Lazy laundress’ towel tip: color saves time

This is an idea so simple as to be almost silly, but I find it helpful every week when doing laundry, so I’ll share it with the world. Note that this is a tip for the lazier housekeeper. Martha Stewart and my mother don’t need it!

Growing up, we had sets of carefully selected towels stacked in each bathroom. In the blue bathroom, Mom alternated blue and white towels, whereas peach and green were to be had in the master bathroom to match my parents’ bedroom color scheme.

When I was about to be married and we were registering for household linens, an idea occurred to me. I thought it would solve a problem that came up after laundry day in my single girl’s apartment where I was making do with a few mismatched towels received as high school graduation gifts.

Being The World’s Least Interested Housekeeper, I would usually wash my clothes and get them dried, then leave them rumpled* in the basket for days (or forever) as opposed to putting them neatly away. Hurrying to get ready in the morning, I would reach into the towel basket for a bath sheet only to pull out a washcloth or hand towel in the same color.

With visions in my affianced head of a gigantic jumbled basket stuffed with a household’s complete set of matching towels, I devised this solution. I chose colors to go with the pink floral tile in our marital home’s dated, 100 year old bathroom:

  • Face cloths in green,
  • Hand towels in pink,
  • Bath towels in white.

towels in laundry basket - 1You’ve never been in my bathroom, but I bet you could find the body towel in an instant without digging through this basket of clean laundry.

A related tip I really did get from Martha Stewart is the wisdom of selecting darker toned washcloths. I rarely wear makeup, but the idea that these little workhorses might be stained by cosmetics or plain old dirt as our family grew made a lot of sense. My darkest towels are and always will be the washcloths.

Pink for the hand towels was a matter of attempting to match an element I couldn’t change in the old bathroom. As the hand towels wore out, I moved to light grey for that room, and we’re still using some of each color in the bathrooms at our new house.

White for bath towels was the simplest decision of all. I will never tire of the look of fluffy white towels. I dreamed of renovating our really quite terribly decrepit first bathroom, and knew I wouldn’t need new towels to go with it when I did** if I stuck with white.

Though I rarely use chlorine bleach in our laundry, it is reassuring to know that it is an option with white towels when one ponders infectious skin conditions or other communicable horrors of the sort children unwittingly bring home. There can be blood, too, with growing kids, but I’d rather we didn’t talk about that.

Another nice feature of white towels is their constant availability at Costco at a value price geared toward hospitality industry buyers. The old white towels go perfectly with any new ones I add as the collection ages.

When I reach into the large basket of freshly laundered toweling after my most hurried shower, I grab something white, and it is the suitable object for drying my body. When a kid needs a washcloth for a skinned knee, he knows to grab the old green ones or the grey stripes we added when we moved into a house with a second bathroom to stock.

This works really well if you live out of your laundry baskets, even just sometimes.

Way back when we were married, I kept my original college towels (and some of DH’s mismatched collection from his hovel apartment) folded as sets for visiting guests who might be uncomfortable with a towel not visibly distinguished from those of the household. I had learned by that stage in life that some families see towels as personal linens, as intimate as one’s own clothing, where others buy towels as needed in a jubilant blend of colors and styles and pick through the commotion in a common linen closet.

Color-coded toweling isn’t for everyone. My mother doesn’t even understand what I mean about “the towels that aren’t folded yet, still sitting in a basket the next morning.” Somehow, I suspect the reader recognizes immediately whether my system might offer time savings for him or her.

Those of us who routinely dry and dress ourselves out of laundry baskets know who we are.

*I do fold actual clothing, most of the time, but it can be selective folding. Towels and underwear fulfill their functions equally well when wrinkled; outer garments do not! I’m fairly careful to fold/hang items that I might otherwise need to iron to make them presentable.

**I never did! We remodeled the kitchen, but moved before we got to the bathroom.

Mending: sustainability, minimalism, and one likely repercussion

Recently, I’ve been enjoying a few interesting blogs, including one by a young woman who writes primarily about minimalism in her wardrobe, and another that tends to focus more on sustainability in overall lifestyle and particularly her finances (though she blogs on many topics.)

I found myself musing about a less than obvious relationship between these two sets of writing as I was ensconced on the couch the past few evenings working on a necessary repair project. If your lifestyle and values dictate buying fewer items of better quality, you are going to have to learn how to mend (or employ someone to do it for you.)

linen-duvet-mending-1.jpg

Linen is strong, but brittle when dry. Here’s what can happen in the dryer when someone else launders the bedding and doesn’t know when to be extra careful with the linen duvet. Linen sheets can easily outlast cotton ones, but they require proper care.

Mending is a skill that was once ubiquitous. Before the Industrial Revolution, things (man-made objects) were quite costly and labor—especially that of women in the home—tended to be cheap. Even after the advent of affordable and readily available machine-sewn, purchased clothing, many people retained the sewing skills to make repairs and simple alterations.

