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Does A Washer And Dryer Fit Into A Simple Life?

by Gip Plaster on July 12th, 2011

I’ve eliminated my trash service and ditched the dishwasher, but I still do three or four loads of clothes a week in my washer and dryer. Are these machines simplifying my life or making me a heretic?

Washing clothes is easy to do by hand, and drying is something that will happen eventually even if you do absolutely nothing, so why do I need machines to handle these tasks?

Doing This While Doing That

While washers and dryers save some effort, that isn’t really the point of them. They’re about increasing available time for something else by eliminating time-consuming repetition of effort. Washing one shirt or a few dishes takes only a couple of minutes. But modern households often go through clothing and dishes so quickly that the time needed to keep things clean multiplies to impossible levels.

A generation or two ago, every household washed and dried its own clothes without an electrically-powered machine. Of course, most household in those times included a husband who worked, a wife who was devoted only to housework whether she liked it or not and children who mostly stayed home or played with friends in the evening rather than requiring transport to rehearsals and practices.

Using a cleaning machine also makes it possible to clean all of your items while you’re, say, writing a blog post.

While I discussed with you the idea of ditching my dishwasher at the same time I was actually eliminating it from my life, I’m not really planning to give up my washer and dryer. I’m just wondering if using them is contrary to my increasingly simple lifestyle. What do you think?

Why I Still Use A Washer And Dryer

Interestingly, I’ve seen lots of blog posts about people entertaining themselves without television and getting by without toasters, coffee makers and ovens, but I’ve never seen anyone write about giving up their washer and dryer. Can you point me to a post about that?

Bloggers sometimes mention washing a few items in hotel basins using Dr. Bronner’s soap, then washing their hair with this same multi-purpose brand. And I know that some people don’t have clothes-washing equipment in their homes and rely on machines down the hall at their apartment complex or down the street from their duplexes.

But why isn’t there more talk of simplifying life by ditching the washer and dryer?

Here’s my excuse for continuing to use my washer: I wear only jeans and collared polo-style shirt. No exceptions. Washing jeans to fit a slightly overweight 6-foot-3-inch person means soaking and scrubbing lots of material. Washing more than one pair at a time would require a ten-gallon bucket.

And here’s my excuse for continuing to use the dryer: While the clothes dryer generates lots of unwanted heat that is only partially vented through the duct, a household with four cats inside and incredible amounts of dust outside isn’t a good place to dry clothes.

On a rack inside, cat hair collects on items and even the most carefully clipped claws snag and pull on any fabric left out. Outside, the high winds at my unprotected home site and the dusty country roads put clothes in danger of coming in more soiled than they went out — or blowing away entirely.

But am I just being persnickety? Am I misusing a word that people who aren’t yet 40 shouldn’t use anyway? Do I mean crotchety?

Simplicity Comes in Many Forms

I’m not the kind of simple-living minimalist who lives from a suitcase that contains only two pairs of khaki shorts. I’m the kind with a house, a special someone and four cats.

My washer and dryer are 10 years old and essentially came with the house. They’re showing signs of age, but they work well. Why would I give them up?

A lower electric bill and the satisfaction of knowing that not I’m addicted to machines like many people would be good reasons. When my washer and dryer stop working, I might try a few weeks without them.

Until then, a washer and dryer are part of my simple, deliberate life, and I make no apologies for that. Is that so wrong?

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From → Simpler Living

25 Comments
  1. Laura M. | smash your t.v. permalink

    Being a minimalist doesn’t mean getting rid of everything, just the non-essential. Clearly, your dishwasher and coffee maker were not that important to you because you were able to give them up. But your washing machine and dryer? Those are important to you and help you live the life you want. Why get rid of them?

    My personal experience: When I moved into my grandmother’s house after college, there was only a washing machine but no dryer. I washed my clothes twice a month and hung them up to dry on a line that was strung in the basement. I had no problem doing that and didn’t think too much about it. My current apartment though, has a washer and dryer in the bedroom (how convenient). It would seem silly not to use something that’s already there if I can’t change it. Being able to wash my own clothes quickly is nice because I don’t have that many. However, in the future, we’re moving into a tiny home and looking to get the Wonder Wash, and then just line dry our clothes.

    • I don’t have very many clothes either, and that’s why I wash fairly often. And like most people, I prefer to wear the same three or four times most of the time. As my washer and dryer get older, though, I wonder what I’ll do in the future.

      Thanks for commenting, Laura. It’s nice to have you here.

