How to get by without a dryer

I don’t use a dryer. I have a dryer, but about 95% of the time it stands idle. I prefer to line dry my clothes. Whenever I tell people this, their reaction follows a predictable pattern. First surprise. “How can you do that with six people in the family? It’s so much laundry.” Next comes defensiveness. “Well, we could never do that. I don’t like the crunchy feel.” “It takes too much time.”  “It isn’t worth it.”

So I thought I’d take some time to explain how we make line drying work for us and why it’s completely awesome and you should do it, too.

First off, why should you line dry? Dryers are easy and convenient, it’s true. But they are also horrendously energy inefficient. So much so that the energy star program took one look at dryers and decided there wasn’t any point in trying to come up with an energy efficient standard. They use a lot of energy and there’s no getting around it. Even worse, you have to pay for this energy. So basically, you’re using a lot of energy and some money to accomplish something that will happen with just a bit of time and patience. Line drying is also more environmentally friendly. Looking to decrease your carbon footprint? Look into line drying. Additionally, your clothes will last longer if they don’t go in the dryer. All that lint in the lint catcher? That was part of your clothes.

So here are some tips on how to make line drying work for you.
1) Wear your clothes more than once.

When I was leafing through an IKEA catalog, I came across one of their “helpful tips.” They showed a chair with a pair of pants draped over it with the suggestion that customers do this to air out their clothes so they can wear them again the next day. I showed it to my husbands. “Americans will never go for this.”
“Why not?” he asked, puzzled.
“Because they don’t wear their clothes more then once. They wear them and they throw them in the laundry.”

“But that makes a lot of laundry!” he protested. “Why wash them when they’re basically still clean?”
Why indeed. But this is how Americans roll and this is why they have so much laundry. This is also what I used to do until I went to Germany for a year. After a few weeks with my host family, my host sister pulled me aside. “Stop putting your pants in the wash after wearing them once,” she told me. “My mom’s complaining that it makes too much laundry.” So I stopped. And I’ve stopped every since. In Germany, jeans can be worn until they’re actually physically dirty. Shirts as well, but it’s more common to switch those out daily.
Finns do this as well, but they take things a step further. They tend to wear junky clothes, like sweatshirts and t-shirts at home and change into ‘nicer’ clothes, like jeans or whatever, only when they go out. This keeps their nicer clothes clean longer, so they have even less to wash. Once my in-laws asked me to take a picture of their whole family together and I obliged. All of them are in sweatpants and t-shirts, except for my mother-in-law, who quickly changed into something nicer for the picture.
Since living with my husband, I’ve adopted his habit of wearing shitty clothes around the house and changing into nicer ones when I leave. My shitty clothes I can usually wear 2-3 days before they need washing. In the evenings, we hang them up on a chair to let them air out so we don’t smell horrible the next day. Most of our kids are too young to do this; their stuff gets dirty every day and we don’t try to arrange wardrobe changes when they leave the house. But Alpha is getting to the point where his pants can be worn more than one day at a time before they’re dirty, so we remind him to hang them up after he takes them off so he can wear them again.

2) Do your laundry in the evening or according to the weather.

In the winter, we use two drying racks we bought from IKEA to dry our clothes. These take up a lot of room, so in order to use them most efficiently, I wash the clothes in the evenings and Alpha and I hang them out before he goes to bed. By the time morning rolls around, most of the laundry is dry. After breakfast, I can take it off, fold it right on the racks and we put it away. No laundry baskets full of clean laundry waiting to be folded.
In the summer, things work a bit differently because I hang them on my rotary clothesline. I do one load of laundry before I go to bed. When I get up in the morning, I take it out, start the next one and hang them both up after breakfast. They usually dry within an hour.
In the summer, I also keep a close eye on the weather forecast so I can plan my laundry according to what the weather is going to do. I’ve noticed you need at least two of three factors in order for laundry to dry well outdoors:
1) Warmth. By which I mean 50F or above.
2) Wind.
3) Sun.
I consider 50F to be the minimum temperature for hanging clothes outside. While clothes do dry in freezing weather, I’ve never managed to make that happen before the sun goes down and once that happens, I no longer have two of the three. It’s also really hard to tell if clothes are dry when they’re cold. Rubbing them against your check helps.

