Six ways to successfully manage laundry

People who know me know that I have an intense dislike for doing laundry. Like uncluttering, if you don’t keep up with it, things can quickly get out of control. Because there are several steps to completing the process, I’m always on the look out for ways to make it a little easier and faster to complete. In fact, I was elated when I recently read about a shirt (made by Wool and Prince) that can be worn for 100 days before it needs to be laundered. As it turns out, I’m not the only one who doesn’t like doing laundry (no surprise there) as the shirt is already sold out. And, since it’s for men only, my dreams of collecting a few for my side of the closet quickly faded. I have hope for the future, though.

Image credit: Wool and Prince

I’ve even considered wearing one core piece every day for one year (like Sheena Matheiken did). Though I’d still have to wash my clothing, I’d theoretically have less of it to launder and I could save a bit of time looking for something to wear each day. But, in reality, I’m not sure I could be creative enough to pull this off for 365 days. After a while, I suspect that I’d want to switch things up a bit.

Since these options don’t seem viable for me and my lifestyle, I’ve decided to redouble my efforts and take more practical steps to help ease the pain of doing laundry. If you’re like me and find laundry to be a major thorn in your side, consider these six suggestions:

  1. Reduce your stash. Spring is great time to unclutter your home (or office or car) so why not start with your closet? The less clothing you have, the less volume of washing will be required. And, you’ll gain more space in your closet.
  2. Share laundry duties. Teaming up with your spouse, partner, or housemate to get chores done is not a new idea, and this principle can easily be applied to doing laundry. Decide who will be responsible for specific steps in the process (don’t forget about ironing). You can alternate each step or take on the tasks that you don’t mind doing. For instance, I love folding. It’s a quiet and solitary activity that relaxes me. On the other hand, you might want to do laundry with a friend who’ll help you with all the steps and then on another day, you return the favor.

    Another option is to let everyone in your home be responsible for keeping their own clothing clean. This can be a great option for adults and older children, though you can also get younger children involved. Of course, you can also outsource your laundry. When I lived in NY years ago, I used a service that would pick up, wash, dry, fold, and return my clean clothing to my apartment. It was money well spent as all I had to do was to put everything away.

  3. Wash smaller loads. This may seem counterintuitive, but it may help you get through all the steps if you have fewer clothes to work with at one time. This might mean that adjusting your laundry schedule (increase the number of loads per day or the number of days you wash clothing) so that you can finish the entire process for each load washed.
  4. Keep your laundry area stocked with needed supplies. Nothing stalls the process like not having everything you need. It’s important to have all the supplies you tend to use so that you can start and finish the process. If you’re missing something (or don’t have enough of it), you’ll be frustrated and doing laundry will take longer (or just not happen until the last minute). Keep the supplies you need in your laundry area and be sure they are easily accessible or else you probably won’t put them back where they belong. This also applies to good equipment — if you have a washer and dryer at home, it’s much more enjoyable to do laundry when the equipment is in decent working order.
  5. Use a steamer. If you’re not fond of ironing, you might want to consider using steamer. They seem to be a bit easier to use and don’t require as much effort as a traditional iron does. You can also find portable units that don’t take up a lot of space. You could also purchase wrinkle resistant clothing that requires little or no ironing once you remove it from the dryer, but these items are typically treated with resins that may irritate your skin, so use caution. Clothing made from bamboo fibers may be a good option as they are lightweight (and potentially easier to keep wrinkle-free), tend to be odor resistant, and are quick drying.
  6. Buy the same. This is a tried and true tip — especially when you are laundering socks. Having the all the same socks means that you won’t spend a lot of time pairing them up.

34 Comments for “Six ways to successfully manage laundry”

  1. posted by Linda on

    My strategy is somewhat different. Since we have adequate closet and drawer space (and only 2 of us), we have enough of the basics to get through several weeks. I have labeled laundry bins in the closet for bleach-able, light, and dark. We sort the laundry as we take it off. One section of my side is dedicated to things I can wear again before washing. My husband can’t pull off multiple wearings, except for slacks, so he has more shirts. When a sorting bin is full-ish, I’ll wash that color. Generally I have one load per week plus linens. Sometimes more can be less.

