of laundry are dry (and sometimes I start this before it is all done), I sort the clean laundry into piles for the kids. Everyone folds their own clothes, with the exception of Stephen and Landen. I fold their stuff and then they help me put it away. They are starting to learn to fold their own clothes, so it won’t be too long until I pass that job to them. I will have to continue to “inspect what I expect“. I put away all of my own and Don’s clothes. In addition to his own clothes, James folds all the undies and matches all the socks. He puts these away in the appropriate drawers. He also folds sheets/blankets and folds/hangs bath towels. Noah folds all hand towels, dish towels, wash cloths and napkins (yes, we use cloth napkins). When I call out that laundry is ready to be folded and put away, I expect everyone to show up and do the job. It doesn’t usually take more than 30-ish minutes to have it all finished. I like to have it done before dinner, but sometimes that doesn’t happen, and we fold after dinner, or it waits until the next morning.
I almost never forget a load of wash in the machines. Yet, I’ve read enough and talked to enough women to know that this is a common problem. I’m not sure why I don’t have trouble with this. It’s not because I can always hear the “I’m done” chime on my machine, because I can’t. but usually something in my brain clicks and I just know I need to go switch. I have had some seasons of my life that are overwhelmingly busy (just after a baby is born, for example) when I had more trouble remembering to switch the laundry and have had to rewash. When this happens, I use timers to remind myself until I get get back in the groove, or life gets less busy. Timers are my friend… on my phone, the range, the microwave. I’m a big fan of timers. I often need the auditory cues that it’s time to do something.
Cloth diapers. I used cloth diapers with almost all of my kids. That did add to the laundry load! Especially when I had three in diapers! Diapers, I found, had to be on a schedule all their own. The rate of usage was too varied. I liked to start a load soaking at night. Then in the morning, I’d drain the soak water and wash long and hot. Then on the line they went for some sanitizing sunlight.
Bedding. The best way I’ve found to deal with this, is to give each bedroom a “day”. No bedding on Monday. That’s already a double laundry day since I don’t do washing on Sunday. Tuesday, master bedroom, Wednesday, girls room, Thursday, boy bedroom 1, Friday, boy bedroom 2. Or, just wash the bedding when it is dirty and insert with the regular wash days.
I have tried the “make your own laundry soap” recipes that float around the internet. I tried. Really I did. It is definitely cheaper per load to use the homemade stuff. But, it doesn’t work. I gave it a six-month try. The clothes looked dingy. There was an “unfresh” smell to them that was nasty to me (I am sensitive to smells. I hate perfumes, but clean has a good smell and it’s not the scent of the laundry detergent since I only used unscented.) I found myself rewashing loads of laundry on the “sanitary” setting just to get rid of the smell. The clothes felt different too. Stiffer. Like the detergent clung to the clothing.
I’ve heard rave reviews from so many people that I know. Best I can figure it is we have HARD water and the commercial detergents account for that with added water softeners (which the homemade detergent does not have),. Maybe their water is softened or naturally soft. Also, I have BOYS. Lots of boys. Lots of dirt. Filth. Grime. Perhaps the children of those who find success with homemade detergent don’t get as dirty as mine. Or maybe it’s because they don’t live in the country surrounded by dirt and animal grime. Who knows? I just felt like I should put it out there. It did not work for me. Yes it’s “cheaper” at first glance, and I’m all about saving money. But it does not end up cheaper if you have to double-wash all the clothes. It takes twice as long, twice as much power and water. Not cost-effective at all; and most importantly, it wastes my time. I have concluded that, for me, the best solution is to stock up on the fragrance-free laundry detergent sold by Costco whenever they offer a coupon special.
So, what do you do if you are so far behind that you are despairing of ever getting caught up? When you are not able to see the top of Mt Washmore? When Mt Never-rest is completely un-climb-able? Set a goal of doing a little bit every day. Instead of the “maintenance” level number of loads, do one more. Make sure to discipline yourself to get it ALL put away. Get the kids to help. They are able. It will take training, but you want them to learn anyway. It will help them in adulthood to have developed the disciplines of tidiness, routine, daily chores. As you process the loads of laundry, ask yourself if any of this is excess. Can it leave? Throw away anything that is ratty and not worth passing along. Fill bags with the remaining unnecessary items. Put it in your vehicle to donate the next time you are driving past a thrift shop that accepts donations, or offer it to a friend who has kids of similar age/gender. Or offer it on Facebook on a swap/sale group.You will not be sorry if you have less. Trust me. So much easier to manage.
Don’t let the kids get away with being slobs. Make sure they put their dirty clothes in the designated spot for dirty laundry. Make sure their clean items remain in their drawers. Don’t let them needlessly change clothes. Try to teach them to be neat when possible. And, under what circumstances it is acceptable to be messy. (They are kids after all and kids do make messes. What I’m really talking about it carelessness that leads to needless mess. Stuff that is totally preventable.)
An alternative to this slow faithfulness to dig out from the pile of laundry is to take it all to a laundromat and get it all cleaned. The advantage of this is that it is done and you can make a fresh start. The disadvantage is, it is a huge task and can be difficult to sort through that much wash all at once to get it all folded and put away. It will also not work to reprogram your brain to the daily task of laundry which is the key to keeping caught up.
I hope this helps someone. I’d love to hear comments from others. What works for you? What tips can you share of making this job simpler? I’m always eager to learn something new.