Updated: Apr 23
Laundry has always been a challenge for me, but after a lifetime of tweaking, I've finally found ways to reduce the friction so it isn't such a pain. Sure, I still procrastinate, as I do with a lot of maintenance tasks, but making each step of the process a little easier makes a world of difference.
Why is doing laundry so hard?
Laundry involves a lot of steps. You wear the clothes, undress and drop them on the floor, pick them up from the floor and put them in a hamper, drag the hamper to the laundry room, sort the clothes, put clothes in washer, in dryer, clean the dryer lint thingie, take them out of the dryer, fold or hang them and then put them in designated places. I count ten steps for one boring task. Eleven if you iron (I don't) And that doesn't count dealing with hand washing, stains, dry cleaning, or other special treatments.
Yeah, I know, some people love to do laundry. Unfortunately, none of them live in my house.
For Messies, particularly those with attention or executive functioning issues, every one of those ten steps is a place where the process can break. The way to make laundry work for you is to identify what your individual breaking points are, and what you can do to eliminate that barrier.
Solutions to common barriers
Barrier: I leave my clothes on the floor and then hate to pick them up.
Solution 1: Don't leave them on the floor!
Just kidding. If advice like that worked, everyone's house would be spotless, and organizational advice blogs wouldn't exist.
Solution 2: Hampers. Make it as easy as possible to put dirty clothes in an appropriate place by having accessible hampers. Have a hamper with no lid everywhere that you most commonly undress. A lid on the hamper is one more thing to mess with, and people who pile things will just put stuff on top of the hamper. I have hampers in my bedroom, closet, and bathroom.
Barrier: What can I do with clothes that have been worn, but aren't ready to be washed?
Solution 3: Put it away or wash it. If you are the all-or-nothing type, you can just wash everything that you have worn, even if it only touched your body long enough for you to answer the door; alternatively, you can put anything you think you can wear again back in the closet or drawer.
Solution 4: Hooks or coat racks. For the rest of us, you need a designated place to hang clothes to let them air out. In my house, I have a coat rack in the bedroom and hooks on the back of doors. Hooks work really well and can be decorative when they aren't covered in clothing.
Barrier: Sorting clothes is boring.
Solution 5: Sort as you take it off. Have enough hampers to sort clothes as you take them off. In my bedroom, I have two hampers of different colors. One hamper is white, the other dark grey. I put light colored items in the white bin and dark colored items in the dark grey bin. (I used to have a third bin for hand wash, but I just do those items in a mesh bag with other stuff now)
Solution 6: Don't sort much at all. My husband does two loads every week. One of jeans, and one of everything else. His whites get a little dingy over time, but otherwise, it doesn't cause problems. Generally, you can put different colors together in cold water as long as nothing is brand new or the fabric is not colorfast.
Barrier: I forget to take the clothes out of the washer or dryer.
Solution 7: Loud alarms. When I'm alone, I set the dryer with the loudest and most obnoxious sound it has. Davis hates that sound, so that's why I came up with the next solution.
Solution 8: A partner who reminds you. Since my husband hates the sound most timers that work for me, he has become my timer.
Solution 9: Appliance features. When you buy a new washer/dryer, look for features that can help you with any of your barriers. Both my washer and my dryer have options for the machine to keep running after the main cycle is over. My Maytag washer calls it "fresh hold" and it means that it runs a fan and tumbles the load until you take it out; the dryer has "wrinkle shield." There are also machines that both wash and dry in a single appliance.
Barrier: I don't have room to put away my clothes if they are all clean
Solution 10: Get rid of some clothes. You could do a KonMari purge of your wardrobe, but you need to set aside dedicated time and focus fully on it. If you stop in the middle, you'll have your whole wardrobe piled on your bed and nowhere to sleep. At some point, I'll write a whole blog post on just this topic, but in the meantime, here are a couple of tips you can implement right away.
I keep another hamper in my closet labeled "give away." Whenever I try something on in the morning and go "ugh, that doesn't fit," I put it in the give away hamper right away. (You can also sell clothes, but that adds more steps to getting them out of the house.)
