Reader question: Ending laundry chaos

A reader sent us the following question:

Your site is uber-rad. I would really appreciate an article on how to get my LAUNDRY out of chaos mode. Thoughts on that one???

You had me at “uber-rad.”

I see laundry as the worst form of lazy clutter. I understand your pain and stress. I was once a degenerate who let laundry pile up around her until it seemed an impossible foe. The dark side, however, is behind me, and I offer you more than 20 tips to help you keep your laundry chaos to a minimum:

  • First and foremost, establish a laundry routine. We do laundry every Monday and Thursday in our household. I suggest that if there are one or two people in your house that you follow in my footsteps. If you have three or four people in your home, you probably need to do laundry every other day. If there are five or more people in your house, you should do a load of laundry (or more) every day. You can’t let laundry pile up or it instantly becomes chaotic.
  • Exclusively use sturdy laundry baskets (20 gal. or smaller). Keep one in the bedroom(s), and a smaller one in the bathroom, and laundry room. Don’t buy one with fabric sides because it will inevitably malfunction and turn into a mess instead of a hamper. If you have a laundry chute, only have laundry baskets in your laundry room to transport clean and folded clothes. Some people might think that having three baskets per room – one for darks, lights, and delicates – is a step saving measure because it keeps you from having to sort clothes on laundry day. I’ve found through experience, however, that three baskets per room results in more chaos because there’s more space for clothes to pile up, less floor space for things you value more than dirty laundry, and more trips carrying dirty clothes to the laundry room (at least three instead of one).
  • Have fewer clothes. The fewer clothes you have, the fewer clothes you have to wash. In a series of upcoming posts, I’ll discuss specific ways to do this.
  • Don’t have more clothes than you can store properly in your dresser drawers and closet. If you can’t put all of your clothes away, you’ll always have a reason to have dirty clothes.
  • Only buy non-iron clothes to keep clean shirts from stacking up in a “needs ironing” pile.
  • When moving, look for a place that has a laundry room on the same floor as your closet. If you’re a DIY person, consider building a closet with the washer and dryer right inside of it.
  • Have a designated dry cleaner bag next to your hamper. If you keep it in your car, clothes that need to go to the dry cleaner will certainly pile up on the floor and cause clutter. Be sure to drop your dry cleaning bag off every Friday and pick it up every Monday — routines are important for dry cleaning clothes, too.
  • Keep a stack of delicate bags next to your hamper. When you take off delicates, you can put them straight into a delicates bag and then just throw them into the hamper. This way your delicates won’t accidentally get lost in your dirty clothes mess.
  • Change into pajamas at least an hour before bedtime so that you have enough energy to do more than throw your dirty clothes on the floor.
  • Before buying anything in a color that bleeds (like red), ask yourself if you will want to take the time to sort it out every time you launder it.
  • Think about wearing only one color so that you never have to sort your laundry into lights and darks. These people have done it.
  • Get a job in an office that allows casual dress so that you stop wearing two sets of clothes on most days.
  • Have a stick of Tide To-Go in your closet so if a shirt is stained you can spot clean it before putting it into the hamper.
  • Only have two sets of bed sheets — one on your bed and one waiting on deck. The same can apply to towels, but I suggest three because the rate of replacement is higher for towels.
  • By the age of 12 your children should have their own laundry routines.
  • Clean out pockets when taking off clothing to avoid having to do it during sorting. I suggest having a small trash can in your closet for just this purpose.
  • If something is permanently stained or riddled with holes, get rid of it.
  • Keep hangers in your laundry room so that you can immediately hang up the clothes that you don’t fold.
  • Replace your washer and dryer with large capacity units so that you can do two to three traditional loads at a time.
  • Have a table in your laundry room so that you can have a space to immediately fold clothes as they come out of the dryer. Do NOT allow it to become a clutter table — keep it clean and only use it for folding.
  • Have a designated bag or box in your laundry room to put clothes in that you want to donate to charity. When they come out of the dryer, fold them, and stick them into the bag.


This post was originally published in May 2007.

24 Comments for “Reader question: Ending laundry chaos”

  1. posted by Jimmy on

    Wow. Thanks for answering my question. Awesome tips!!!

    Yeah. I could probably get rid of some clothes…

    And I’m sticking with the “uber-rad.” Mos def.

  2. posted by Chris on

    Some very solid suggestions. We currently employ the 3 hamper method and laundry is kicking our butt. We have a 3yr old and a 2 week old and laundry is a big problem to keep control of. Your comment of the W/D in the closet is interesting since our master closet shares a common wall with the utility room. I bet I could put in a sweet laundry chute through the wall.

