Remedial Laundry Study
February 21, 2013 9:17 AM   Subscribe

The thing I want to wear is always in the hamper. I can't see my dresser under mountains of worn-once clothes. I never have enough kitchen towels. I have somehow made it to the age of 30 without really understanding how to stay on top of laundry. Please help!

I'm tackling the laundry beast in my ongoing efforts to streamline and optimize my life. I don't really understand how to make and stay on a laundry schedule - I've always just done laundry when I seem to need to do it, but it's a disorganized and frustrating way to live. I know how to actually launder all my things, but I need help understanding how to approach the whole thing as an ongoing chore.

Relevant information:

  • It's just me and my clothes, mostly jeans and tee shirts and easy-care things like that. I have some nicer clothes, too, that need more care but I can generally handle dry cleaning and handwashing stuff that needs it.
  • I go through millions of towels and workout clothes every week (hot yoga + outdoor, cold-weather running).
  • I have a lot of sweaters but I don't generally wash those every time I wear them.
  • I use cloth napkins and kitchen towels and have people over for dinner a lot; I probably go through a dozen napkins and an equal number of kitchen towels in a week.
  • I have lots and lots and lots of undergarments, underwear and camisoles and tanks, and I generally always layer my street clothes over at least a cami or a tank. I am not a particularly dirty person and my clothes stay pretty clean, but I smoke occasionally and so even once-worn clothes aren't fresh.

    It seems like in a given week, I should do: 1) a white/hot load of cotton towels and sheets; 2) a dark/cool load of clothes; 3) a load of kitchen stuff; 4) a load of workout stuff? Or maybe I should do that with regular clothes? Is four loads for one person crazy? And really, I don't have THAT much workout stuff; it's expensive enough that I have maybe two day's worth of running clothes. I can't wait a week between launders anyway, it gets stinky. And I don't tumble dry running clothes to help them last longer; I'd need to sort the wet clothes out to drip dry just the workout stuff.

    Basically, I generally come home, hang that day's workout stuff up to dry/air a little, change if my day clothes are uncomfortable or dressy and hang it up to air. When I get undressed at night I put dirty stuff into the hamper and stuff that seems like it could be worn again...into a pile on my dresser. When it seems like I have a chunk of time I do ALL THE LAUNDRY and it takes forever and I spend a bunch of time sorting stuff out into loads. Every once in a while I freak out and launder basically everything in my closet and in piles because I can't tell what's wearable and then start over again.

    MADNESS! How do you handle laundry workflow? Do you do it all in one day or spaced out? And do you have any tricks for cutting down the time it takes? AND! If you work out daily, how do you handle the flow of that too-small-for-a-load, DEFINITELY too-dirty-to-wear-again daily laundry?

    Please help :(
  • posted by peachfuzz to Home & Garden (46 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
    The simplest answer is to set up a schedule and do it all once a week. I typically try to start my laundry Friday night and split it up over the course of two days, just so I'm not in a laundry folding death march on Saturday evening.

    I would suggest going to Target or JCPenney and getting some more workout clothes so you're only wearing things one time. It may not be as high quality as what you're used to, but it would solve a lot of your laundry problem.
    posted by something something at 9:20 AM on February 21, 2013

    I do all my laundry in one day, and I try to wash basically everything that's dirty except the clothes on my back. Even if I've worn it only once in the week - the mental cost of sorting stuff back out isn't worth it.

    Is there a reason you need to separate out the white/hot load from the kitchen stuff load? Is separating the workout stuff while wet really harder then separating it out while dry?

    It seems to me like you can do two loads of laundry a week - a cool load and a hot load. Then separate out the stuff that doesn't go in the dryer and hang or lay it flat while the other stuff is drying.

    Final tip - if it's still clean enough to wear again, put it back where it came from! Either hang it back up or put it back in a drawer.
    posted by muddgirl at 9:21 AM on February 21, 2013

    Do you have a dry and fold service anywhere near you? That's the ONLY thing that worked for me, and I still let it pile up sometimes.
    posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:23 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

    For cold running gear, get a few more base layers. I find I can wear running pants multiple times between washings - my legs just don't sweat that much. Same with outer top layers. It's only the base layers and bras that really get gross. Either buy a few more or start hand-washing them; this is really easy, just fill up a sink or pail with water, add a squirt of detergent, let the clothes soak for 15-20 minutes while you take your shower, rinse and hang dry.