Turn around all of your hanging clothes so that the hanger is backward on the rod. When you wash items, return them to the closet the usual way. When most of the clothes in the closet are forwards, look at the backward-facing items. You know you haven't worn them in ages, so they are fair game for the give-away bin. If I can't bear to part with something or it is a special-occasion item (formal dresses, for example), I store them in a more out-of-the-way place (see below).
Solution 11: Maximize the space you have. Look at how you might use space differently. I have a huge closet, so I have started putting everything on hangers that I possibly can. However, in other houses I have lived in, my closet space was limited but I had lots of drawers. Then, I folded more and hung less.
Solution 12: Learn to fold to save space. There are tons of tutorials online. Just google "how to fold to save space."
Solution 13: Look for alternative places to store clothes. No, I'm not saying that you should be so creative that you put clothes in your kitchen cabinets. But I'm sure you have nooks and crannies you never considered for clothing storage. In one particularly lazy period, I used the hanging space in my laundry room as a closet annex (until I overloaded the rack and it broke!). More out-of-the-way places are great for clothes that are out of season or you don't wear very often. Likely locations include under beds, on top shelves of closets, in spare bedrooms, or in the basement.
Solution 14: Make your closet more efficient. You can get a professional organizer or closet specialist to design a closet for you, but you can make small changes yourself without spending a lot of money. Most clothes aren't as long as a closet is tall. That means you can add a second rod and hang twice as many shirts in the same space, or you can drop the rod to add shelves above. The type of hangers you use can help gain some space, too. If your closet space is tight, plastic hangers take up more space than velvet. You can also buy skirt or pant hangers that will hold a number of items on one hanger.
Barrier: I hate folding clothes.
Solution 15: If you don't care if an item gets wrinkled, don't bother to fold it. You don't really have to fold anything if you love to iron. But clothes that are tossed in a drawer take up more space than folded clothes. You also spend more time searching through the pile to find what you want. That said, I don't fold my underwear (unless I'm having a KonMari folding moment and want it all to fit in my designated underwear drawer). I also just fold the top edge of socks together in pairs.
Solution 16: Hang, don't fold. If you have closet space and plenty of hangers, it is much easier to hang clothes than fold them neatly. Consider breaking rules you learned as a child. My spouse hangs his T-shirts, and doesn't seem to have the hanger marks on the shoulder that my mother warned me about. I hang bras, scarves, tank tops, workout clothes, and some sweaters.
Solution 17: Put dirty socks in a lingerie bag. This makes pairing socks a breeze and single socks won't get hidden inside other clothes or eaten by the washer. It is particularly helpful for everyone in your household to have their own sock bag (pillowcases work too) when you wash for a whole family.
Barrier: Ironing is even yuckier.
Solution 18: Fold or hang clothes while they are still warm from the dryer. When I started living with my husband, he asked if I ironed shirts and would I be willing to iron his (he had been sending them to a laundry to be done). I said "heck, no" and showed him that even his cotton dress shirts came out just fine if he shook them out and buttoned them as he put them on hangers fresh out of the dryer. I use the same method with linen, silk, and other wrinkle-prone fabrics. Even if you are a perfectionist, you'll only have to do a light touch-up with the iron if you fold or hang straight out of the dryer.
Solution 19: Don't own clothes that need to be ironed. Did you notice that I didn't even include ironing as a step in a laundry routine? That's because I don't own things that have to be ironed to be wearable. Admittedly, my style is more natural than crisp, but there are definitely clothing choices you can make that maintain a crisp style without actual ironing. But for me, any newly purchased item that turns out to be a wrinkle magnet is likely to go straight into the give away bin.
Solution 20: Use the shower to steam wrinkles out. When you do end up with wrinkles, hang up items in the bathroom and turn up the water to the highest temperature on your shower. Close the door and let the room fill up with steam. Wait for at least 10 minutes and the wrinkles should be gone.
Barrier: I have enough room, but clean clothes still sit in piles or hampers.
Solution 21: Have more than enough hangers. I have a huge closet. Yet clean clothes were still sitting in baskets, waiting to be hung. For not much money, I bought a few packages of hangers (I like the velvet-covered ones best right now) and that helps a lot. Now I take clothes out of the dryer and put them directly on hangers.
