"No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands and we obey"
- - Heber J. Grant
February 21, 2013
How to Manage the Laundry
by Cyndie Swindlehurst


My bedroom is shin-deep in dirty laundry. My kids’ rooms are strewn with dirty laundry. My laundry room is full of laundry, but I’ve lost track of whether it’s dirty, clean, or ruined by crayons that went through the dryer.

My dresser drawers and closets are empty, because all of the clothes are dirty. Sometimes I just wear less-dirty clothes because there is nothing else to wear. This can’t go on, but I’m completely overwhelmed just thinking about all the laundry I need to do, and I don’t know where to start.


If my house were shin-deep in dirty laundry, I would feel overwhelmed, too. You have a lot of work ahead of you.

The problem here is that doing your laundry has become an enormous, all-consuming, all-day (or all-week) project. And you are not doing it. We need to change that. You need to think of laundry as something that runs in the background of your day-to-day life. It’s something that you do every day, but it’s not the main event.

Don’t groan! You can do this! You can get over whatever mental hurdle is keeping you from washing your clothes. It’s a skill that anyone can learn. If you are skilled enough to get married and have children, you are skilled enough to do laundry. And the more you do it, the easier it will become.

Do you resent doing the laundry? Are you lazy? Figure out why and get over it. No one is too good to do his own laundry. And unless you can afford a laundry service, you have no other option.

Here is the system I suggest.

Rule 1: All dirty clothes go into a laundry basket.

To make this work, you will need laundry baskets for every bedroom: one for darks and one for whites. For small children who have small clothes, one basket may be enough. But the idea is to have the laundry basically sorted from the moment it goes into the hamper. For your own bedroom, get a third, smaller laundry basket for delicates.

You need big, sturdy plastic baskets into which dirty clothes can be tossed with ease. Tall, rectangular baskets are best for ferrying clean, folded clothes, and they take up less room. Choose easy-to-carry baskets that look like they will last a long, long time.

Don’t be seduced by fancy three-bin laundry sorters with removable cloth bags. You don’t need to mess with removable cloth bags. And don’t use regular woven baskets—they crack over time and snag your clothes and the color can bleed onto your clothes and carpet. Cloth laundry bags may seem attractive, but it’s much harder to get dirty clothes into a drawstring bag. And you need to make this as easy as possible.

Rule 2: Every morning, check the laundry baskets. See which one is full. Take three minutes to sort the clothes into loads, checking all pockets. Then, put a load in the washer. In an hour or two (or when you get home from work or errands), transfer the wet clothes to the dryer. Then put the next load of dirty clothes in the washer.

For this step, you’ll need a trash can for the crayons, stickers, napkins and other treasures you’ll find in people’s pockets. My favorite trash cans are the kind with notches in the rim that hold used grocery bags.

It will be easier if you don’t mix laundry from different bedrooms. If smaller, less-efficient loads are the price you pay for having a functioning laundry system, so be it. Jeans are the exception to this. It’s best to wash jeans separately, and they are fairly easy to collect from and redistribute among family members.

Rule 3: When the dryer is done, fold or hang the clean items immediately.

Do NOT dump your clean, dry clothes into a laundry basket and leave them there. That is how you got into the “I don’t know if it’s clean or dirty” mess. And the “I’m overwhelmed with a mountain of laundry” mess. Instead, fold or hang them when you take them out of the dryer.

You will need about five minutes to complete this step, so don’t try to do it while you are cooking dinner or working on something else. This step will be the most work, especially if you have never enjoyed folding laundry, but it is the key to your laundry system. Also, it will leave your clothes less wrinkled.

Hanging clothes is easier than folding clothes. So get a bunch of hangars. If your children cannot reach the closet rod, get them a stool.

Rule 4: After the clothes are folded or hung, put them away.

If your children are old enough, have them put away their own clothes. Inspect their work to make sure they have put away the clothes correctly.

For this to work, you need a place in every bedroom for clean clothes. Hangars, obviously, go in the closet. But you also need to designate a place—a drawer, a shelf, a bin—to put the clothes that don’t hang, like socks, underwear, and jeans. Tell the bedroom’s occupant where he can find these items and where he should put them after they have been washed. This change is going to take a lot of practice for your family.

That’s it! That’s the system! It’s more work that you are used to, but it’s the way to keep your laundry running smoothly without letting it take over your life.

But even if you start that system today, you still need to dig out of your current mess. That’s going to take some dedicated work. Here is what you will do.

First, go into your bedroom. Make your bed.

Second, go into your laundry room. Take any clean clothes into your room and put them on your newly-made bed. Fold or hang them and put them away immediately. Count that as your first finished load of the day! Good for you!

Third, get all of the dirty clothes from the laundry room and your kids’ rooms and add them to the piles in your room. Bring some Shout or other stain-treating spray. If you cannot tell whether clothes are clean or dirty, assume they are dirty. If you have a crayon-ruined load, keep it separate. Once everything else is clean, call a friend who is good with laundry and ask what to do with it.

Fourth, sort the dirty clothes into separate loads: whites, darks, jeans, towels, etc. Your goal is to have a whole bunch of piles on the floor, so each time a load of laundry is clean and put away, you can easily grab the next load to wash.

If you see spots and stains as you sort, give them a squirt of Shout. Check all pockets. If you come across an item that is stained, worn, or torn beyond repair, throw it away. Don’t worry about being thrifty and turning it into a rag. Just throw it away. And unless you actually do all the projects you plan to do, don’t save it for a quilt square or doll clothes or a repurposed anything.

And if it’s too gross for you to wear, don’t donate it to the poor.

Fifth, as soon as one of your piles is big enough to be a load of laundry, go put it in the washer. When the wash cycle is done, put the wet clothes in the dryer.

That’s easy, isn’t it? The machines do all the hard work!

Sixth, get the next pile of clothes from your room. Put it in the washer.

Seventh, when the dryer is done, take the clean clothes into your bedroom and put them on your neatly-made bed. Hang everything that it makes sense to hang. Fold everything else.

Don’t worry about the ironing. You can iron later.

Eighth, hang the hangers in the closet and put the folded clothes away.

You’ve done it! You have laundered and put away your clothes! Take a moment to feel proud. Now repeat this process about twenty (or thirty) times, and you will have drained your laundry swamp.

Do you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life? Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and she’ll be happy to answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!

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About Cyndie Swindlehurst

Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from Duke University with a law degree.

She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.

Cyndie serves as the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
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