    I do laundry as needed and I don't separate stuff. Sheets, street clothes, workout clothes, towels... the only things I am careful about are sweaters that would shrink in the regular wash, and bright or dark colors for the first few washes.
    posted by payoto at 9:26 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

    We (MrsEld and I) do laundry once a week on the weekend, we generally have 3 loads total. One of those will be undershirts/underwear/bras, mostly whites. The other two will be light colors and/or dark colors. We may have one or two articles of clothing carry over dirty into the next week just because it won't fit or didn't match the load or got overlooked.

    - She does the wake up, dress up nice for life, come home, change into sleepy clothes.
    - I do the wake up, roll out of bed, dress casually, go to work, come home, sometimes wear sleepy clothes.
    - We also both work out occasionally.
    - I try, and she's working on it as well, to wear clothes that fit the need more than once in between washing sessions.
    - We wash our bedding when it's dirty or when we feel like it.
    - We are in a very humid/hot climate.

    I think what you're maybe neglecting is that last point because 4 loads sounds a bit high unless you have a really small washer. It's important because I grew up with the wear once/wash once strategy and that strategy, in non-physical labor type clothing, is 100% silly. Really it is...

    Jeans, towels, nice shirts, and so many other things can go multiple wear cycles without washing, doubly so if you're protecting them with undergarments (as you should be). It's way better for the clothes as well, most wear and tear is in the tumble/wash, our shirts are lasting soooo much longer.

    The one thing we haven't quite mastered is how to handle the clothes that have been worn once but aren't ready for the wash. Putting them back in drawers/hangers seems.... oddly gross even though it's not quite the case. We don't febreeze or anything, we actually just kinda haphazardly stack them around a separate 'kinda-clean clothes' hamper. I'll be watching the thread for input on how to handle this better.
    posted by RolandOfEld at 9:29 AM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

    I do laundry once a week, typically on Sunday. It's easy to 'set and forget' as they say. I typically only have two loads, clothes and linens, in my household of two.

    I'd combine your a white/hot load of cotton towels and sheets with your kitchen stuff (assuming it all fits) and the workout stuff with the load of clothes.

    To help easily sort out the workout clothes to be line-dried, I'd put them in a delicates bag (example) so you can just grab it out when you switch the load to the dryer. When you take off the workout clothes, put them right into the delicates bag so there's no sorting or accidentally drying them later. It also might not be a bad idea to get a few more sets of workout outfits so you can lessen the number of loads to do a week. I used to do hot yoga too and I feel you on how smelly it can get, but there are workarounds to that (maybe put the clothes directly into the washer or put them in their own bin).
    posted by Flamingo at 9:29 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

    good points so far! Re: Kitchen stuff, it seems to me like you wouldn't want to wash potentially greasy or food-stained items with sheets and towels. Because...oil, or something? I don't know (talking normally-soiled towels and napkins, not like apres-ribs or anything like that). Is this crazy, though?
    posted by peachfuzz at 9:30 AM on February 21, 2013

    Maybe it would help you to get additional hampers? You could have one for linens, one for workout clothes, and one for regular clothes. Then the smelly stuff would stay separated, and you could have a visual reminder that you had enough for a load. Your regular-clothes hamper you could just chuck stuff in when you decided it finally needed to be washed, hopefully reducing the freak-out times where you launder everything.

    I also usually combine stuff if I don't have enough for a load, like towels and workout clothes. If you wash them on warm with a dash of vinegar they should get plenty clean.

    On preview: I have never had any clothes ruined by including well-used dishtowels and dinner napkins in with the rest of the stuff. I mean, maybe if you have fried chicken for dinner, but the usual stuff? It's fine.
    posted by stellaluna at 9:32 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

    We do our laundry on Sunday, right after we change the linens.

