Laundry is ever-present in my life: the sorting, washing, drying, putting away, and planning so that the right things get done and nobody runs out of pants. One of my children needs some encouragement to accept that, if you try on three t-shirts before settling on a fourth, the first three aren’t so contaminated by their fleeting contact with human skin as to need to go through the laundry before they can go back in the drawer; another tends in the opposite direction and would prefer to keep yesterday’s underwear on, or at least on the bedroom floor, and needs somebody keeping a discreet count to make sure the appropriate amount of clothes are getting into the laundry basket.
Managing the laundry is a vast network of processes, some simple and some surprisingly subtle, and my interest is in transferring as many of them as possible to the children. I’ve been thinking recently that the older children are ready to be a bit more involved in the laundry, partly because there’s just more of it than I can manage right now, and partly because I’ve been reading books by people with large families recently: “The Duggars”, “Cheaper by the dozen”, “Windows to our world”, “A sane woman’s guide to raising a large family”. All of them have fascinating lists of who does which chores at what age, all working on the assumption (unavoidable in a huge family I suppose) that everyone does as much as they’re capable of, to contribute to the running of the household.
I had been focusing recently on getting my children to tidy up more often and more effectively, but reading those books reminded me that I haven’t asked them to increase their contribution to the laundry recently. Now I think of it, my two-year-old doesn’t do anything, but could easily start to develop the habit of putting dirty clothes in the laundry bin, and could help sort clean clothes into the drawers (at his age everything is hard wearing and mostly stretchy fabrics so I don’t fold much, which means he could easily put t-shirts and trousers into the appropriate drawers). My five-year-old is actually pretty good at folding and putting away in drawers, though not great at hangers yet, but I should start prompting her to put her laundry away each day instead of letting it pile up for a week. My eight-year-old hates putting laundry away above all other domestic tasks, and we’ve been working through a huge backlog of it together, so there’s no point me trying to encourage her to learn new skills until she’s got a clean slate. On the plus side, she’s getting lots of practice at sorting and folding! And I know my ten-year-old can work the washing machine with some help, so I think the time has come to get her doing a load a week, maybe with some help from her siblings to peg it out and sort it into each person’s pile when it’s dry.
I’m happy to pass this off as laziness on my part – and it would be great if I could entirely delegate the laundry to my children – but the truth is that they are learning habits that they may keep as adults. If you’ve always put your pants in the wash basket, you probably won’t suddenly start putting them on the floor just because you’ve left home; the opposite is also true. The habits that are so ingrained they do them without thinking will be the ones that they effortlessly continue with throughout their lives. I’m just trying to make sure that they’re good ones.