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The magic of dry cleaning: how we do it

Last summer my kids returned from a couple weeks in Los Angeles where they stayed with their aunt.

Me: Why does Lucas have all new underwear?

Helena: All his underwear had skid mark stains in them, so Aunt Tina bought him all new chonies at Target.

Why didn’t I, his own mother, know that my son’s underwear was all stained?

Because I refuse to do laundry. So I don’t ever intimately handle my kids chonies. Including the poopy ones.

That’s a bit of an overstatement, but I really, really hate to do the wash, and I really, really hate to fold.

The sorting and cycling and hauling of this never-ending chore so tedious, so mundane and omnipotent that it’s a joke for moms everywhere.

Except that it will make you poor. Nothing funny about that!

When you are a single mom, money and time are especially precious.

Our professional lives, our kids and we ourselves simply cannot be weighed down by regrouting the tub (unless that is your thing, of course) or keeping your kids undies sparkling white. You are better than that.

When I get on my soapbox about this topic, I often hear people – and by “people,” I mean “women” – who cry:

“Laundry is just a part of life, you spoiled asshole!”

Not so long ago dying in childbirth was just part of life. Economies and technology changed since that was a valid point, and you are now free to unload unsavory tasks to people who want to earn a living doing them.

“Laundry doesn’t take that long, I don’t see what the big deal is, jeeze! So lazy!”

One, two hours is a lot of time for me — as you will see below my long list of other things you might do with those minutes. Second, it is actually far more than just two hours of labor to do your laundry. Because you spend countless hours thinking about and remembering and stressing about when and how you will do the laundry. You might fight with your spouse or kids about the laundry. Get annoyed with yourself if you forget the wash overnight — or the drying and wind up with a crumply, wrinkly mess.

So it is two hours, plus countless brain cells and energy and emotion spent on laundry.

It’s a big-picture thing.

“Oh, but doing laundry is just a part of life. I’d feel guilty for sending it out.”

Do you feel guilty for using a dishwasher, instead of cleaning every grimy fork and sippy cup by hand? Do you feel guilty for not washing your clothes on rocks by the river — because you are already outsourcing their cleaning to a machine made in China, that sits in your garage / basement / laundry room and does 99% of the work involved in laundry. In other words: You already outsource, so why not take it just a fraction of a step further and offload that task completely?

“I feel it is my duty as a parent to teach my kids to mop the floor.”

Really? Do you really think that your child will grow up incapable of knowing how to mop a floor in an emergency? For real?

“You are such a snotty, rich bitch. Not everyone can afford spending all their money on house cleaners and laundry service. I hate you.”

Muah back atcha!

Look, no one has ever gotten rich without outsourcing some tasks. No one. You can’t do it all — I don’t care if you are sculptor slaving away in your attic, you rely on an agency, a gallery, someone to publicize your shows and host boozy after parties where hedge fund guys will feel all important and buy your stuff. Or if you are a tech entrepreneur, you simply cannot work alone in a Starbucks and create a bazillion dollar enterprise. You are one person. Successful enterprises consist of people doing what they do best, and being wise enough and humble enough to pass along other tasks to others who are more competent and enthusiastic about those things.

If you spend your energy and time on sorting and washing and drying and ironing and sorting and matching and folding, your energy is on a low-skilled task that fosters resentment. I don’t know of one fabulously successful person who does his or her own laundry. Do you?

I often hear from blog readers or friends incredulous cries: “How do you get so much done all the time! Do you ever sleep?!”

Actually, many nights I’m in bed by 9 p.m. (not proud of that, it is what it is), and I spend plenty of time dawdling on Facebook. But it is true: I produce a lot of creative work I am very proud of, make a handsome living, pick my kids up from the bus most days, hit the gym, jogging path, or yoga studio five times per week and enjoy a hot date or evening out with my friends once or twice weekly. Not to mention day trips, vacations, weekly Movie Night and family dinners every weeknight with my kids and guests. No complaints.

My secret – the one all those incredulous friends do not want to hear? I outsource shit I don’t like to do. I even outsource stuff I DO like to do, because it makes more sense for someone else to do it! In my business, I hire people in my business to do things I can do but am not efficient at — like podcast production and editing, web design and marketing.

How to find a laundry service near you

On the homefront, my gorgeous house cleaner takes care of my apartment, I rely on the occasional sitter to give me freedom to balance work, home and a personal life, and since becoming a single mom.

I am adamant about not ever doing laundry. I send it out. I live in New York City, where every neighborhood has wash-and-fold services for around $1 per pound. Most places will pick-up your filthy sack of poopy, pee-y, spit-up-y, avocado-y, spaghetti-saucy, grass-stainy laundry in the morning, and deliver it after work, neatly folded, sorted and smelling fresh as your baby’s butt that you just washed.

That same bag full of laundry would cost me about $8 to do in the coin laundry, including detergent (I live in an apartment) each week.

