Marching along, each day can easily resemble many others, and we somehow gain satisfaction from stringing these weeks up—like a wash-line or prayer flags. Neither of those two things should honestly elicit satisfaction; they are mundane or humble. True, I don’t know many people who hang prayer flags, or laundry for that matter, but it seems that our lives can become so “full” that we offer ourselves rewards for the most menial of feats.
It is funny to think about doing laundry. My first apartment in West Virginia, the one on Railroad Avenue above the pharmacy, had a big flight of stairs and no washer or dryer. I took pleasure from hauling my bike up the stairs so it could adorn my apartment in a way that brought a little “city” to one of the smallest specks on the map I’ve ever called home. When it came to carrying my laundry basket down those same stairs, however, there was no satisfaction, just pure inconvenience.
At first, this new home felt like a satellite dwelling still connected to the Alderson Hospitality House where I’d lived and worked with my friends Kathleen and Brian. I adopted this notion in such a way that I still spent a lot of time walking the creaky floors of the bed and breakfast, particularly when I waited for my laundry to be done. Only a block away, I actually carried my laundry basket over one day to borrow their facilities. This is the closest I’ve ever come to doing any real work to clean my clothes. Still, I was afforded the luxury of time as a machine took care of my chore. One of my favorite TED talks of all time is Hans Rosling’s “The Magic Washing Machine.” He describes the profound impact this invention had on his life, and his visual for explaining the benefit is one of the best I’ve ever seen. It’s a must-see. I won’t ruin anything by summarizing the main idea: having a machine to do laundry leaves time for more enriching activities.
As a [nonprofit] bed and breakfast, the Hospitality House did a lot of laundry, so there was a dryer. My previous residence, Bethlehem Farm, however, did not have a traditional dryer. A massive, two-story log home, Bethlehem Farm hosts volunteers for week-long service/immersion trips in Appalachia. Suffice to say, there always seemed to be loads lined up by the pantry washer. One of my favorite features of the house is the way the second floor circles around the main thoroughfare creating a rectangular interior balcony. In an ingenious use of space, clotheslines were installed to race the length of the long side of the rectangle. When all the lines are filled with dish towels and bed sheets, the effect is quite unique and resembles the crowded layers of prayer flags adorning Tibetan mountains. Still, doing laundry at the Farm is not the fulfillment of a day’s work; the time it takes to carry the laundry up the stairs and put it out on the line is marginal.
Diving back further in a rabbit-hole of laundry memories, was the painful absence of a certain pink blanket when my mother could wrestle it from my grasp. Watching liquid soap and water turn its greyish-pink hue a bit darker before the lid lid closed served as a severing tie for the few hours without my comfort—there is nothing appealing about cuddling with a drenched rag. The time away from my blanket surely did me well, as I was forced to explore new horizons and to embrace the world without a childish veil to hide behind. When the circumstances were right, I gladly allowed the separation to go longer if it meant that my blanket could flap in the sunny breeze outside instead of simply tumbling in a cube in the basement. There is something unmistakably fresh about laundry that hangs outside.
I don’t believe I have anymore laundry stories to tell, and that was hardly my intention. I suppose the point has been made: doing laundry is not something that, in the modern sense, requires a lot of effort, and still we take pleasure in ticking it off the “to-do” list, just as we fill ourselves with a bit of pride when we make it through another work week. We like to feel accomplished. I’m guilty of writing things I’ve already done on my list so I can swiftly execute them with one swipe of my pen. So, if our modern conveniences allow us more time for living, are we really stepping up to the plate with our activity selections?