      Gip

  2. The Fritter permalink

    Yes, you are a persnickety hypocrite. Please turn in your minimalist credentials and go back to Consumerville! Just kidding, if you use it, keep it. Not a big deal. The stage of minimalism you are comfortable with is entirely up to you. Me personally? I move a lot so appliances are not a part of my lifestyle. I usually use the local laundramat or in the case of my current digs, the park facilities. I have done laundry in the sink on occasion but no big deal. My laundry gets done once a week whether it needs it or not. I wear very lightweight clothes designed to get wet so everything is hang dry. Only downside is in humid conditions, which is all the time here in the Keys, it takes a long time to dry out. I have looked at little portable washers but haven’t found anything that I had to have. For now the laundramat works fine. And as I said, if you use the washer and dryer, then keep it. Keep what you use, use what you keep.
    The Fritter

    • Yes, using what you keep is an important point. So many so-called simple people still have too much useless stuff. I certainly do.

      I need to explore some lightweight clothing options. My jeans are getting too big for me now that I’m exercising more, so it might (stressing MIGHT) be time for a change…

      Thanks for commenting, Fritter. I’m glad you’re reading.
      Gip

  3. Keira permalink

    It all depends on your situation. At our last apartment we rented a washer and dryer. When choosing a new place a few months ago, we decided that it was much more cost efficient to just do our laundry and the community laundry facility 2x/month instead. So far it’s worked well for us, but everyone is different.

    Minimalism isn’t about trying to race to the bottom in terms of how much stuff you can get rid of and live without. It’s not about deprivation. Minimalism is about living a life to intentionally include what you want to include and removing distractions and drains on your attention and time.

    • You’re right, Keira. Deliberate living means examining everything, not necessarily throwing out or eliminating everything. But I do think every aspect of life deserves repeated examination.

      Good to see you commenting, Keira. I appreciate your participation!
      Gip

  4. Robert Wall permalink

    My dad used to repair appliances, and he said something interesting – the old style wringer washers (the ones where you had to manually run your clothes through the set of rollers) are actually far more durable than the modern ones that have the spin cycle to dry out clothes.

    The idea is that a washer is a pretty simple contraption really, and that spin cycle is about the most violent part of the wash – as far as wear on the system.

    So, having never used the wringer style, I’m wondering if the savings in wear and tear might be worth having to manually wring clothes – at least for people who own their own equipment. 🙂

    All rambling aside, I can definitely see how you might want to keep what you have in your situation. 😀

    Great post Gip!

    • Washing machines do seem very violent, so I’m sure it’s hard on the equipment. And none of us have addressed how hard machines are on clothes.

      I could manage shirts by hand, I think, but those jeans seem impossible!
      Gip

  5. jesinalbuquerque permalink

    I may have said this here before — minimalism to me isn’t about how many things you own, it’s about a simpler life. Washing and drying my clothes by hand would complicate my life enormously Of course, I work in an office and need more clothes than I would if I didn’t. Maybe when I retire and work at home, I’ll make do with a pair of shorts and two tee shirts and wash them out every day. But I doubt it.

    • I’ve found that washing dishes by hand isn’t a problem and isn’t very time consuming, but somehow washing clothes has less appeal. I do feel the need to experiment with washing clothes by hand, so we’ll see if I ever actually do that! Good to hear from you, Jes, as always.
      Gip

  6. Persnickety? Crotchety? Are you really just a geezer at heart, Gip?

    Anyway, I don’t see why you should give up the washer and dryer. If they are already there, and not taking up space you need, then what’s the problem? They save time and effort, and therefore simplify your life, and isn’t that your goal?

    I think what jumped out at me was right in your first sentence:
    “…three or four loads of clothes a week…”

    Granted, I may not be in the best position to judge what “typical” laundry habits are as I usually wear clothing only under duress and can go for months without doing wash, but even when I lived in a regular house and had a “normal” job and wore clothes every day I only washed every two weeks – one load of linens and one of clothes.

    How many people are you washing for, Gip? Is it possible to figure out how to wash less? You wouldn’t get rid of the machines (and wouldn’t want to), but you could reduce your energy and water footprint if you could reduce your need to wash.

    • I think washing less is the key to feeling more responsible about it. I’m washing for two, but most of it is mine. I have very few clothes, so I must wash often to have anything to wear. The kinds of fabrics I wear also take up lots of room, and that’s another problem.

      I think my clothes washing processes are a bit of control, and doing less washing would certainly help simplify my life.
      Gip

      • Towards that end, perhaps the ideal amount of clothing to own is one full washload plus one outfit? If you are washing less-than-full loads just because you are out of clean clothes that’s probably the point at which it becomes wasteful.

        • You’re probably right. I just hate shopping so much that I’m not looking forward to buying any new (thrift store) clothes…
          Gip

  7. As someone who has what I class as a Simplified Laundry Routine, I would never get rid of my washer. The dryer I use infrequently as I line dry or hang on airers 99% of the time. Now one item I would dearly love to eradicate entirely is the iron – very seldom used – I class it as one of the most futile chores there is. Iron a pair of jeans for them to immediately crease when worn – which they should? Bizarre… Now if I could just invent truly iron-free work shirts for the Hubby I’d be decluttering that baby so fast…

    • There are a few things in life I’ve decided never to do again, including iron and wear a tie. I can no longer see the point of either, so I’ve vowed to remove them from my life!
      Gip

  8. simply stephen permalink

    Hey Gip…absolutely, to embrace minimalism it is important to use the things you have (or want to have).

    Would love to make a quick observation though (and I am saying this as I just took my clothes from the line). If you have so few items in the way of clothing, then a quick cold water wash and hang dry should be so pain free. It takes just as little time to hang em as it does to throw em in and out of the dryer and unwrinkle them.

    Once the habit is formed it is painless. Why not stretch the life of your dryer and use it infrequently?

    • Thanks for commenting, Stephen. It’s good to have you here.

      I think an experiment along these lines would be a great idea, and I just may try that. Jeans will be the problem. The shirts aren’t really a concern. Of course, my sink is already full of the dishes I’m washing by hand, but there’s room, I guess.
      Gip

      • simply stephen permalink

        Just keep the washer for now and use cold water, very little energy and time spent. Then hang em up.

        There are quick drying, breathable, multi function clothes (like pants that turn into shorts) that can make life even easier.

        Oh…and I hear you on the tie…here, here. I ceremoniously got rid of my last sports jacket & snipped my tie about 6 years ago after I was laid off for the 5th time in a decade (through those pesky mergers, takeovers & downsizing). Ironing…don’t need it if you don’t use a dryer and your clothes last longer so it saves the agro of shopping!

  9. coco permalink

    I’m very tied to my washer and dryer. We have very few clothes and also i have a thing about having clean towels. I wash clothes almost every day. We are minimalist, but not “green” in a lot of ways. Just as you can be minimalist and frugal or not. I don’t think you are doing much harm if you are happy with your current situation. I think washing by hand would be a nightmare. Don’t give up something that will have the effect of complicating things for you! We all have to craft our own kind of minimalism, and like you mine includes many animals. And a husband and 3 kids!

    • I can’t imagine washing clothes every day, but I can’t imagine doing it all by hand either. Towels would be the hardest, even with only two people.

      We’re not always very green either, but it isn’t easy to be here. We just try to get better every day.

      Thanks for commenting!
      Gip

  10. This is one persnickety post Gip. 😉

    When I saw your title, I thought for sure you were going to say you gave up your washer and dryer too.

    I can’t imagine how much time and energy having a washer and dryer saves me. The two are a combo I would never willingly give up!

    I’ve heard of plenty of people that get by fine without a dryer, but I really can’t imagine trying to wash all of our clothes in a sink, bucket or bathtub.

    For now, our washer and dryer are here to stay!

    • The real question is what I will do when my aging washer and dryer quit. They’re difficult to get rid of, difficult to replace and expensive, all things that I don’t want to deal with.

      But as I’ve said, I can’t imagine doing it all by hand — yet.
      Gip

  11. Persnickety more than crotchety, I think, as you are not griping but fussing over details. So there! ;D

    My mother had a wringer washer when I was growing up, and feeding every single item of clothing through the wringer and into the basin of rinse water, then wringing them out again before hanging on the line to dry was very very very time-consuming. Dangerous, too–I got the fingers of my right hand caught in the wringers when I was ten, and to this day those fingers are flatter and a little more crooked than the fingers on my left hand. I’m not joking, honest!

    When we first moved to this house, a washer and dryer was needed. We opted for a front-loading HE washer plus its matching dryer. It does save on water and electricity, and its design really does save wear and tear on our clothes. I try to keep the laundry schedule to once per week, and usually alternate clothes and linens so that my entire day is not taken up with laundry.

    As a participant in Project 333, I have a small wardrobe, just large enough to get through two weeks before needing to launder everything, as does my husband. Same with the linens. This enables washing on full loads, which is more energy-efficient as well as time-efficient.

    I’m with Jo about the iron. I hate ironing, and am careful not to purchase clothing that requires it. It only comes out for very dressy occasions ;D

    • Sorry for the late reply, Meg. I think we will choose more carefully when we must get a new washer and dryer. For the moment, however, we can choose more carefully what we wash and how often we wash it.
      Thanks for stopping by…
      Gip

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