Ah, the memories of my childhood. One of the fondest involves my mother and our trusty clothesline that stretched across our back yard. She truly was an environmentalist ahead of her time, although she may not have even realized it.
Twice a week, my mother would grab her basket of wet clothes and her bucket full of clothespins, making her way up the basement stairs and into the sunshine. The electric dryer was only used on the coldest winter days. I eagerly assisted her, handing her each soggy item one after another, allowing her to quickly peg them to the line. Once all the clothes were hung, she would hoist the line high up into the air, ensuring that the sheets stayed off the ground.
Many hours of my youth were spent perched on a branch of the nearby apple tree, lost in a book and surrounded by the billowing sheets. The scent of those sun-dried clothes is a memory that evokes deep sighs and brings a smile to my face.
Nowadays, there is a growing eco-friendly movement encouraging more Americans to embrace the tradition of hanging clothes outside to dry. But as with any noble cause, there are always opponents. Interestingly, the opponents in this case are often the same people who seek to escape what they believe is wrong with modern America by moving to exurbia – those sprawling areas beyond the suburbs. They yearn for the good ol’ days while opposing this simple return to a more sustainable practice.
According to The New York Times, clothesline bans are most prevalent among the 60 million community and homeowner associations in this country, who seem to have a mission focused on mandatory blandness. These associations often forbid outdoor clotheslines and even prevent residents from hanging a wet beach towel over a railing. The reason they give? They believe clotheslines devalue property and make it appear as if the neighbors are too poor to afford a dryer.
But perhaps there is more to it than that – an obsession with other people’s underwear, perhaps? One article after another quotes indignant Americans who are appalled at the thought of seeing their neighbors’ undergarments flapping in the breeze.
Thankfully, some states have taken a stand. Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, and Vermont passed laws last year to allow outdoor clotheslines, joining Florida and Utah who already had such laws in place. Maryland, North Carolina, Oregon, and Virginia are also considering similar legislation.
Why all this fuss about clotheslines? It turns out that dryers consume a significant amount of electricity. According to the Department of Energy, electric clothes dryers alone account for nearly 6 percent of total electricity use in American homes. That doesn’t even include the electricity used by gas-powered dryers. When you compare that to the fact that all indoor and outdoor lighting combined makes up just 8.8 percent of our total energy usage, it becomes evident how much energy we’re wasting by not utilizing the power of the sun.
A pro-clothesline documentary titled “Drying for Freedom” by filmmaker Steven Lake is set to be released next May. In the meantime, the Project Laundry List’s website (laundrylist.org) provides useful information and helpful tips to persuade more Americans to start air-drying their laundry.
Here are a few tips from their website: snap clothes before hanging to minimize wrinkles, hang clothes indoors in frigid weather to humidify the heated air, and for stiff jeans and towels, pop them in the dryer for just a few minutes and set it to “air”.
Oh, I seem to be channeling my inner happy homemaker with all these laundry tips. Speaking of household chores, one question frequently asked is, “Can feminists hang their clothes?” Well, why not? What better way to unwind after a long day of challenging the status quo? As author Kathleen Norris said, “Laundry, liturgy, and women’s work all serve to ground us in the world, and they need not grind us down.” Our daily tasks, whether we view them as drudgery or essential, life-supporting work, do not define who we are as women or as human beings.
I must admit, in my own feminist household, there’s only one rule for anyone foolish enough to think they can touch the laundry: Step away from the piles.
Yes, I may be a bit radical, but I can’t help it. Blame it on my mother – the original eco-friendly clothesline enthusiast.