The easy way to do laundry

Lean Your Laundry!

Oh, laundry…oh, laundry!  If I ever design my own house, the laundry and the kitchen will be the same size as each other.  After all, each room is responsible for a major system that contributes heavily to the good of the family.  Right now, though, I have a lovely (though needing work) generous kitchen, but my laundry room is in a tiny hall between the garage and the back door, with another door that goes into the kitchen.

I have mentioned before that laundry provides seemingly endless possibilities for lean improvements, and for quite some time now I have wanted to write an in-depth article on conquering the laundry pile.  This won’t be quite as thorough as I would have liked it to be, but we will keep adding tips as we learn or remember them!  The format is a bit looser in this article than I would like it to be; however, if you need help with conquering the laundry you need it now!  Not when some SAHM manages to make a prettier article.

There was a time when a good laundry situation in my house meant that there was a pyramid of clean laundry, with a base of 3 or 4 baskets, stacked as high as my shoulder.  Hey, it was clean!  Victory!  It wasn’t going moldy!  (In even earlier times, a good laundry situation was when nobody found out what moldy stuff I had had to throw out…)

I am happy to report that those days are becoming dim memories.  And yes, I do still have kids.

How many types of laundry do you do?

Question number one is, how many types of laundry do you do?  Can you reduce it?  To start, we had 6 different kinds of laundry:

  • White delicates
  • Dark delicates
  • Jeans
  • T-shirts, socks, underwear
  • White towels
  • Colored towels


When our towels needed to be replaced a few years ago, I made a final irrevocable decision:  from now on, I am only buying white towels!  The colored ones have been demoted to occasional use/picnic/backyard towels, so yes, I do sometimes need to do a load of colored towels.  But our regular towels and our regular facecloths and our regular hand towels are all white.  You can bleach them if they’re stained, and there’s a just a very nice luxurious feel about fluffy white towels.  Kids look cute in them too!

Jeans and T-shirts can actually co-launder just fine.  Washing them separately was a habit I had picked up when my husband was a tile-setter, and at that point they HAD to be in a different load.  Why did I keep doing it for so many years?  Because, well, washing them separately was a habit I had picked up…!

So we are down to 4 types of laundry.  Which brings us to the Sorter.

The Ultimate Laundry Sorter

That sub-heading you just read, “The Ultimate Laundry Sorter,” is a bit tongue in cheek because I fully realize that while it works perfect for me, it might not be The Thing that you need.  But, it does work perfect for me, so I am happy to fully recommend you get one, and tell you all about it!

I got my first one at WalMart.  It was a rolling cart, made by Better Homes and Gardens, with 4 removable bags with metal handles.  Each bag holds about the right amount for one load.

It recently packed it in after several years of usefulness, and while I was thinking about getting another my husband bought me one. 🙂  I’m not even sure what brand the second one is, but here’s a link to buy one on Amazon.  Obviously, if you buy one using this link, I’ll get a tiny commission that will help run this website.  It definitely is worth buying the one with 4 bags instead of 3.  Also, I don’t like the ones with a hanging rack as it means you HAVE to have space above it.

I was actually really nervous when I bought it.  There are a lot of negative reviews for it and other laundry sorters, and I am not the type to spend $48-ish lightly.  But I took the plunge quite a few years ago, and have been so glad of it.

It had already proved its usefulness to me many times over when inspiration hit.  Imagine if…each member of the family…sorted their own laundry.  Hmmm…just a dream?  Or could it be a reality?

Reality, hooray!

In a one page word doc, I made 4 text boxes labeled with the 4 types of loads that I do.  The last one is labeled Jeans/T-shirts/Socks/Everything Else, because I really don’t want my 6-year-old coming to me and whining that there’s nowhere to put his sweat pants, OR his swim shorts, OR his wet mittens.  So I hoped that ‘Everything Else’ would suffice – and so far it has.

Then, one fine Saturday morning while my hubby stayed home with the kids…I went ON MY OWN to the FedEx store.  I paid $1.99 to have that word doc laminated, and for free I trimmed it into 4 equal-sized rectangles with FedEx’s marvelous paper slicing tools.  A one-hole-punch in the middle near the top of each one, and I was on my way home, having been AWOL for a good 15 minutes.  (It was fun.  Felt like I was a grown-up.  Considered getting coffee while I was out.  Didn’t actually get it, but did consider the possibility, and might actually do it one day.)

My kids had noticed my absence, and watched intrigued as I used zip-ties to attach the signs to the sorter.  I briefly showed them where things were meant to go, and wondered out loud if they were old enough to figure it out.  They were.

You can print out the laundry sorter labels for yourself, for free, right here!  Laundry Sorter Labels

The Real Change

The biggest difference to our laundry process did not require any equipment.  What has made the largest impact and most sustained improvement is the way we think about it.  That sounds rather airy-fairy, but let me explain.

Why do you do laundry at all?  Not likely just for kicks!  😉   In a business, you would be thinking, “What does the customer want?”  The customer isn’t interested in HOW you get them their product, they just want the finished goods.  Imagine the bike manufacturer that I use so often in my examples.  Part of the process in making a blue bike might be bending pipes, cutting them, welding them, and painting them blue.  But the company doesn’t tell you that; they say, “We make bikes.”

When we are “doing laundry” that is the equivalent of a bike manufacturer saying “We cut pipes and weld them back together.”  Yes, factual, but not the real picture.

So what are you doing, when you’re doing the laundry?  You are providing your family with easy access to clean fresh clothes.  Did you catch that?  You are providing your family with easy access to clean fresh clothes.  And with that in mind, you will need to run your laundry process in an entirely new way.

The New Process

Now that you understand WHY you do laundry, you can see that you need to run the process differently.  After all, if I run a thousand loads through the washer and dryer, but never get them folded and back into the right drawer, I have been ‘doing laundry’ but without ever providing that easy access to clean fresh clothes discussed above.  Much like if the bike manufacture cuts and bends and welds and paints without ever actually getting a bike to the customer.

On the other hand…if you get ONE small load into the washer…into the dryer…folded…put away…NOW you’re talking, you have just made it that much easier for your family, you have just provided easy access to some clean fresh clothes.

So the secret is, one load at a time, through to completion.  If you have a backlog you need to catch up on, promise yourself one load in the morning and one in the afternoon, through to completion, until you’re caught up.  (Sort it so anything wet gets dealt with first.)

If you have a stack of clean laundry to fold, start with it; fold 10 items and put them properly away before you fold the next 10 items.  No, this is not wasted motion!  Remember that a stack of nice folded clothes on your bed is just ASKING for your 3-year-old to dump her milk on it.  So fold it and put it away.  Keep it at the front and center of your mind, that you are providing your family easy access to clean fresh clothes.  Every item that gets back in the drawer or closet is to be celebrated; my toddler and I used to count them as we folded them and put them away.

Then, once you’re caught up, it’s one or at the most two loads per day, through to completion, without breaking a sweat.  Once you are running your laundry process ‘backwards’ you’ll be amazed that it is easy, does not take much time, and opens up large amounts of time for funner things.  Keep your focus on getting the stuff that is nearest to completion, done.

You can do it, Mom!

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