    Here's how our loads breakdown:

    1. Bleachable whites (mostly kitchen and bath towels.)-Hot Water/Bleach

    2. Non-Bleachable whites-sheets, white shirts, etc.-Hot Water/Oxy Tablet

    3. Jeans/Pants-Cold

    4. Light clothes-Warm

    5. Dark clothes-Cold

    We do five loads a week for two people and it's not too onerous. We both sort, then he does the machine stuff, and brings me the loads to fold and put away.

    You could get away with three loads if you're single:

    1. Whites

    2. Darks

    3. Colors

    Let colors determine your sort, not what the function of the clothing/laundry is.
    posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:33 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

    We've always tossed all our towels, including kitchen towels and napkins, together in one load and haven't noticed any sort of oil problem.

    We do wash our sheets separately, only because they're too big to wash with other things. But if they were smaller, I'd wash them with whatever other load had the appropriate temp.
    posted by muddgirl at 9:33 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

    Also, we use cloth napkins/towels and don't have a single paper towel in the house, only toilet paper/occasional kleenex.

    All but the ABSOLUTELY GROSSEST (like, you changed the oil in the car or a dog yaked on the rug or you discovered your compost had spilled or cleaned a plugged drain or something) kitchen towels go in our white load with delicates, no problems.

    We also make our own detergent and use vinegar as softener and hang the clothes up to dry manually, but that's neither here nor there.
    posted by RolandOfEld at 9:34 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

    We had this hard to figure out what to do with space in our master bedroom and now sort the laundry as it's taken off. It makes it so much easier to just run a load or two on a weeknight when you're running short of workout clothes. I can also tell at a glance when it's about time to do a load of whites or whatever. I highly recommend a way to sort as you go instead of making it part of the washing process.
    posted by advicepig at 9:36 AM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

    I am not A Laundry Expert, but there shouldn't be a problem with the greasy or food stained* stuff mixing with sheets/towels as long as you take precautions. Personally, I mix that stuff all the time with no precautions and I haven't had an issue. Ask A Clean Person's Laundry School at the Hairpin has some great tips and pointers and she suggests adding ammonia or white vinegar for grease stains.

    Here are her tips on what can be washed with what.

    *I'm assuming this doesn't mean "there are hunks of food attached to the towels"
    posted by Flamingo at 9:38 AM on February 21, 2013

    The only thing that works for me (with my small family of 2) is to do a load of laundry every other day. I do tend to do a all the laundry sins like mixing coloureds and whites and washing napkins etc in with clothes. But anything dirty goes in the hamper and that gets emptied when full. It takes 5 minutes in the morning to throw it in the washer. I hang it out or put it in the dryer when I get home, and the stuff from last wash that's in the dryer goes away. I do hang good clothes to dry to make them last longer so it is usually only socks and underpants etc in the dryer.

    If you don't have much, set your washer for a smaller load. The whole separating things to wash is a pain in the ass and if you wash in a cold to warm wash really I can't see the point. I do wash my bath towels etc separately but only because they put fluff on everything, and I even machine wash anything that says hand wash on a delicate cycle. In 25 years of clothes washing I've only ever had a problem due to doing everything in together once. If you wash a new brightly colored top separately the first time you're usually good to go.

    I never even heard of such obsessive separating clothes until I moved to the US and my MIL was horrified I didn't bleach my sheets sparkling white with every wash. The only problem might be if you wear a lot of white, it can get dingy if you wash clothes like this, my mother washed my Dads chef whites in with our clothes for years though and never had any problems an occasional soak in oxyclean before washing couldn't fix.

    Occasionally if something isn't getting as clean as it should, say kitchen towels, I'll save up the dirty ones and do a bleach extra hot load, but with modern detergents it's really not that necessary.

    Just make a routine of washing your clothes and don't let it build up into clothes mountain. It get's scarier and scarier the bigger it gets.
    posted by wwax at 9:39 AM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

    Flamingo, I actually paged her on Twitter! More of my internet celebrity crushes need to participate in Ask.
    posted by Medieval Maven at 9:40 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

    Most people responding seem to be the "do it all in one day" type. We are the "constant progress" on laundry type. We do a single load of laundry probably 4 days a week. I don't to spend long stretches trapped in the house while the laundry goes.

