How to Simplify Your Laundry

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“Mom! I’m out of comfy shorts!”

“This is my last pair of underwear!”

“My dinosaur pajamas are dirty!”

These are my signals to do laundry.

I’ve tried those systems where you pick one particular day to do all the laundry, but that’s never really worked for me. (If it works for you, though, awesome!) Inevitably, somebody has a nighttime accident or we use a bunch of towels to sop up a big spill or we’re gone for the weekend and the schedule is thrown off.

I do laundry only when I absolutely have to.

That may not sound very professional-organizer-like but it actually works pretty well for me, and it employs some tried-and-true minimalist and organizational principles. I’d like to share some laundry tips that work for me. Hopefully some of them will help you with that seemingly never-ending task we call laundry…

Have Less Clothes

This seems like it would result in MORE laundry because you would have to wash clothes more often, but the opposite is true. If each person in your house has about enough clothes to get through a week, you will be FORCED to do laundry. (See above dialogue as proof.) And then you will actually do it. You will remember to move it from the washer to the dryer and you will fold it quickly and put it away. Why? Because there’s nothing like knowing that your kids will go to school without pants to motivate you to get your laundry on. When clients tell me they are overwhelmed with laundry, when I see that they have piles of dirty laundry on the floor and baskets of clean unfolded laundry in their bedrooms, my #1 suggestion is always the same: less clothes. 

Reese dinosaur PjsThis “less is more” laundry system is much easier than doing a 48-hour laundry marathon because laundry has built up for a month.  If your family doesn’t have enough clothes to make it to a month, you’ll be forced to do laundry regularly, and it becomes a smaller, more manageable job. (You’re actually doing the same number of loads, just at regular, even intervals instead of all at once.) This also helps you avoid a major pitfall: buying new clothes because it is too overwhelming to wash the dirty ones. This is more common than you might think (especially with socks), and of course, it only exacerbates the problem.

My son Reese is a great example of how a “less clothes” approach makes laundry easier. Last Christmas his Aunt Johanna gave him something that became the surprise #1 knockout present: dinosaur pajamas. Not only are these adorable (see evidence at left), but they are the only pajamas he wears. Even through one of the hottest summers in Ohio history, this kid zipped up the full body coverage dino jammies each night. Having just one pair of pajamas means that when I wash them, I must wash them quickly. He’s old enough that he won’t throw a tantrum without these pjs, but I can see the disappointment in his eyes when he has to sleep in normal human attire.

Have One Totable Laundry Basket Per Person

Old laundry hamper
Looks pretty… but sooooo not functional!

This was a very recent phenomena for me. I used to have one of those nice-looking laundry hampers that separated darks and lights.

This was fine, if I lived in a magazine shoot. It allowed me to discreetly hide my dirty drawers if company peeked into my bedroom. But it created A LOT of extra laundry steps. First, I had to bring a laundry basket up from the basement and decant the dirty clothes into it. Then I lugged the basket downstairs, did the laundry, and brought the clean clothes back up in the basket. After putting the clothes away, I returned the basket to the laundry room so I could do it all over again. While great for my glutes, this was a MAJOR waste of precious energy and time. Laundry hampers should be totable.

I recently switched to two plastic handled baskets for our bedroom: one for darks, one for lights. The great thing is, each of these baskets holds the the rough equivalent of one load of laundry, so when they’re full, I know it’s laundry time.

New laundry hampers
Simpler and more efficient!

I cannot explain how much easier this is. When the basket is full, I take it downstairs, do laundry, and put the clean clothes back in the same basket. Then I take it upstairs, fold, and put away. I always do this on the same day. How do I remember? Because the laundry basket is missing, so I know I have laundry in the system. And I can’t put more dirty clothes into the basket until I fold and put away the clean clothes that are currently there. Checks and balances, folks. It works for the government (well, kinda…) and it can work for you.

Here’s an example of this principle in practice in my daughter’s room. Her laundry basket is light and totable so she can carry her own laundry to the laundry room.Mercedes laundry hamper

Lose the Lid

There’s nothing more enjoyable than flinging a dirty T-shirt into an open-topped laundry hamper. Okay, well, maybe there are a few more enjoyable things in the world… I just won’t mention them here to distract you from the imagined joy of laundry flinging. I don’t know who decided laundry hampers should have lids. Were they afraid the clothes were going to escape? Did they find the sight of dirty laundry in it’s proper receptacle distasteful? I don’t know. What I do know, though, is that putting a lid on a hamper adds another extra step to getting laundry done. And who needs that? How many wives complain that their husbands and/or kids pile dirty clothes right next to the hamper instead of putting it inside? Perhaps the impediment is as simple as a lid that seems too difficult to lift. In any case, if your hampers have lids, I give you full permission to “lose the lid” or just purchase new. Simplify!

Desegregate That Laundry

We’re all different, yet we’re all the same, you know? This holds true for our dirty drawers and towels. The clients I see who struggle with laundry have so many delineations it makes my head spin: darks, lights, jeans, towels, sheets, delicates… yeesh! I’d need a handbook to do their laundry. There is really no problem with washing towels or sheets with your regular clothes. That’s how my mama did it, that’s how I do it, and our clothes are none the worse for it. If you use bleach, then yeah, you’ve gotta separate those whites. (I do, since my husband’s white work shirts benefit from a good bleaching.) And if you buy clothes with special washing instructions, you’ve gotta separate those, too. (I do this, too… man, maybe I need to take my own advice!) But, if doing delicate laundry drives you nuts, an easy solution would be to simply NOT buy clothes that can’t handle regular wash and dry. Simplify that laundry and simplify your life!

Teach Your Kids to Fold and Put Away

I once heard a parenting expert say, “Your job is to make yourself unnecessary.” Ouch. But true. What are we doing as parents if not preparing our kids for the day when they must venture forth on their own?

My kids are seven, and when I have a basket of their clean laundry, I dump it on the living room floor and say, “Time to fold it!” Now, of course, I’m alongside them, helping them stay on task and stepping in when they get stuck–How do I fold shirts again? How do I fold these slippery shorts?–but overall, they do a decent job.

Kids doing laundry
Three kids folding laundry??? This is the stuff mothers dream of…

Reese folding
Let’s zoom in on that action. Aw yeah, proper technique!

Orlando putting clothes away
Orlando insisted that I take a picture of him putting the folded laundry away. No mom’s gonna deny that request.

And then they put their laundry away. Like 7-year-olds.

Orlando drawer
Yep, looks like a 7-year-old did this. And he did! Which is great!

Reese drawer
Another 7-year-old drawer… we’re making progress!

I think that’s something we need to realize when we turn chores over to our kids–kids do chores like kids. My children can’t fold or put away clothing as neatly as I can, and that’s normal. Sure, I could do it for them, which would definitely be faster, but what does that teach them? I can only imagine their college dorm rooms if I never taught them to fold and put away clothes…. in fact, I think I’ve been in a few dorm rooms like that! (And hey, I may eat my words someday when my kids dorm rooms resemble a nuclear explosion but at least I’ll know I tried!)

If the idea of having your kids fold their own laundry seems daunting, maybe start with one small step–matching socks or stacking underwear. Slowly, you can add on responsibility. Quick tip: I found that teaching my boys to “karate chop” their clothes to create folds significantly upped the fun factor (and the neatness, too–bonus!).

I hope I’ve inspired you to simplify your laundry routine. I’d love to hear any reader tips on how you make this universal chore easier at your house! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some laundry to fold…

PS Ready to start simplifying your home but not sure where to start? Grab my FREE Simplicity Starter Guide and let’s get going!

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