Ask Unclutterer: Putting away laundry

Reader Kelly submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

Your advice on doing the laundry is fantastic. I’ve employed several tips with great success. In particular, I’m a fan of clothing items that need little care (e.g. no ironing, dry cleaning, etc.). However, I’m unable to find usable suggestions on HOW TO PUT THE LAUNDRY AWAY. One mantra of simple living systems is to touch things only once (mail directly from the mailbox into office without setting on kitchen counter first and while throwing away junk mail before you even bring it into the house), but I’m unable to find a laundry system that doesn’t result in piles and piles of clean laundry that needs to be put away. Getting it into the washer and dryer is easy — how can I get it to put itself away? My kids are 2 and 4 years old. I do one load of laundry a day. It ends up sitting in our enormous rolling laundry cart in the laundry room, where we all gather in our underwear looking for clean clothes. Please help.

I laughed aloud when I read your description of your family gathering in the laundry room looking for clean clothes because I have done exactly that on numerous occasions. My guess is that anyone with a washer and dryer at home has done this, but maybe around a couch, dining table, or wherever clothes are folded. And, I don’t know why, but I’m usually standing on my tippy toes, quickly shifting my weight from foot to foot, on a mission to locate clean socks. You’ve just described the human clean clothes hunting ritual!

To find a solution to this problem, start by making sure you don’t have more clothes than storage space. If drawers and closets are cramped, you might be avoiding putting clothes away because you can’t easily do it. You shouldn’t have to push down on clothes to shut drawers, and you shouldn’t have to use your elbows and exert upper body strength to cram clothes into a closet. Also, check out your closet and make sure that whatever method you’re using to organize your clothes is simple to maintain. If your closet organizing system is too convoluted, you might be avoiding the chore for this reason.

Although your rolling laundry cart is really cool, it might not be the best tool for your family. You may be better served by having four labeled, stackable, laundry baskets or a rolling, 4-bag, laundry sorter. Each night after dinner, you and your husband can take five minutes to put away the clothes in your designated bin or basket and then spend another five minutes helping your kids with theirs.

Challenge everyone to a race, play upbeat music, and/or make the new routine as much fun as possible. After a few months, it will become second nature and putting away laundry will no longer be an issue. As your children get older, they’ll be able to put away their clothes without help (around age 5 or 6) and eventually even do their own laundry (usually around age 10, 11, or 12). I’m definitely looking forward to these milestones in my house!

Be sure to check out the comments for even more suggestions from our readers for ways to help get clothes out of the laundry room and into their proper storage spaces.

Thank you, Kelly, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.

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82 Comments for “Ask Unclutterer: Putting away laundry”

  1. posted by lola meyer on

    Each child (2) gets assigned two days per week they can do their own laundry. (They started at age 9)

    All shirts and pants are hung up on a closet rod mounted above the washer/dryer. Then are transferred to their own closet.

    Clean socks and underwear are tossed into individual small wicker baskets.(Life’s too short to fold underwear!)

  2. posted by irsihbell on

    Great ideas from everyone!
    I never really had a plan, but being a stay at home Mom of 5 girls, I’ve done alot of laundry in my day. I learned that if I didn’t fold either straight out of the dryer and into a basket, or bring the clothes up from the basement laundry in a basket and fold right then, it piled up for a few days. Then whenever I went upstairs to the bedrooms I would bring the basket with me and put the laundry away then.
    As the girls got to be pre-teens or so, I had a basket for each kid, as it sounds like a system alot of us have used. I did the laundry, folded their clothes and sorted into their baskets which sat on the laundry table( my parents old formica kitchen table). They were then responsible for coming to the basement and getting their clothes/putting it away. I rarely bought any clothing that was not wash/dry and wear. Mind you, it would sometimes be a week or longer before anything got put away, but that was their responsibility and it didn’t bother me if it sat there.
    When we realized the cat liked to sit in the clean clothes baskets was when they decided they better come get their baskets sooner rather than later.
    The only thing I ever really hated about doing laundry was that it was in the farthest corner of the unfinished basement for over 20 years. Now that we only have 2 girls living with us and we have a main floor laundry, it’s much simpler. I never had a plan, but just made sure it gone done. I’ve always tried not to do laundry on the weekends, when the kids/hubby are home more.
    I love the idea of paying a neighbor kid to fold and put away, super! If I would have thought to pay a kid to do all the trips up and down the stairs, (especially when I was pregnant) that would have been genius!

