Simplify your laundry system with these easy steps for conquering your family's piles of clothes, towels, and linens.
Laundry is one of those things that I thought would be too basic even to talk about - I mean, no one I know talks about laundry unless it's to say there's too much of it.
However, over the years I noticed people always seemed to have laundry piled on the dining room table or in baskets on the couch in a state of perpetual unfoldedness (Um, not a word? What do you say for things that never get folded? Maybe unfoldedness should be a word...).
Then I discovered numerous articles on the web about laundry "systems" and even a blog devoted to all things laundry (Mamas Laundry Talk), so I realized there must be even more people struggling with mounds of laundry.
And since it is one of the basic things we all have to deal with I thought I'd share about my laundry "system" - fully acknowledging that I've never thought of it as a system at all, just the way I do laundry.
Like most things in my life, my current laundry routine stemmed from my desire to make all things simple.
That and the fact that I wanted to use my dining table for other things...like dining.
From my experience, I can tell you that if you follow these steps, there will not be piles of laundry looking at you for days and it will be relatively painless.
OK, unless you have tons of people living with you, or run a farm dealing with large amounts of mud and manure I've never imagined on clothes. Then you're on your own.
Simple Laundry System Steps
Step 1: A Laundry Basket for Every Person
The first thing you will need is a clothes basket in each family member's bedroom.
This is key- do not, and I repeat, do not have a single hamper for the whole family, and not even for just the kids.
Mixing everyone's clothes, socks and underwear will result in lengthy separating and folding sessions.
I know this goes against how we imagine laundry, especially the cute-hamper-in-the-bathroom idea. But just imagine how easy a load of laundry would be if you knew it all belonged to one person.
OK, just imagine the socks, then. Ahh, now you're with me.
By the way, see how full the baskets were in my kid's rooms? They were in charge of their own laundry by the time they were in middle school, and they obviously put it off to the last minute.
Note on Helping Kids Learn Laundry
You have to let kids keep it up, though, once you teach them to do their own laundry - do not take back the chore because they aren't doing it on your schedule.
I only intervened if I could tell they were wearing dirty clothes and then they had some privileges removed until their laundry got done. It's one part of the process of helping them learn to take care of themselves!
What About Little Kid's Laundry?
I still recommend separate laundry baskets for each child, even though you are the one doing the laundry, if you want to avoid long separating and folding sessions.
With separate baskets, it is SO much easier to get their clothes back in their dressers and closets.
I tried it both ways and individual baskets just made my laundry life so much better and flexible - for instance, I could do just my baby daughter's spit-up stained clothing more often than my 4 year old son needed his clothes washed.
Brian and I used to have one large basket since I didn't find it too difficult to separate our clothes and socks and I would just wash it all together.
However, after a number of years we began to have issues with timing and smell from his workout clothes. Then he'd help by doing the laundry and would dry the clothes I usually hung up.
After losing a couple of my favorite shirts to shrinkage, I bought two hampers, one for each of us and put Brian in charge of his own laundry.
We never even talk about laundry anymore to each other, except to say we're doing it - it's so nice to have one less friction point, even as small as it was.
Obviously each couple has to decide what works best for them - I'm just putting this out there as a thinking point!
Step 2: Wash 1 Time a Week For Each Basket
So, how often do we wash these loads?
Basically when the basket gets full, which comes out to about once a week.
And since that hardly ever happens on the same day, it means we're never inundated with an entire household of laundry on one day, which works out to a couple loads every few days.
However, it would be easy to assign all the loads on one day if you prefer to have a designated laundry day.
Tips To Lessen Laundry
- Jeans don't need to be washed weekly unless they have mud on them. Ditto for most pants.
- For shirts, use the sight and smell test - they also don't automatically have to be washed every time they are worn. It helps our pocketbook and the environment to wash less, so really think about if something's actually dirty.
- We wash towels once a week normally - they are not "dirty" after being used once to dry a freshly cleaned body. Again, adjust to your circumstances, but really give it some thought.
Step 3: Have Enough Clothes to Last 1-1/2 Weeks
- In order to last a week (until the basket fills) plus laundering time, each family member needs more than 7 pairs of underwear and socks. I like everyone to have 10 to 12.
- There is usually not a problem with having enough pants and shirts for 7-8 days, especially because pants and jeans shouldn't be washed every time they are worn (unless there's dirt and manure to deal with).
Step 4: Fold Clothes Right From Dryer
In order to eliminate the piles of clothes waiting to be folded (or not...), I fold the clothes right as I'm taking them out of the dryer and put them in a basket.
Yes, it takes more time than just tossing them in the basket, but the benefits are twofold:
- They are folded and only need to be taken to one room (because we're doing only one or two family members clothes at once) and put away.
- There aren't as many wrinkles because the clothes are folded right away.
One clothing note:
I don't fold underwear. I think it's silly. I just make sure everyone has a box or some type of holder that fits in their drawer that they can throw their underwear into. And voila! One less thing to fold.
Okay, another note:
I don't match the socks when I'm folding into the basket, either. I save that for when I'm putting them away.
But again...we're talking about a lot less socks since it's only one person's laundry. And once the kids where old enough, they could match their own socks.
Step 5: One Basket for Kitchen Towels, Rags, etc.
What about towels, rags, and cloth napkins?
(Remember...we try not to waste our money on paper products we throw away, as well as help the environment.)
Kitchen towels, rags, and cloths have a separate basket as well, located on top of the dryer.
Step 6: Bath Towels Weekly
Bath towels, rugs, and hand towels get put directly in the washing machine each week during our family cleaning nights.
They are then dried, folded and put away within a day so dedicated hamper isn't needed for these items.
Where do sheets fit in?
Everyone has to decide how often you want to wash sheets. I know some people do it weekly, others monthly. It all depends. Active athlete teens will definitely need them washed weekly, others not as much.
I use our cleaning night as the reminder to wash sheets. I'll start the load of sheets earlier in the day so the machine is ready for the cleaning night laundry.
When our kids were home, I would wash one bed a week, so everyone's bed got washed every three weeks, minimum.
Now with just one bed to wash regularly, I add them to the cleaning night schedule every other week. If you want them done weekly, just start the loads earlier in the day of cleaning night - it's up to you.
Whew. This is getting lengthy. Who know there was so much to my "system?" Let's wrap this up, then.
Here are the basic steps to simplify your laundry:
- Each bedroom has its own laundry basket.
- When it's full, a load (or two) is washed. Wait. Did I mention that I don't always separate colors and whites? If there is not enough for two full loads, I will just mix them. *gasp* As long as there is not new red things or jeans, I haven't had a problem.
- Make sure each family member has enough clothes to last a week and a half (week + washing time).
- Fold the clothes into a basket right out of the dryer. Take the basket to the room the clothes belong in and either put them away (for young kids), OR put the separate piles of tops, pants, etc. on the bed for older kids to put away. My favorite part, though, comes when they're teens and they're responsible for their own laundry!
- Rags, kitchen towels, napkins, etc. have their own basket that gets washed when it's full or on cleaning night, whichever comes first.
- The bathroom towels are put directly in the washing machine on Family Cleaning Night (Don't have one yet? Get one soon, you won't be sorry!). When they are done, fold into a basket and put away in a linen closet.
- Sheets can also be done earlier on family cleaning nights.
There you have it, my Laundry Basics.
Am I off my rocker? Out of touch with reality? Is laundry a problem for anyone? What systems do you use?
How many questions can one person ask?
(Be sure to check out the comments - there are some more examples of laundry systems if you're interested in other's routines!)
This article has been updated - it was originally published in September 2010.