Airing My Laundry

laundry
photo credit: Capt. Christopher Love

Once the weather gets really nice – late spring around here, or even early summer if it’s a rainy year – I love hanging our laundry out to dry. We have two (TWO!) laundry lines off our back porch, and I find pleasure in the quiet rhythm of shaking open a wet item, reaching for the clothespins, pinning the clothing up, sending the line squeakily towards the yard, and beginning the cycle again. Hours later, as I take the laundry down, I revel in the slight stiffness of some of the dried clothes and the fresh almost non-smell as I fold them.

Laundry lines, which generations past saw as either a necessity or a drudgery, are a luxury for me. Hanging laundry means slowing time and honoring place. We live in a busy downtown where not everyone has a backyard, much less a porch or space and time for laundry. In fact, our house is bounded on one side by housing units, about 10 of which look into our backyard in some way, and on the other side by a larger house that has been divided into three apartments. Our back-door neighbors have a well-used laundry line, and next to them two other houses rise above our yards and look down into our little space. Basically, a lot of people can see our laundry dry.

This potential public combined with my children’s enthusiastic ability to grind dirt into pretty much any item of clothing they wear means that every time I hang the laundry, I end up thinking about the phrase “airing your dirty laundry.” I mean, our laundry is clean-ish, but it’s out there for everyone to see. My neighbors know what my underwear look like, just how big a hole has to be before I declare a shirt unwearable, and exactly how clean is acceptable for socks in our house (hint: not very). I’m not airing our dirty laundry, exactly, but I am surely sacrificing some of our privacy when I head out with a basket full of clothes to dry.

I keep thinking about this. Once upon a time, everyone had to hang their laundry dry. People hung clothes out tenement windows in New York, and Ma hung clothes on the Prairie with Laura and Mary and little Carrie. There was a time when it was scandalous to let your underclothes peek out, but everyone around you knew about your underclothes anyway. Privacy was different then, I imagine. Your neighbors saw your laundry and they knew your business. It must have been an oddly intimate sort of knowing in a time before the tell-all era we currently inhabit.

Today, bras show frankly under t-shirts, boxer shorts parade above saggy jeans, and panties flash below short shorts. Online, I am wildly public about some things, but oddly reticent about others. For example, I cannot for the life of me to bring myself to describe my underwear to you. I’ll hang them up for everyone in the neighborhood to look at, but no way will I write about them here, even though people who read this blog for sure know more about me than some of my neighbors.

Why my hesitation? There are companies on the internet that know more about me than any one person ever will. They know what I browse and where I pause and when I buy. They know all my numbers and statistics and Heaven only knows what else. Yet I curate my social media and consciously choose how to present myself to the world as if my life is private. It’s disconcerting. I don’t particularly like either side of this modern privacy – the curated face or the grasping attempt to monetize everything behind that face. It makes me uncomfortable, like looking at your neighbor in church and knowing that under the fancy Sunday dress are worn-out knickers.

I persist in hanging my laundry. And as I clip another dingy sock to the line, I recognize one more laundry-line luxury: no internet entity, human or otherwise, knows exactly how dirty those socks have to be before I throw them back in the washer for another round. If you want that kind of intimacy, you have to live next door.

 

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15 thoughts on “Airing My Laundry

  1. Interesting rumination on hanging out laundry. Living in hot and humid Louisiana, we praise the modern luxury of air conditioning and dryers. Nothing would dry on a line here. There is such a different idea of privacy these days. In many ways, I know my blogging friends better than my very own neighbors. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your “dirty” laundry.

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  2. This made me laugh and get a little teary-eyed, remembering my mom hanging out our laundry, which she did regardless of temperature. My sister and I would giggle every time she brought in our tights, frozen solid in midwinter. They thawed dry and smelled great, but it was the stiffness that made us laugh.

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    1. Hung outside in the winter?? I often think of it, mostly because I can hear my money flying out the window when I use the dryer. But in the fall I know it’s time to stop when my fingers are frozen before the whole load is up. I love the clothes line in the summer though. I’m with you Amanda – my neighbours know way too much about what is going on under my clothes!

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  3. There’s nothing like the smell of line-dried laundry–it’s a perfume that can’t be recreated! I loved your reflections on your laundry line and the lines between public and private. Fascinating! Your post is such a perfect example of growing ideas and thoughts from a small moment or inspiration. Love it! (And I now oddly find myself wondering about your underwear…lol)

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  4. This was so great. A whole rumination on hanging laundry. This was an essay, a true journey of thought. I loved it all, but this line stood out to me: Hanging laundry means slowing time and honoring place. Beautiful.

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  5. So much to appreciate here. We live sans dryer here in my Central European place and hang clothes indoor year-round. But hanging clothes outdoors is different and available for limited public view. That means something. The connections you draw to your own digital habits ring familiar. We really have to ask ourselves what we mean by “privacy” anymore and in which contexts. Thanks for offering us a view to your thoughts “on the line” so to speak.

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    1. Ooh – I didn’t realize you are in Central Europe. I lived in Bulgaria for a year once long ago (before children, sigh). Now that you mention it, I could write a whole series of slices about trying to wash my clothes in my apartment there.

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  6. Somehow your description of hanging laundry makes me nostalgic for the days I stood on a chair and hung laundry. I was seven. We didn’t have a dryer, and often the clothes were stiffly frozen when I took them down from the line. And as I read about why you won’t describe your undies, I silently wondered: hipsters or bikinis, briefs or thongs; cotton or nylon; Hanes or Victoria’s Secret or Jockey. I don’t mean to be so curious, but if you see me peering over the fence from a multi-complex, you’ll know why!

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  7. Amanda, your blog post title intrigued me since I used to hang clothes to dry with my grandmother. It was so much fun being involved and just the other day, while vacationing in Cape May the motel owner had her laundry hanging outside. It made me wonder who were the persons behind the assorted towels and clothes.

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