  2. posted by Amy on

    I don’t understand “the less clothing you have, the less volume of washing will be required”. You still have to wear clothes every day whether you’re wearing more different things, on a longer repeat cycle, or the same few things over and over – you still have to wash whatever you wear. (Which is not to say that having less clothes isn’t still a great idea for other reasons, I just don’t see how it helps with laundry.)

  3. posted by Dorothy on

    “Buy the same” applies to other garments, too.

    I found pants and shorts I really like. So that’s the only style I buy. And I only buy them in black and navy. I usually buy two pairs of each — one in each color — per year, rotate last year’s to “everyday”, and the most worn ones to the “donate” bag.

    Do people notice I wear “the same” pants every time I see them? I don’t know and I don’t care, in frankness.

    If I find a top I like, I will buy it in several colors.

    Of course this doesn’t cut down on laundry, but cuts down on fussing with my wardrobe. I know what “bottoms” I’ll wear and all I need to do is select what top I want that day.

  4. posted by Marsha on

    Like Linda, I “pre-sort” my laundry and wash when I get “enough”. Unlike Linda, I taught my children to do it too! Different baskets for white/light, dark, and brights sat in the hall outside the bathroom door and near all the bedrooms. (I sometimes wonder if they realized that not everyone did it this way!) When there were four of us, the baskets were usually filled weekly too. Saturdays were generally the day that beds were stripped and remade, so that was my main laundry day. Duties were shared according to age and abilities. I washed and dried full loads, to save water and energy. From a young age, they were able to sort, since they recognized their own clothes — as teenagers they knew better than I did, since they often traded — and, when they were older, each took a basket to her room, where she was supposed to fold and put away her own clothes. Now I live alone most of the year, but continue to have multiple baskets so I can wash full loads for the most part.

    There are good reasons for cleaning out your closet, but I don’t agree that just having fewer clothes means you have less laundry. In fact, the fewer clothes you have, the more often you wear them. They need no less cleaning than if you wear more clothes less often. Sometimes the reverse is true. I find that buying extra underwear means that I don’t have to wash whites as often to have clean undies. And every load (large or small) requires the same steps.

  5. posted by Irena on

    On the “practical” side, we do all the things that Erin has noted. And although it may not work for some folks, and some others may freak out at the thought, we often wait a couple of weeks to consolidate laundry. (We have enough of the basic towels, sheets and underwear to be able to do this.)

    Because we live in an apartment building with shared laundry facilities, we don’t always have the option of choosing when we’d like to do our laundry. It isn’t open for access at some hours and is jammed at others. That severely limits our options and requires preplanning and a degree of flexibility. (That’s why we get crazy when we hear homeowners complain about laundry, which they can do anytime they want without worrying about anyone else using the machines!)

    We also have to remain in the laundry (or we choose to so as not to inconvenience others) until the washing and drying cycles are done. We’ve opted to read, knit or work on the computer as we wait and that really helps.

    But what has really helped is a shift in attitude towards the whole idea of laundry as a “chore” and drudgery. (And for us, the physical act of getting the stuff TO the laundry is a challenge for space and health reasons.)

    Instead, we start by reminding ourselves of how lucky we are that 1/we have all these clothes and towels and sheets and 2/we are also lucky to have machines IN the building to use. A general sense of appreciation.

    Then, we remind ourselves that doing laundry is taking care of things we love and things that serve a purpose in our life and enhance it (sheets, towels). This may be too Zen for some, but honestly, when we change our focus we really find it a lot easier to do all the physical work involved.

    Second, we have noticed that as we pay attention to what we do in the process we get a level of concentration (in the laundry zone!)going that frees up our mind. Some of our most creative ideas for work and solutions for home life issues have emerged as we sat there waiting and as we physically loaded and unloaded items.

    There are times when it is actually a very very soothing experience (less soothing when a neighbor hovers and keeps asking: Are you done yet?) to be alone in the laundry room.

    Now I get that for most people it will remain a chore, more or less onerous based on how much, how often and what you have to do to access machines. But there’s something about the mindfulness of this and any “chore” that can be very freeing.

