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The Armoire

By D.J.

I really believe in the power of laundry to build community and bring people together. That’s why it’s so frustrating that our next door neighbor, Noah, seems to react to our slow laundering in such a hostile and defensive way.

Here’s the deal – Cate and I like to make our own soap. If you’re reading this blog you probably know that store-bought soap is a horribly chemical and artificial substance. I just looked at a soap label in the medicine cabinet at a house party a couple weeks ago, and it was terrifying. I say, if you don’t know what the thing on the ingredient label is, you shouldn’t be putting it on your body. What is “sodium chloride”? What is “water/eau”? I’ll stick with just water, thanks. So we make our own soap.

And this simple act of defiance against the giant multinational consumer products companies drives Noah crazy.

To give just one example, part of the soapmaking process is using wood ashes to make lye. Cate and I are pretty DIY, so instead of, I dunno, going to Wal-Mart and buying a few bags of ashes, we make our own by burning wood in our backyard. When we can, we use old pallets we find behind Safeway. But we also sometimes drive to the Ikea up in College Park and buy a couple bookcases to burn. It sounds expensive, but honestly, it’s worth it to have the feeling of satisfaction and wholeness you get when you use soap you made yourself.

Just another day making soap.

Just another day making soap.

So anyhow: last week, I was burning an old armoire that I’d found on the curb. I’m in the backyard, tending the fire to make sure I don’t set the fence on fire again, and Noah comes stomping out his back door, yelling and screaming. He said it was his armoire, that he’d just inherited it and the moving guys had just dropped it off, it had a couple albums of old family photos in it, why did I steal it and burn it, etc etc.

Frankly, I'm worried all that lacquer made for sub-par ashes.

Frankly, I’m worried all that lacquer made for sub-par ashes.

I said: first, Noah, back off.

Second, property inheritance is part of why there’s so much inequality in our society, so I don’t totally agree that it was “yours.”

Third, this batch of ashes is probably going to be ruined because of the chemicals in those photos, so I just wasted a whole Tuesday morning, thanks to you.

Fourth, because I’m big enough to overlook that fact, I’m happy to share some of the ashes with you, because they’ll still probably be good for gritting the sidewalk after it snows or something.

I still feel angry about it, but also sad. Because people like him are so wrapped up in acquiring things (like that armoire) that they don’t see that what really matters is relationships (like what I think of him). If only he cared a little more about what I thought of him and a little less about things, then he probably would have not been so selfish about the whole thing. Oh well.

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Whine-o?

by D.J. 

I think Slow Laundry is all about awareness. To really understand and appreciate your laundry, you have to be fully aware of it – you have to be present in the moment, with all your senses attuned to the various stains and smears.

That’s why I’m really frustrated that lately, Cate has started drinking wine while she washes our clothes.

It started off as just a “nightcap” when she started the nightly 10 pm wash. I usually go to bed and just let Kate handle this wash, because I like to get a good night’s sleep, so at first I didn’t mind.

We could use a little more of this in our house.

We could use a little more of this in our house.

But then she also started having a glass of wine during our 6 pm wash, which is the only wash we get to share together as a couple. So now she’s drinking during almost half of each day’s shared laundry sessions.

I’m not sure why she’s doing this. So far I haven’t asked her about it, other than raising my eyebrows and/or rolling my eyes and letting out a little “hmph” every time she takes a sip. But it’s getting to the point where I feel like I’m the only one truly doing laundry in our house.

I’d appreciate any advice on how I can help her understand that by dulling her senses, she’s missing out on a lot of the joy of doing laundry.

Well, well, well. (Part 2)

Part 1

By D.J.

Success! I’ve proven the haters wrong (Cate, our neighbor Noah, etc.) who thought I shouldn’t try to dig a well in our backyard.

When I was 8 feet down into the hole I’ve been digging, my pickaxe broke through some sort of long, cylindrical tan rock into an aquifer. Water started gushing out immediately – I barely had time to climb back up before the entire well filled up!

When I was originally planning this well, I thought I would need to build a bucket-lowering contraption. I was looking forward to this because I’m a pretty DIY guy and I probably have a natural aptitude for carpentry. But as it turns out, my well is so bountiful that the water actually overflows into our yard. So there’s no need to lower a bucket – I can just scoop water out of our yard, which is also filling up with water.DC water logo

And it’s lucky my well is so bountiful, because coincidentally the water pressure in our house has suddenly dropped to a trickle. Good thing I no longer need to count on the DC Water and Sewer Authority for my water!