I figure it would also cost about $10 per week if I had my own washer and dryer, factoring in detergent, water, electricity, and wear and tear on a Maytag.

For the past few years, however, I have been paying my weekly housekeeper, Sandra, an extra $20 to take on the task. I also pay for the coin laundry and detergent, but by having Sandra means that I am saved the extra task of rounding up all my filthy things, or even putting away the clean items.

Plus, I prefer that Sandra (of whom I am very fond) earns the money over the laundry service (nothing personal guys, you do great work! But I don’t know you personally).

If you live in my area, give me a shout and I am happy to refer Sandra!

Not every zip code has these amazing wash-and-fold services (I live in NYC), but you can find someone to do your laundry in your home through sites like Care.com or TaskRabbit.com.

But all this outsourcing really isn’t about the saved $15 or the extra $15 or the wear and tear.

Wash and fold laundry service is about economizing time and energy.

Investing in laundry service makes me richer because it makes me happier.

What if you invested just half all those loaded hours in your career, a business or freelance gigs?

That $20 weekly could be worth thousands monthly. Take it from me.

We haven’t even mentioned the happy factor. Some people just love laundry. I have never met one of these people, and I suspect I would not like her.

For me, wiping laundry off my weekly to-do list has been the most incredibly liberating exercise.

Before, it was a constant gnat swarming around my mind – what was clean when, when would I schedule a load, when to haul the dripping sheets into the dryer and to remember to take out my lacey things to air dry.

Now, I spend a fraction of that mental energy to coordinate a visit with Sandra.

Another example of outsourcing of unsavory tasks?

Recently my assistant, who manages my social media accounts because she is better at that than I am, said: “You know you get a bunch of dick pics in Instagram messenger, right?”

Actually, I had no idea!

That is because I outsource that unsavory task, and my assistant takes on all the burden of managing penis portraits, bless her heart.

Now about laundry, housework, and gender equality:

Couples fight over housework, so just outsource it

People keep getting divorced. A lot. Rates have been around 40-50 percent for more than four decades.

Younger people aren’t getting married, as marriage rates hitting historic lows.

Married women are pretty freaking unhappy. Researchers found: “The average married woman is less happy than the average married man, less happy than single women, less convinced that married people are happier than single people, and more likely to file for divorce. Once returned to single life, women’s happiness recovers, whereas men’s declines, and divorced women are less eager to remarry than divorced men.”

Why? One big reason:

Women keep doing far more housework than men — even as earnings increase

No. 1 reason: Women do way more housekeeping than men — 72 percent more, in fact. Things get especially interesting when you learn that the more she earns than her husband, the more housekeeping a woman does, and the less her husband takes on.

Mothers keep dropping out of the workforce, which is bad for everyone, including kids and marriages, which suffer higher divorce rates than in marriages where both partners work. Reasons are often that life was just too bananas to have two parents working fulltime, as well as shuffle around the kids, and keep the house clean. We know that in marriages in which the wives earn more than their husbands suffer higher rates of divorce.

Anecdotally, I hear lots of stories about the resentment about housework that simmers between even the most enlightened, progressive feminist spouses or romantic partners. Usually, the complaint comes from the woman: I come home from busting my ass all day, and then have to manage the kids and house — and he doesn’t do a freaking thing!

In single-mom families, women are killing themselves to keep the house clean — spending precious energy and guilt on a task far beneath their abilities, and which competes with their work, joyful parenting, hobbies, health and a social life. All in the name of fulfilling some preconceived idea about what it means to be a woman and mother.

Does he need to do more housework — or does she need to do less?

The studies around women doing so much more housework than men usually evoke cries for men to step it up, already. I suggest: Just because someone is cleaning and laundering and cooking all the time, doesn’t mean that all that cleaning and laundering and cooking needs to be done. Maybe she needs to clean less? Or lower her standards? After all, in the study in which the amount of housework a wife does correlates with her professional success suggests that this is a far more complex issue that meets the eye — one mired in ancient, if not biological, gender norms, the need for romantic love and acceptance — nevermind sparkling countertops.

You and I are not going to sort this out in our lifetimes. The answer? Outsource housekeeping using Care.com or TaskRabbit.com. It is good for cohabiting relationships, and, as a recent Harvard study found, makes people happier:

People who spent money to buy themselves time, such as by outsourcing disliked tasks, reported greater overall life satisfaction,” said Ashley Whillans, an assistant professor at the Harvard Business School and lead author of the study, which was based on a series of surveys from several countries. Researchers did not see the same effect when people used money for material goods.

I call to take this a step further. You can lecture the public all day long that paying someone to clean, cook and launder for you is the answer, but our culture must first, change. As the Harvard researchers noted in the New York Times, in response to the low rate of Dutch millionaires who outsource unsavory tasks:

 In the United States: a Protestant work ethic that values being busy or guilt over paying someone for a task that people could easily do themselves.

