Things Learned While Hanging Laundry

A few years ago we decided to put up a clothes line in our back yard.  It seemed like a good thing to do and a nice throwback to those days when the pace of life was simpler.  What I’ve learned from hanging laundry is that doing simple things can create opportunities for increased capacity.

The biggest benefit of line dried laundry is the fresh smell of the laundry.  That smell stays in the material long after it is brought in from the line.  I find I especially enjoy the smell of line dried bed sheets and shirts.  As a side note, we were very happy to see how much money we saved by eliminating the use of our gas dryer for almost half of the year. 

There aren’t too many moving parts when it comes to hanging laundry.  We got ourselves an outdoor drying rack that resembles an inverted umbrella that rotates on a single pole.  A place to hang the laundry and a bunch of clothes pins are all you need to get started.  The rest can be figured out along the way.   

I don’t want to overlook the work involved in hanging laundry. There are more (or less) efficient ways to hang laundry.  I could go on for a long time with detailed instructions on best practices for hanging laundry but that would be boring.  Among the things to keep in mind however are the following:  the near term weather forecast; how much time is available for the cloths to dry on the line; and which cloths will require the greatest amount of time to dry.  Experience has proven to be a good teacher here.  Another consideration is just how much of your intimate apparel you want to share with your neighbors.  Not something I spend a lot of time worrying about.

Once the skills in hanging laundry are mastered, it is a surprisingly relaxing activity.  I have grown to like the simple activity of putting the clothes out in our back yard.  As I hang the laundry I have a chance to enjoy the fresh air, listen to the various creatures that inhabit the trees and bushes, and generally observe the neighborhood.  The combination of mindfully attending to the task at hand while allowing myself to be open to my surroundings leaves me open to a wealth of knowledge and sensory stimulation.  And at the end of the day I’ve got a basket full of fresh smelling clothes and a few extra bucks in my pocket.  You can hardly beat that.

Lessons learned:

The biggest thing I learned from hanging my laundry in the back yard is it is far more interesting than hauling it to and from a machine in the basement.  There are a lot more interesting things happening in the yard and in the neighborhood than in the dark recesses of the basement.  Like so many other things, hanging laundry versus drying laundry in a machine involves trade-offs between a variety of considerations.  In my case I’ve chosen the value of fresh smelling clothes, lowered expenses, and lowered environmental impact over the time it takes to hang up and take down the laundry.  What I find interesting about the process of hanging laundry is how many other processes follow a similar pattern:  they require a fairly simple set of skills to accomplish; don’t require the full intellectual engagement of the person doing the activity; and could be performed in an alternative manner by trading labor for capital (equipment, natural resources, cash payments, etc.).  The interesting thing for me is what I learned about my perceptions of “logical” laundry hanger’s.  As I observe people who do things like hanging laundry, I find myself noticing any (or all) of the following:
a.     While hanging laundry isn’t particularly hard, it requires a level of skill and organization.
b.    The laundry hanger might be working at the limit of their capacity or may have the potential to do far more.
c.    The act of hanging laundry doesn’t require one’s full intellectual capacity and might be a great opportunity for stress relief while still adding value.
d.    The laundry hanger is in a position to observe any number of activities from a vantage point not readily accessible to many people.

Applying the lessons:  Here are a few thoughts to reflect on.
a.    What activities do you routinely engage in that have the potential to allow you to reflect and observe your surroundings from a different perspective?
b.    Who does the logical equivalent of hanging laundry in your organization?
c.    What do you do to cultivate the potential of people who “hang laundry?”
d.    How do you include the counsel of “laundry hangers” into your decision making processes?
e.    When your organization considers outsourcing activities, how are the potential losses of organizational intelligence and capacity associated with eliminating “laundry hangers” assessed?


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