02 June 2013

Sock Fights: A Solution to our Laundry Problems

Following is a portion of my memoir writing describing my "middle years" as the mother of a large family. It describes my search for a solution to a common laundry problem - sock matching. Eventually, the problem was solved, but only after the children got old enough to leave home or take care of their own laundry.

In our large family, sometimes the inevitable family fights were serious, but sometimes they were all in fun. For example, when the socks flew. There were ten of us living in the Stubbs Family Residence at one time, and I often feared that the laundry would take over the whole house. It certainly had me running. When we moved into the house on 448 East, I was excited by all the cupboard and counter space in the laundry room. But the long expanse of counter was too inviting to ever remain empty of miscellaneous piles of personal or family belongings. In an effort to organize, I used recycled orange and gold colored plastic recycled hospital tubs received from our hospital visits and then added some stacking bins to line up along the counter next to the dryer. I labeled each small bin with the name of one of our family members.
Our "new" house at 448 East
The idea was that when I folded the laundry, I would put the person’s clean clothing in the bin and they would put it away. It sounds like a good idea even now, but it didn’t really work. In fact, the laundry problem ballooned even before it got to that stage.

The gathering of dirty clothes was first. The older children were supposed to bring their clothes out to add to the huge pile I was collecting near the washer and dryer. Then I would sort the clothes into piles by type and color. In our old house there had been a built-in hamper in the bathroom, and I loved it!  For some reason, it seemed to encourage the children to feed their dirty clothes and towels into it.  By contrast, in our larger house with our ever-increasing family, I struggled to find any good spots in the multiple bathrooms and bedrooms to place receptacles for the constant flow of dirty clothes and used towels and linens, and we all struggled to remember to put our clothes in them. More often than not, whoever made the attempt to gather up the dirty clothes would find it hard to tell whether the clothing on the floor was dirty or not.  There was always the possibility that the clothes on the floor just did not get put away or had been thrown on the floor by a child making a hurried clothes choice in the morning. Many times the clothes just got caught up and recycled over and over in one eternal round.  Like a TV detective in one of Jim’s favorite police shows, I often spent time trying to determine if an item was really dirty. The inspection and interrogation process got ridiculous at times.

Unfortunately, once the laundry was gathered up, a new problem arose. Since the laundry room was really just a narrow passageway connecting the kitchen to the carport door and the basement staircase, it became nearly impassible when it doubled as the spot where I sorted clothes into different colored wash loads.  While one load was washing, the other piles would be walked through by anyone needing to get from the kitchen to the carport or basement and vice-versa.  Soon the clothes would be hopelessly tangled into one big mess, and the kitchen and laundry room floor would be ankle deep in clothes. It was not good for either the clothes or our morale.

I often thought of what my mother had told me: how much easier it had been to do laundry in the “olden days” with a wringer washer and clotheslines. In those days, she said, a woman just kept working at the job all day until it was done. But this happened only once a week. In stark contrast, in my home, the piles on the floor never got caught up. Every day, we continued to add to the laundry, and since I believed I could “forward the wash” in my “spare time” without really focusing on the job, day after day ended with the same mess covering the floor of the laundry room passageway and spilling out onto the kitchen floor as well.

And then there were the socks. The laundry was my chore, but I drew the line at matching socks. The continuous washing, drying and folding process created a never-ending supply of unmated socks. We kept them all in a big laundry basket and the children often rummaged for the pair they wanted. On occasion I decreed a family sock folding day. No one liked to fold the socks. They had to be sorted into boys and girls styles, then by size, and finally into matching or nearly-matching pairs. When Grandma Stubbs came to visit, she took on the job. The kids were thrilled but I was embarrassed that I always had such a big basket of unfinished laundry.

In our family council we brainstormed ideas to solve the problem. To encourage the children to put their socks in the wash in pairs, I purchased some “sock locks” for the purpose—little round plastic rings with teeth that grip the socks and keep them together. (They still sell them on-line.) It seemed like a great idea, but those little plastic rings proved as hard to keep track of as the socks themselves.  Besides, they took some effort to use, especially on stiff, dirty socks. Eventually, I began to find them indoors and outdoors, upstairs and downstairs, under furniture and in corners—and seldom in the company of even one sock, much less two. 

My husband Jim is an optimistic person with an often unexpected and upbeat reaction to life experiences. His sense of humor has always been a welcome relief to family stress. One day the kids and I were almost finished dutifully matching and folding socks.  Jim walked in, looked at the huge pile of folded socks, picked up a pair and threw it at one of the boys. That pair was thrown back at him and before I knew it, the living room was thick with airborne stockings. At first I was frustrated, but “Dad’s goofy mood,” as my daughter Anna put it when she was recalling the incident, allowed me to see the humor in the whole thing. Suddenly the chore was fun, and we were united as the family who invented sock fights. After that, the kids knew that every sock-folding endeavor just may end up in a flurry of thrown socks. We repeated our sock fights so many times that even the younger children grew up enough to get their chance to play the game. Sock fights didn’t really do much to help with the laundry, but they relieved tension and made life in a big family with lots of laundry and other work a little less stressful.

It was sometime later that during one family council that Jim, like the true helpmate that he is, pledged that he would always safety pin his socks together.  His example never did catch on with any of the kids, but I thought it was a great idea, and he and I have continued to use safety pins to keep our socks together to this day, thirty years later. And since he retired, Jim is now the one who does laundry. After a period of adjustment, when I let go of “my way” of doing the laundry, I thoroughly enjoy the luxury of a live-in “washerperson.” Although Jim’s approach and my approach to solving a certain problem may differ, I have discovered that we are most blessed when we work together and remember to appreciate the unique talents we each bring to every situation we face.

1 comment:

  1. Great story and one I can relate to.Although nowhere on the same scale! We tried clothes pins for our socks which worked pretty well.