    Kitchen stuff goes directly into the washer and rides with whatever is in the next load. We use cloth napkins and towels. Workout clothes are usually handled the same way. We go through a ton of workout gear it goes into the next hot water load. Other than some special race kits of my husband's, workout gears is not worth the extra hassle of it's own load.

    Once every week or two I do a bleach load.
    posted by 26.2 at 9:40 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

    Everything washed together (with only a few exceptions). Everything dirty goes in a one load size hamper. When the hamper is full it is washed, dried and put away that day.
    posted by HuronBob at 9:41 AM on February 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

    I feel better doing kitchen stuff separately, less because of oil and more because of E. coli. Although, probably there's E. coli all over the washing machine anyway, so maybe I'm just nuts.

    They key that I've found for doing kitchen stuff as a separate load is to have enough kitchen stuff to constitute a load on its own. So you have to have enough towels, dishrags, napkins, etc. to make a full load. Otherwise you've constantly got about half a load of towels and stuff kicking around, and it never seems enough to throw it in the washing machine and you never do it and you're always down to your last dishtowel or whatever.

    If you find you don't have a full load of linens but you're out of clean dish towels, buy more dish towels. It takes us a month or two to accumulate a load, so we're not doing kitchen things every week; YMMV.

    Also, my rule on napkins and whatever is: everything gets washed on hot and dried in the dryer. I try to read labels carefully in the store, but if I get something that claims to need special treatment (by accident or as a gift) I wash it on hot and throw it in the dryer anyway, and if it doesn't survive, it was Not Meant To Be.

    p.s. Keep a hamper near your kitchen where you can immediately dump dirty linens in there.
    posted by BrashTech at 9:42 AM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

    i keep a separate space in my closet for items that i've worn and will wear again before washing. so if i wear a sweater, and i somehow managed to not spill food on it that day, then i hang it up in the space designated for Clothes I Can Wear One More Time. this allows me to:

    a) keep them separate from Clothes That Are Sparkling Clean
    b) NOT wear the same sweater to work twice in one week. the next day, i hang up another shirt in front of that one, and again, and again, until the original sweater is in the middle or the back. then i allow myself to wear it again - usually after about 2 to 3 weeks. i always pull clothes from the back of the section.
    posted by kerning at 9:43 AM on February 21, 2013 [8 favorites]

    I don't think 4 loads a week is a terrible frequency, given that you have food-soiled kitchen linens and workout clothes to manage. Those are things that you don't want sitting around for more than week - permafunk is gross.

    I like to keep my laundry separated so I know what I have when its clean and it's easier to put away. That way when I don't get the laundry done in one day, I know that the clean towels are still in the dryer or what have you.

    It sounds to me like you are getting stuck on the half-clean, half-dirty stuff that accumulates on your dresser. Maybe you need to adopt a philosophy of radical acceptance and acknowledge that in spite of your best efforts, you don't wear the things that maybe could be worn again because you like your fresh clothes to be fresh. Just chuck those things in the dirty hamper already.

    Speaking of hampers/baskets - maybe a couple of extra would help you out. Sort as you go.

    If you have the same people eating at your house multiple times per week (a partner, a friend?) maybe look into napkin rings so that people can identify their own napkin.
    posted by stowaway at 9:43 AM on February 21, 2013

    If you have the same people eating at your house multiple times per week (a partner, a friend?) maybe look into napkin rings so that people can identify their own napkin.

    Is that what rings are for? I always assumed they were for decoration only. I must be missing something, are we talking about guests identifying napkins for reuse for multiple meals? I'm pretty chill about etiquette and also all about reduce/reuse but that seems off to me, what did I miss?
    posted by RolandOfEld at 9:46 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

    Ya'll are way more organized than me.