  3. posted by Dana on

    When you say “double fold” and “file” your shirts, what does that look like?

    I was inspired to cut down my wardrobe dramatically from this site and now have fewer clothes and less laundry-excellent! I’ve decided that for each upcoming season, I’m going to invest in fewer, “nicer”, basic pieces that are actually planned before purchasing. So for example, for spring, instead of going to the store and buying whatever’s on sale or cute, I’m going to specifically purchase x, y, and z staples.

  4. posted by Kari on

    I sort the dried but not folded laundry into basic categories–shirts or pants to be ironed; shirts to be folded; underwear/socks/pants/gym clothes; kitchen towels. (Bathroom towels/rugs and bedding are in their own loads and are processed at that time.) Then I fold each group and put it in the pile for the appropriate person. Then putting away becomes much easier and faster. The initial sorting takes about 3 minutes (just different piles where I fold, which is either a couch or the bed) but it makes the actual folding and putting away so much easier and faster.

  5. posted by Julia on

    I don’t use a dryer except for towels and sheets and I only wash 1 (2 loads on occasion) of coloreds each week with 1 load of whites every other week. These loads are hung to dry on a clothes wrack (aka clothes horse) There’s only 2 in my family now but I managed this well when there were four of us under the one roof. Stop washing so often and you will have less laundry to do. Just because we wear something doesn’t mean we have to wash it. Most of us don’t dry-clean clothes each time we wear an item. In America (I am not from the US) there seems an obsession with cleanliness beyond what is really required for health and safety purposes. If something is sweaty, smelly or grubby, go ahead and wash it. Consider spot cleaning more often. Otherwise, return the item to the closet or the chest of drawers. We wear clothes many times before they are laundered. It’s much better for the clothes, is more productive and efficient.

  6. posted by Heather on

    I find that the space limit is the only thing that really helps me. I used to have a table on which I would place clothing as I folded it on top of the washer and when it was full I’d stack it in the small space available on top of a dresser… and it stayed there. I got rid of the table, and now nothing stays on top of the dresser for more than a single day because it won’t fit! (I hang-dry so the new stuff coming out the washer forces me to fold what is dry immediately.)

  7. Avatar of

    posted by Lori Paximadis on

    We are lucky to have a laundry room that is right off our bedroom, which makes the whole process a heck of a lot easier than having to haul laundry all over the house.

    We have three laundry baskets: one for lights, one for darks, and one for towels. When a basket gets full, one of us starts a load and goes about his or her business. At some point later, someone (not necessarily the same person) will transfer stuff to the dryer. When it’s dry, maybe right away or maybe later, one or both of us will fold. We use the bed as a folding surface. We probably do a load every three or four days.

    The key for Kelly? Don’t treat the emptying of the dryer and the folding as two separate steps. If you have room in the laundry room, pull one item at a time from the dryer and fold or hang it right there. Then move on to the next item. Sort as you go. If you don’t have room right there, roll the cart to your folding surface and just deal with it. It’s a habit that has to be started and maintained. The older child can at least fold washcloths and match socks. The littler one can probably at least pull all the socks out of the pile and put them in a pile together.

    My mom got me started early on helping sort and fold laundry. As soon as I was old enough to reach the buttons and dials on the machines, I was put in charge of the laundry for our family. I was probably 8 or so. My sister, who is three years younger, took over folding towels and matching socks. Laundry has never been a big deal to me, even when it was a daily thing — just part of the routine. At 43 years old, I have (single) guy friends who still take their laundry to their mothers. Seriously. I say, if you don’t want to be that mom, get them started early.

  8. posted by Cat on

    I just always made up loads/half loads per family member, including their towels, so there was no problem with delivering the dry clothes at the end because they all belonged in the same place. Had a rota of whose washing got done on what day.

  9. posted by Christine Simiriglia on

    Oh, the laundry. Always with us. Never finished. A circular task that shrinks and grows, but will never be crossed totally off or your to-do list. There are some other tips here that some might find helpful: http://www.organize-more-stres.....-hill.html

  10. posted by Aleisha on

    Regarding getting your little ones involved: when my daughter was about 2, I started having her put away her clean socks and undies. Now, she’s 5 and does that plus shirts and pants. I fold and sort (although she helps with that sometimes now too). I just have to put away the things that hang in the closet b/c she can’t reach the bar. Start small and it makes it easier and makes it seem more doable to them.