3) Getting rid of that crunchy feeling.
This is probably the number one objection to line drying I hear. People just don’t like the fact that their clothes are stiff when they’re line dried. To that, all I can say is, “Kaikkeen tottuu, paitsi jääpuikkoon perseessä – se ehtii sulaa ennen.” You can get used to anything except for an icicle up your ass because it melts too quickly. In other words, you’ll get used to it. At this point, whenever I’ve worn clothes dried in the dryer I feel like they aren’t clean. Like I’ve pulled them out of someone else’s closet and they’ve already been worn.

 There are, however, some things you can do to minimize how stiff your line dried clothes feel.  A good rule of thumb is that the slower your clothes dry, the less stiff they’ll be. Shaking them out before hanging them up helps loosen the pile. It also makes them less wrinkled.

The last solution is the most labor intensive: iron your clothes. My host mother irons all of their clothes, even their socks and underwear. A bonus side effect is that their clothes are always very neat and nicely folded. But she used to get up at 5am to start ironing and would iron after dinner while watching TV. My host sister and I would pitch in as well. Germany is actually where I learned how to iron. At my house, we didn’t iron anything. If my dad needed to iron his dress clothes, he did it himself. But in Germany, ironing is common enough that my sociology teacher asked the class who did the ironing at their house and singled me out specifically. I stared at him blankly. “No one. We don’t iron.” He didn’t quite know how to respond to this, so he just moved right along. In Germany, however, I would go home after school and stand in my host sister’s room, ironing the clothes.

 My mother-in-law in Finland also irons everything. But she has an advantage over my host mother: she has a clothes press. You lay the clothes inside it, clothes it, and it irons them. It’s pretty nifty.
Using these methods, line drying is not only possible, it’s actually quite easy. It does take some time to adjust, so give it a try for about a month or so to see how you do. And let me know if you also make the switch from dryer usage to line drying.

You can have it all, except your sanity

The previous edition of the Economist had several articles about the gender pay gap (and gender pension gap) and included many suggestions to remedy it – and to not make things worse (bonus article: getting the housework done). The goal, essentially, is to encourage both men and women to stay in the workforce, working the same number of hours, saving the same amount for retirement while having at least 2 kids (the ideal is to increase the birthrate) and getting both maternity and paternity leave for these.

It’s worthy goal, but it does fail to address one problem: logistics.

Say you have a family of five, mom and dad both work outside the home. Kids are ages 8, 5, and 3. It’s Monday morning. You need to get 5 different people to 5 different places, all at the same time. GO!

In some places, this might not be impossible. In Germany or Finland, the 8 year old could get himself to school and then one parent each takes one child to day care/Kindergarten. In Finland, since school doesn’t start until age 7, they could conceivably be in the same place.

But here in the US…If my husband and I didn’t both work from home, we would both have to commute 30 minutes at least to get to the nearest town where work is. And since we would be commuting along with everyone else, make that 45-60 minutes commuting.  So let’s make that the case for our theoretical family. Let’s say they have to be there at 9. Well, the local elementary school doesn’t start until 8:30 and they don’t want you dropping your kids off until 8:20 (unless you pay for before and after school care and there’s room). So the two oldest have to go there and get dropped off at 8. Other parent takes the 3 year old to daycare. It’s 7:30-5:30, so we’re good on time.

Then mom and dad go to work. But wait! Kindergarten gets out at 11:30! It’s only half-day in my town. Someone needs to pick up the 5 year old. Oh, and there is no after school care for Kindergarten because the rest of school is still going on. I forgot to mention that. Maybe 5 year old should go to private school which, like day care, has hours from 7:30-5:30. That costs more though. This shit is getting expensive: $300 a week for private school for the 5 year old, $200 a week for day care for the 3 year old.

Then school still gets out at 2:30 for the 8 year old, but that’s okay after school program will keep him until 5:30.

