Conquer Chaos in the Laundry Room
Systems analysis. So weighty. So professional. So mysterious. Yet nothing can streamline an organized home like a well-crafted set of household systems. Today, we focus on laundry and clothing systems. What do they do? How do you develop them? What benefits will establishing laundry and clothing systems give to you and your family?
Chances are, you already have these systems in place. After all, a system is just a set of organized items, decisions or actions, designed to work together to achieve a common end. In terms of an organized home, a clothing system, for example, would be a set of related decisions, actions or items, designed to work together to supply family members with an adequate supply of clean, well-fitting and appropriate clothes.
However, there are systems, and there are systems. In a disorganized home, systems springs up unassisted. There's no thought or planning underlying them, so they don't work particularly well. Most of the time, the steps of the system are only instituted when things break down: there are no clean clothes, so someone does the wash. Yes, clothing gets clean, eventually--but there's tremendous waste of time, money, resources and family harmony built into haphazard systems.
Does this scenario describe your household's laundry system?
- It is the morning of a family outing with parent's in-laws.
- Child appears at breakfast table in stained, torn clothing.
- Parent orders child to change. Child replies that he has no clean clothes.
- Parent charges up the stairs to child's room. The floor is layered with strata of clean and dirty laundry. Dresser drawers are stuffed with wadded clothes in various states of cleanliness and presentability.
- Parent rummages through piles on floor, scrounges through dresser drawers, and locates a clean (or fairly clean) and presentable outfit.
- Parent orders child to put on substitute outfit. Child complains. Parent raises voice. Child whines. Veins stand out on the parental neck.
- Child complies. The ensemble is not a success. The trousers are the variety known as "high water pants." The T-shirt sports a cracked and peeling cartoon logo. Child rolls eyes and thinks, but does not say, "I told you so!" Parent receives child's message via telepathy. Parent winces but remains silent.
- Co-parent arrives at breakfast table wearing wrinkled shirt from ironing basket and yesterday's trousers. Co-parent's tie does not match either shirt or trousers. Co-parent slips out the door to work over the din of family discord concerning child and child's outfit.
- After breakfast, parent rifles through dryer, searching for presentable ensemble for self for outing. Must run dryer 10 minutes to remove heat-set wrinkles. Having only five minutes for this task, parent dons semi-wrinkled jeans and top. Hopes parents-in-law will forget their eyeglasses today.
- The family is late to the outing. The in-laws, bless them, say nothing. Parent vows to do better . . . until next time.
Yes, this family has a system--but a spontaneous, haphazard one. Clothing is not washed on a regular schedule. Washing routines are interrupted, leaving clothes to sit in washer or dryer acquiring wrinkles and mildew. Clothes are neither consigned to laundry collection points when dirty, nor put in convenient storage once clean. Out-of-season, outgrown or outworn items crowd what storage is available, leaving little or no room to store garments currently in use. New clothing is purchased on an unplanned, impulse basis--and at a higher price than necessary. Because their system is so poorly planned and executed, this family loses time, money and harmony in the daily ritual of getting dressed.
It's these resources of time, money and harmony your family stands to gain when you develop household systems. How do you craft a system to handle your family's clothing needs?
Begin with the goal
A complete clothing system has this goal: the thrifty, efficient, and routine provision of clean, well-fitting and appropriate clothing for each family member each day. In any household systems analysis, give some thought to your own family's goal, and write it down. Beginning with the end in sight is the best way to make sure you arrive there!
Break down the actions
List them all! For your goal, write down each thing that must be done, large or small. Here are the basic tasks, decisions and action for a household laundry system:
- Dirty clothing is delivered to collection points each day
- Dirty clothing is transferred to laundry area from collection points
- Laundry area contains adequate supply of detergent, softener and stain treatments, as well as tools like washer, dryer, iron and ironing board, hangers and hanging area. Supplies are replenished before they are exhausted.
- Dirty clothing is sorted, laundered, dried and folded
- Necessary ironing is done or delegated
- Dry cleaning or professional laundry is delivered and collected each cycle
- Clean clothing is returned to storage areas
- The cycle is repeated on a regular basis
Find the stickingpoints
You know what you want and where you're going--the goal. You've got a handle on what needs to be done to reach that goal--your task list. Now it's time to analyze your system for the breakdowns.
