It took a while for us to figure things out, though.
When we first moved to New York City so he could earn his degree, we lived in a very small apartment in Bay Ridge, an “affordable” (a relative term, no doubt) neighborhood in Brooklyn that was about a 90-minute combined walking and subway commute from my job in mid-town Manhattan.
Half of my very modest take-home pay went to pay the rent, so our budget was tight, tight, tight. We learned to cut expenses wherever we could. And one place we did that was with our laundry.
At the beginning, since our building did not have laundry facilities, we did our washing every Saturday at the local laundromat – along with everybody else in our neighborhood, it seemed. There were long waits for machines, which meant we could not leave to do other errands.
This chore ended up consuming hours of our precious weekend time. And it wasn’t cheap either. I don’t rightly recall how much it cost, but when you’re operating off take-home pay of approximately $800 per month, even a few dollars a week can seem like a lot of money.
At first I thought we had no choice in the matter, and resigned myself to spending chunks of my Saturdays and all too rare leisure time taking care of this chore on weekends.
But then, in spending all that time at the laundromat, I noticed that the owners offered a drop-off wash and fold service.
We decided to give it a try.
Trying an Alternative to the Weekly Laundromat Routine
We bought enough underwear to get us through 21 days, and figured on getting by with fewer washings of our regular clothing than we previously had. We asked ourselves if things like our jeans really needed washing every 2 days, as we’d previously done.
It turns out that, no, they did (and do) not and can actually easily last many days, as long as we didn’t spill anything on ourselves.
Just to be sure, though, we set aside a set of “grubby” clothes for use at home, and for any kind of sweaty or dirty activity, that we would change in and out of to preserve our regular street and work clothing.
As for towels, we made do with two lightweight economy bath ones each, and four hand ones, and learned that they, too, can last more than a week, as long as they’re not too luxurious and thick, so they dry quickly between uses.
With those preparations in place, we were ready to give the laundry service a try. Because we no longer had to stand around and wait for it, I was able to drop off a bag of our dirty clothing on a weekday on my way to the subway station, and then pick it up on my way home from work in the evening.
A Life Lesson in Getting by on Less and the Benefits of Simplified Routines
We could not have been more delighted with the results and the wonderful gift of time it offered us on weekends.
That lesson is one I’ve carried through the rest of my life while raising my four boys. Laundry is a streamlined affair in our household, with designated days for getting it done in the least amount of time, and for the smallest effort and expense possible.
So this basic household task has never been the overwhelming chore that it seems to be in many homes. When our boys were young, I never did more than 3-4 regular loads per week. They were large loads, to be sure, and occasionally I had to add an extra one to take care of quilts or other bedding, or winter outerwear, but I did not spend a great deal of time in front of the washing machine.
I also delegated duties, so that laundry chores were a part of my boys’ weekly routine from an early age, starting with sock sorting, and advancing to doing their own laundry by the time they were about twelve years old.
So, when I hear of households of four – and even two -- doing loads every day or even multiple times a day, I just have to shake my head in wonderment at the waste of time, water, and electricity.
You can save hundreds of dollars a year by doing your laundry in the most economical and efficient way possible.
Ways to Save Time and Money on Your Laundry Routine
Here’s the list of things I do to save myself time, keep my water and electricity usage to a minimum, and keep some dollars in my own bank account.
Sometimes you can buy a used washer and dryer, but even then the used machines are not cheap, so that’s definitely a cost factor to take into account. It may well be for a single person or a couple that going to the laundromat or using a drop off service, along with the occasional hand-washing, is the more sensible approach from a budget point of view.
But whatever you do, do not EVER purchase a machine on the installment plan, or through a Rent-to-Own store. We once had a tenant – a single mom to 3 teenage boys -- who did that, and she was paying shockingly high interest payments that amounted to about 4X the actual purchase price of the machine.
We ended up giving her an interest free loan that she was able to pay off in 8 months once she was free of the burdensome interest payments. That arrangement made it cost effective for her, but the original installment payments most definitely were not.
Do FULL loads – This is as basic as it gets. Honestly, it is just so wasteful to run a machine that is not full. So start economizing by skipping any loads with just a few articles of clothing.
Get yourself enough clothes so you can easily get through a week - or longer - without doing a wash. Then fill the machine to maximum capacity or as close to it as you can.
Wash in cold water – This will save big bucks for you. And really there’s no reason to wash in hot water at all. We don’t need to sterilize our clothing, just get it clean. Cold water does that fine. It also helps you save money because you can wash different colors together. Which brings me to the next suggestion.
Instead, combine your colors and wash everything together in one big load. If you have any articles of clothing that you think might run colors, just wash them by hand.
Hang clothes to dry – This is a no-brainer economy move, but it always bears mentioning since it can save big. A dryer running hot is a major consumer of electricity.
Call me weird, but I personally like hanging clothes outside and find it a calming, Zen-like experience.
But even if you live in an apartment and don’t have access to an outdoor line, I recommend buying a couple of cheap, foldable drying racks that you can store away when not in use. Or try stringing a line across a room that you can take down when not needed.
Indoor line drying has the added benefit of putting some much needed humidity into the air during the heating months when the air inside our homes can become so dry that it's unhealthy.
I have never had to pay to have my husband’s or my shirts pressed because I can do them pretty much as well as any laundry service, thanks to Mom.
Ironing was a regular chore in our household growing up, and we all learned to do it like pros.
I recommend learning proper ironing technique for all manner of clothes so that you don’t need to ever pay someone else to do it for you. It’s one of life’s basic skills that everyone should know. I am betting there are YouTube videos that will show you how to do it competently.
