I bet you thought this post was going to be about something juicy, didn’t you? That’d be in keeping with the rest of this blog, which covers some pretty vulnerable, inner thoughts at times. But this particular post is literally about line drying laundry. I’ve been doing it for almost a month now, and my dryer’s just been sitting there with the door gaping open the whole time.
When I was a kid, I once asked my parents why we didn’t line dry our laundry. I was maybe 6 or 7 years old at the time. One of my grandmas line-dried her laundry even though her clothes dryer was right there in the basement, ready for use. It had dawned on me that my parents did the opposite: they never hung our clothes out to dry. My dad’s answer to my question was basically that our [upper middle-class suburban] neighbors wouldn’t want to see anybody’s laundry hanging outside. I remember thinking, “Who cares what the neighbors think?!” (That was a recurring theme in my thinking throughout childhood.) I resolved to line-dry my own laundry when I grew up.
That idea dissipated somewhere along the way. Maybe it got buried deeply under messages like, “drying your clothes in a dryer is normal,”* “no way am I letting my neighbors see my undies drying outside,” “using a clothes dryer saves time, so why in the blazes would I do it any other way?” and perhaps most of all, “because I can.” These ideas are conventional wisdom in the circles I run in; they’re so persistent, numerous, and widely accepted that they’ve passed through my life like little slips of unsolicited junk mail I keep forgetting to stop. On the surface, the thought of line-drying clothes even seemed like an affront to women’s rights gains that have been made over the decades, despite the fact that men are taking on more home-related labor these days than they did when dryers first hit the market (clothes dryers as a women’s liberation thing is a ridiculous argument if you dig deeper; I’ll get into that in a bit).
Whatever the case may be, I never thought again of line drying clothes until this year. If you’d asked me before this Fishtailing Joyride, I would have laughed! Ha, you want this mama of two kids under age 4 to do WHAT?!?!?! But the Mr. Money Mustache blog has had me thinking in a different way, and I’m ready to try all kinds of new (to me) things. One of MMM’s posts points out how clothes dryers, lighting, and air conditioning are the biggest energy hogs in the house. That post brought my attention to our own clothes dryer.
At the end of June, my 3-year-old and I walked (well, he ran) to the local hardware store for a clothesline, clothespins, and some hardware to hang the line. He helped me decide where to hang the line in our backyard, and we had a great time setting it up. By the way, if it had been up to him, we’d have a 40-foot clothesline going all the way across the back of our property! And I’ve been using our line since July 1, so by the next energy bill I should get a whole month’s view of the impact of line-drying on our bottom line.
It turns out I love hanging clean laundry out to dry. It is a peaceful, tactile, and slow activity during which you stay focused on one thing: hanging the laundry. It’s practically meditative without even trying to make it so. Your thoughts can wander, and you can sing or chat with the neighbor or your kids. But you can’t multi-task, and, as a compulsive multi-tasker (I’m working on it!), that feels almost luxurious to me.
On a more practical note, line-drying doesn’t have to take more time than using a clothes dryer does if you go the same pace while you do it. I timed myself, and for both types of drying I took about 8 minutes to handle a load from the washer to a neat, folded stack (minus the drying time, obviously). Some of you may not believe me, so I’ll lay out the mind-numbing details in case you need to see them to believe them: The time-consuming part of line-drying clothes is holding up each piece of laundry straight while you pin it up. You have to get your clothes straightened out when you’re folding clothes out of the clothes dryer too; you just do it at the very end of the process instead of before your clothes are dry. Folding clothes goes much more quickly off the line than out of the dryer because the clothes are already flat when you take them down off the line.
Because of the meditative aspect of line-drying, though, I find myself not wanting to go at the same efficient pace I use when folding clothes out of the dryer. Line-drying makes me want to slow down more. It feels good to be outside in the breeze hanging up the laundry while the kids putter in the yard and the neighborhood buzzes with activity around us. The kids also like to help me with the clothespins at times, which is a sweet way to connect with them. In contrast, I tend to power through folding clothes out of the dryer just to get it done, and there’s not much the kids can do to genuinely help.
And because line-drying is free once you invest $0.80 on the clothesline and a few bucks on the clothespins, for the first time in my life, I’m looking forward to seeing my energy bill this month!
The politics of line-drying clothes
My new love affair with line-drying got me thinking more about the dynamics around who does it and who doesn’t. Line-drying is obviously a money, status, and class thing; and it’s an environmental and economic justice issue. I’m not going to get into any kind of full analysis here, but there is some fascinating stuff to dig into on this topic. Just a quick Google search brought up these items in the top few hits:
One 2015 L.A. Times article discussed how California became a “right-to-dry” state that year, passing a law to allow residents to line dry. No longer could landlords or others bar people from hanging clothes to dry. In addition to the usual argument that not everyone can afford to dry their clothes in dryers, the article draws readers to a documentary, Drying for Freedom, that covers how the rise of electric dryers happened (hint: it was engineered by companies that sell electric dryers). A few parts of the documentary highlighted in the article caught my attention: Did you know Ronald Reagan was a General Electric pitchman? And a German immigrant to the U.S. commented in an interview that he didn’t think the German government would stand for the type of dictatorship inherent in his former homeowner association’s anti-clothesline policy (he’d moved to a new neighborhood in protest of that policy). I’m guessing my grandparents would’ve had a similarly aghast reaction to bans on line-drying—they defy common sense and interfere with people’s ability to make a frugal, environmentally responsible decision.
The New York Times covered bans on line-drying in Ontario, Canada back in 2008 as well. This article mentions the prevalence of line-drying bans in North America (I wonder what percentage of the population lives in areas with these bans?). It also cites a clothespin manufacturer saying they’d recently seen a 1,000% increase in clothespin sales in just one four-month period. The company attributed those gains to rising energy costs and climate change concerns.
I’ll definitely check out that documentary. I’ll also circle back here to post an update on the impact of our dryer-free July on our energy bill…
* Indeed, using clothes dryers is so normalized in my mind that I typed “drying your clothes is normal” at first. I took a few passes over this post to edit it before I realized the assumption inherent in my original sentence and added “in a dryer!”