Add to this working-mom guilt, and women’s complicated relationship between our femininity and household chores. Turning this around will take far more than Ivy League research and New York Times articles laying out the facts I elaborate on the cost-benefit analysis of outsourcing laundry alone in this post, which is one of the most-frequented on all of this blog. People get really, really defensive about why they should clean their own toilets. This calls for a life and societal-altering culture change.

The answer?

Save relationships and close the pay gap by giving gifts of housecleaning

Give housekeeping as a gift for weddings, housewarmings, house guest stays, and when people decided to move in together. Give it to people when they have a baby, divorce or to celebrate a new job or business. This is one part giving the family a gift that science proves will make them happier, and likely improve the chances their relationship will be harmonious and lasting. The gift is also an act of resistance, one freeing women from the shackles of our own — and others’  — expectations of wifely, domesticity, and equal that playing field for once and all.

Find a housekeeper whose services you can give as a gift at Care.com (or TaskRabbit.com), or if you live close to your loved one, pay your own cleaner to attend to their home — and relationship.

Here are 50 things both single and married moms can do while all that damp and filthy laundry is being manhandled by a more qualified person than you:

  1. Play checkers with your kids.
  2. Host a dinner party.
  3. Have a glass of chardonnay while watching (single mom) Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Prime.
  4. Hit the gym.
  5. Go to yoga, zumba or pilates.
  6. Go for a jog, hike or power walk with a friend.
  7. Finish your degree.
  8. Get a new degree or designation that will give you a new direction and earning power in your career.
  9. Take steps to launch that new dream business.
  10. Grow your business. Or, find a great work-at-home career to start.
  11. Find cool, quick ways to make money from home.
  12. Attend a networking event.
  13. Browse the list of course topics at Udemy or the list of course topics at Courseraand take an online course.
  14. Network online via LinkedIn, professional associations, Facebook groups, following up on email communication or setting up meetings.
  15. Call your parents.
  16. Teach your kids how to jump rope.
  17. Just hang out alone together in the same room with your kids without engaging in electronics. Maybe some of you are reading, or doing a puzzle or Legos.
  18. Cook as a family.
  19. Fire up that online dating site or app, if you haven’t. (Here’s my list of best dating sites for single moms.)
  20. Go on a date.
  21. Read. A book. An actual real, paper book. Fiction even! (Here’s my list of the best books for single moms.)
  22. Have sex.
  23. Listen to podcasts.
  24. Get a massage.
  25. Give a massage.
  26. Work in the garden.
  27. Declutter and feng shui your home like a mad woman. Go nuts! Feels so good!
  28. Get sun on your body. Even in the winter, just some sun on your face and hands is amazing.
  29. Bath. Take a great, long bath.
  30. Nap.
  31. Catch up with that best friend or cousin who lives far away.
  32. Visit loved ones.
  33. Write birthday cards, and send them!
  34. Thank-you notes!
  35. Gratitude. Start and maintain a gratitude practice, whether sharing by email your thankful thoughts each day, or writing them down in a special notebook, or verbalizing them on a voice app on your phone.
  36. That skill that you always wanted to learn but did not? Do that. For me: I’m going to take tennis and acting classes. Maybe you want to learn to ride a motorcycle, use power tools (that kind, or that kind, too) or juggle.
  37. Volunteer. Animal shelter, teen center, nursing home.
  38. Mentor someone. Officially, through a program at work or in your community, or informally offer your guidance to someone you know.
  39. Listen to a friend who needs to be heard.
  40. Create something. A craft, a poem, song or essay.
  41. Make your home prettier. Paint a room (better yet: go to the paint store, select a color, and hire someone to paint), hang a few new pictures, rearrange the furniture, change up the bed linens. Make it pretty, make it yours.
  42. Library. When was the last time you hung out at the library?
  43. Help a friend reach her dreams.
  44. Go to a service where you worship. Or, if you’re in the market, find a new house of worship.
  45. Do a new activity with your kids — learn to rollerblade or pogo-stick together. Take a community college class on woodworking or CPR.
  46. Start a family give-back project. Raise money for a cause, give volunteer time, or reach out to people you know who need company, help around the house or meals.
  47. Attend live performances – music, theater, dance. Free outdoor summer concerts, college and high school productions, Broadway or community theater.
  48. Stroll the streets of a neighborhood or town you’ve never visited.
  49. Visit a travel site, and brainstorm and daydream and drool – then budget!
  50. Dream! Dream big and beautiful and outrageous! Write those dreams down! Create a dream board, tell your mastermind group, a trusted girlfriend, your cat! Spend those two hours each week teaching yourself to believe you can and will fill those hours will more wonderful incredible life than any top-loading, energy-saving appliance can afford you.

Don’t just take it from me, here is a guest post from single mom Danyel Clarke, who lives in Claremore, Oka., with her two-year-old and a puppy. Consider hiring out household tasks to nurture your relationship with yourself!

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