Solution 22: Open shelving. When I was in my 20s, I had brick-and-board bookshelves and no dresser. Before unpacking my books, I did laundry. With few options, I folded my clothes and put them on the shelves. Later, when I purchased a regular dresser, I found that the drawers were often empty. Drawers, it turned out, were great places for me to put seldom worn items or things I don't want to fold. So I have an underwear drawer, a sock drawer, a pajama drawer, a drawer for clothes I only wear on vacation, and a bathing suit drawer.
Barrier: I have too many dirty clothes piled up. It's overwhelming!
Solution 23: Go to a laundromat. When everything in the house is dirty, put it in big trash bags or laundry baskets, grab tons of empty hangers and your laundry detergent, load up the car and take it to a laundromat. This is a drastic measure, but it reduces a number of barriers at once. Because laundromats have many machines and some for extra-large loads, you can do a lot of loads simultaneously, and finish washing and drying in record time. Laundromats also have nice big tables for folding and racks to hang things on. You get the satisfaction of getting all caught up on laundry, and then can work on using other strategies to more-or-less keep up with it in the future.
Barrier: I lack motivation to do laundry.
Solution 24: Reward yourself when your laundry is complete. Every time you totally finish at least one load of laundry (including putting it away), give yourself a reward. If you completely empty your dirty laundry hampers and have done all the laundry, give yourself a bigger reward. Don't know how you might reward yourself? Here's a list to help generate some ideas.
Solution 25: Use products you like. If you use scented laundry detergent or softener, identify a favorite scent. You might try lavender to add a bit of relaxing aromatherapy to your laundry experience. Or you might choose a scent that reminds you of a person or place (original scent Downy smells like my Mom's laundry, for example). Washer pods appeal to my techie side (who thought of making that melting plastic stuff?). And dryer balls that reduce static and help reduce wrinkles come in all kinds of cute designs, in either wool or plastic (Search fun dryer balls on Amazon to see some ideas).
Solution 26: Make your laundry room an efficient and pleasant space. Laundry rooms can end up being a catch-all for all kinds of junk--mine sure is!. If at all possible, make sure that you have plenty of space for the products you need, somewhere to fold your clothes (even if it's the top of the dryer), and something to hang clothes on until you take them to the closet. A drying rack is a bonus. Looking for ideas? I like this slideshow from House Beautiful.
Solution 27: Visualize the consequences of not doing laundry. Remember a time when your dirty laundry was totally out of control. Smell the funk of unwashed clothes. Imagine what it feels like to wade through piles of clothes on the floor. Remember how much you hate going to the laundromat. You don't want life to be like that, do you?
Barrier: I just plain hate doing laundry and no amount of friction-reduction is going to make it better.
Solution 28: Delegate or share the job. If you don't live alone, you might be able to get help from others in the household. Each person can do their own laundry, including remarkably small children. You can also ask for help with individual tasks in the laundry process. Or offer to trade with your partner a job that you hate less than they do--maybe you'll mow the lawn and they'll do the laundry?
Solution 29: Outsource it. You could always take the path of college students the world over--take your laundry home to your parents. The adult version of this is to spend money to get it done for you. Take your laundry to a drop-off service or ask your housekeeper to do it (if you have one). All three options mean you'll have clean, nicely folded clothing when you are done.
Barrier: Keeping up with laundry so it doesn't become overwhelming or a marathon task.
Solution 30: Identify a prompt. Find something to remind you that it's time to do laundry, and actually do at least one load. Here are a few examples:
Do laundry whenever the laundry hamper is full.
Choose a day of the week that is always laundry day.
Do one load of laundry every day. Find a routine that works for your schedule. For example: Put a load in the wash before you leave for work in the morning; switch it to the dryer when you get home. Start preparing dinner while it's in the dryer; pull it out and fold/hang while dinner is cooking. Put clothes away after dinner.
Do laundry every x number of days. If once a week laundry requires more than a few loads, do it more often. Figure out how often you would need to do it to have a manageable number of loads to do at a time.
Set an alarm or use an app like Tody as a prompt.
There you have it. Thirty totally do-able strategies for making laundry easier. I hope they help you dread doing laundry a little less, and that your closet will start to look more like the photo below (not bloody likely! Who has a closet that big with so few clothes?)