    I have a hamper. It's roughly equal in size to two loads of laundry (the number of washers in my complex). When it's full, I walk the laundry down there and stuff it in the machine. I set a timer for an hour then toss it in the dryer/hang it up, depending on the weather.

    Whites, darks, bras, everything goes in the same load. Only exception to this is red things that haven't been washed before, those get washed separately with nothing else (turning things pink sucks).

    Once in a blue moon I do a "bleach load" with only whites to bleach them. But yeah, not much effort on my part.
    posted by zug at 9:53 AM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

    RolandOfEld I think it's only SOs and maybe very close friends who would be reusing napkins. Not infrequent guests to the home.
    posted by BrashTech at 9:55 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

    Stowaway - I do distinguish between "family napkins" and "company napkins" - family napkins are just for me and my fella or when someone's staying for a weekend and we usually don't worry too much about them. They get washed every few meals, or as they become soiled (they're dark-colored). The creamy company napkins get washed every meal, though.

    There are so many good ideas here. I love the extra hampers idea, loath as I am to give up bedroom floor space. What do you guys do about linty towels? I love thick fluffy towels but they seem to lint over everything even after many many washes, which is why they tend to get washed separately or with sheets.
    posted by peachfuzz at 9:56 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

    I used to think napkin rings were only for decoration until I read in Miss Manners the use of them to identify napkins between family meals. I don't think this is the same column I read but the idea is here:

    I was thinking that if the OP entertains so frequently, it was more than likely she had someone who was like family who dined with her multiple times a week. (On preview ... yeah, family v. company napkins.)

    I keep a small garbage can under our sink for our kitchen laundry.
    posted by stowaway at 10:04 AM on February 21, 2013

    What do you guys do about linty towels?

    Enjoy using them and then suffer through their leavings on our other clothes. So yea, basically what you said.
    posted by RolandOfEld at 10:04 AM on February 21, 2013

    We have a divided hamper like this, which we use to sort our dirty stuff. One segment is for socks, undies, and undershirts; one segment is for light-ish stuff, and one for dark-ish stuff. When one of the sections is getting full, or I'm out of undies, or I need a shirt that's in a particular section, usually that whole section gets dumped into the washer. Our kid's stuff goes into a separate smaller laundry basket on the floor near our hamper and everything of hers goes into the wash all together. I'd say we average two or three loads a week, with the light-ish stuff being washed the least frequently since that basket fills up slowest.
    posted by SeedStitch at 10:07 AM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

    I haven't read through all the responses so maybe this has been suggested already, but here is what I do:

    1. When something is dirty, throw it straight into the washing machine (I don't even have a hamper).

    2. When I add something and notice that the washer is now full, turn it on and add some soap. (This is usually every 2-3 days for my little family of 3.)

    Seriously, it is so low-maintenance and so easy. I do not separate colors. If I know there is something particularly gross in the machine, I might add some vinegar or borax or Bac-out to the load as well, but I don't have any qualms about washing, say, cloth napkins with workout clothes. It all gets clean enough, nobody is going to die. New red things will get washed in a dark load once or twice, but I don't buy new red things very often so this isn't really part of my routine.

    If I am really with it, I will even dry and put away the load that very evening, but if it's things that don't need to be hung up right away, sometimes I just put the clothes in the dryer when the washer is done and forget about them until the next time I start a load, though I must say it's much nicer to just have it done and put away immediately.
    posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:11 AM on February 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

    Linty towel pale in comparison to having a 17 pound long haired cat.

    Get several lint rollers - one for the car, one by the door, one in the closet,
    posted by 26.2 at 10:14 AM on February 21, 2013

    RolandOfEld, I'm really intrigued by the idea of making your own detergent! Would you be willing to share your recipe?
    posted by computech_apolloniajames at 10:15 AM on February 21, 2013

    Re: space for multiple hampers. You could either get creative space-wise, and do something like those under-the-bed storage bins sans lids as sorting mechanisms. Or, you could just throw $$ at it and buy something like this that could be disguised as something else in your home.
    posted by stellaluna at 10:17 AM on February 21, 2013