  11. posted by Anne on

    Wow, lots of great comments!

    I’m in agreement with the bunch that take the laundry straight from the dryer to the master bed. I do a quick sort from the basket into one pile for each kid and put away grown up clothes right from the basket. I open our underwear and sock drawers so I can just toss right in (yes, ok, so I’m not one of those fold-your-underwear types…)

    I also agree with the people that hang most of their clothing. ALL of our family shirts are hung. In addition, one of the best things I ever invested in was hanging racks that are supposed to be for shoes or folded things. The shoe ones I use for my youger son’s small sweatpants (roll them into a tube then insert into one slot) and both sons shorts. The older son’s sweatpants and jeans are now large enough that they need to be in the folding clothing hanging rack. This means that when they quickly grab one item, they aren’t pulling something out of stack and dumping the unwanted items on the floor!

    They’re certainly old enough to put their own stuff away, but I guess I enjoy getting everything back in its place enough to continue doing it for them for now. They do help sometimes and it’s easy for them too.

    Now to go check out the simple wardrobe site…. :)

  12. posted by Anne on

    P.S. If I ever build my own house, the washer and dryer will be combined somehow with the master bath and closet – no more carrying dirty laundry to the basement and clean laundry to the top!

  13. posted by Rodger on

    I love the idea of an organized life. However there seem to be two types of people who love this topic…

    1) Work-aholic perfectionists

    2) Minimalists.

    I tend to fall into the second batch. I believe having success in life often has to do with focus. Landry is one of these areas which I have many opinions. Simply because it is not the focus of my life. I see it as a necessary time sync.

    There are two people I deeply admire in this area, Steve Jobs and Jamie Lee Curtis. Both seem to be people who have reduced their wardrobe in order to simply their lifestyle.

    I believe success in the laundry area must first be based on changing your ideas of what is right and wrong… questioning American assumptions on clothing edicate .

    Avoid work that needs to be redone and re undone. This is a huge waist of time. A perfectionist form of keeping up with the Jones. For example socks. I buy two types of socks, black and white. Most brands look the same. I never try and match. For that matter I never fold them. I have two baskets one for black socks and one for whites. this make my life much simpler thus giving me time for the things that make life matter, like time with family. (same for underwear)

    After living in China I realized that America idea of dirty are wrong. Assuming you wear underwear and avoid rolling around the ground many clothes don’t get dirty are a single wearing. The Chinese work to avoid getting clothes dirty and them wear them many time between washing. By avoiding unnecessary washing you not only save time, energy and resources, but you also keep for wearing out your clothing fast.

    I like to have a few hooks in the closet for common cloths that I like to grab on the run. Jeans, sweaters and PJ’s.

    Buy polyester cotton blend clothing whenever possible. They feel like cotton, but never wear out, dry fast and don’t wrinkle.

    – Buy simply clothing that easily matches and it interchangeable.
    – Avoid folding if not necessary.
    – use hooks instead of hangers for things like jeans.

    Now if I could find polyester blend jeans! :-(

    rw

  14. posted by Kristen on

    I found that when I used to pile the laundry on my sofa, it would just stay there. But when I piled the laundry on my bed, I was forced to fold it and put it away before I could go to bed. :-)

  15. posted by Kelly on

    Unclutterer – you are awesome. I’ll start applying many of these strategies today. Will report back in a month to let you know how it’s going. THANK YOU!

  16. posted by Kiri on

    I always dump the clean laundry on our bed, fold it, and then I have to put it away, or my husband and I would have no place to sleep!

  17. posted by MaryE on

    The idea of storing clothes in the laundry room instead of carrying to each closet definitely has merit! My family of four each has their only full size laundry basket on a shelf in the laundry room and my kids have asked why they just can’t keep the clothes in there and get dressed! Our laundry room isn’t quite THAT big so not truly an option but I can see where a “family” closet off a laundry room could be an interesting concept from an efficiancy standpoint….

    I did take an idea from a friend who used a hanging sweater stacker with the days of the week labeled for each of her boys and put it in the laundry room. When she was folding clothes out of the dryer she would put each days clothes in one of the slots. That way each morning they would go in the laundry room and get dressed with no fuss.