    FYI: I’ve applied this to dishes as well. We don’t have a dishwasher (and again, do not understand all the complaining that folks who HAVE dishwashers still have when they don’t hand-wash the majority of their dishes)so it is a constant (seemingly) stream of cleanup.

    Instead of moaning to myself: “Oh, more dishes. When will the sink ever be empty.” I say to myself: Wow. We are so lucky. We have so much food that we use this many dishes. We have our own kitchen and appliances and can cook and make whatever we want, whenever (imagine if you lost that option. A lot of people don’t have it.). We are so lucky. It also helps that we literally view the items as they are and give thanks for how lovely and functional they are.

    Trust me, we are not Pollyanna, optimist types. But we have found that our Zen/grateful/mindful approach to taking care of our home (rather than viewing everything as an onerous chore, but rather a way we show our love, affection and thanks for how our home and the items in it support us and give us joy.)has freed us from that labeling that limits our ability to do what must be done and to get pleasure from it.

    We choose not to view this as “housework” or even
    “housekeeping” but rather, housecaring. We encourage our friends to think of how they model this housecaring in front of children, who pick up their attitudes toward it from their parents. If you want to encourage them to help while at home as well as learn how to do for themselves when they move out, it’s important to think about how you present all this to them.

    We’ve seen homes where the kids compete to see who will do some chores and who really do model the spirit of “housecaring.”

  6. posted by Hannah K on

    STEAMERS! words cannot adequately express my love of steamers. and you don’t need a big fancy investment piece–i have a little travel-sized one that was like $20 and it gets the job done perfectly.

    (also brooks brothers non-iron button-down shirts, which look perfectly pressed for five+ years, but that’s another story.)

  7. posted by Marsha on

    Irena — Love the concept of “housecaring”. Thanks!

    Full disclosure: I don’t mind doing laundry. Any part of it. Didn’t mind even when there were four of us. Dishes? No biggie either. Dishwasher was/is wonderful, but as a “loner”, it gets used much less often, especially when a quick swish in the sink washes a plate just as well.

    Now if I only felt the same way about vacuuming and dusting… [no hope]

  8. posted by jessica on

    This is in response to Amy above:

    “the less clothing you have, the less volume of washing will be required”.

    Yes, you will always end up washing the same amount of clothing per “wears” as someone with a larger volume of clothing (unless you wear stuff more than once), but what I think this statement means is that there is less volume at once. You can’t let the laundry pile up into a monster pile to wash.

    I have a limited wardrobe and I keep my 6 year olds wardrobe small too. I limit it to what will fit on my indoor drying rack. I have to wash every week, but for some reason it feels like I have less laundry to do.

    It’s kind of like my sisters dishes. I once went to my sisters house to help her out when she threw her back out. I thought I would help vacuum, do dishes, sweep, clean toilets, etc…I never got past the dishes. I did SEVEN loads of dishes and I still was not able to clean them all! The volume of dishes she owned made it possible for her to just continue to dirty them until she had a giant hot mess.

  9. posted by Lynn Miles Peisker on

    Make it a routine. If I think about it, I’ll never do it! Just wrote about laundry chores today!

  10. posted by May on

    I agree with the “more is less” strategy, because I believe doing many loads pollutes the environment.

  11. posted by May on

    I mean owning more basic clothes so you can wash on a weekly basis, as suggested by Amy.

  12. posted by Cal on

    The shirt from Wool and Prince is made from wool. Wool has natural wicking and anti-microbial properties. That’s why it can get away with not being laundered for a very long time. When I go on trips, I take t-shirts and sweaters made out of merino. As long as I’m not sweating constantly, they usually last the entire trip without a washing.

  13. posted by Marie on

    In Germany, some people wear their clothes two days in a row to save on water consumption and wear and tear. It’s considered environmentally ideal, but I can’t manage that usually, as I live in a sweaty climate. Also with three people in the house, including one routinely messy toddler and a runner (resulting in really stinky shirts), we do end up with a lot of laundry. I can’t let it sit or it’ll molder.

