I spent over an hour today folding and putting away laundry. This of course doesn't count the gathering, sorting, washing and drying that took most of the day yesterday.
Time was when I cared for two small children and a husband, milked goats, baked bread, taught the plus-que-parfait du subjonctif to recalcitrant undergraduates...and did the laundry.
Now I do laundry for just two people, at two week intervals, yet it seems disproportionately taxing both in terms of my energy and the resources--water, detergent, electricity--it consumes.
When I was growing up in Barcelona, back in the 18th century, all the washing was done by hand-- by the live-in maid, in cold water which used to give her chillblains in the winter. My mother and my aunts washed their own frilly blouses and nightgowns as well as their non-disposable menstrual pads (I said it was the 18th century, didn't I?).
Needless to say, with just one woman doing the wash for six people, we did not dump clothes into the laundry hamper recklessly. I don't remember how often the bedsheets or the towels were changed, but my white uniform blouse was washed and ironed weekly. The woolen uniform jumper was dry-cleaned once a year. This was possible because the minute we arrived in the classroom my classmates and I put on long-sleeved white cotton smocks that got sent home periodically to have the ink stains removed. How often did I change my underwear? I distinctly remember laying my still-warm undershirt and underpants on the chair at night....
For all that early training, though, I now do laundry with as much abandon as any native-born American, as if water, electricity and detergent would be available world without end, amen.
I might never have thought to write about this had I not recently come across the Swedish designer Gudrun Sjoden, who advises her clients to wear their old clothes with pride. To make clothes last longer, she adds, don't wash them unless they are dirty. Otherwise, air them out and spot clean them. If you must wash them, use as little detergent as possible (http://www.gudrunsjoden.com/us/gudruns-world/gudruns-world/our-environmental-thinking/the-art-of-dressing-in-an-environmentally-friendly-way ).
I can't imagine an American designer making such a pronouncement.
And yet, why not go a bit longer between launderings? Unless clothes are infested with vermin, will they make us sick somehow or put others off with their stench if we wear them a few times before throwing them in the wash?
Probably not, but it takes courage to adopt this European-style laundry philosophy. Perhaps there should be a support group, Americans for Less Frequent Laundry, whose members would get together for coffee on days they would otherwise spend loading barely dirty clothes into their washing machines.