But wait! Work lasts until 5:00! Commute is 30 minutes without traffic! With traffic it’s 45-60! How are they going to make it there on time? It’s not physically possible! Who is going to watch the kids? Who is going to cook dinner for that matter? We eat at 6 because it’s a well known fact 3 year-olds turn into pumpkins at 8pm. Whiny, cranky pumpkins who hate everything. Can these two parents get dinner on the table for their whole family and get their 3 kids, who have also just come home, fed while they themselves haven’t had a break? And then homework! And then bed! And after school activities!

This would be hard with just two kids, but I think three kids is where everything really starts to break down. It’s not a problem that can be solves with state funded maternity and paternity leave, or guaranteed daycare spots or even before or after school care. With three kids, it becomes necessary to have someone who dedicates a large portion of his or her time to managing the family: getting everyone from Point A to Point B and maybe occasionally having a nice drink at Point C, which is located at a convenient distance from point A.

Either that person is going to have to cut hours back to part-time or just surrender and become a stay at home parent. It doesn’t matter WHO does it, the mom or the dad, but someone pretty much has to, otherwise you go insane.

We manage by both working from home and homeschooling our kids. Our toddler goes to “preschool” (more like a daycare) three days a week so we don’t go insane.

My sister managed with two kids both parents working full-time with her husband working the regular 9-5 job and she worked overnights at the hospital on the weekend. Since shifts for nurses are 12 hours, she’d work Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights to be full-time, my youngest nephew went to daycare on Monday so she could sleep and she’d be up in time to pick oldest nephew up from school and then get youngest nephew from daycare. It was about as much fun as it sounds. It worked, but my sister and her husband pretty much never saw each other and after a few years, working nights lost its appeal. You can file this under the “flexible work hours” the Economist recommends.

So, yeah, while eliminating the wage and pension gaps and increasing the birth rates are all well and good what we really need help with is managing the time gap. How exactly are two parents supposed to fit everything in? Will someone come around and plan out the logistics of modern day family life?

Real Home Economics

Ages ago, I read the book Radical Homemakers, which discussed a subset of the population that was foregoing traditional jobs and choosing to live off the land and produce the things they consumed themselves. I was largely dissatisfied with this book, mainly because the author didn’t seem to have a good understanding of economics. She liked to call the economy the “extractive economy,” one that extracts your labor from you and doesn’t give you much back. She extoled the value of making the household a unit of production, instead of consumption. Except she never seemed to acknowledge that there are a lot of things it makes more sense to buy than produce yourself. And if you can get a job that pays more than turning your household into a unit of production (especially if you don’t enjoy all the work that comes with it), it makes more sense to have that job than to make everything yourself. However radical it may be.

Now I have finally found the book that discusses making it yourself vs buying it: Make the Bread, Buy the Butter. The author, Jennifer Reese, was laid off from her job in 2008 and decided to figure out which things actually were cheaper (or better quality) to make at home because it obviously isn’t everything.

And it’s hilarious. Then again, watching suburbanites turn from city-dwellers to wanna-be homesteaders is always funny–I should know. I am one.

Reading her book has made me crave goats again. I really do want a goat, but since my goat would probably be a milk goat and not a meat goat, I’m holding off. I know I don’t have the time to milk a goat or learn how to play midwife to one or breed it or deal with subsequent offspring or make cheese/butter/whatever from the milk.

So that needs to wait. However fun making my own Camembert or mozzarella might sound.

This book has, however, made me feel more determined to get pigs. My husband and I discussed getting them this past spring, but we were woefully behind on everything we wanted to do anyway and decided not to add any additional livestock. But now we’re a bit caught up. And I’m out of pork. And we have about 5.5 acres of wooded area I’d love to see opened up a bit more.

I’ve been reading up on raising pastured/forest pigs and decided we should get 3. I know one person who would be interested in buying one pig from me (dead, of course). One pig would be for us and the third we would have to find someone to buy. I found a blog from a pig farmer in Vermont who seems to know what he’s doing and he wrote (and updated) a post on finishing your own pigs and it was very informative. Basically, pig chow, no. Forest/pasture, yes. Maybe I can embarrass myself and ask around at local stores/supermarkets/bakeries and find out if I can get their waste foods (bread, fruit, dairy) to feed the pigs as well.