    I have had good luck with the FlyLady approach of doing one load per day. We pre-sort, and every other day, put something in the wash, even if it’s a modest load. It keeps it from turning into a unwieldy pile. The things I really dislike are ironing and hand-washing. Torture! I usually stick to clothing that requires neither. But I’m hearing such good things about steamers that maybe I’ll try one.

  14. posted by Rowena Harris on

    I spent most of my life in sub-tropical Brisbane, Australia. We washed clothes a lot. And showered sometimes twice a day.
    My mum taught us all, boys and girls, to be thorough with laundry.
    In recent years, having moved south to a much colder climate, it is a relief to wash less and not sweat….

  15. posted by Dede on

    Ok, I’ll say it, because I can’t possibly be the only one:
    When we lived in a place that had a laundry room, I loved the time out of the chaos of children, etc. Laundry became almost a zen thing. Now that the kids are adults and do their own laundry when they’re home, I still enjoy “laundry for two”. I have a laundry room of my own now, even tho’ it doubles as a garage, and I do it maybe three times a month instead of weekly, but I still enjoy it. The only thing I really don’t enjoy is the smell of dryer sheets that frequently waft through the neighborhood. Blech. But doing my own laundry is a definite ME time.

    Doing dishes, however…….

  16. posted by Nina on

    As a professional organizer and mother of three boys, I am a huge proponent of delegating. Even though I enjoy doing laundry, I require my two oldest boys to bring down the dirty laundry and after I have washed, dried, & folded the clothes, they carry the baskets upstairs to be sorted. I figure, why not take advantage of ways to give them the skills to not only be organized as adults, but also to realize that ‘it takes a village’ to run a household!

  17. posted by Emily on

    I also have to disagree that having fewer clothes will make you wash less – you wear the same amount of clothes every day, regardless of how big the pool you’re selecting them from.

    In fact, having fewer clothes seems like a worse idea, because the pieces you have will get washed more frequently, so more wear and tear.

    And yes, as others have said, not everything has to be washed always. I think it’s amazing that people wash things like towels, sheets, sweaters and other outerwear after one or two uses!

  18. posted by Jodi on

    I have not read through all the comments yet, but I wanted to respond to this part of the article: “This can be a great option for adults and older children, though you can also get younger children involved.”

    I have four children. When they were little (generally around age 2) they started helping with laundry by pushing the START button on the dryer or washer, pouring the laundry soap into the washer, and putting clean clothes into the dryer (I put the wet clothes in a laundry basket on the floor, and they throw them into the dryer – such fun when you’re a toddler!!!)

    By the time my children were about 4/5 years old they were capable of doing their own laundry START TO FINISH independently, and had developed a love of doing their laundry because of how much fun we had working together when they were toddlers.

    Now that my oldest are teenagers, I can honestly say it was worth it. All my teens are responsible for their own laundry (washing/drying/ironing/purchasing/donating-decluttering). None of them realize laundry is something that most people don’t enjoy doing because they were raised learning to do laundry in a way that was engaging and fun.

    I would encourage parents of young children to start early.

  19. posted by henave on

    My best but probably hugely unpopular laundry advice- wash everything together. I do not sort for colors and have very few problems (I do encourage my family to avoid too many bright white clothes, but no one seems to mind). Every night I put all the clothes my husband, myself, my teenager and my 12 year old generate in the wash together and they are ready to be put away in the morning. If we have a brand new dark item, I will put in a Shout Color Catcher sheet if I think it might bleed, but this really is not a problem.

  20. posted by Marina M. Meeks on

    I safety pin my socks so no need to match when done 🙂

  21. posted by DawnF on

    These ideas work for our family:

    * don’t wait until the laundry is completely out-of-control to do it. I do an average size load almost day to keep it from being overwhelming and time-consuming. I realize not everyone has this opportunity…

    * make your laundry space nice ~ I have decorated our laundry area so it is a pleasant, happy place to be. Organized, cheerful, clean, bright, supplies handy.

