How long you have to wait at the DMV. The weather. Where Earth is in the universe. If your favorite team wins the championship this year. Sunday night is the end of the weekend. Getting laid off. Who your parents and siblings are. Heartache is painful. Some drunks decide to drive. Humans can’t spread their arms and fly. Meritocracy is mostly a fiction. People need oxygen, water, and food (and many other things) to survive. You have to actually do the chores for things to be clean. Time travel is probably impossible. Others misunderstand and judge you. The typical lifespan is 71 years.
These are the boundaries of life. The things that are out of your hands and constrain who you are and what you can do. You might wish things were different. Or that you could have superpowers to overcome limits. But there’s little, if anything, you can do to change and control these things.
Some of the things you can control…
What food you eat. Who you ask out on a date. Where and when you take vacations. How you exercise. What time you go to sleep. How much of your income you save. If you play it safe or take a risk. Your outlook for the future. The city you make your home. Being better informed. Caring about what other people think of you. Your attachment to your phone. Learning new things. How you treat strangers and vulnerable human beings. The time you spend with the people you love.
These are the spaces. The undetermined, pliable things you can largely build and shape as you want. To do like this or like that. To prioritize or ignore. To do the same way for a while, or evaluate and change as you go.
A lot of being able to live well comes down to understanding the things you can’t control and the things you can. The things that guide and limit our path, and the things that we can do the way we want.
We don’t have superpowers. We’re not powerless. We are people. We are both limited and full of potential. Understand, explore, try. Know what shapes you and what you can shape.
Laundry. Does anyone get excited about it? Like most cleaning, you probably wish you could have the results without doing any of the work to get there. If you love cleaning clothes, I have a basketful that I’d be happy to give you.
For the rest of us, we’ll let our dirty clothes pile up on the floor or in a hamper until we have to wash them out of necessity. Eventually, there’s nothing clean left to wear. Fortunately, with a little bit of willpower to build a habit, and some basic understanding of how to clean the different types of clothes in your wardrobe, laundry can be less of a chore. Maybe you’re relatively new to doing your own laundry. All good. Follow the steps below, and you’ll be a responsible pro in no time.
Pick a day or a time to do laundry each week. It’s so much less of a burden to do one or two loads of laundry every week than four or five (or more) loads once every few weeks. Doing laundry every week means you’re cleaning clothes more often, but it’s far fewer items to worry about at once. I find this much less stressful. Plus, you’ll never have to go long without any particular item of clothing. Your favorite athleisure pants or kickass dress will always be clean.
Sort your laundry into the right groups. Colors all together. Whites and grays together. For most items, it’s as simple as that. Your regular laundry night will consist of a load of colors and a load of lights. If you don’t have a full load of one or the other, be kind to the earth and save it for the next week. Some things you may want to wash in more specific groups: just blankets and sheets, just towels, or just sweaty workout wear or other super-soiled things.
And some items do require special care. It’s always a good idea to look at the tag when you buy something so you know how you’ll need to clean it. If it’s dry clean only, it will obviously have to be taken to a dry cleaner nearby. Some items dictate that you tumble dry them on low heat, or to not put them in the dryer at all. Etcetera. Check out the chart below for a quick reference to the laundry hieroglyphics you see on tags.
Find the right detergent and fabric softener for you. This may take some trial and error. My wife and I both have somewhat sensitive skin, so we use a free and clear type detergent and fabric softener. Also, the washing machine we use is high efficiency, so we picked out a detergent that is also rated HE for ideal cleaning. You may have particular convictions about the environment, and there are plenty of detergents to choose from nowadays that are more selective about the components they’ve put into the bottle. Or maybe you really like a particular scent to your clothes. If you want Christmas Meadow, Apple Mango, or whatever else, you can probably find it.
Try some different detergents and softeners out over time and see what you like best. Again, follow the instructions on your clothing labels and on the back of the bottle or box to make sure you’re getting the best results.
I am not a fan of bleach, but if you think you need it there are plenty of easy to find instructions for that too. Just be considerate of others if you have a shared washing machine. No one likes a bleach surprise when they go to wash their own clothes.
If you’re not sure about cycle and temperature, default to cold, permanent press. Hot or warm water may be best for certain items, but hot water does not equal cleaner. Warmer temperature water may even cause your clothes to wear out faster or result in color problems. Many detergents clean just as well in cold water as they do hot, so you might as well play it safe and save energy with cold. Here’s an explanation of the different cycle types if you want to play around with them. You don’t need to obsess about it, though.
Have something awesome to do while your clothes are cleaning. Whether it’s a book, a podcast, planning out your meals for the week, catching up with a friend over the phone, an episode of a show, or something else, laundry time is the perfect time to do something awesome for yourself while you wait. Get the clothes started washing, set a timer for the machine, and get started on a little me time of your choosing. You’ll have another block of time to enjoy while the clothes are drying. Nice.
Dry your items properly to help them last. Some things you don’t really want to put in the dryer: bras, coats, sweaters, and more. These things are usually best air-dried on a hanger or a hook of some sort. For sweaters, jackets, and other tops, try to get wooden or other sturdy hangers instead of the skinny plastic ones so you don’t get dimpled, saggy shoulders as they dry. If you have things hanging outside, make sure you check the weather for anything inclement on the way.
Fold and organize like a champion. I don’t know what your home setup is like, but we have a small closet with a rack for hangers and a small dresser with drawers. We like to hang all of the tops that aren’t t-shirts in the closet so that they don’t get super wrinkled: dresses, sweaters, button-downs, etc. T-shirts, underwear, sleeping wear, and other items like them, can be neatly folded and put into drawers or on a shelf in a closet. I toss clean socks in a pile on the corner chair and match those up after everything else is put away. (I do roll them up instead of folding them. Sorry Marie Kondo).
Find an organization setup that works for your clothes, and come up with a simple system for folding and putting things away once your laundry is done. This will help you to actually put them away instead of leaving clean things in a pile of their own somewhere.
That’s it! Are there other tips and tricks to consider? Of course. You can get washing bags for delicate items. You’ll probably want to wash specially dyed pieces of clothing or especially colorful clothes once or twice on their own before including them in a load of other things so you don’t get weird color transfer. You can refine your process even further: stain-treatment, ironing, and the like. We can talk about that more in the future. How to remove a stain is probably a post of its own, and I’m not an expert on that myself yet.
But for now, you’ve got plenty to work with to become a professional laundry-washer–to become more of an adult–and tackle the dreaded pile of dirty clothes. By getting into a weekly routine, you’ll never have too much to do, and with plenty of time to do other things while your clothes are washing and drying, laundry night can actually be a block of time that you look forward to because you can do whatever you want while you wait. For all of us sane people that wish the clothes would just wash themselves, that’s not too bad a consolation.