Or at least, my dishes and laundry.
First, let’s back up to last month‘s pledge to say goodbye to the grocery store. I was definitely tempted a few time, but once my mind accepted that there was not going to be any grocery trips this month, I didn’t really think about it very much. Which was a relief. Sometimes choices, instead of freeing us, seem to create mind clutter – having the option of running out to the store to get just a few things, for me, is one of those. I actually started this step in mid-January, and I did end up going to the coop last Saturday (one day before the end of the month!). What did I buy? Cheese. I just couldn’t take eating the same three cheeses from the bakery any more. I almost drove all the way to Northampton for the Winter Farmer’s Market, to see if anyone there had cheese, but Ben convinced me I was being nutty (I think he was right). So, I bought cheese, a few local apples, a few bananas as a rare treat for Ella, a pint of locally made ice cream, and we had some lunch while we were there. Overall, I’m really grateful for the past month and a half, for showing me how possible it is to, at least, shop very infrequently, and with a lot more care.
Onward! Welcome to my kitchen sink. I’ve been thinking about the possibility of hand-washing our clothes for years now. Last spring, reading the incredible Mary Jane’s Idea Book, Cook Book, Life Book, I read about a woman who currently washes her family’s clothes by hand, with a washboard. She described doing that day’s dirty clothes each day, and I felt, suddenly, that I was not completely cracked to be considering this. Here, in print, was someone else who was actually doing it, had been doing it for years, and felt there was something of value in doing so. So, I ordered a glass washboard and wringer (new – couldn’t find them in our local used/antique stores, and it wasn’t something I was comfortable getting used online) last summer, and they’ve been patiently waiting for me.
(Ella washing dishes in Montreal, January 2010)
In December, we started washing our dishes by hand, which also seemed a little scary at first. I love it. I love not having to unload a huge dishwasher full of dishes, while always having waiting dirty dishes piling up. I love not hearing the machine. I know there is a dispute that using a dishwasher (loaded fully) is more water-efficient that hand-washing, but of course this depends how you wash your dishes by hand. (I use the “drought” technique from Ellen Sandbeck’s excellent Organic Housekeeping).
One of the things Ben and I think about a lot is true efficiency versus the illusion of efficiency. Dishwashers (and washing machines) are supposed to be convenient, and time-savers, right? With handwashing, we found that we spent about the same amount of time on the dishes (but it was more pleasant, and something our whole family could do together). Beyond that actual time, when you consider the time spent working to pay for the dishwasher, the electricity to run it, the repairs to maintain it, the footprint in your kitchen . . . Well, to us, it seems that dishwashers fall into the category of “efficiency illusion.” To my surprise, my absolute favorite part of the day currently is spent washing the day’s dishes after dinner, listening to Ben and Ella read books together in the living room.
So, bolstered by our success with the dishes, I feel ready to take on the laundry!
Why hand-wash laundry? Folks who hand-wash say, most notably, that washing machines are only good at cleaning clean clothes. One shocking fact is that when washing machines were introduced, the time women spent doing laundry remained the same (my guess is that we cleaned more laundry – since it seems so “easy,” we aren’t careful to wash only those items that really need it). A washing machine washes the whole garment, with no special attention to dirty spots, which you pay attention to by hand. Washing machines also put a lot of stress on clothes, reducing their life. (Hmmm, hastily made clothes by big companies, washed in machines that break them down further, causing us to buy more clothes more often – sound like a plan for making money?)
Also, I have found more and more in my life that I like doing work by hand. Colin Beavin writes beautifully about this in No Impact Man, where he did most of the housework, and so does Amanda Blake Soule in Handmade Home (and many others, I’m sure – check out Kyrie’s thoughts here). The idea that housework is drudgery sells a whole lot of products, and also compels more and more of us into the paid workforce, adding to the almighty GDP.
Part of my motivation is that our washer/dryer currently live in the kitchen (why oh why?). We moved the dryer into our pantry last month as part of our cleaning frenzy (we never use it anyway). I have gotten quotes from plumbers to move the washer there (over $1,000 – no thanks!). If hand-washing turns out to be something we would like to continue, we could unplug the washer and move it out, too! Oh, the thought is almost too exciting. (Ben, by the way, has been working for at least a year to be very conscientious about his clothing, so that our laundry loads are greatly reduced – I followed his example.)
So, I’ll be hand-washing our laundry this month. I started yesterday (Monday is my laundry day), and so far so good! I did our sheets first (washed in the bathtub, since they’re too big for the kitchen sink), and when I went to put the king-sized flannel sheet through the wringer, I was nervous, but it fit through! (Ella couldn’t resist the wringer, which reminds me a lot of a pasta maker.) The wringer really does take out an amazing amount of water – some things actually come through feeling almost dry. It was so sunny and mild, even with snow on the ground, that I hung one of our sheets outside on the line to dry – the first of the season! Drudgery, or beauty?
(Don’t forget to check out some of the other folks making changes this month – inspiring! Also, the spring edition of Rhythm of the Home is up and amazing.) Here’s to March!