    * I don’t mind doing the laundry, but I expect our 10-year-old son to be responsible so he brings his dirty clothes to the hamper in the laundry room daily and after I have washed/folded the laundry he puts away all of his clean clothes. In the summertime when he is home with me he also helps with all aspects of the laundry. Have your children get involved! I believe responsibility and being part of the team is crucial.

    * I choose to have a positive attitude about laundry (and taking care of our home). Having an attitude of feeling blessed and positive makes a big difference.

    Love this site! Have a great day!

  22. posted by Rashelle on

    I think one factor in doing laundry faster is to make sure people’s dirty clothes actually get to the hamper for washing in the first place! It takes times to conduct sniff tests after all to figure out which items need washing versus those that do not.

  23. posted by Rae on

    I do most of my laundry by hand, so the ‘wash more often’ tip is key for me. Otherwise, I end up with marathon days like today where I have way more laundry to wash than I have space to dry it and the job feels overwhelming since I’m tripping over wet stuff for a few days. But if I do a little load every day, then I can just dry things in the shower and and the laundry doesn’t take over the whole RV.

  24. posted by JayEff on

    One tip to make laundry less burdensome is to wash items only when they NEED to be washed, that is, in my mind, when they are dirty or stink.

    My kids get clothes dirty (spills, playing outside, etc.), but the kids do not have body odor. They can wear shirts and pants multiple times before they need washing if the clothes are not dirty. Socks and underpants are worn once before going into the laundry. In the winter, a towel might be re-used 3 times before being laundered; in the summer, a towel might go in the laundry after one use.

  25. posted by reinkefj on

    WHy don’t socks come with serial numbers on the sole? Not individual numbers; more like a SKU. Then matching socks would be sorting into numerical order. Find the same number, then that’s a pair. Seems like something that wouldn’t cost the makers anything significant and would boost end User productivity. Then we can move to ties, suits, and shirts. LAFF! FOr the lazy amoung us. I can see my closet door chart Suit #107 432 Tie #0003 401 Shirt # 656 802. Hike! Then maybe I wouldn’t have to wear dark suit, white shirt, and conservative tie!

  26. posted by Marie on

    Allergies and skin conditions make laundry a nightmare in my household. My son needs special laundry detergent because his skin is so sensitive, but it costs a fortune so I can’t do the whole family’s wash with it. My husband has severe psoriasis and the treatment cream he uses is petroleum-based and stains everything it touches, so I can’t do anyone else’s clothes with his either. It’s enough to make me want to move to a nudist colony.

  27. posted by cathleen on

    My husband loves to do the laundry. Compulsively.

    He does all the laundry with the exception of my hand washing dresses, fine materials, etc.

    When we go on vacation or travel he loves nothing more than a washer/dryer in the place and promptly begins to wash anything on hand. Weird but I’m not complaining 🙂

  28. posted by Christine on

    I have not perfected addressing the laundry dilemma in our household, but I have gotten better with it over time. I have made use of some of the previously mentioned “strategies” for economy as well as to make my life easier. For example, The kids socks are in multipacks.One type for cold weather, one type for summer. We have them as well, but after growing up with only white socks, I want more variety, and so I accept pairing up the different pairs (and hubby needs more than one black pair style to match work clothes).

    I can be as minimal as I want, but with five (soon to be six) people in the family, there is no avoiding at least one load of laundry of day. Can I skip a day or two? Sure, but I will just have that much more to do later. And it is never convenient. For example, just when I get things sorted, and some things started, someone has gotten sick and thrown up on their sheets, clothes, or car seat.

    Also, I also believe in washing clothes when they are dirty. If my clothes are otherwise clean and there is no odor, I don’t need to throw it in the laundry (less likely in the summer). And my kids’ clothes? They always seem to stink, or have a stain so they are worse!

    My kids have sensitive skin so I wash their clothes separately from hubby and mine just bc I use a different detergent. This is not an issue since building up a load between the three of them takes no time.

    For “special loads”, I can generally avoid having to make a separate wash if I do a soak first. After treating the stain and/or rinsing off the …chunks/texture/etc, I soak the offensive item in the soak cycle of the machine -the water level can be adjusted to fit the size/number of items (which it will need anyway). After soaking is done, I can shift the water level back up, and add the detergent and type of clothes that would normally be washed with the item so it doesn’t feel like I am “wasting” a wash.

