Large Family Laundry System
How We Tame Our Laundry Mountains
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Aside from cleaning the bathroom, laundry is my least favorite chore
Maybe it’s over the top describing laundry as oppressive, but it’s hard to come up with a better word for a task that can so quickly and completely engulf multiple days of the week, and multiple rooms of the house. One of the most exasperating phrases is my six-year-old hollering, “I don’t have clean pants,” when we’re already late for church. And then there’s that sinking feeling when you open the lid of the washer for the first time in three days just to discover a smelly, moldy load of washed clothes that never made it to the dryer. Plus, it never, ever, ever stops. Never. Ever.
A couple years ago, tired of feeling like I was drowning each time I faced a daunting dozen loads of laundry, I scoured Pinterest for the best laundry system ideas.
Our first system was completely liberating, mostly because it was when we started involving the kids. A shelf in our closet held an individual dirty laundry basket for each person in the family, and everyone had their own laundry day. Mondays were for one kid’s laundry, Tuesdays for another, etc. That way everyone had their one load to put away only once a week, plus we were only washing and drying one load a day.
The important key to this system is that the kids put away their own load (more on that below). This was great because it meant many days a week I didn’t have any laundry to put away. However, it did mean that I routinely had to deal with kid meltdowns over putting away their one laundry load, which they were sure was going to take f o r e v e r (insert moans and groans and children flinging themselves onto the floor).
More recently, we updated to our current “one load a day” system. We keep a basket in the hall for everyone’s dirty laundry. First thing in the morning, Jamin runs the load through the washer and the dryer, and brings it in for the kids to sort. The four oldest kids pull out what’s theirs and put it away, then bring the basket of what’s left into my room. So while this means everyone is putting away laundry every day, the chore only takes a few minutes since it’s only one day’s worth of clothes. This has been a much happier compromise, and also only requires one basket.
Clearly, there are pros and cons to any system. There are a couple of things worth considering when you’re deciding on what works for your family.
First, honestly evaluate your needs and constraints. For example, in our house during soccer season, soccer socks need to be washed daily, so a load-a-day system helps with that. Also, the washer and dryer are in Jamin’s studio, so laundry times for us have to revolve around his work schedule.
Second, whatever you do, get the kids involved! Even toddlers can put their dirty laundry in the appropriate basket when they’re seeing their siblings do it every day. Preschoolers can start learning to put their clean laundry away. I try to keep it simple for them to learn by using the same dresser drawer setup for everyone. The kids all have three dresser drawers; top drawer for tops, middle drawer for bottoms, and bottom drawer for jammies and socks. You can put pictures on the fronts of the drawers too if that’s helpful for your kids as they’re learning the system.
My biggest hurdle for this step was to lower my expectations. This was way harder for me than it should have been. Kids putting away laundry means that kids’ clothes may or may not be folded. Most likely not. I know, I know, but I promise, it’s okay, and no one is going to notice that your kids are wearing clothes that were balled up and shoved into their dresser drawer. Some of your kids at some point will start caring about neatness (I do have at least one of those), and at that point they will be willing to spend the time to fold. Until then, it’s not a hill worth dying on.
Because in the end, I found it was worth sacrificing the organization of the kid dresser drawers in favor of having four fewer people’s laundry to put away. Not to mention the most important long term benefit: training the kiddos to be responsible for their own laundry. Imagine that, a day where they eventually take it all on themselves. I can hear the choir of angels singing.
There is one drawback to any system; it will only work if you keep it working. Until Roomba makes a laundry robot, there will always be a component of laundry that we have to stay on top of. The system makes us more efficient, but if we don’t stay on top of the system, it won’t maintain itself. The key is finding the system that’s going to require the least amount of work and provide the greatest level of sanity.
JAMIN RESPONDS: After recording our video, I can better see why you like your system. I still think there’s a more efficient system, but you feel strongly about laundry, so I’m fine with our compromise.
tldr: Everyone gets their own basket. Folding laundry is for suckers
We do this wrong. But I’m only in charge of the washing and drying of the laundry, not the putting away, but hopefully by the time you read this, we’ve switched to the right way. First, here’s the right way: “Hey kids putting away clothes really stinks, so I’m only going to make you do it once a week, and it’s going to feel like a lot at first, but I’m going to teach you how to do it faster than all your friends; you’re going to focus for one minute and then you won’t have to do it again for a whole week!”
