Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The easy way to organize laundry in a small space

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When we moved into our 996-square-foot home, I was elated to finally, finally have my own washer and dryer — but I faced a dilemma: Where do the laundry baskets go?

Our appliances are stacked into a closet that's just barely big enough for them and for socks to fall down the crack between them and the wall. The hallway the closet's in is narrow enough that with the bifold door open, there's barely room to scootch by. There's room on top of the closed washer to fold some clothes but not to fit a basket. Our two bedrooms are petite for a family of five, containing just the requisite furniture without a lot of spare floor space and with minimal closets. Our bathroom is laughably teensy, with room for just a toilet and tub and no extra floor space whatsoever. Yes, even the sink is elsewhere.

Long story short, we got rid of our laundry baskets and our hamper once we realized they fit nowhere and were just being tripped over.

But what to do instead?

For awhile, we repurposed a closed cabinet in our clothing storage unit as a hamper, and I dutifully yanked everything out when I wanted to do laundry, catching the falling socks and sorting in piles on the floor in the hallway in front of the washer. That plan ended when one cat decided piles of clothing made a lovely litter box. Then I had to make one shelf in the cabinet be for darks and one for lights, and I still had to reconfigure the sorting to account for delicates and incorrectly sorted items. I also had to remember to empty our wet bag of dirty diapers and family cloth separately.

A new laundry plan

At some point, and I think it was gradual, I way, way, way simplified all of this. What I do now: Put everything dirty directly into the washer.

Yup, that's it.

There's no intermediate step of throwing in a hamper and then gathering later. There's no sorting. Really.

I wait till the washer's full and then start the load.

Everything gets washed in cold water, and then I decide what to machine dry and what to hang on the hooks Sam conveniently installed on the bathroom doors that are in easy reach of our laundry closet.

When the dryer finishes, or in the days thereafter (you know, at the moment right before I need to use the dryer next), I pull the items out and fold them on top of the washer in piles according to where they go and put them away.

Otherwise, we leave our washer lid open so everyone can just toss their dirty clothes in as they go.

How does this work exactly?

A couple more details on how this all works for us, which is surprisingly well:

I add my laundry detergent (I like Country Save) and any usual additives immediately after emptying the washer of a wet load. That way, the detergent is at the bottom of the drum as I prefer.

I start each wash load with a spurt of warm water to dissolve the detergent then switch to cold for the rest of the wash.

I wash everything on "super wash" (the longest normal wash cycle) to help ensure everything gets clean and nothing smells funky. We have three kids and five pets, so.

I deal with delicates as I'm loading in the moment by placing them into a mesh laundry bag with a zipper before throwing that into the same load. I'm not too precious about my clothes, so this is mostly just my underwire bras. They last as long as I'd expect, and I get out of handwashing. I remove them from the bag after and hang to dry.

I treat stains as the clothes are heading into the wash. I pretreat bodily fluids with Bac-Outcloth menstrual pads, streaky undies, pet waste. (We use cloth diapers in our hedgehog cage; I don't care if they stain, but I do want the yuck out.)

We haven't had a problem with mildew from tossing in damp clothes, though I do a load every 3-5 days or so due to the aforementioned five people. If an item is sopping, I'll try to drape it over the agitator to let it dry a bit as it sits. If you have a newfangled HE front-loader (my trusty machines are from the 1990s, I believe) and you don't wash as often, you might want to hang wet things over the shower for a bit or store in a wet bag.

When separate loads are a must

Note a couple things here that might necessitate separate loads:

We use a cloth diaper service, so most of our diaper laundry is diaper covers. We presoak poopy ones in the sink to get the worst off. If you're full-on washing dipes, you probably have your own perfected method and will need to run a diaper load separately, which might affect using the washer as a catch-all for other laundry if your regular vs. diaper load timing is off.

As for other extra-soiled items: Our family uses hankies and cloth napkins, and I haven't noticed any problems with including those in the usual loads. Same with kitchen towels, which I know some people swear should be washed separately. I dunno; we don't. I use a menstrual cup with cloth pad and absorbent panty backup; if they get saturated, I rinse them in cold water first to get the bulk out, spray them with Bac-Out, and then throw them on in with the rest with no trouble so far. I think I'm also the only family member using our family cloth (reusable toilet paper) regularly, but I use it only for number one.

If you have smelly pee-ers or use family cloth or cloth wipes for number two, that might need to be a separate load. I've noticed a maximum amount of poo that can go through our wash cycle without stinking up the other laundry, and I abide by those limits. There will always be incidental amounts of body fluids on clothing, particularly undies, and those come out fine.

