Meaning of Life According To A Laundry Wench


Laundry Zen

I don’t meditate at an ashram or study ancient tracts.

I do laundry.

I’ve found a certain peace in this mundane task. When my family cries out, “Where are you?” I answer from the laundry room, “I’m looking for the meaning of life.”  (If I’m cooking, I answer, “Saving the world.”)  I used to say this sarcastically.

Sure, sometimes I resent the messy parts of motherhood. I was raised to believe I could be anything I wanted to be. Right now I want to be right where I am, but when I’m gripping a pair of mud-encrusted socks my United Nations career aspirations do provide a stark contrast.

Wisdom gathers slowly. Very gradually I’ve learned that meaning can be encountered in everyday tasks. Even laundering. Gratitude comes to mind first. Conveniences do the real work. Right now my washing machine is purposefully churning away dirt and worse with my homemade laundry soap. Being clean is a luxury I take for granted.  I don’t have to haul and boil water, then scrub clothes with caustic lye soap. Generations before me labored this way. What’s saved is the most precious resource, time. It’s up to me to honor that resource by the way I spend my time elsewhere.

I’ve found that doing for others without expecting notice, let alone acclaim, also deepens my perspective. The simple physical act of sorting and folding causes my thoughts to drift effortlessly to my family.  As our children grow, laundry tasks change.  Booties give way to socks. Diapers to undies. We tuck matching outfits together for one child, clean away evidence of bedwetting for another, soak out menstrual blood for the newest of women. Their hand-me-downs remind us cousins and friends. The fibers themselves hold the bodies we love.

We may loathe inside out shirts and socks wadded into tight fists, but turning them right side out again is a simple gesture of kindness. The cycle of reciprocity may be largely invisible when children are small but my children are old enough to be of real service around our home and farm. Yes, I unfold their shirts but they bring in the eggs, stack firewood, wash the floors, and shovel manure. It’s a good trade off.

Sometimes symbolism pops up as a teacher.  My underwear works its way into a sleeve of my mate’s shirt, asking me how much closeness we have shared recently.  A disregarded sock toy hides behind the laundry basket till missed and appreciated again.  My oldest son, a man now, keeps T-shirts that are too small.  They mark the path behind him as he forges ahead in his quiet, earnest manner.  Sometimes the lint tray is resplendent with fuschia or blue fluff when a new towel graces the drier.  We’ve made clay from this dryer lint which, when cured, looks like artfully molded felt.  I guess meaning is wherever we see it.

Oddly, I was pleased when our drier kept giving out.  The repair guy came to our house so often that the company gave up and exchanged the machine for a new one.  By then I was used to hanging laundry outside. It didn’t take much extra time.  I loved to see the clothes swaying in the wind, them fold them against my belly as my grandmother used to do.  There is a cycle apparent in laundry just as there is in nature.  As clothes wear out in that circle of wear-wash-fold, wear-wash-fold, they remind me of eternity. I try to repurpose old pillowcases and jeans to give them a better shot at that eternity. And I still hang clothes most of the year.

The last gift of insight offered by laundry? Humor, a hint that one is on the right path, is often present when I pay attention to ordinary life.  I ‘lost’ something the other day. It wasn’t something I’d go around asking about.  I’d been wearing rayon pants at the time. I laundered them without a thought to my missing item.  I noticed nothing different when I pulled them on at the start of another busy day.  But then in a crowded elevator I saw something white creeping from the inside of my pant leg and, in a moment of ill advised curiosity, pulled it out.  It was my missing pantyliner, adhesive backing now mottled with lint. Apparently it had survived the rigors of laundering and nestled in my pant’s leg the whole day waiting for the right moment to give me the gift of laughter and humility. (I don’t think anyone on the elevator noticed what I was doing, but my snickering was hard to miss.)

Every task has truth to teach, something I hope my children learn from weekly chores.  The other day while my youngest child was washing the kitchen floor he said, “I can see pictures in the tiles that aren’t there from farther away.  It makes a difference how you look at things doesn’t it?”

Yes, yes it does.

Reprinted from The Mother

8 thoughts on “Meaning of Life According To A Laundry Wench

  1. Great post! You’re a better person than me. My washing machine broke this week as well, and I succumbed/sprinted to a new, better one in no time. We’re at the “finding thongs in our pant leg” stage right now…and they’re definitely not mine, haha.


    • Naw, not better. Just slower to act.

      The take-apart of our current grumbling machine became an autopsy. Post-mortem indicated problems too serious (expensive) to fix. Also revealed all sorts of hidden mold in the inner workings, probably the cause of my sniffing and sneezing. So it’s off to the scrapyard for this one. Well, almost all of it. I have a little fixation with saving promising pieces of junk in hopes of welded sculpture, but that’s another story.


  2. Yes… Laundry. There’s no fighting it (especially with 2 in cloth!) and I’ve grown to embrace it. Similar to what you experience, I try to partake in what I like to think of as the everyday spirituality of tasks like these. Right now life doesn’t exactly allow for the opportunity to sit and pray, read the Word, do a Bible study yada, yada. But I can certainly rejoice in the Lord or lift up a friend in prayer while I scrub dishes. Love the way you write, think, live Laura Weldon. Keep it comin!


  3. Laura,
    We are happy 2nd year homeschoolers. As neighbors, family & friends return to school this month, we take on the task of rearranging every room in the house to create our new vision of a better place to live & learn. Reading your musings on laundry reminded me of the days when I sent my children off to school. My only connection to them was far-off things like laundry, clean bathrooms, and keeping the cupboards stocked with a favorite after-school snack.
    I’m still the the primary laundry wench, bathroom cleaner & cupboard stocker but now there’s less pressure. It’s what I do than instead of all I can do.


  4. After all these years, Monday is still my laundry or “Washing Day” and I really love it. We raised five kids, “daughters all”. It has always been enjoyable to me to have clean clothes and also ironed clothes. It’s hard to believe I’m near 80 yrs old and things are the same as always. At least I dont have to make all their clothes anymore but I also loved doing that. This is a great post. One of the pictures has a washer with the water coming out at the top, that’s where the filter is, as the water flushed through, it was also filtering the lint. Ha. But not anymore, I have a new top loading energy efficient HE washer. And it’s just my husband and me. They are all happily married and doing their thing.


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