Today, a t-shirt is so cheap, we treat it as disposable. We don’t own just a few outfits; even the poor in a developed country can own a wardrobe rich in variety. When we stain a garment, or it rips, it “costs less” to buy a new one than to spend time remedying the problem.

Yes, we launder our clothing, but often with little care, because individual garments have very little intrinsic value.

This ceases to be true when one invests in sustainable products. Organic, locally-sourced, fair trade, and high quality typically equate to expensive. If I’m willing to pay someone of my social class in my rich nation to produce my clothing or housewares, I’m going to pay more than I would for equivalent items made by impoverished factory workers under exploitative conditions.

I’m going to have to do some work to make these products last longer, because I can’t afford to replace them frequently.

My values also dictate that I shouldn’t be replacing, I should be repairing, re-purposing, and, at the very least, recycling my no-longer-useful-to-me discards.

Fortunately, an artisan-made product is likely to be better constructed of higher quality materials than the mass market equivalent. Sturdy trousers in a sensible fabric with a full lining will neither wear out nor require cleaning as often as thin, cheap cotton pants. Worn or soiled linings are quickly replaced. Good construction techniques mean the possibility to let out or take in a waistband that no longer fits.

Unfortunately, the world at large doesn’t always make it easy to act anachronistically. I am the only person in my household who understands the details, and importance, of my rather sophisticated laundry sorting process. When someone helps with the laundry, invariably, a delicate (expensive!) item ends up going through the “wrong” wash.

There have been tragic losses: a darling pair of organic wool overalls that went from size 6 to a toddler 2/3 after a trip through the dryer. Sigh. Luckily, we had a young friend who got to enjoy those for another year.

There have also been signs of remarkable resilience. I don’t recommend repeating this test, but, if your child throws his good trousers in the big hamper of regular wash and dry laundry, they might come out of the dryer just fine. These wool blend dress pants from Nordstrom held up to a full cycle of warm water wash and hot dry. They didn’t even shrink! The child was allowed to live.

The example I opened with is my Linoto linen comforter cover  (a.k.a., duvet.) If you want gorgeous, 100% flax linen bedding made in the USA by people who will go above and beyond to make you happy, I recommend Jason at Linoto as your source.

I also own flax linen bedding sold by Coyuchi and cotton/flax blends and hemp linen sheets from Rawganique in Canada. I’ve even sewn some specialty sized linen pillowcases myself using fabric purchased here or here.

If you follow the care instructions, you probably won’t need to do the kind of repair I’m undertaking right now.

linen duvet on bed - 1

Linoto duvets (two twins) with Coyuchi linen sham and skirt

Then again, if you live in a busy household with a family that is sincerely helpful but not particularly educated or enthusiastic about specialized laundering, I can also reassure you that your expensive linen sheets will still survive for years, and probably not tear like mine, if you just keep them out of the dryer, especially with other, heavy linens.

Mine were in constant use for five years before tearing. Here’s what happened:

If you’ve ever had a load of sheets in the dryer with a comforter cover, you’ve probably experienced the “giant wad of linens balled up inside the duvet” phenomenon. I can’t explain the physics, but it always seems to occur. Maybe its related to the knotting of agitated strings.

When I’m feeling well and managing the laundry myself, I carefully redistribute the linens midway through the drying cycle to separate these and the pillowcases that get wedged inside the elastic corners of fitted sheets. If I’m feeling really well, I hang up my linen items after a few minutes in the dryer to soften them up.*

None of my helpers remember—or bother—to do either of these additional steps.

More than once, a heavy ball of wet cotton has been caught inside my delicate when dry linen cover. More than once, someone has helped me empty the dryer and yanked on this heavy mass without supporting the linen piece from the strain. Eventually, the fabric wore near the top seam that always caught this weight.

Instead of fixing it immediately when I saw the signs of wear, I put off reinforcing this area… and, recently, that’s where the fabric tore.

I am not at all expert in mending, but I do have rudimentary sewing skills. I have needles and thread in the house, and I’m not afraid to use them. My cover won’t look perfect when its repaired, but the tearing and fraying will stop, and it will still be usable as bedding. Luckily, a duvet has two sides, so I’ll put it on the bed mended side down.

Minimizing your possessions to just what you need and buying sustainable, ethically sourced goods are great ideas, but you may have to adjust your lifestyle to fit. If you can’t get every household member on board with these adjustments, prepare to learn some new skills.

Today, mending! Tomorrow… darning socks?

Good thing I know someone who knows how to darn. Maybe she’ll teach me.

This is how we all take part to make the world a little better than we found it.

 

*My husband dislikes the texture of line dried laundry, so, when it comes to longevity vs. softness, I’m going to choose marital accord over more sustainable laundry practices. Personally, I love the crisp, dry hand of air dried linen.