Laundry Haiku

Out of the corner of my eye
A child running—
Ah! Just pajama pants on the line.

The port side of our boat looks like it is strung with Tibetan prayer flags—towels praying for fair winds and a sunny afternoon. After her house burned down and she had to carry the laundry for a family of seven to and from a laundromat, my friend Tina told us all to be thankful for our washers and dryers.  If I may boast for a moment, I did a large load of whites today by hand, so I guess we should now be thankful for laundromats. Believe it or not, it was fun. At least the first hour, after which my back began complain about the unfamiliar strain. To further stretch credibility, I actually enjoy everything more when I choose to do it by hand. The examples are too many to name, but my favorite household tasks are, in order of pleasure derived:  kneading bread, home-schooling the kids, and doing the dishes.

My classmate Alexander Lee began a movement during our years at Middlebury which turned into the non-profit Project Laundry List ( At the time, I thought the whole thing a bit fruity. (It started with some pants hanging in a tree by the dining hall.) He said we could reduce the electrical demand on the grid so much by hanging our laundry instead of using our dryers that we could render nuclear power unnecessary. It sounded good, but who wants to hang their wash in a dorm room? And later on, it just seemed impractical: I mean, really, am I going to hang six-to-eight loads of laundry in my backyard—especially when it rains every afternoon in South Florida for six months? Never-mind about those pioneer women with ten children. Now the cloth diapers I hung. And yes, it did give me a Zen-ish peace to hang wet diapers in the cool morning air. It gave me an opportunity to actually breathe and relax and be “in the moment.” But the wash for six people? Project Laundry List exists not only as an environmental movement, but also as an advocacy group to ensure that people are allowed to hang their laundry if they wish. It’s a free country (or was), but these days you can face hefty fines for hanging laundry in the wrong place!  

My, how things change: faced with the choice of going back home to do laundry or staying one more day at a pleasant anchorage, I opted to break out the Wonder Wash (hand-crank agitator) and buy some more time at sea. Our time-limiting factors are: fresh water (we hold +/-200 gallons), food (the boat is only provisioned for long weekends), and clothing. We carry enough fuel (for engines and power generation) to last at least six months, so that doesn’t factor in. After about three days, the fresh food gets used up, the water runs low, and the clothes are all dirty. But we were having a nice time, and Jay didn’t have any pressing work at home, so why not stay another day? That simply requires creative menu planning, breaking out the watermaker/desalinator (Yay! It works!) and, you got it, washing laundry by hand. Strangely enough, it is not only rewarding, but also comforting to see the small shirts and shorts and undies hanging on the lifelines. It makes me thankful for the one large and four little people in my care. We don’t have any neighbors, so there’s no one complaining. I have decided that while it would be nice to have a compact electric washer on the boat long-term, for now I can easily use the Wonder Wash to agitate the soapy clothes, a five-gallon bucket for rinsing, and a roller for wringing (that’s now on my birthday list), and the lovely fall-and-winter breezes for drying. It’s a fun family activity that affords some much needed one-on-one time for me and one of the children. Eli used the Wonder Wash for awhile, Aaron rinsed and squeezed, Sarah hung, and even the youngest got into the act and helped with clothespins.

In our old neighborhood, I once saw a Mexican woman washing laundry the old-country way: using a bucket and a rock in the front yard. That struck me as out-of-place in suburban Atlanta, something that said “property values are about to plummet.” I never considered that she knew no other way to do laundry. It may arguably be a better way. Hey, maybe she even liked it.