    We have two adults, five cats and a small dog in my house and we do at a load every other day at the least. My clothing gets washed separately from my husband's clothing as he wears a ton of wool socks and technical fabrics which mostly can't be dried, and if they can, require no fabric softener and I enjoy soft, static free clothing. Other categories include bedding, couch blankets (totally covered in fur and have to be washed separately), and towels. I wash kitchen towels in with the bath towels, but I wash all of them with super hot water because the idea of wet fabric sitting around in a hamper breeding all kinds of ick grosses me out. I think smaller, more frequent loads would help you out.
    posted by crankylex at 10:19 AM on February 21, 2013

    I don't have links handy for quantiy but a Google search will do. We went the DIY liquid route once and won't again, the dry suffices fine if you just turn on the washer while empty, add detergent (only 1 to 2 Tablespoons), and swish it with your hand once or twice. We never even use hot water for what it's worth. MrsEld also has VERY sensitive skin and this stuff is the best solution we've found for her.


    - A bar of Fels-Naptha soap (grated, maybe also pulverized if desired). A kitchen aid mixer grater attachment is ideal for this. Some people use Ivory but I've heard it can leave a film and don't like the smell as much.
    - Washing (not baking) Soda
    - 20 Mule Team Borax
    - optional, a drop of rose oil in the water, or whatever oil you want.

    Rinse aid is a splash of white vinegar.

    No problems or complications, ever, at least for us.
    posted by RolandOfEld at 10:21 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

    I sort my stuff in two categories - towels and linens, and everything else. Cold wash for everything but towels, which get done in hot. If I were you, i would throw a load in at night when i went to bed, then in the morning, either toss it in the dryer or hang it up to dry. You probably will only need to do this for part of the week.
    posted by lemniskate at 10:22 AM on February 21, 2013

    Also! The washer and dryer in the house I just moved into is in the (creepy, unfinished, uneven-and-wobbly-steps) basement. I think at least some part of my laundry block is that I hate hauling laundry up and down those stairs. Maybe I need easily-manipulable sacks or something instead of bulky and heavy hampers and baskets? What do you guys use to move laundry around?
    posted by peachfuzz at 10:26 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

    With a family of five, I do laundry every day. But a few of the things I do might help you:

    Get a box of Shout Color Catchers. The only clothes I sort out from everything are my kids' white school shirts and socks. Everything else goes in the wash with a half of one of those sheets, Method detergent, and liquid OxiClean, washed on cold - including my husband's cycling clothes and my daughter's ballet and gymnastics gear. I have a wall-mounted drying rack, and anything not dryer-appropriate goes from the washer to the rack, and is usually dry by the next morning. Everything else goes in the dryer with half a dryer sheet. Doing it this way means I'm not waiting for a load of specific kinds of clothes, and can keep up.

    The kids' school stuff gets special treatment because they have to wear white shirts, and those need to last, so they get pre-treated, and washed in hot water with the same set-up.

    I keep household linens separate. We use white towels (shop rags I get at Costco) in the kitchen, for cleaning and for family napkins. Those go in one load a week, with bleach and hot water. Bath towels go separately, also with hot, but with OxiClean. NO FABRIC SOFTENER ON TOWELS AND NAPKINS. It keeps them from absorbing water properly. So there's one load of kitchen, one load of bath, and then bed sheets are done once a week. You can do those on the weekend.
    posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 10:28 AM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

    I bought this thing for the 'not clean, but not dirty' clothes. It's not the prettiest thing to have in your bedroom, but will probably work better than the piles.

