knickers worn twice…

‘Worn but not dirty’ clothes are rather strewn about our house. My baby’s cardigans come and go mysteriously and my three year old leaves a trail behind her like Patricia the stripper: She shifts skins as the day’s moods and activites progress. Meanwhile, my husband cannot bring himself to put anything worn once back in his drawers and his ‘pending’ pile has a interesting narrative stratification about it. I, of course, tend to wear the same thing for about a fortnight before realising people might notice, so am entirely virtuous on this count…

Nevertheless, it is I who is left shuffling almost-clean family clothes as an extension of my own personal laundry evasion. What qualifies any item as ready for the laundry basket depends on the time of day and the mood I’m in – it’s a random and entirely emotional selection process. So my daughters, and my lovely clean man, can embarrassingly often either find themselves entirely out of pants, or in public sporting an unfortunate stain. Occasionally I suffer a pang of guilt about this. At these moments I reassure myself with the premise of one of my favourite books, ‘Cleanliness, Comfort and Convenience’ by the wonderful sociologist Elizabeth Shove. (I’ve put in a link… but before anyone gets excited, this is kind of a text book… I have slightly odd reading habits). Yes, I remind myself, cleanliness is a social construct, and illusory at that. What exactly is it that we are seeking to remove by our endless washing… and why?

But I do, eventually, wash our clothes. I just like to think of my approach as ‘slow laundry’. Although we have a washing machine, I try to take a creative part in the laundry process. I started making up our own washing powder about this time last year (4 parts soap flakes, 2 parts borax substitute, 2 parts washing soda – 2 tablespoons per wash). It doesn’t smell of anything and the naysayers like to point out that it doesn’t get the stains out on its own… but I’d argue with good reason – these days I tend to see laundry as an intrinsically multi-staged process. Any encounter with a stray article of nearly-clean clothing involves a quick scan for blobs and splodges, because sometimes just a spot clean will do. If not, a long pre-wash soak works wonders… the washing powder then does its business in the machine… and after the wash, there’s always the bleaching power of sunlight for line hung washing. If I sound a little holier than thou… (cleanliness is next to godliness), there is the fact that my pre-wash soaks can last for a few days, and my line-hung washing occasionally gets a second rinse from heaven. My ‘system’ involves some rather elaborate forms of procrastination and takes a long time. But crucially, it involves doing less, or at least expending less energy in real terms. What, in commercial washing powder, seeks to replace my localised scrub and the time of long soaking with a blanket blitzing? and at what concentration if it is to work diluted in a full drum of water and fabric? I shudder to think, because I have no idea… and realise I’m trying to reclaim that ground and ‘reskill’. I’m becoming an encyclopaedia of stain removal techniques for example – did you know that pouring boiling water from a height onto stretched fabric removes a cherry stain without a trace?

Yes, in washing terms less is definitely more. Less washing = more time for other stuff, and clothes that last longer. In my previous incarnation I spent enough time in textile conservation studios to convince me of that. But what started me off on this post was more the virtue of the ‘nearly clean’ – the (mostly) pleasant smell of the nearly-clean clothes that hang about my house. As my baby nodded off this evening, I sat down and rested my head against our velvet bedroom chair and found myself comforted by a scent which is distinctively hers. Today’s clothes had been tossed onto the chair in the bedtime frenzy and I was nuzzling into a babygro. Its smell gently nudged me awake with the realisation that this was her smell, not just ‘baby smell’, and entirely different from the aroma of her sister. Important, I decided, as I drifted off, that I should know the scent of my babies… important not to be too hasty with that laundry – just think what lovely things come out in the wash…

  • Clare

    I’m with Tim on that one, totally!

    • zoequick

      aha! yes clare… I had you down as a slightly cleaner person than I!
      …I see a survey and a poll coming on…

  • Funkydoodlesmoodle

    You are the antithesis to our weekly assults from my mother. She comes once a week under the pretense that she is toddler minding whilst I am at work but spends all day going through our dirty washing!!! This is very intrusive on many levelys and has been a problem for many years. I love problem soling but this one can not be stopped.

    • zoequick

      yes…indeed – I know your mum and her ways…x

Success, your comment is awaiting moderation.

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.