Thoughts on a laundry line

While hanging up my 24th black sock on the laundry line this morning, I began to suspect that humans may have underestimated the true cost of machines. Yes, they take energy and resources and make noise, but they save us time and energy, and that’s a good thing…isn’t it?

I’m not so sure anymore. It’s true that there are some days on which the weather doesn’t cooperate, or I just don’t have the energy or time to hang my clothes up to dry. It’s nice to have the option. And yet, I’m also discovering that the time it takes to get a load (or four if you’ve let things go a bit) up on the line isn’t time wasted. There’s something about repetitive, brainless activity that frees up the mind to explore and create. When my hands are occupied, my brain likes to compose letters, draft new scenes in the never finished novel, play around with recipe variations, ponder climate change problems, and — of course — write blog entries. In fact, that’s exactly where this entry came from.

I’m certainly not espousing going back to 100% manual labor. I just thought about what it would mean to wash all four loads of laundry by hand and shuddered. (Note to self: get rid of some clothing.) But I do think that freeing ourselves from most physical chores — whether it’s cooking a meal from scratch, walking to the store, weeding a garden by hand — comes at the price of thinking time. I’m not even sure that the time we save by using machines is really saved, when all it often means is more time to watch TV, shop, surf online, or do other things that don’t really make us happy. After all, it’s not like we’re likely to slam the door on the dryer and then go and spend the next hour thinking or connecting with ourselves and the world around us.

Maybe the true cost of machines is not their energy usage but the time and headspace we used to have to think. Maybe that’s part of how we got into this mess in the first place.


7 responses to this post.

  1. […] and electricity as any first world citizen. (Though I’ve found cutting back to have some unexpected benefits.) But economic growth for its own sake is a road that ends in a concrete wall.  Even if we […]


  2. […] to corporations or machines. The homey, slow pleasures of baking bread, walking to the market, line drying clothes, and making stock are subtle, perhaps ridiculously quaint to someone accustomed to instant […]


  3. […] obsessive DIY-er, my preference has always been for the latter. I cook my food from scratch, line dry my clothes, mix up my own moisturizers, bake my own bread, and even fold my own kitty litter bags out of old […]


  4. I had some similar thoughts about laundry and clotheslines, and blogged about them here Nice blog, I like your mix of personal reflection and information. I’m going for something similar, I’ll be reading yours for inspiration.


  5. […] in the winter, as long as it wasn’t raining. Our laundry line was jerry-rigged by my dad. Line drying might have been a chore, but it had its own quiet […]


  6. […] even in the winter, as long as it wasn’t raining. Our laundry line was jerry-rigged by my dad. Line drying might have been a chore, but it had its own quiet […]


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