  29. posted by Carla on

    My best laundry tip is simply not to iron anything. We throw clothes back in the dryer for a couple minutes before wearing if looks wrinkly. I’ve decided I can live with a few wrinkles for the amount of time and sanity it saves me on ironing. (This is all to my mother’s horror, as she irons basically everything.)

    As to #2, sharing laundry duties, the opposite works well for us. I’ve been married almost 2 years now, and we discovered that having our own chores works much better than sharing. So, my husband does all the dishes, and I do all the laundry. Sure, we occasionally help each other out, just to be nice. But this way, we can’t put it off thinking that someone else will do it. I am the “someone else”. Laundry is my responsibility.

    It does help if “your” chore is one that you don’t despise. Fortunately, I don’t mind laundry. Except for ironing. 🙂

  30. posted by rosie_kate on

    I am learning to accept that laundry is my nemesis. But then, I’m washing for 5 people, we live in the country (where life is dirty!) and I have a 3yo with regular potty accidents, a cloth-diapered toddler, , a busy 8yo boy, a hard-working husband, and am soon adding another baby (and cloth diapers to go along). (Not to mention that I myself am always getting slimed with something– a shirt to wear 100 days? HAhahahahaha!) The laundry is killer.

    But I made a rule that helps me a lot– I am NOT ALLOWED to put clean laundry into a basket from the dryer. I stand there and fold the load immediately as I take it out of the dryer. By the time I sort out the rags and towels and things that stay downstairs, I have just an armload of clothes to put away immediately. If it never piles up in baskets waiting to be folded, I can keep it going all the time– the dryer must be emptied before I can put the washed clothes in it and start another load… and so it goes.

  31. posted by Josette on

    Merino wool is the best. I wear my very thin and light wool t-shirts and hoodies from Icebreaker (or SmartWool) for days, sometimes weeks on end. They never stink. A bit expensive but since you are washing them less often, they last longer. The only time I really have to wash them is if the kids splash me with food.

  32. posted by Sarah on

    Having less clothes makes it harder because if you haven’t managed to wash that item of clothing and ironed it you have nothing to wear! I never have to wait for a full load of any colour as I have a large family in fact when I sorted the basket I had 3 loads of coloureds to do!! I always pre sort a load and put it in a bag to take to the machine as soon as it is empty. It makes it seem a lot easier for me.

  33. posted by Dy on

    Our house does it differently:

    1. We have bins for each item, so we just sort as we pull things off our body.
    2. We rewear anything that doesn’t smell funny or have stains on it. Even my eight year old smells her shirts after she’s worn them.
    3. We wash a bin when it gets full, or when we’re running low on something.
    4. We fold as little as humanly possible, since folding is the part we all hate doing. Shirts get hung up, socks and undies go into pull-out bins, rags get a basket… In fact, the things we do fold are pants, nice towels, and that’s about it.
    5. The kids are required to fold their clothes if they like, but to put them away in an neat fashion (we have labelled bins for them, too).
    6. I never buy clothing that requires ironing.
    7. I have one set of sheets per bed. Strip it in the morning, wash during the day, and put the sheets back on at night. The only exception is the guest bed, where we don’t even make the bed up until we have guests coming, so they have fresh sheets. We may have to make another exception when the new baby comes…babies are unfortunately messy.
    8. When everyone cleans their bathrooms or when a bin gets full around the house (kitchen, living room, whatever), it must go up the stairs and be emptied into the washer to be washed. Things in the washer always get washed first.

    Honestly, we’re lazy laundry people… Laundry is a worse chore for me than dishes or cooking, so we tried to simplify it as much as humanly possible, and finally found a way that works for our family so that everyone regularly has clean undies and socks 🙂

  34. posted by Dy on

    Er, exception to rewearing… Socks, undies, undershirts can only be worn once. 😀 I forgot to mention that. It doesn’t matter if they smell funny or not, that’s a hygiene issue. Underthings is one of our most regular loads of laundry.

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