Mind Over LaundryJuly 2, 2009 6 Comments
In her analysis of leverage points to intervene in a system, the late Donella Meadows highlighted mindsets as one of the most fundamental levels on which to focus if one is hoping to make deep and long-lasting change. The case for this is well made in a recent article in Mass Audubon’s Sanctuary Magazine.
Katherine Scott writes in “The Wind in the Wash” about the lost art of the clothesline in America, largely obscured by the now ubiquitous clothes dryer. In this day and age, notes Scott, many children haven’t the remotest idea of what a clothespin is. She is not simply waxing nostalgic, but making an important point about the way we think.
Today clothes dryers can account for upwards of a third of household energy use in the United States, and are therefore significant producers of carbon emissions. Scott remarks that in many other countries around the world, air drying is the more common practice. In Australia and New Zealand, for example, some 90% of households air out their laundry. This is not a matter of whether one lives in warm weather or not; clothes dry effectively in cold weather, as is attested to by year round air drying around Europe.
While technology is advancing to make more efficient clothes dryers, nothing holds a candle to air drying. It’s cheaper (no purchasing or maintenance costs for a machine), less toxic (no exposure to synthetic softeners), easier on clothes, and safer (no risk of fire through the ignition of lint). So what’s up? Turns out that throughout the US, there are numerous community ordinances that prohibit the outdoor hanging of clothes. Doing so is in some cases viewed as “a flag of poverty” that lowers real estate values. So clearly there is something in the way we think that keeps us dependent upon our dryers. While some might point to the issue of convenience, it seems that this too is rooted in our perceptions, in our mindsets about how much we have to do, how productive we have to be, and what one may or may not derive from a practice as mundane or perhaps sublime as ceremoniously hanging garments to blow in the wind.
Check out some hopeful developments on this front in Vermont. . .