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Last spring, I slipped as I was carrying laundry down the stairs and fractured my ankle. I got a lot of interesting reactions when I told people about it, but one woman said, “Laundry is THE WORST.”

Which is basically true. I can’t say I was glad to have ankle surgery and stay off my foot for six weeks. But I sure didn’t miss doing the laundry during that time.

Now I am all healed and I have to face the facts. It’s no good to just keep one pair of my husband’s underwear and socks clean (so he won’t leave me, I always say) and live in fear that someone’s sports uniform will be the bottom of the dirty laundry bin at game time.

Instead of constantly playing catch-up, I used that six weeks on the couch to strategize. I came up with a plan to get me out from under the laundry. I also watched A LOT of Food Network shows, but that didn’t really do me any good.

When I thought about it, the time consuming part of laundry is sorting. The machine does the actual washing and drying, and let’s be honest, one can catch up on a lot of Downton Abbey while folding.

photo 1
One bin per kid.

So, I got a laundry hamper for everyone. We are lucky enough to have an upstairs laundry room. But with everyone dumping their clothes in there on top of all the dirty linens that go in, I was beginning to think I’d need a Sherpa to guide me in there. So, the handy drawer-like bins in the laundry room (really just trash cans hanging inside of drawer hardware, like some people have in their kitchens for actual trash) are reserved for linens and hand washables. Each kid has their own hamper only for their clothes – no wet towels. And we adults share one, with another for clothes that need to be treated nicely – hung to dry or ironed (grist for another mill.) Voila, the clothes are sorted by their wearers! This works pretty well. My next mission is to get them to turn their clothes rightside out. And in a perfect world, they would unball their socks.

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Our in-room laundry bins are reserved for towels.

The second part of this process is that I do one person’s laundry each day of the week. If I’m really honest with myself, I have time to deal with one load of laundry a day. They key is that each person has to have enough clothing to last a week without washing. We have stocked up on socks and underwear, and everyone is reminded that you don’t need a new pair of fluffy pajamas each day of the week. It is okay to rewear.

The beauty of this system is that it doesn’t fall apart from neglect. If I get busy (or lazy) I can easily do two loads of laundry in one day. I have a much better sense of where in the system everything is (meaning I can easily find and wash a sports uniform in time, but somehow there is still always that feeling of a miracle happening when it is folded in the drawer at game-time.)

I have four kids, so each person in the family gets a laundry day. Then on the seventh day, I wash towels and sheets.

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Still working on the sock hills.

This system works really well for our family, but I have heard lots of ideas from others. I have a friend who washes the whole family’s laundry for the week (they only have two kids, though) and then has a “shake and lay” policy, in which she shakes out the clothing as it comes from the dryer and lays it flat in a pile. She separates male and female items (they have one boy and one girl) and does a little folding and putting away as she has time. And if someone needs something at any point, they can look in their gender’s pile and grab it.

What are some other ideas for handling the family laundry?

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