I’ve gotten into the habit of doing laundry early on Sunday mornings; our apartment complex laundromat is rarely being used at that time and I like having that particular chore done early in the day. As I write this, my laundry is in the dryer and will be finished in about half an hour. When I came back from the laundromat I was thinking about my friend in Japan, with whom I will be talking this evening, who once asked me about American women’s laundry habits. She said, “Japanese women always hang their laundry out on the line to dry. Do American women do that?” I had to admit that no, in most cases women use an electric or gas clothes dryer these days, and she expressed surprise. She was flabbergasted that clothelines were not allowed where we were living at the time, due to homeowners’ association regulations, because clotheslines were considered an “eyesore.” I went along with that so as not to run afoul of the HOA and incur a fine, but I’ve never considered clotheslines an eyesore.
My grandmother, who lived with us during most of my growing-up years, did laundry on Monday, the “traditional” wash day, and always hung the clothes and sheets out in the back yard. One of my first jobs when I was little was to hand her the wooden “clothesline prop” to hoist up the line so the sheets didn’t drag on the ground as they dried. At that age I wanted to help and wished I was tall enough to hang the clothes myself and take them down when they were dry. I loved the scent from the sheets as they flapped in the breeze and again when I smelled their sunny freshness on my bed.
When it was snowy in the winter or on rainy days my grandmother would hang the clothes in the basement on lines strung from wall to wall. I missed the outside scent then but the clothes were nice and toasty dry from being near the furnace in the basement.
We had two kinds of wooden clothespins; the kind with the spring in the middle, but also the round-top clothespins. My grandmother used to tell me stories of how they made clothes-pin dolls with round-top pins when she was a child, and I begged her to make me some. She did, drawing faces on the pins with colored pencils, tying scraps of cloth around the round tops for scarves and around the pins for dresses, and I entertained myself with them as she hung the clothes.
When I was a teenager we moved to a two-family house that didn’t have a washing machine in the basement, so my mother and I would take the clothes to a laundromat every Sunday afternoon. I entertained myself then by window shopping at nearby stores, making sure I was back in time to help my mother fold the clothes. They smelled fresh and clean, like the fabric-softener dryer sheets we used, but I missed that sunny outside scent.
When I married and moved to South Carolina, we rented a house in North Charleston and I hung my laundry out in the back yard there, and also at a house where we lived later on in Goose Creek. But that was the last place I lived where using a clothesline was acceptable. I fell into step with most women in this country and from that point forward have always dried my clothes in a dryer. It’s the American, timesaving way.
But lately there’s been a backlash. Women across America are unhappy at the power of homeowners’ associations to tell them how to do their laundry, and the ban against backyard clotheslines. It’s an actual movement; see the video below:
I don’t think my apartment complex would be happy with me trying to dry my clothes outside on the deck, but I hope these people in favor of clotheslines make some headway with this. More (or less, if you think of the energy savings) power to them! Maybe someday I’ll have a little cottage with a yard and I’ll want to hang clothes out again, too.
Meanwhile, I see it’s time for me to go retrieve my laundry from the dryer. So I’ve done my laundry for the week, but I can’t help waxing nostalgic about the way laundry day used to be…