  3. posted by Jennifer on

    Good tips. Thanks! I’ll second the uber-rad.

  4. posted by stacy on

    I agree with most of your tips. Washer should be on ground level, to make it easier to hang wet clothes outside to dry. Dryer should never be in living area, it heats the house and uses too much electricity (may have different opinion if I lived in a cooler climate). If you line dry your clothes outdoors in the sun, you don’t need hazardous chemicals like those found in Tide Stick to remove stains. And you have no choice but to fold laundry as you remove each piece from the clothesline. I tend to do on average three loads of laundry every day, including littlest one’s cloth diapers. Any less than that and I fall behind. I find that spending the time outdoors to line dry my clothes, as well as wearing bright colors, cheers me up. When I’m feeling more cheerful, I am much less likely to accumulate more clutter.

  5. posted by delani on

    The only problem with some of these tips is they aren’t as practical for people who are forced to use laundromats or other coin-op laundries. Washing clothes as often as recommended, for example, would not only be a significant financial hardship, but it would also take a hard hit on your time.

    Most of the streamlining tips make perfect sense, but others are completely counter-intuitive for those who have to pay and keep watch while their laundry is being done.

  6. posted by Dan on

    Here’s my tip for the laundromat crowd: fluff’n’fold.

    When I moved to an apartment in LA, it was the first time that I’d
    ever lived somewhere without a washer/dryer. So I started going to the
    laundromat and it was fine–I’d bring some reading and it forced me to
    be organized about the whole thing.

    I was resistant to the idea of fluff’n’fold (having the laundromat
    wash/dry/fold my laundry for me) because it seemed like a needless luxury.
    But when I ran out of time one week I had to give in and I’ve never done
    laundry myself ever again. At the time it cost about 40% more than
    the cost of the quarters to wash/dry the same laundry myself, but the
    detergent is included and there’s the value of my time. Plus, my local
    laundromat does an infinitely better job than I do and the clothes come
    back neatly folded and ready to go in the drawer.

    Viva fluff’n’fold!


  7. posted by Linda on

    How can a 2-person household possibly have enough laundry to do it twice a week? Unless, for example, you do a load of darks on one day and a load of lights on another day, you aren’t going to be doing full loads which is inefficient and wasteful. Some of these suggestions sound like large lifestyle changes, such as getting a job where you can dress casually or changing your wardrobe to neutral colors only. But they are definitely interesting to think about, and some of the suggestions are great!

    At my 2-person house we have a large wardrobe with a pull-out laundry basket containing 2 separate bags. This is a good way to separate our laundry as we toss it in without taking up a lot of space.

  8. posted by Lucy S. on

    There are some good suggestions here.

    But one thing I might mention is that Americans tend to over-wash their clothes, and as a result, there clothes wear out quicker.
    I had read a book on French clothing styles, and it said that the French think Americans tend to wash/clean a garment after wearing it only one time, where as a French person might wear it 3 or 5 times before cleaning it. (The more often you wash/dry it, the quicker the fabric breaks down and gets that ‘worn out faded look’ to it. Where do you think all that dryer lint comes from? it is from breaking down the fabric bit by bit.)

    So, my suggestion, if the garment is not soiled or not coated in a heavy sweat – then after taking it off, just put it on a hanger on your shower rack overnight so it can ‘air out’, and then the next morning put it in your closet again. Wear it 3 or 5 times, before putting it into the wash.
    This will save resources and time for you.

  9. posted by Sarah on

    Socks: pin them together after you take them off. Wash them pinned together. No hassle matching up socks, lost orphan socks are a thing of the past. Safety pins last forever (20 years and going strong) and don’t rust.

  10. posted by Aegir on

    “If you line dry your clothes outdoors in the sun, you don’t need hazardous chemicals like those found in Tide Stick to remove stains.”

    That’s a crock. What, the sun will magically remove stains? Maybe if you leave the clothes out there for ten years!

    Great article by the way!

  11. posted by Tim on

    Lucy, uh…not to be impolitic but, well the French, well…stink. Have you ever BEEN to France? Have you ever been around a bunch of French tourists in the U.S. ?

    There’s a definite cause-and-effect relationship between the stink, and the French wearing something “3-5 times before cleaning it.”

  12. posted by Kit on

    Great Scott. How big is your bathroom that you have room for a laundry basket in it?

    I think I might contrive to keep a laundry basket in my bathroom if I suspended it from the ceiling over the toilet. I have never been athletically coordinated, though, and hate to think where the wadded-up undies would go if I tried to play laundry basketball with them.

