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Joy & Laundry: An Odd Experience

November 5, 2019

If you would have told me that ever associating the feeling of love and joy with laundry would have been a possibility for me, I would have likely laughed in your face.

Laundry was drudgery to me. It wasn’t so much sticking clothes in the washer or transferring to the dryer. It was the folding and putting away. I’d often have multiple loads on an extra surface just waiting to be taken care of.

I definitely made this more complicated and unpleasant than it needed to be. For me though, it felt like a never-ending task that elicited an anxious feeling because I always felt like there was something much more important to be doing than laundry.

My relationship with laundry (somewhat) improved over the years. I think having kids encouraged me to stay a little bit more on top of laundry, but it never became something I would ever say I liked, let alone something I found to be joyful.

I give you this background surrounding my previous relationship with this somewhat basic responsibility in life because of the stark contrast to my current experience. 

Where we live, we are without a clothes dryer. I had expected that we might be without one, as it’s been my experience that dryers are much more of a luxury than a necessity in many Latin American countries. When I studied abroad in Chile, I became accustomed to hanging my clothes to dry.

Being dryer-less was not a shock to us. However, we did have to figure out our routine when it came to doing laundry.

Laundry became a task that we had to be much more strategic and intentional about. Having a washer and dryer means you can stick a load in at any time of the day. Not so much when washing your clothes requires you to time the hanging of the clothes when the sun is out and it’s not raining.

Very soon, I realized that it only made sense to plan to do one load of laundry per day, as line space is limited. Additionally, things usually work out the best when the load of laundry gets put in first thing in the morning. 

(Luckily, our laundry volume has changed through the downsizing process and relocating to a tropical climate. Where we previously may have created three to five loads of laundry per week, due to heavier clothing in the Pacific Northwest and not being conscious of how much we produce, we now have one load of clothes per 4-5 days.)

We have a somewhat long laundry line on the far side of our house where we try to hang the clothes if weather permits it. However, we’ve devised a system for drying inside too if necessary, but it takes up a whole bedroom and some effort to get set up.

I describe all of this to demonstrate that doing laundry is more work and planning to do one load than it ever was when I lived in the United States and always had access to a clothes dryer, which makes my new experience that I’m about to share with you all the more ironic.

The other day, I was hanging a load of clothes on the line, and I became aware of how much I actually enjoyed the process of one by one hanging each individual piece of my family’s freshly-cleaned clothing on the line. What I was experiencing was nothing close to drudgery.

With this awareness of what I was experiencing, I began thinking about how interesting and odd this experience actually was. I was reminded of my old relationship with laundry and how much I allowed it to zap joy from my life.

As I began to pay attention and think more intently about why I was enjoying this task, I came up with a list of reasons for my joy.

A view looking out from behind a small papaya tree

Our clothes line is surrounded by the beautiful environment that we are currently living in. I can’t help but appreciate the abundance of life here being in the middle of so much wildlife. It’s diverse and rich. When I’m hanging the clothes, it’s as if I’m a part of this natural world. I’m coexisting with everything else that is happening around me.

The sounds of the wind moving all the trees around me, the insects, and birds create this cacophony that almost puts me in a meditative state. 

I’ve become aware of the various ant hills, and instead of feeling in conflict with these “pests”, I’ve come to work around them. We both can occupy the same space. 

One of the ant hills I make sure to walk around when hanging the clothes.

I take moments to look up and see the vultures soaring up ahead. The concept of a vulture was always previously viewed by me as something derogatory and had a negative connotation.  However, spending so much time looking up at these birds, they feel much more majestic. They have an important role in this diverse web of life and are a sign of a healthy ecosystem.

There’s this sense of gratitude. I get to be in this space. I get to have this time to tend to our clothes. We get to have clean clothes. 

How different is this experience?  How paradoxical that more work could feel like a privilege. 

Like I said, I would have laughed thinking that I’d ever like or enjoy doing laundry. It seemed like an impossibility to my previous understanding of reality.

What I realize is that our concepts of reality feel so very real to us in the moment. They seem like truth to us. When we’re in our “reality”, it’s very difficult to entertain something so very contrary to what we know as being possible.

This brings me to why I so love living in new-to-me places and experiencing new cultures. 

Every time I’ve traveled for an extended time or lived abroad, my consciousness and understanding of myself have expanded. 

By immersing myself in environments with realities different than the reality I believed to be truth, I was able to see that there are so many more possibilities than I previously accepted. 

It’s like I was previously confined to a box, and within the box are all the possibilities that I thought existed. When you go somewhere new and experience other realities, the walls of the box begin to disintegrate. You start to consider the new possibilities. It then gets exciting because if there are these possibilities that you never before considered, what else is possible?

Having this new experience with the seemingly-mundane task of laundry was not an intended result of coming here. I would never have thought of putting “enjoy doing laundry” on my list of life goals and aspirations. 

Rather, enjoying doing laundry is a sign of other areas of my life coming into alignment. A big part of this process has been to simplify and strip away external pressures and ingrained ways of thinking to come to a place of greater clarity about what matters in this life to me. 

What I’m finding is that the joy experienced here came from feeling a greater sense of connection to nature. Something that continues to come up for me is that so much unhappiness comes from a place of feeling disconnected. If we felt more connected, it’s possible that we could turn mundane drudgery into very different experiences. If routine tasks were joyful, how would that spill over into other areas of life?

I’m curious about what would happen if we nourished more connectivity in our lives– with ourselves, each other, and/or nature. Would life seem less monotonous? Would we allow ourselves to find joy in areas where we didn’t before think joy could exist? What do you think is possible? 

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