Everyone has their own dirty clothes basket designated for them by colored tape. Towels/bedding is its own basket. Moms (and maybe dads, but not this dad) get a couple baskets for colors, dedicates, etc. If your young kids have delicates and permanent press clothes, just have your butler take care of the laundry and quit lurking around my blog to gawk at how us common folk live. Divide the number of baskets by 7 and that’s how many loads you do a day.
Make a routine: While the kids start their morning routine, you throw them (the clothes, not the kids) in the washer, unless a kid deserves it too, in which case, double the soap and schedule time to re-wash if they throw up during the spin cycle. At lunch you put the clothes in the dryer and forget about them. You’ll get them the next morning or whenever laundry put-away time is. The kids are fine to air-dry.
And for laundry put away time, we really mean laundry throwing time. Drawers suck unless you can open them all at the same time. You need bins. Open every bin. If you have drawers (3, for example) open the top and bottom drawer and you can make a single pile in front of the bottom drawer that will all go be shoved in the middle drawer at the end. This is just a sorting task; no folding. One clothing type per bin/drawer.
If you have to put more than one type of clothing in a single bin/drawer, use a divider to make it into 2 compartments and, in case they jump the divider, only put the most visually dis-similar items together. Pants and shirts look the same at first glance. Socks and underwear can look the same. Underwear and shorts can look the same. If you must mix, mix underwear with shirts and socks with pants. Then if one of them jumps the divider it will be obvious and fixed sooner.
Next, sit with your pile in front of all the open bins and throw each article like a mad man toward the appropriate bin. Sock-sock-shirt-pant-sock-underwear-shirt-shirt-pant-sock. BAM! 30 seconds later you sorted a week’s worth of laundry and you’re done for another 7 days! Hallelujah! There is a God after all and He has a plan for our lives. Let’s go play Legos!
Now the way we actually do it…parents get their own baskets (the right way) and kids have a communal basket (the wrong way). Parents’ clothes are washed as needed, kids’ are washed every day, so each day every kid just has a few clothes to put away (the day’s clothes, PJ’s, a change if they got muddy/dirty/wet, a soccer uniform, a tutu just because and a blue crayon because the one-year-old got confused during cleanup time last night).
The single advantage to this system is that it feels like a manageable task even for small kids, so it fits nicely into a morning routine (another post for another time). Maybe that’s a good enough reason to use this system. Whoever is in charge of put-away time should make the call on this one. With this system it’s important to wait until the freshly-dressed kids are at breakfast to start the wash so you don’t miss the PJ’s they are about to throw in.
But look – this is simple: the sucky part of laundry is the sorting. Sorting by kid; sorting by type (shirts/pants/etc.). When it’s ON THE KID, it’s sorted: those clothes belong to that person at least 51% of the time. Why would you have them un-sort their clothes after they take them off by mixing them in a basket with the other kids’ clothes to be washed so they have to be re-sorted after they are washed? You’re doubling the work you have to do. It’s insanity!
Plus, if you end up having to skip a day (and you will), when you finally get caught up, everyone feels like there is so much more than normal! If you kept it sorted by kid, it would feel like the same amount of work, just a day later.
Either way you do it, don’t do the laundry when it needs to be done. Do it when it’s time. In other words, don’t wait for the laundry baskets to be full. They will never be full. They skip straight from not full to overflowing. There are 8 of us in the house. If the laundry is half full and we skip it for a day, guess how many full outfits go in the basket the next day? If you guessed 8, you correctly guessed the minumum. Now the laundry is overflowing. Just like all our systems, consistency is key, and the system that still works during less consistent times is usually the best.
I rest my case.
WENDY RESPONDS: I do love your sorting system. Sounds super speedy and efficient. My only problem is with the people who are doing the sorting…you know they’re children, right? Children have an amazing capacity to stretch a thirty second task into seventeen minutes of torture. Maybe when they’re older we can convince them of the awesomeness of a once-a-week task. For now, we’ll stick with the quick daily version.
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