The Four Load Experiment

January 15, 2014

I did something rash today. With two full baskets of clean clothes waiting to be folded and one waiting to be transferred from the washer to the dryer, I went into each bedroom, the bathroom, and the kitchen with another basket and gathered a fourth load of laundry. And then it hit me.
This is all we need.
Anything that is left in the drawers and boy’s baskets is just jamming up a system that might just run a lot smoother if we got rid of everything that is not in our current laundry rotation. Well, not get rid of, but rather put away out of sight until the season, size change, interest warrants an update with an infusion of different clothes.

So I grabbed a trash bag, and set to emptying our drawers into bags.  If it was not in the current laundry rotation, we probably weren’t going to miss it. That was my hypothesis.  I wanted to see if I was right. My goal was to take every item of clothing that was currently stagnating in the drawers and put it away, out of our daily lives.

Why? Because I don’t want to spend my life doing laundry, thinking about laundry, annoyed by laundry, overwhelmed by laundry. Because folding and putting away laundry while my kids play in the next room is not the same as being present with them. Because I like simplicity, and I like creating systems that work smoothly and efficiently so I can spend more time and energy on those I love instead of the stuff I have.

And then the anxious thoughts started.

But what if something happens? What if my children don’t have underwear? What if there’s no short sleeve shirts in the laundry right now? WHAT WILL WE WEAR? WHAT IF SOMETHING BAD HAPPENS?

Wow, those are some interesting thoughts, I thought. Want to reign that in a little bit? Is anything bad actually going to happen? Will your children really be unclothed? And by the way, your children don’t wear underwear yet.

I confess that as I went from room to room, I couldn’t actually go through with emptying the drawers and baskets. I just had to leave two items in each basket. Just in case.

It stayed like that for a day while I ruminated on my initial runaway train of fears that having fewer clothes immediately accessible would spiral into domestic chaos and throw us into a dire state of emergency. I had left those two items in each drawer and basket as a security blanket, and I pondered why I had made that decision, when my original goal was to leave the baskets EMPTY, save for the incoming clean laundry.

My security blanket…Security from what? 

C’mon, I thought. What are you so afraid of? Do you think it’s actually going to happen? Where are those fears coming from? Are they really YOURS, or something you’ve been taught to fear?

So then I felt like I should be brave, so I went back and put those two extra just-in-case items from each basket into a separate bag.

This is what I’ll get out first. Just in case I need it.

I kept things this way for awhile. I wanted to know:

Did I miss it? Did I need it? Did if make things easier for it to be gone? How much do we really need to be comfortable and provided for? How often do I need to restock/ rotate? Is that a more enjoyable task than folding laundry and putting it away ? Did it make any difference in the quantity of labor needed to clothe my family, or make it a more enjoyable task?

The results of this experiment were:

1. I did end up putting the last two items back in the baskets. It turns out we did need those two extra items in addition to what was in the laundry rotation.
2. Yes it has made a difference–in the way I feel about the necessary task of laundry. It doesn’t seem like an endless task now. Interestingly, I’m still doing the same number of loads total, but it’s much easier to fold and put back in the drawers now so the system as a whole works more smoothly, making my life easier. It take s up less mental space because it does not get out of hand, mountains upon mountains of laundry accumulating in each room. Just one tidy basket in each room, and when it’s getting close to the top I know I need to put that basket in the wash because that person is about to run out of clean clothes!

3, I will need to rotate clothes seasonally and size-wise more frequently because what is left in the drawers is really temperature specific and we’ll all need different selections when it’s not quite so wintry.

4. It’s made me appreciate clothes more, and also not care about them so much. The Four Load Experiment put the focus more on function and quality (comfort) rather than fashion and whimsy (although those pieces are all the more enjoyed).

The experiment continues…

Five weeks later, I organized all our stored clothes, including the ones I had stuffed into garbage bags at the beginning of this experiment. Beth and I have just one tote each of stored clothes now.  There is one tote each of 12 month, 18 month, 24month/2T clothes, and a tote of 3T/4T stuff for J to grow into.  I also packed another tote full to the brim of kid’s clothes to sell at the consignment store. During this reorganization and purge, I pulled out a few more clothes for my shelves, because those four initial loads  didn’t seem to have as much of my clothes as my other family members. Definitely still enough, but after repeated washings these five weeks, the few shirts I had are noticably more worn than five weeks ago. Also, I’m getting a bit bored of my standard “mom uniform,” plus the seasons are changing, crocuses are blooming, and mild 50-60 degree days are here to stay (mostly).

So my hanging shelves are nicely full again, but not overflowing with clothes.  If after a few weeks of this return of more clothes, I notice that I haven’t worn an article of clothing even once during this time, I’ll likely put it away again, or better yet, part with it for good.

The best thing about the experiment is that now I KNOW that we don’t need to have more clothes than four loads worth.  The world did not implode, and everyone had lovely, clean clothes on their bodies, every day.

The disappointing thing was that it didn’t reduce the amount of time I spend doing laundry.  I still wash one or two loads of laundry most days.

How many clothes is the ideal amount for you and your family?  Would you be willing to have fewer clothes, and why would you take those steps to minimize your wardrobe?  What are the motivating factors for you?