The Road

by D.J.

Summer is finally here. And that doesn’t just mean we get to hand-wash white pants—it means family vacations.

Now, I’ve met people who claim to be part of the Slow Landry movement, but who don’t hand-wash when they’re on vacation. Frankly, this suggests that they somehow want to take a “vacation” from doing laundry!

Slow Laundry is perfectly consistent with family vacations – you just need to plan ahead and carve out plenty of time and money. And just as with traveling itself, when it comes to hand-washing laundry the reward is not in the destination, but in the journey.

So how to do it? It all depends on your vacation. For every trip, there is a strategy for making sure that the magic of hand-washing laundry is part of the fun.


Driving

This one is a no-brainer.

Stop at a truck stop and fill your washtub in the shower (this is also a great way to meet fellow travelers, by the way). Boil it by sitting the tub on your hood and revving the engine for an hour or so. Then put your laundry in the tub, get back on the highway and start scrubbing. And here’s a tip – try driving over potholes, rumble strips and stray retread to help agitate the laundry.

When it’s time to dry the clothes, just hang them out the window and drive fast. (This also works when you’re not on vacation – sometimes I stick our wet laundry to the car with refrigerator magnets and drive up and down Rock Creek Parkway, enjoying the weather.)

Doing laundry at a truck stop

Just 59 more minutes to go!


Hotels

The good news is that in a hotel room you’ll have a bathtub that will fit the whole family’s laundry. And if you use a propane heater to heat your washwater, most hotel fire alarms won’t pick it up.

The bad news is that we’ve had problems with hoteliers complaining when we hang laundry out the hotel windows to dry. But keep in mind that in most jurisdictions, it takes a few hours to evict you from a hotel room: more than enough time to dry the clothes a little before you have to move on.

Remember that when you check in, your room has probably been stocked with machine-washed sheets and towels. I like to call ahead and request hand-washed linens. And you’d be surprised: most of the time, I get a “Hah! Yeah sure, no problem! We’ll get right on that! Hah!” It’s always encouraging to find a fellow Slow Laundry supporter.


Camping

Camping is the heart and soul of Slow Laundry. This is when we can most closely approximate the natural and traditional way that our ancestors washed clothes: in the open air, hunched over a creek, swatting at mosquitoes. I wish we could move to the woods full-time, but Cate has told me to stop bringing it up.

Still, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • A lot of park rangers have let the power go to their head, and they’re liable to give you a hard time – “you can’t rinse soapy clothes in the stream,” “you can’t drape wet clothes over other people’s tents” and so forth. So you may need to do your laundry by moonlight.
  • When building a fire to heat your washwater, it’s important to remember that in the hot summer months, wood will go up like kindling. So be sure to build your fire close to a lot of underbrush, so you have quick access to a lot of good, dry wood.
Camping clothesline

We ran out of space so hung laundry by the tent next door. It was exciting for them when they woke up and saw it!


Airplanes

Are you ready to join the “Mile High Club” of Slow Launderers who’ve washed their clothes while 30,000 feet above the ground? It’s easier than it sounds, and there are two good options.

Option one is to do laundry at your seat. Just bring a plastic bag to use as a washtub, and ask the flight attendant for a dozen cups of hot water. (And don’t take any guff on this – you bought that seat and you’re entitled to as much hot water as you want.) Once the water, the clothes and the soap are in the bag, tie the end off and bang the bag against the window for a few minutes. You’ll find this is a great conversation-starter!

Option two is to use the aircraft’s lavatory. Keep in mind that because you’ll be in there for a while, someone might knock on the door and ask if you’re ok. Just yell, “I’m trying to join the Mile High Club!”

The first time this happened to me, when I finally finished and left the lavatory, the flight attendant raised her eyebrow and asked me “you were alone in there?” I think it must have blown her mind that I could tackle a load of laundry all by myself!

Cate’s Expert Sewing Tips

by Cate

Kate's latest attempt at cross stitching

My latest attempt at cross stitching. I know it doesn’t look that bad, but it was supposed to be a picture of our cat.

