The world over, people line-dry clothes. It is the work of minutes by hand that could never be equalled by a machine, not when one counts the embodied energy in each process. It is an act of simple living that has been overpowered by shame in hanging out one’s laundry, an act of simplicity that we reclaim from the image of drudgery, poverty, inconvenience. The worn hands of the laundress, faced with coal dust and carbolic soap is no longer what is at issue here. Emulating an aristocratic vision based on excess and exploitation still is.
Washing one’s own clothes, in an era of super-efficient machines, ought to leave plenty of time for other things. to simply peg one’s laundry to a line across the garden, on to a rack in the corner, or suspended in the warmest room on a pulley airer to dry is an act of ecological sanity. at a moment of climate emergency, recognising the efficiency of using our own hands is critical.
There are other values that accompany this. To own less clothing, and when possible of higher quality. To use only natural fibres, keeping microplastics out of our water, our air. To increase the longevity of our garments through gentler handling, engaging with each piece, noticing what needs mending. To value our clothing in the longer term, for its whole life, from how the fibres were grown and processed and dyed and sewed, by whom, following what ethics, what ecological standards.
These are small shifts, rewarded in the warm season by a scent of the outdoors no detergent could replicate. Indeed, the return of easy recipes for laundry soaps, refillable natural soaps or an odd sock tied full of soap nuts renders those chemicals totally unnecessary, their toxins can go, now.
To slow down just a little, in meditative folding, brings a certain presence to our weekly ritual that echoes collective laundry at the town water source, the wringing post, Blue Monday’s social network. These labours need not be reviled any longer. We can see that convenience on one hand has led to the pollution of our world on the other.
And so the simple act of hanging our laundry on the line becomes both an act of resistance and an affirmation of life.