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  • Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Zen and the art of hanging laundry
July 24, 2012 - 8:00pm

During a rare stretch of warm, sunny weather in our waterlogged Vancouver region, I look for every excuse to be outdoors.  While I could be parked at the computer inside, trying to write, and staring distractedly at the cabbage white butterflies flitting around my patio garden, I’m more productive in the long run if I give into temptation and head outside for a break.  What works particularly well is combining my outdoor time with a chore that lets my mind wander.

I love to hang laundry.  It takes time.  If I dumped the clothes in the dryer and saved the fifteen minutes it takes to hang a wet load, I bet I would squander the time daydreaming and wishing I were outside.  Besides, time saving appliances don’t allow for thinking time.  While I clip socks, my mind wanders and I think deep thoughts. I compose, plan, and come up with solutions in the guise of doing necessary work.  I get down time to enjoy the beautiful weather, give my brain time to be creative, and feel virtuous for my part in helping the planet. 

I wish I had room for a clothesline or better yet, one of those vintage umbrella-type hangers that used to grace many a suburban backyard.  All I have are a couple of folding racks that I set up at the only spot on my patio that receives sun all day.  It looks a little Beverly Hillbilly, but I dare anyone to challenge my laundry on the patio, to say that it looks unsightly, or to say that I’m in violation of neighborhood or condo association bylaws.  (Some condos in our neighborhood do in fact forbid laundry on patios.  Imagine!)

In some communities it’s the norm to hang laundry.  Our first house came with a long clothesline that stretched from our back deck to an old poplar tree in the yard.  The line was attached to a system of pulleys, and I had to think carefully about how to arrange the laundry so that I could pull in fast drying items first.  It was by hanging laundry that I got to know our new neighbors after we’d moved to a block with many old-timers.  We’d all be out in our yards in the morning on sunny days and shout out hellos as we worked.  People were shy about knocking on front doors, but we made connections from the safety of our own yards.  During my first pregnancy, laundry heralded the arrival of our baby boy. Instead of maternity clothes, I hung onesies, diapers, and sleepers.  Seeing the change on the clothesline, my backyard friends came to the front door for the first time to greet us and meet the new arrival. 

A biological research station where my husband and I have both worked has the best set of clotheslines I’ve ever used.  Behind the laundry room, eight or nine parallel lines run through a sunny patch on a little hill with a view of the ocean. Although there are coin-operated dryers, they’re risky.  If one becomes too engrossed in work to get laundry out of the dryer, it’s likely to be tossed on the lid, half-dry, to make room for someone else’s load.  Clothes fall behind the machines or get mixed up with a stranger’s load.  In the past, I’ve avoided dryer competition (and saved my quarters) by hanging my loads.  Plus, I’ve had some great talks about research projects while sharing clothespins with other scientists as we hang our shirts and towels.

I try to avoid most chores altogether (it helps to have a spouse who is tidier than me), or at least get them over with as quickly as possible.  Toilet cleaning just doesn’t inspire me the way hanging laundry does.  However, perhaps this summer my children might find their own zen moments through one of my dreaded chores.  It’s not too soon for them to begin their own search for enlightenment.  


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