    I have two girls with hanging clothes and school uniforms so that did not work for me for all clothes but I did get a smaller hanging stacker and used it for school p.e. uniforms, dance clothes, gymnastics attire, etc. That way they could grab the “extra” stuff they needed for the day before heading off to school and saved a trip back upstairs for all the odds-n-ends.

  18. posted by Sarah P on

    OK. Completely hilarious. I’ve just reached the point in my life where looking at a bin of clean clothes gives me heart palpitations, so I just put them away when I see them – even if I’m late for something else or my children are bleeding from the ears. I simply cannot take the stress of seeing clean clothes in a laundry basket anymore.

    It took a very, very long time to get here. The stress comes from the years I spent ignoring laundry in a basket and creating huge tasks out of the very menial.

    This is getting to be a really long comment, BUT – a couple years ago, when my twins were babies and I’d had it up to *here* with my husband waking me at 5:30 a.m. to ask if I’d seen his socks, I threw away all of his socks.

    I bought all one kind of white, all one kind of brown and all one kind of black. I got him a three-section drawer organizer and told him never to ask me about his socks again. (It was necessary to keep the love alive, trust me.)

    It worked so well, I’ve done it for my kids, and soon I’ll be doing it for myself! (You never have to search for a match!)

    A few months ago, I wrote a blog post of “tips” for sock organization, from my husband’s point of view: http://tinyurl.com/yhmzpfh. (It’s a humor blog and contains some curse words, just fyi.)

  19. posted by Tay on

    The responses…HILLARIOUS! I love it.

    I’ve been at the significant other to put the washer and dryer in the closet for a very long time. He’s not biting though! lol

    I think once I have my organization situation settled then putting away clothes will be a lot easier. I think I feel like I have so much draw space that I need to find something to put in them; even though I like hung clothes! Crazy. Well from reading this post I’m just going to stop fighting the urge and if I have an empty draw I have an empty draw; i can figure out a use for it later

  20. posted by gypsy packer on

    I hang everything except socks and men’s underwear, the minute it comes out of the dryer. Each person=1 load. All underwear is colored, except men’s t-shirts.
    If I had children, they would have a bin for street clothes and a basket for underwear, and their loads would be scheduled. I was one of those rare young’uns who enjoyed folding and ironing, and would do it for everyone. Try to encourage one of those in your own household. Do as I say, not as I do, and mend any rips or missing buttons before the item is returned to its hangar.

  21. posted by stcf on

    I do all the laundry in our household, minus putting the laundry away. My mate has agreed to do that, provided I keep the clean socks coming. The way that I ensure our little arrangement stays on track is that I put all the clean laundry on our bed. (It’s handy that our laundry machine is close to the bedroom). About 85% of the time, the laundry gets put away before bed, actually, in the minutes before bed. It’s actually a nice way to wind down for the evening anyway. But in the few instances when it gets shoved aside, I simply put everything back on the bed again in the morning.

  22. posted by Michelle on

    My older kids get all their clean clothes dumped in a basket, they have to sort through, fold and put them away themselves-usually every other day as part of regular chores before video games or tv. They get it done quick.

    For my younger children- baby through 4: I keep their clothes in the laundry room. Its close to the kitchen and that’s usually when they need to get changed- after breakfast, and after dinner. I keep about 4 basic outfits and pijamas for each in there on those square mesh divider shelves. I put them in there right out of the dryer. Saves tons of time. PS. I also keep diaper changing stuff in there too.

  23. posted by Tracey on

    I was going to give you my tips for getting the clothes put away, but after glancing through the 70 comments, I’m thinking that there is a HUGE culture difference here!
    I am from Australia, and I hang my washing outside. I am amazed that so many people use a dryer (but am thinking that maybe you don’t have backyards?). Every night I get home, and I grab my eldest boys clothes off the line (in order, eg all pants, then tops, then underwear, etc). I take them off the line, fold, put into a basket, go inside and put them away. Then I move onto the next person’s clothes. Because they are hanging up there, it is very easy to sort as you go.
    This goes along the line of minimising double handling.
    Even in winter I will hang the clothes on a clothes horse inside in front of the heater. Only very rarely will we use the dryer.
    Anyway, maybe this will help somebody? Maybe it will just be an eye opener on culture differences! lol

  24. posted by Melissa on

    I actually referred to this article in my mind when I was putting clothes away yesterday in my dresser. I stacked my clothes in the laundry basket by drawer order and it goes really fast.

