Mind Over Laundry

July 2, 2009 5 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. . .


  • Gibran says:

    Man Curtis, talk about hitting a bunch of points at once – and with such a simple concept, mindset shifts, individual behavior, thoughts on poverty – I’m also thinking about our insane relationship to time… how could we make – how do make air drying go viral? A public statement about ecological consciousness?

  • Curtis says:

    The “right to dry” movement seems to be alive and well. Just saw something about it in Connecticut. Spread the word, people.

  • Curtis says:

    On this 4th of July, consider our Right to Dry . . . http://www.laundrylist.org/index.php/advocacy/76-the-right-to-dry-campaign

  • Andria Winther says:

    With you on this Curtis. Serendipitously I just hung a load of laundry on drying rack and hangers, a common practice in our loft– no place to hang laundry out of doors.While a bit funky to navigate around the drying rack, physically and visually, it’s got all of the advantages you speak of, plus clothes last longer…..by years!

  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    This is one of those things where I say “yes, and….” I’m all for getting rid of ordinances that prohibit air drying, and I’m all for creating a shift away from “clotheslines as a flag of poverty.” I grew up in the country where air drying happened as a matter of course, even after we got a dryer. And, having lived for many years in a tiny apartment with five other people, no dryer, and no outdoor space to hang laundry, I counted it a small miracle to get to a house with a dryer. In fact, I wouldn’t even consider cloth diapers for my third son without a dryer. The dryer has truly reduced the time I spent on laundry, for which I’m grateful (especially as the kids and the size of their clothes continue to grow). And, while I do still air dry many items that wouldn’t make it through the dryer intact, giving up the dryer all together would be tough for me! This, of course, is where the proverbial rubber hits the road–getting people to do things that are good for the planet and for us all but are really an inconvenience for them personally. Personally, there are a lot of things I’m more willing to budge on than this one. Peace!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *