June 24, 2018
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How the laundromat gave me some perspective

Sarah Smiley | BDN
Sarah Smiley | BDN
Sarah Smiley
By Sarah Smiley

Last week, our washing machine broke and our car flooded from the rain. The good news was that my now retired Navy husband is neither deployed nor otherwise away with the military, so he was home to help with these household “emergencies.” Finally, he could deal with the car, and I could — well, I ended up at the laundromat.

Dustin did offer to go for me, but I’m not stupid. By going to the laundromat, I could bypass the usual “what’s for dinner”/“can you drive me to [insert some place across town]” after-school rush. So I volunteered to take laundry duty. I don’t love doing laundry, but usually, the biggest problem I have is forgetting that I have wash in the machine in our basement. If it’s been a few days and soured, it needs to be washed again before it’s dried.

It had been awhile since I’ve been to a laundromat. In fact, I can’t remember if I’ve ever been to one, unless you count washing machines in an apartment or dormitory basement. I realize how this makes me sound. And during my three days at the laundromat, I learned some things about myself.

The biggest of these is that I have been incredibly — and unknowingly — privileged to have a washing machine in my home. Doing laundry at a laundromat is expensive. In fact, it’s so expensive that Dustin and I calculated that it would be more cost effective to just buy a new washing machine than to wait 3 months for the replacement part (itself expensive) and pay for the laundromat in the meantime. We are lucky we have that option. In one week, I spent more than $65.00 at the laundromat doing laundry for myself, my husband and our three boys. Each “20 lb. capacity” washer cost $2.75, and it was about $2.50 to dry. For a household of 5, some of whom are playing sports and make extra laundry, that adds up.

I also lost about 6 hours of productive time, despite the free Wifi. Needing to use the laundromat meant that I sometimes had to either (1) leave work early, (2) make dinner later, (3) or go to sleep late. It cut into time I might have otherwise spent working, connecting with friends, exercising or enjoying my children.

So imagine a family who can’t afford a washing machine, or lives in an apartment without a hookup, and therefore has no other option. As I sat in the hard plastic chairs, with the machines whistling around me, I thought a lot about these families. I wondered what they might be doing if they didn’t have to come to the laundromat. And then I remembered a colleague who once told me that the reason some families don’t let their kids play after-school sports is because the extra laundry is just too expensive. That didn’t make sense to me at the time. It does now.

If you don’t have a washing machine in your home, when you have to expend extra time and cash washing laundry, you know that a potty-training child wetting the bed night after night will be expensive but unavoidable. You know that a kid will inevitably throw-up and soil a half-dozen towels. You know you can’t prevent the dog from being sprayed by a skunk and needing multiple baths. But you can tell your kids they aren’t going to play soccer or baseball or basketball, because that’s laundry you can avoid.

I’ve never thought much about sports laundry, aside from the usual mom-to-mom complaining. I’ve never thought about the extra expense or time it requires for families who use a laundromat. Until last week, I never thought about laundromats much at all. I’m ashamed to admit that.

I ended up meeting a young mother while I was at the laundromat. We bonded over watching Ellen on the television hanging from the ceiling, and she helped me choose different settings on the machines. We talked about motherhood, too, because she had her child with her — a child with more patience than mine, who have never had to wait at a laundromat. And then, several hours later, I watched through the window as she left. It was about to rain. She was pulling her clothes and her child in a wagon. They were running to beat the rain. And there sat my dry, comfortable loaner car in the parking lot.

Maybe the mother chose to walk. Maybe she lived close enough that driving seemed silly. In any case, I quickly threw my clothes into a basket and ran outside. But my fellow mom was already gone around the corner.

In a few days, I will have a new washing machine. Laundry will again be something that’s done quickly between other tasks, like making dinner or getting ready for work. I will probably leave wet clothes in the machine and forget them.

But I don’t think I will ever again use my new machine without thinking of that mom and others like her who don’t have the luxury of “forgetting” about the wash.


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