As D.J. mentioned last week, ever since we started hand-washing our clothes, I’ve had to spend a lot of time mending seams, patching holes, and reattaching pant legs. (Actually the pant legs are because D.J. keeps changing his mind about whether or not he looks good in cut-offs.)

The problem is, I hate sewing, and I’m not very good at it. So I’ve come up with a few alternatives to the thread and needle, and I thought I’d share them with you so you can benefit from my ingenuity.

Staples
Staples are a quick way to mend a torn seam, and they’re not very noticeable, especially if your clothing has turned grayish thanks to your homemade laundry detergent. I have one dress whose entire hemline is held up with staples, and no one has ever noticed! At least, no one has ever commented on it. (I do try to stay in dim lighting whenever I’m wearing it though.)

The only drawback is that staples might eventually start to chafe. D.J. claims that the staples holding together the waistband of his underwear are so painful that it’s hard for him to concentrate at work, but I’ve urged him to just channel the pain and use it to make himself a better database architect.

Duct Tape
Duct tape is easy to use and can patch large holes, but unfortunately it is also pretty noticeable. Unless you are repairing a garment that’s made entirely out of duct tape.

Hot Glue
Hot glue will fix just about anything, but it doesn’t hold up in the wash, which means you have to keep hot-gluing the same garments over and over. I recommend adding some “hot glue time” to your morning laundry routine, in between greasing your iron and building a fire to boil the washwater.

Buying Replacement Clothes and Hoping D.J. Doesn’t Notice
After adding a few strategically placed stains to make the clothes look used, no one will be the wiser. A nice touch is to sew a few stiches wherever the hole in the original garment was, to make it look like you just did a really good job of patching it up.

(If you’re reading this, D.J.: ha ha! Just kidding about that last one! You know what a jokester I am. Like that time you thought you saw me using the laundromat across the street, but really I was just playing a complicated prank on you.)

Dress Code

by D.J.

Since we started hand-washing our clothes, they’ve been experiencing a lot more wear and tear. In my view, this is good thing; it proves that hand-washing is much more powerful than machine washing. With a washing machine, you never really know if you’re going to get a stain out. But with a washboard and a few hours’ spare time, I can scrub away at that stain until not even the fabric is left.

Unfortunately, my office is business-casual. I say nothing is more casual than holes in your clothes, but my boss Pam has told me (a few times) that she disagrees. So I need to fix these holes.

Shorts covered in patches

I’m SO SORRY my shorts don’t fit my boss’s image of what “business casual” looks like.

Cate thinks the solution is to buy new clothes. Maybe she’s happy being a mindless consumer drone, buying yet another new blazer because the sleeve on your old blazer came off in the washtub again. But blazers are not a renewable resource. Whatever they make wool from, someday it’s going to run out.

So I’m been encouraging Cate to spend a little time mending our clothes, in addition to washing them. And honestly, I’m jealous of her. If only I could spend my days darning socks and repairing the elastic bands in underwear! But some of us have to work for a living.

The Birds

by D.J.

Lately we’ve been having problems with birds. Specifically, birds have been landing on our clotheslines and doing what birds do all over our clothes. Which means we have to rewash them. And I’m embarrassed to admit this, but for whatever reason, Cate hasn’t been completely enjoying the amount of time she gets to spend doing laundry.

Bird

This photo is from a Marine base in Afghanistan, so these Marines sort-of know what I’m going through.

I tried using a slingshot on the birds, but so far all I’ve managed to do is shoot out one of my neighbor Noah’s picture windows. Fortunately he wasn’t home at the time (and hopefully he doesn’t read this blog! Ha ha!). I told him later I thought it was probably anti-Slow Laundry people shooting at my house and missing.

One of my coworkers suggested that we rinse our clothes in water with diluted Tabasco sauce, to keep the birds off. But if anything, diapers soaked in Tabasco sauce made our son’s diaper rash even worse, so we scrapped that.

Tabasco sauce

We tried all these on our son’s diapers, but nothing worked!

I emailed John Sage and he advised that the urea in bird droppings can be used to make bleach, so maybe when there are birds around, I should try hanging up just whites. The problem is, we’ve been practicing Slow Laundry for a few months, and none of our clothes are really “white” anymore.