    On a perhaps slightly more helpful note: the folding table is a nice luxury, but one way to unclutter the laundry routine would be to learn how to fold clothes swiftly and neatly with no extra support. Hints: 1. Give each article (except delicates) a sharp snap to smooth it out. 2. Your chin can be handy. 3. Pay attention to the order in which you’re pulling clothes from the line, rack, basket, or dryer; this will be the order in which you will stack them on the nearest reasonably-clean surface. Best to start with the biggish things and work down to socks; but leave one good-sized shirt or towel to come after the socks. (Spread on top, it keeps the socks from rolling away while you carry your stack of clean laundry to its next destination.)

  13. posted by Kit on

    Sorry, before launching into my essay I should have said that there are already many good tips above!

    If Tide To-Go is not a person’s thing, then that person can keep at hand oxygen-bleach wipes, an enzyme-based stain solution (in spray or stick form), a small opaque spray bottle or dropper bottle filled with hydrogen peroxide (the active ingredient in “color-safe bleach,” and very very cheap at your local drugstore), or plastic baggies of borax ready to be mixed into a paste.

  14. posted by stacy on

    yes, sunshine *will* magically remove stains from clothes. ask any mom who has used cloth diapers how she got rid of those yellow newborn baby poop stains. The recommendation for different products is a symptom of the cluttered life. We don’t need more things, we need to simplify.

  15. posted by Betsey Biggs on

    I have to second the comment about using the laundromat to wash-n-fold. Spending 2+ hours in the laundromat is not my idea of a good time, and my Brooklyn neighborhood doesn’t really have a nice one that’s comfortable to hang out in. So last year I reluctantly started paying them to wash my laundry. The difference in price? $9 vs $5. I bring my clothes every week or two, and get them back neatly folded. I’ll never go back!

  16. posted by Sam on

    I have a big Laundry in the Cellar, a daughter of 7 and one of 3 a husband which is an Electric Installer and I can never get rid of the Laundry chaos, I have 4 baskets one with each name on a laundry basket in each bedroom, the clothing still lands on the floor, and sometimes even clean clothing, Sometimes I would like to run away and leave all the mess behind me, and I feel I am loosing my mind, what to do, HELP

  17. posted by Erin on

    Sam — I think that doing a load of laundry every day might help to get your laundry chaos under control. Put the load into the washing machine first thing in the morning, put it into the dryer when you get home from work, and fold it and put it away after dinner. Alternate days with your husband so that you don’t feel like you’re doing laundry every day.

  18. posted by Vicky Harper on

    “I have found the most amazing tips for Ending Laundry Chaos at the Unclutterer!” from:

  19. posted by Michele on

    I have just one set of sheets per bed. I strip the bed, wash the sheets and remake it on the same day. Households with kids may need the extra set, but we don’t.

  20. posted by » Blog Archive » Get to Know You Thursday on

    […] I was happy to see a post on another blog today about laundry. I highly recommend it, although I was embarrassed when the author said, “I see laundry as the worst form of lazy clutter.” […]

  21. posted by Louise on

    I have a bag in my closet for donations, a basket in the bedroom (2 person house), a basket in the laundry and a coat tree. Any clothes that can be worn another tome before being washed get put on the coat tree. I do laundry on Fridays. I take the bedroom basket to the laundry and quickly sort our clothes into piles. I wash all work clothes, socks and undies first as they are the most important. Next comes heavier clothes like jeans. Then anything that needs hand washing or separate wash like new coloured pants. Then linens. I usually do my linen and heavy clothes on Saturday but it depends on the weather (line dry for linens) and the space on the indoor clothes airer. I use the other basket to hold the clothes waiting to be washed. I carry back clean clothes in the bedroom basket and fold on the bed so I can put them away.

  22. posted by Gail on

    Properly define “doing laundry “. Must include ALL the steps from wash, drying, immediately taking out of dryer and hanging or folding to prevent wrinkles, and the last step (and most folks bug-about) put clean clothes away. Reduce amount of clothes needing to be washed by wearing your at-home (after work) clothes 2-3 days in a row.,unless you’ve done something sweaty
    like cutting the grass

  23. posted by MJ Ray on

    Haha “laundry room” is unitasking clutter at the architecture level. I know the USA has lots of space but take a tip from the old country: put the washer in the utility or kitchen and ditch the dryer and hang clothes out to dry. One less room to clean, one less device to buy and service and run, one less task dominating part of your space.

  24. posted by Lisa on

    I have never understood waiting to put away clean clothes. If I’ve folded them, they are getting put away! Occasionally I don’t have time to fold towels or sheets, and they wait in a heap, but I never leave clothes, too much trouble to iron!!

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