The farmer recommend dividing up the area you want your pigs in into 6 small areas and rotate them between them, spending a week at each one in order to make sure it’s been well torn apart. I know exactly the area in our woods I want them at, too. The area and hill behind the pond, where we had loggers remove our pine trees. They left a ton of fallen lumber and branches there, which have been rotting for about two years now. We’re thinking about putting swales in there, a permaculture thing suggested by some of our friends (who are very into permaculture) and then planting our orchard on top of that. But the area is now overgrown with various plants and small trees. Having pigs open that up for us would be awesome. Maybe they’ll help get rid of our blackberry plants, too. Who knows.

Other than that, Reese has informed me that has the cheapest vanilla beans ever and I just ordered half a pound of them for $36. I was also planning on making strawberry jam from u-pick strawberries this summer (Alpha wanted to see how it’s made), but her book informed me that homemade strawberry jam tastes just like store-bought and is therefore, not worth it. So I’m now going to make Strawberry-Rhubarb jam with Rhubarb I got from a friend who doesn’t have (or want) anything to do with it.

And I’m going to make my own vanilla extract. This is exciting!

Some notable quotes from the book:

“If rather than a lush green garden, you want your outdoor space to resemble a Third World village, I suggest getting some chickens, who will methodically denude the landscape of every blade of grass, low-lying weed, and wildflower. And i you want to rid yourself of shrubbery and small trees as well, get a goats. Very soon you will have the adobe patio of your dreams.”

“Where is that sweet spot between buying and making? What does the market do cheaper and better? And where are we being deceived, our tastes and habits and standards corrupted?”

“Are you nuts? If so, make it! (re: Vermouth)

“Chickens squabble. Chickens have minds of their own, however small. Not so the ducks, who waddled in lockstep formation around the yard, wing to wing, all day, every day, muttering. They were like a Hare Krishnas, always chanting in a gang.”

Ways to Cut Back

My sister wants to get solar panels. Her location is perfect for it—she has a nice long roof pointing south and lives in a region where they would generate a good amount of electricity all year round. You even get a nice tax credit from the federal government for buying solar panels and they pretty much always end up owing on their taxes. The rub in this plan is the fact you have to pay for the solar panels up front and get the tax credit later, when you file your taxes. Solar panels don’t come cheap and an array to cover her roof would probably cost about $20,000 to $30,000. Since no one is handing out home equity loans, that would mean saving the money. “You’d have to cut back on some things,” I advised.

“But that’s just the problem. There aren’t many places we could cut back, unless we cut out the kids’ music lessons and that sort of thing.”

Whenever I’m confronted by an immobile budget like this, I always think of Asians who manage to save 50% of their income. How the heck do they do it when we’re sitting here, needing every penny from our paycheck just to keep us afloat to our next one?

So I explained ‘austerity’ to my sister. Austerity, I said, is a bit like going on a diet to get to a certain goal weight. You cut out a lot of things you would normally spend money on in order to reach a goal. You can add them back in later but you cut them out for now.

If we were going to go on an austere budget in order to reach a saving goal, here are the things we would cut out:

1) Amazon Prime

2) Soda

3) Sweets

4) Driving to nearby cities more than once a week (we live in a rural area and it costs $5 in gas each time we drive to the nearest city)

5) Netflix

6) New clothes/shoes

7) Eating out

8) Alpha’s gymnastics

9) Doing new thing on the house (obviously)

10) Reduce/eliminate paper products usage

11) Stop buying kindle books

All of these things are things that bring us more enjoyment than the money would, so we do them, but for a temporary amount of time I could see us cutting them out in order to meet a goal of some sort. I could even reduce the amount of calories I eat since I need to lose weight, anyway, in order to cut our grocery bill. You know, if we really wanted to save some money but were short a few dollars to reach our goal.

Aside from those, there aren’t too many areas we could cut. We already have a garden. We could get rid of our chickens, which don’t save us any money at all. There’s no way you can raise chickens in your backyard that are cheaper than factory farm chicken/chicken eggs. It’s just not possible, especially if you’re raising your chickens humanely.

It’d probably be easier (and more enjoyable) to find ways to increase your income for that period of time and just save the money you earn than to cut all the fat out of your budget.