For the time being, we’ve switched to stringing our clothesline between the bottom of the stairs to the top of the stairs. But our daughter has been trying to zipline on it, so we need a solution to this bird issue pronto. Any ideas are welcome, post in the comments section below.

I’ve got blisters on my fingers!

by D.J.

Ever since we started washing our clothes by hand, I feel like I’m being transformed from a soft, hairless caterpillar who relies on washing machines into a powerful, beautiful butterfly who does laundry how he wants, when he wants.

Or maybe I’m transforming from a man into a wolf, but a wolf who does laundry.

In any event, I’m becoming something better, something more raw and masculine, with every hour I spend doing laundry.

cocoon

This is basically me, before Slow Laundry.

But the transformation isn’t painless. In particular, my hands hurt. A lot. Almost all the time. Between using the wooden washpaddle to stir the laundry and wringing the clothes dry, my hands are covered in blisters. Cate has been “helping” me lance the blisters each morning with a sewing needle. (I put “helping” in quotes because, except for the first couple weeks, she hasn’t really had a good attitude about it.)

I keep my hands wrapped in bandages except when I’m doing laundry, which makes it hard to type, but my company has refused to provide me with a surrogate typist. I’ve filed an EEOC complaint, so, fingers crossed (metaphorically).

Needles

Cate’s early Mother’s Day present!

John Sage says in “Truth and Lyes” that this kind of blister outbreak is inevitable, and you just need to break through the “blister barrier” to reach the land of rough, capable hands on the other side.

I appreciate that, and I’m trying, but in the meantime, I could really use some tips for blister reduction and/or treatment. (Besides using a washing machine, Dr. Schaeffer. I’m well aware you think that would solve my problem.)

Laundry Day is Family Day

by Cate

These days, people tend to think of laundry as a lonesome and soul-crushing chore. But when you make the choice to hand-wash your clothes, this “chore” turns into a chance to spend hours and hours of quality time with your family, with your community (if you are fortunate enough to live near a public washhouse), and—most importantly—with your dirty clothes.

For us, laundry day is a family day. And to make the process even more fun, we set up a laundry assembly line, so every member of the family can feel involved. Here is how it works:

Baby doing laundry

Babies love to do laundry!

  1. First, I put the dirty laundry in the bathtub to soak.
  2. Next our infant son beats the clothes with a rock to get the stains out.
  3. Then I scrub the clothes on the washboard, because frankly, our son doesn’t get all of the stains out.
  4. My husband, D.J., wrings out the soapy water.
  5. Then I wring out each item again, because D.J. isn’t quite strong enough to wring all the soap out. (Ha ha! Sorry honey, but you know it’s true!)
  6. Our 2-year-old rinses the clothes in a washbasin filled with piping hot water.
  7. Our 2-year-old wanders off to play in the dirt, so I have to finish up the rinsing.
  8. Finally, I hang everything on the clothesline to dry!

I know it sounds like a lot of work, but all the while we are talking, laughing, and getting to know each other. For example—just last weekend we learned that our 2-year-old has some kind of phobia about piping hot water. Who knew!

The six hours we spend doing laundry each Sunday just fly by. And after a full day of satisfying work under a hot sun, you better believe that we all get a good night’s sleep! But not on our sheets, because they take forever to dry.

Welcome!

by Cate

My husband, D.J., and I started this blog because we’ve found that a lot of people are really interested in the Slow Laundry lifestyle but don’t know a lot about it. I get the same questions over and over—“How do you find time to hand-wash all of your clothes when you have two small kids?” “Why don’t you just use a washing machine?” “Would you please come pick up all of the underwear that blew off of your clothesline and landed in my backyard?” “What smells like mildew?”

Whenever someone asks me a question like this, I see it as an opportunity to inform them at length and in painstaking detail about the days-long process of hand-washing clothes using an antique washboard, air-drying them on a clothesline, and making your own laundry detergent from lye and rendered animal fat. Unfortunately, a lot of people have to cut me off before I’m finished—even though I can tell that they are really interested—because they have to get back to grocery shopping or jogging or driving their car alongside mine.

So D.J. and I decided that a blog would be a great way to more fully inform people about how hand-washing is a rewarding and morally superior alternative to using a mechanical washing machine. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoy educating you!

Our backyard

A photo of our “laundry room”! It was totally worth filling in our swimming pool for this.