  25. posted by Rosa on

    Tracey- most Americans use clothes dryers. The Dept. of Energy says 78 million households in 2001.

    http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/re.....01_us.html

    I dry all of my clothes on a line about 8 months of the year, because I have a protected area for my laundry line – the other 3-4 months it’s too cold for things to dry quickly or at all, with winter temperatures in the -10 and below range for at least 6 weeks every year. But most people don’t line-dry clothes even when it’s warm out. It’s hard to give advice about line-drying because it changes so much with the weather – there are times in summer when I can dry 2-3 loads a day, and times in the fall when it takes 3-4 days for one load to dry.

  26. posted by beth on

    To keep laundry from getting wrinkled while it waits for me to put it away is to have a long dowel handing from the basement ceiling. I hang everything there as soon as I pull it from the dryer. Then, I can find what I need in the morning rush, or carry the hangers up to the closets when I have time. the main thing is: NO WRINKLES. I hated it when nicely cleaned, dried, folded clothes were horribly wrinked by the time i got to them.

  27. posted by Angelina on

    Tracy and Rosa – I’m also from Australia and posted a comment a couple of days ago. I’m surprised by the cultural difference too and how almost all of the comments talk about using a dryer. I gave up using a dryer years ago even though I live in an area that has cold winters. I don’t hang wsshing outside in winter as it doesn’t dry so I hang it inside and let it dry on a clothes rack. I prefer to reduce my power consumption by doing it this way.

  28. posted by Nat on

    We have a very small and uncomfortable laundry room. Since we do laundry so often because the little one is still in diapers, we’re pretty much can’t pile things up in the laundry room. Seriously, when a load is finished in the dryer, we take the whole pile and put it somewhere that has to be cleared.
    If it’s my laundry, I may take it directly to the bedroom and dump it on the bed. Hubby does his own laundry and either folds it in the laundry room or takes it to the bedroom to deal with. I don’t know exactly. I just know that he never has piles of clean clothes in the laundry room. If it’s the babe’s stuff (btw, she’s almost 2), we dump it in the middle of the living room floor and have her help us sort stuff if she feels like it. Sometimes she just “quality checks” all the wipes on her nose.
    Unless I’ve put off doing the laundry to the point of it being an emergency, we’re really not digging in the dryer for clean clothes. And if we are, then we must have time to take the whole pile and put it where we can get around to folding it.
    Also, I have to say that it’s interesting to read that many of you do communal laundry. We’ve been doing the each person is responsible for his/her own laundry (except the baby of course) routine and have been pretty happy with it. I do laundry about once or twice a week. The babe gets laundry done every other day. And hubby does whatever it is he does.

  29. posted by Nat on

    Re: line drying. Hubby does it all the time (even inside when the weather’s bad), but the babe and I hate crunchy clothes, so the clothes usually end up in the dryer for a few minutes of fluffing.

  30. posted by jan on

    My daughter has shelves in her room instead of a dresser and small baskets act as drawers. you could have another basket or two in the folding area, and then put the full basket in its place and then put the empty basket in the laundry ready to be filled up with clean clothes. even a small child could put a basket or two in the right place. I mainly fold in the living room or sewing room and things go to the various area over an hour or two. I also take things immediately to the sewing room for mending, and ironing.

  31. posted by Karen on

    KUDOS to those whose children do their own laundry. Our sons are 12 and 14 and have been doing theirs since age 11. Occasionally we’ll combine items for one large load, but they are responsible for even washing their bedding.

    To the ladies from Australia… While I can’t speak for all Americans, I will tell you that I would love to hang laundry. Many of us, though, particularly in suburban areas, live in housing developments that have regulations about it. For instance, we have “covenants” in our neighborhood that do not allow us to have clotheslines, “out” buildings (like a shed), or grass higher than 6″ on our property. It sounds restrictive; sometimes it’s annoying, but it’s intended to keep property values up. (So people won’t keep a rickety old car in their driveway for months on end, for instance.)

  32. posted by Katie on

    In our household, we have two small boys (2 and 4), so there is a ton of laundry. The best system we’ve found is to sort the dirties by person. Then I wash each person’s laundry separately once a week. When I pull each load out of the dryer, I can fold it right then and put it away without having to do any additional sorting. It has saved us a lot of frustration!

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