Monday, April 12, 2010

High and Dry: Why I Use a Clothesline

Throughout my childhood, we had a clothesline. It was just out the back door and since the laundry room was right next to the door, the clothesline almost seemed like an extension of the house, like an outdoor adjacent room.  I can clearly remember my mom always hanging out the laundry and I loved to play in the damp rows of clean towels, cloth diapers, sheets, and shirts as they billowed in the breeze.  And, to this day, one of my all-time favorite smells is clean sheets that have been dried on a clothesline; when you lay down to sleep on them the smell is heavenly. If the sun has a smell, that has to be it.  As we got older and when we moved away from the house with the conveniently placed clothesline, my mom used the clothesline less and less for everyday laundry, though she still used it for sheets and pillowcases. 

Despite all my pleasant memories of having a clothesline, I'd never given much thought to having one of my own until about a year or so ago when I got really interested in cleaning naturally.  I read the book Greening Your Cleaning and was amazed by all the things in dryer sheets.  A ton of chemicals make your laundry static free.  The author mentioned using a clothesline and I thought about it for a while, but didn't do anything. Before that,I'd also read about the benefits, frugally speaking, of line drying in The Tightwad Gazette, but still didn't do anything about it (plus, I didn't like her attitude, as if anyone who didn't line-dry their clothes was an idiot, or a "spendthrift" as she puts it)

Where would I put a clothesline?  My parents had the perfect yard for a clothesline because it was so big. Same goes for my grandparents, whose yard was even bigger (we loved their rotating clothesline. Tons of fun to ride, we thought. Grandpa didn't really appreciate that.).  I didn't want to take up a whole area in my yard for laundry.  Then, I read a great post on Simple Mom about the various reasons to line dry your clothes. She makes a good case for doing it - more convincing than the other things I'd read.  So after reading that post, I was determined to at least try to make line drying my laundry part of my routine.

Now that it seems like spring is finally in my neck of the woods (*fingers crossed*- it was snowing on Easter morning), I ordered my clothesline off Amazon. It's a 20-ft retractable one (only $9) and it works perfectly with our patio frame. On Friday, armed with a ton of clothespins (I got over 200 of them for about $3) I hung almost all of my laundry (I still ran the my husband's jeans through the dryer since they're so heavy on the clothesline) and it worked so well. It dried really quickly and I remembered that awesome line-dried smell.  Even now, I'm wearing a shirt I hung on the clothesline that day and I'll occasionally catch a whiff of that nostalgic, sunny smell.  Ahhhhhh....

I could go through all the reasons to line dry: the savings on your electric bill (apparently, your dryer is one of the biggest energy users in your house), no chemicals from dryer sheets, how the sun can get just about any stain out (in high school, I made my brother's cream shorts pink when I did a load of laundry - they had a stupid red tag on them that dyed them.  Thankfully, the sun bleached them back), how it makes your clothes last longer (I remember an elderly lady in church commenting one Sunday how instead of wearing out our clothes nowadays, we wash them out. It's true - all that lint is in the trap for a reason), among others. But, if I did, I'd just be repeating everything on the Simple Mom post. She also has some suggestions for some of the issues or troubles one might face with line-drying. Check it out - maybe it'll have the same effect on you that it did on me.

One note:  while I love using the clothesline, I have one qualm about it: how stiff and rough everything feels. I'm used to having softened clothes.  The Simple Mom post has some suggestions and remedies for this, but I have one that worked pretty well. Add a 1/2 cup vinegar to the rinse cycle (I put mine in the center of my washer, in the softener dispenser) and it helps combat the roughness and stiffness of line-dried laundry. Don't worry about your clothes smelling like vinegar - the smell goes away once the clothes are dry. {UPDATE: I wrote a post all about how to keep your line-dried clothes soft. You can find it here. Works like a charm.}

Besides the money-saving and natural cleaning aspects of line-drying, one of my favorite parts is that it makes me feel this sense of...connectedness. I feel like my grandmothers, doing what they all did out of necessity to take care of their families. Kind of how I feel about canning - I don't have to do it, but it's kind of fun to feel all pioneery. I love technology (how else would I even have this blog? And I looove my little netbook and iPod), but it's fun to return to those simpler days occasionally.

Hanging clothes outside is a simple act, but I love it because it makes me slow down.  As I pinned the clothes on the line I couldn't help but think about my little family. It felt nurturing, almost therapeutic, to do this for them, just like my mom did for us.  And just like I did over twenty years ago, my little guy had a lot of fun running through the laundry as it waved in the wind.

Did your family have a clothesline when you were growing up? Do you use one now?  Why or why not?


Tara said...

We did have clothesling growing up. In the winter, my mom even hung the clothes on a line in the laundry room. I think she did it out of cose (less expensive then drying) and she grew up that way. I totally know the smell you are talking about-I miss that smell. I haven't done a clothesline cuz I don't want people looking at my clothes outside. Weird. I don;t know why. We did when we were little. Again, you may have inspired me to try this out. Ahh, the sweet smell of clean, line dried clothes.

Z Fam said...

Heather I didn't grow up with a clothes line but my mom would hang up certain items in the laundry room. I have a rack in my laundry room and I hang almost all my clothes. I do it because I think it doesn't shrink my clothes and I guess that I am used to it.

Manndi said...

My mom uses her clothesline for practically all of her laundry, and in the winter she hangs them inside. I don't have room to hang many clothes inside or outside, but I wish I did. Especially for those sun-dried sheets and towels!

Nisha said...

I saw you hanging the clothes on the clothesline Saturday! I wonder if my HOA allows clotheslines. I should look into it. I've heard the vinegar tip before, but was afraid of the smell. I should try it though. I'm allergic to most store-bought softeners, so I don't use any.

The Wies Family said...

I saw you out at your clothes line today as we drove past. I also saw the posts for your new fence. I can't wait to see it all done.

thegirlwiththeplan said...

I happened upon your blog today. What a small world it is.
I have a provident living type blog too, so I enjoyed reading your posts. Though seeing as how I did seven loads of laundry yesterday, I am not sure my yard would ever be large enough to take on line drying. It is ambitious of you though. Way to go.

Mary Q Contrarie said...

I also grew up with a clothes line. I live in a house that really does not have a natural spot for a clothes line. What I do is use a couple clothes drying racks. I really like this method because I can dry on which ever side of the house has the sun. I can even dry inside during the winter and on rainy days. I have gotten rid of my dryer completely.

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