    Also - if you forget a week of laundry, sometimes the laundromat is worth the $$. You can get a lot of loads done in 2-3 hours, rather than spending all day going up and down stairs.
    posted by Fig at 10:41 AM on February 21, 2013

    Ikea sells those giant blue shopping bags for like two bucks each. I use those for laundry bags, the straps are long enough that I can carry the bag on my shoulder like a giant purse. I have three flights of stairs between me and the washer and dryer, and not having a rigid hamper makes the stairs much easier.
    posted by crankylex at 10:44 AM on February 21, 2013

    I prefer cloth bags (one load size) for laundry, because then I can wash them with the load. They're easier to carry, Santa-style. And the idea of putting my clean clothes in a clean container makes me happier.
    posted by ldthomps at 10:48 AM on February 21, 2013

    I really hate doing laundry too. My solution has been to remove every psychological barrier from starting laundry. That means that when I realize I need to do laundry I can't be a whiny bitch and say "but I'd have to sort it, or go find the detergent, or dig out that bra bag, etc therefore I must go watch TV and not do laundry". The only thing left to do is haul that basket to the laundry room, pre-sorted/bagged, quarters and detergent ready to go.

    I hear you on giving up closet space for more hampers. I personally hate nice looking hampers. They don't let you pre-sort clothing and are just another bulky piece of furniture. When I was single I loved this style of pop up sorting hamper. It has handles and lets you take it straight to the laundry room. You can totally throw it down the stairs too.

    Now my husband and I have 3 standard plastic laundry baskets under the bed. We bought a pair of bed risers, just so we'd have enough room. It lets you sort as you take stuff off. When one basket is full, it goes off to the laundry room. It comes back from the laundry room in the same basket, gets dumped on the bed to be folded (preferably while music is playing to make it less mind-numbing), and the empty basket goes back under the bed, out of sight.

    Get a big delicates bag for your work out/can't-go-in-the-dryer clothing. Its easy to pull out when you're throwing stuff in the dryer. Clip one edge of it to the side of your delicates hamper/basket. You can more easily toss stuff in when it's open and you don't have to fish around for it.
    posted by fontophilic at 11:01 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

    When you have to lug laundry around cloth bags like they make for college students are super handy. If you have an elevator I used an old fashioned marketing cart like you see some people pull around at the farmers market, I used it as the hamper as well. Made lugging stuff to the laundromat, back in the days I had to do it a breeze, they do go up and down stairs OK if you need to but I am too lazy to do that.
    posted by wwax at 11:45 AM on February 21, 2013

    I have a hamper where dirty laundry sits until it's time to wash and then use a big cloth bag to haul the loads up and down the rickety twisted stairs where my washing machine sits. The bag was made by a family friend for me in college and I still use it! A pillowcase would do in a pinch, though this bag is a bit bigger.

    One other idea: optimize your laundry time. Set a timer for when a load should be done so you remember to go swap it right away. If you have a load that's all hang dry, do that between loads that need to go in the dryer, since the dryer cycle usually takes longer than the wash cycle.
    posted by purple_bird at 11:57 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

    It sounds like another thing that might be making you overwhelmed is having trouble telling what clothing on your dresser and floor is clean, worn but can be worn again, and dirty.

    Once clothes have aired out (hung over the of a hair or on a hangar on a hook), if they are clean enough to wear again they can go back in your closet or drawers. If you want to have a designated section of your closet and drawer for those kinds of clothes, that's fine - but it's totally okay to just put them back where they belong (again, after they've aired out for about 24 hours).

    I use this system, and I pretty much just wash things when they smell (not smell bad, just any smell at all beside detergent) or have stains.

    The whole laundering your clothes every time (or every 2nd or 3rd time, even) is something that came about in the past 50 years and is not necessary.
    posted by amaire at 12:13 PM on February 21, 2013

    Crankylex beat me to suggesting the Ikea bags. We've used ours for YEARS. Like, I think, almost twenty? Now that we have a one-level house, they don't see as much use, but they were great for hauling stuff when we lived in apartments/condos where the laundry room was down multiple flights of stairs and/or in another building.
    posted by mon-ma-tron at 1:13 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

    If your laundry is down the creeky stairs, eff that and go to a laundromat. Shit, get the fluff and fold if you really hate it.

    When I lived in Oakland, our laundry room was down a creeky flight of stairs in a dark, scary basement. So I'd schlep it to my Mom's house and hang out with my folks, or if I just wanted to get it done, I'd wake up early and go to the launderette.

    If it's YOUR creepy basement, fix the stairs and get more light. Paint the walls, tart the place up!
    posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:11 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

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