One big warning: NEW JEANS! Do not wash new jeans with a mixed light-and-dark load. Or new dark towels or what have you. But if you do, I've found a lack of panic, removing the offending garment, and running the rest through one or two more wash cycles before drying takes the weird blue splotches off. YMMV, so try to avoid. If you already hot-dried, try a dye remover. We barely ever have new clothes, so I guess that's a mixed blessing right there!

What about sheets and towels? I will throw any of those in to fill out a load that's nearly full or that contains something we need faster, such as diaper covers. If I'm on a cleaning tear and determined to wash ALL THE THINGS, or there was some horrible body-fluid incident that requires unmaking the entire bed, then I take advantage of an all-sheets or all-towels load to run a warm or hot wash, with perhaps some extra OxiClean if I'm feeling frisky. But that's just to make me feel housewifely. I haven't noticed any ill effects of mostly washing them in cold.

Results of this technique:

Our clothes are clean and do not smell.

Usually the stains come out just fine.

Our family is generally very healthy.

And, most importantly, we downsized AND simplified our laundry routine.

Everyone, even the two-year-old, knows where the dirty laundry goes. I don't have to gather it room by room. I wash when the load is full. I save energy by washing full loads, on cold. I take some of my mental and time-management laundry burden away by not having to finagle multiple loads.

And we save space by getting rid of those laundry baskets and hampers!

Further space-saving laundry ideas

There are so many laundry situations that I know our idea won't work for everyone — for instance, if you trek to a laundromat or shared laundry, or if your bedrooms are on the second floor and the washer's in the basement. So here are a few additional ideas for how to maximize storage and efficiency if you value your available living space.

First of all, go with my idea of washing nearly everything all in one load on cold. Then you don't have to wait till you have enough of all the types of laundry or do the sorting.

If you need HAMPERS but are low on space, try these ideas.

  • Try our trick of repurposing furniture. Find a cabinet, shelf, or drawer you can use as a hamper. It might require downsizing your clothes, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. If your makeshift hamper space doesn't have a door, hang a curtain over it or use a basket or cubby bin.

  • One of my dream projects is to totally redesign our closets to be awesome. If you're in that process (lucky you!), consider adding a hamper feature.

  • If a brand-new closet isn't in your cards, consider repurposing furniture in the closet to maximize vertical space and afford you room for a hamper. Depending on depth and width, you could drag in a dresser, bookshelf, cubby storage, or closet-friendly shelving unit, and then use one part of it for laundry.

  • Maybe you have enough room in your bathroom or bedroom for an ultra-slim hamper.

  • A small fold-out hamper allows you to store items or additional shelving on top.

  • Free up floor space by hanging a hamper or laundry bag on hooks, doorknobs, or a hanger in your closet. Buy one for each bedroom or laundry-collecting space.

  • A wet-dry bag will accommodate cloth diapers and other saturated items without leaks.

If you need LAUNDRY BASKETS, check these out:

  • Folding laundry baskets! Use them and then put them away. They'll probably slide next to a washer or in a closet.

  • These collapsible laundry totes have handles for carrying, and — hint — you can find them for super cheap at a dollar store or Daiso.

For STORAGE of laundry essentials:

  • See if your laundry area can fit some shallow shelving, to pop your detergent and other supplies up at visual height and away from little kids. You can find cheap shelves and brackets at home supply stores or places like IKEA and Target.

  • If you have a little more room and hard floors, I'd dig a roll-away shelving unit.

  • To hang clothes at the washer, a flip-down bar can help you out then stow away.

Hope these ideas help you out as you clean those clothes!

Have you tried our strategy, or would you? Let me know how it works for you!

You might also like: "Cloth diapers for apartment dwellers."



Olivia said...

I'm completely on board with not sorting and washing everything in cold water. When my washer was right next to the kitchen, I would toss kitchen towels directly into the washer and wash them with whatever.
Now my washer is in the basement so I have a small basket for kitchen towels.

I wash both kids' clothes together when their basket is full, about once a week on cold, and I wash my and my husband's clothes once a week. If there is enough for two loads I'll separate, but otherwise I wash everything together. One load a week of all towels, and sheets are done intermittently.

So, three to four loads a week, done on one or two days for a family of four. That may increase by one load as the kids' get older and their clothes get bigger. I don't mean to sound judgemental, but I really don't understand when I hear about families of four or five people doing something like eight loads a week. I guess separating their laundry is important than it is to me.

I would like to get those folding baskets eventually because I don't have a good place for them.

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