However, use the skill sparingly, for the reason I mention below.
Minimize the need for ironing – Generally speaking, ironing uses a lot of electricity, so you want to avoid it as much as possible.
To fluff out wrinkles in clothing and eliminate the need for ironing, put the clothes in the dryer with no heat or very low heat for 5 minutes, and then hang them immediately so that you don’t need to use the iron.
Hang things like blouses or shirts on hangers to dry, and smooth and match the seams of pants before draping them over or pinning them on the rack or line. That way they are wrinkle free when you remove them from the rack or line, and they’re ready to fold and put away.
Or, you could do like a former colleague of mine used to do - he was a young lawyer in the company I worked in, so he had to wear a suit and tie. But to save himself time and effort, he'd simply iron the front of his shirt. It still makes me chuckle to think about it.
Buy less bulky, quicker drying fabrics that take up less room in the machine and can be layered.
Find a basic work outfit that you’re comfortable with, and mix, match and accessorize from there. For example, black or khaki pants can be paired with any number of simple shirts or blouses, and a few sweaters or jackets.
This will save you untold time each day in making decisions about what to wear, and will also make shopping and laundry easier. It might help to remember that Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, wore only black t-shirts, and that certainly was not a detriment to his creativity or enormous success. And it sure made the whole question of laundry sorting less complicated.
But whatever you do, change out of your professional clothes when you get home. This will help keep them cleaner longer, and also make them last longer.
Time Saving and Sanity Saving Tip: If you have children, dress them in "play clothes" on a day to day basis, and save the fancier clothes for those occasions when it matters. When you employ this strategy, you don't worry so much about stains and small tears and worn areas on your toddler's and children's garments. And that means you obsess less about them getting dirty, which is less stress in your life. That's always a good thing.
Buy only clothes that are washable – Skip the expensive dry clean only fabrics and attire.
Dry cleaning is very expensive and also not great for the environment, so try to avoid it as much as possible.
Or ignore the label and wash them anyway. The truth is that many things, such as blouses, dresses, and sweaters that are so labeled can actually be washed on a gentle cycle in cold water in a front loading machine.
Shower at night so you are getting into bed clean, and your bedding will stay clean for longer. (This has the added benefit of streamlining the morning routine for getting out the door).
Or, if you’re uncomfortable with this schedule, then try washing the bottom sheet more frequently than you do the top sheet.
And by all means change out the pillowcases more frequently. They take up far less space in a washing machine or closet, so having extras on hand is an easy approach to take.
Invest in 3-4 rubberized hospital bed pads that stretch across the bed and protect the linens if you have children who wet the bed.
Those were a lifesaver in my household, both in terms of being able to easily change out in the middle of the night, and in my laundry loads.
Simply remove and replace the pads with clean ones, as needed. They are far less bulky than bed sheets and bed pads, so they take up far less room in any machine.
Skip the luxury towels and use bath towels that are less thick, so they dry more quickly.
That means less chance of mildew building up on the towels so they can go longer between washings. There’s simply no reason to wash a bath towel more frequently than once every 2-3 weeks as long as the towel can dry between uses. Thick ones don't always do that. Thin ones do.
Faster drying bath towels also mean you can get by owning fewer of them altogether, since washed ones can be dry and back on the rod in the bathroom before your next shower or bath. No need to fill precious shelf space with a bunch of extra towels.
Shop for the most economical brand of laundry detergent (That means skipping the laundry pods!) – I'm going to say it straight out: the currently popular laundry pods are an absurdly expensive luxury. I mean, does it really take that much effort to measure out your detergent? Seriously, it's just not worth the expense for this teensy, tiny convenience.
Instead, stick to the liquid detergents. But be advised that this is one of the few areas where straight unit pricing does not always work out to be the cheapest. Instead, shop by price per load to get the best deal.
Another thing to consider is the phosphate content and septic tank impact of some brands. Check the labels for that information. Low phosphate detergents are best for the environment.
I also recommend non-scented ones, given the presence of so many allergies in the population.
Skip the fabric softener – Honestly, whether in sheets or in liquid form, fabric softener serves no useful purpose and actually makes towels less absorbent.
And many of them are so heavily scented that they render clothing overpoweringly fragrant.
If you’re worried about static cling, try adding a quarter cup of white vinegar to your machine's rinse cycle instead. That's far healthier and more economical.
Instead, try applying a few drops of concentrated dishwashing liquid directly to the stain and then rubbing it vigorously to loosen the grease, or color of the spot. Then just leave it on until you’re ready to wash.
If you stain your clothing away from home, try to get to a sink immediately. Prompt use of hot or cold water and soap will take care of most stains.
Use color coding kids clothing for easier sorting– If you have children, sorting similar-looking socks and underwear can be difficult when you have a big pile of laundry.
Simplify this by assigning each child a certain color or brand of socks and underwear. It makes it easier to identify whose laundry is whose. And not incidentally, it also makes it easier for even very small children to help with the laundry chore. Which brings me to my final point.
Delegate laundry chores – Even young children can help with simple laundry chores, such as sorting socks and putting folded laundry away. And by the time a child is in middle school, they should be able to do entire loads on their own.
The goal of parenting is ultimately self-sufficiency for our children, and this is one of the basic household chores every child should know how to do well before they strike out on their own.
The bottom line is that laundry chores CAN be streamlined to consume less time on the week and a smaller part of the family budget. It just takes a bit of re-thinking and pre-planning that’s not hard to accomplish.
Give it a try and see if you don't get some time back into your schedule and some major dollars back into your budget.