In praise of the clothesline

Our family is not as green as we’d like to be, but little by little we’re trying to change our habits. We’ve dug up our front garden and filled it with herbs, lettuce, strawberries, brussels sprouts, tomatoes and beans. We try to turn off the lights in empty rooms and don’t run the tap when brushing. We compost and we recycle. And now, we have a clothesline.  

Laundry on the line
Laundry on the line

A few weeks ago, Will came home with a couple of metal poles salvaged from a discarded chain link fence on the other side of the Fraser and announced he was going to build us a clothesline. After another trip to Home Depot to pick up the line and some clothespins, he made good on his word and strung up a line across our backyard. 

In Australia, where my father’s family lives, clotheslines are the usual way to dry clothes, with dryers used only as backup during the rainy season. But we grew up here, Will in New West and me in Port Moody. No one I knew had a clothesline. I didn’t know quite what to expect, but my conscience chides me every time I put another load through our ancient energy-sucking dryer in the basement so I thought I’d give it a go. 

I thought it would be very time-consuming, both to clip the clothes on the line and to dry in the sun. I dreaded hauling a basket of soggy laundry up the steep and narrow staircase. And I expected I’d feel a little embarassed to have our laundry on display for SkyTrain, Stewardson and our neighbours to see. 

What I didn’t expect was how much we’d like it. 

I thought using the clothesline would be a bit like eating Grape Nuts for breakfast. You know it’s good for you, but it’s just not that appetizing. What I found is that it’s more like biting into a loaf of home-baked whole wheat bread when it’s still hot from the oven. Not only is there the thrill of virtue in taking one small step to lighten the planet’s load, but the sensory experience is far better than dumping laundry from washer into dryer.

I was right about it not being fun to lug wet laundry up the basement staircase, but it’s not as bad as all that. Standing out in the sun, putting laundry on the line feels wholesome and even pleasurable. Sunbathing bores me, but I appreciate having an excuse to do something with my hands outside on a sunny day. 

And it gets better. Having spent less time than I expected stringing the laundry on the line (and enjoyed it more), I get an intense feeling of pride seeing Wesley’s tiny shirts flapping in the wind. Surprisingly, most laundry dries more quickly on the line than in our dryer (perhaps because it’s an inefficient old machine), and so it actually takes less time overall. Then comes the folding, which I also do out in the sun. The clothes smell heavenly, nothing like the chemical smell of faux-fresh dryer sheets. 

Finally, we come to the embarassment factor. I don’t dry all my laundry on the line. I machine-dry the skivvies to save our virtue, and usually put the towels through the dryer as well because they can get kind of hard and crusty on the line. The list of exceptions is small, and in the end it works out to running the dryer about 1/3 as often on sunny days. I’m pretty happy with that. 

I tweeted about my love of the line a while ago, and a lot of people responded with envy because their municipalities don’t allow clotheslines. I’m not actually sure what New Westminster’s position is. I tried googling for info on clothesline bylaws, but didn’t find any information at all. In a time when the world appears to be careening towards environmental devastation, it seems to me that clotheslines should be encouraged regardless of past decisions that prioritized snobby sensibilities over good sense. Until we’re told otherwise, we will continue to hang our clothes out on the line as often as we can.