Our example family has several common sticking points in their laundry system. First, there's no clear "collection routine" for dirty laundry. Dirty clothes aren't placed in a hamper or basket, but are left around at random. The family member responsible for laundering the clothing has no set place to find dirty clothes, but must scour the house looking for them.
Second, laundry isn't done on a regular schedule. Instead of washing clothes before it is absolutely necessary, this family plays a brinkmanship game, waiting until the last possible moment to start the laundry cycle. Result: tension, disruption, family disharmony and no clean clothes.
Third, because the cycle isn't started regularly, it becomes a monstrous job, often left unfinished. Pants hung directly from the dryer need no ironing. Pants left to sit in the dryer for three days will require pressing at a minimum, re-washing at worst. By postponing the job, the family's workload mushrooms.
Fourth, the family's clothing storage areas are cluttered and inefficient. Because drawers are jammed, clean clothing ends up on floors and furniture. Clothes are washed more than necessary, wearing them out prematurely--not to mention the wear and tear on the family member who must try to climb the mountain that's formed in the laundry room.
What are your family's roadblocks to an efficient laundry system? Review the necessary tasks and decide what changes will make your own system function smoothly. Will you need to purchase additional laundry baskets or hampers? Has Mt. Washmore erupted in your laundry room, requiring a laundry marathon before you can institute your system? Your own situation will show a mix of new routines and one-time catch-up chores.
Here's an idea of our family's laundry system analysis. It has two parts--the system, organized by time period, and the list of work that will have to be completed to institute the system:
Household Clothing System:
- Family members place all dirty clothing in basket or hamper
- Collect, wash, dry, fold and replace laundered clothing
- Remove clean items in need of mending to mending basket
- Check supply of detergent and laundry products; purchase replacements before the supply is exhausted
- Deliver any dry cleaning or laundered items to cleaners and collect last week's dry cleaning or laundered items
- Scan family calendar for events requiring special clothing
- For those events, check to make sure each family member has appropriate clothing
- Mend contents of mending basket
- Inventory each family member's clothing supply
- Cull clothing storage of worn out, outgrown or out-of-season garments
- List needed items for each family member
- Purchase needed items, on sale
To Catch Up:
- Purchase laundry basket or hamper for each family member
- Cull and organize each family member's clothing storage area, removing outworn, outgrown, and out-of-season clothing.
- Store out-of-season clothing, children's clothing suitable for handing down
- Marathon laundry session, extinguishing laundry mountain
- Hold family meeting to discuss new responsibilities, delegate tasks
Through their analysis, this family has overcome the "day late, dollar short" orientation that characterized their old clothing and laundry systems. Now, to implement the analysis!
Last step: get cracking!
You've set your goal, listed the components of a basic system, performed your analysis and planned your system. Now it's time to get to work. Enter all tasks, recurring or catch-up, in your planner, calendar or home management software.
If these are the bones of a basic family clothing system, remember, the musculature of that system can be shaped to fit any given family's needs. A laundry system for a household with two pre-schoolers and an infant will be vastly more rigorous and time-consuming than one for an empty-nest professional couple.
Growing children can, and should, be given an opportunity to learn these life-skills. Pre-schoolers can be trained to place dirty clothing where it belongs, and can fold and replace socks and towels. Elementary school children can operate the washer and dryer and do basic ironing chores with supervision. Teens can do all of the above, plus mending and more advanced ironing.
Do delegate clothing selection and purchase to your teen! A clothing allowance teaches appearance-oriented teens to budget like no other learning experience. Don't rescue your teen when he blows his seasonal clothes allowance on that shoddy-but-fashionable logo jacket! As he shivers his way through the autumn, he will learn some home truths about value and durability, and do better next quarter.
In the end, establishing a household system--for laundry or any other home task--means embracing a simple but profound truth. Even if you ignore it, work does not go away.
Do any job efficiently and with forethought, and you'll be master of the task. To this end, a laundry system will serve you well, providing clean clothes on a regular basis, without those anguished vigils at the side of the humming dryer.
Ignore this reality, and the task will master you. You'll dance to the tune of your family's laundry needs, running the dryer at 5:30 a.m., or squirming as your children attend events in mismatched or outgrown clothes.
Who will be boss? Time to establish your household's clothing systems and scale the top of Mt. Washmore. Excelsior!