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Forget perceptions – hang out those clothes!
By Kathy Hare

Perception is a funny thing. How do you determine a person’s socio-economic class? What indicators do you use to judge if a culture is better, worse, or just different from yours? Yes, many philosophers tell us not to “judge,” but that’s like telling a person not to breathe. Our ability to quickly size-up friend or foe is one of the reasons we are still in existence. But as people began living in larger groups, societal peccadilloes began to exert an enormous force on our perceptions.

Here’s an example of a social perception gone haywire. When American tourists go to Italy, most return home with photographs of the Coliseum, Michelangelo’s “David,” and at least one back-street photo of clotheslines filled with laundry. “Oh that looks so quaint,” I overheard one fiftyish American say as she snapped her picture in Rome.

Synonyms for quaint are: old-fashioned, old-world. And that’s exactly how many Americans feel about clotheslines. Colorful clothes, flapping in the breeze are fine in Italy, but in a modern society we have machines to dry our clothes. None of that old-world nonsense for us! Perhaps that’s why few U.S. environmental writers bother to mention the lowly clothesline when suggesting ways to make the planet greener. Culturally it’s an unacceptable solution.

But I say “Hogwash!” Social norms are the easiest part of culture to change, and it’s time to reexamine one that adds extra dollars to utility bills and junk to the atmosphere. My original enchantment with clotheslines had nothing to do with the environment, so I can relate a few extra benefits the exercise also provides. I began “hanging out the laundry” in 1957, when every family I knew dried their clothes that way. None of us were poor, most were at least second-generation Americans, and we hadn’t yet learned hanging clothes outside is uncouth.

My older brother dumped off an overflowing basket of wet clothes and then ran away. We all knew the rule, stick around where there’s work to be done and you’ve got a job. In this case, he didn’t really have to worry; the clothesline was my only escape from three older and three younger siblings, who I considered to be nothing but pests. My brother’s departure provided the solitude I was seeking.

Hanging up the wash certainly takes little brain power, so the mind is free to wander. Looking east, I sometimes saw migrant workers picking asparagus and wondered about their home. Where was Puerto Rico? Was it really hot there all the time? To the west, I could look over my grandfather’s fields. When I got bored with the landscape, clouds became interesting. I wondered why they formed so many shapes, and if they weighed anything. Yes, this job gave me a chance to hear myself think, and it had the added benefit of being a task a child could milk for hours. So the “chore” became more fun than work.

Within a few years, my family and many others bought dryers. Sheets still went out on the line, but the convenience an electric or gas dryer offered quickly relegated the use of clotheslines to the poor or eccentric. When first married, we were among the former, so I was happy to find the line wasn’t extinct – yet. And since I already perceived the job as “fun,” or at least “not work,” it wasn’t hard to return to the old method of drying clothes. So out went the laundry in California, South Carolina, and Massachusetts before moving to Colorado in 1979.

Colorado has one of the best climates in the nation for drying clothes, so even though I owned a dryer, I strung my clothesline on a five-acre property my husband and I rented in the Black Forest. A neighbor stopped by one day to say “hello” and to inform us that “clotheslines are illegal under the terms of the subdivision covenants.” I only stopped laughing when it became evident she wasn’t joking. For those of you who don’t remember 1979, the country was in the middle of energy crisis at the time. Besides, this was the Black Forest, not the Broadmoor! The homes were nice but not mansions. Neighbors didn’t mind the stink their horses created, so I had no respect for a snobby law that considers the viewing of clean clothes as “offensive.” I stood my ground, knowing the Home Owners Association probably couldn’t stop my nasty habit before our lease was up. But I wasn’t about to buy a home anywhere someone could tell me I had to put my clothes in a dryer, so I turned to Falcon – where people didn’t frown on clotheslines – yet!

The dryer went into an outbuilding on moving day. It was a temporary spot – until a 220 line could be installed. Well it’s still there, because once you adapt laundry day to the weather, a dryer is unnecessary in Colorado. So for years I’ve enjoyed watching sunlight paint continuously changing hues on Pikes Peak. For me, the time it takes to put up and take down clothes has become more of a mental health exercise than a physical one. While I doubt few of you will run out and buy clothes posts because of my reported psychological benefits; it’s actually the best reason for doing so.

And don’t discount the physical benefits. The physical exertion necessary to hang one batch of clothes is minimal, however every movement burns calories. If you want a little harder work-out, turn your bends into squats and you’ll have one.

But economic benefits are what most people look for before abandoning a modern convenience. In 2008, we rented a home while having a new house built on our property. I was forced to buy a dryer because the houses were so close together that if I hung out the wash my blowing laundry would hit the neighbor’s house. And that does seem rude!

The rental was exactly the same size as our previous home, and the dryer was the only new appliance. However, the rental had better insulation, so the heater didn’t turn on as often. Yet our electric bills increased by $35 a month. So that’s a close approximation of the monthly cost to dry clothes for two people.

When we finally moved into our new home, we needed to find new clothes posts because the old ones were worn out. I went to Lowes and Home Depot, which only stock an “umbrella type thing” that wouldn’t last a month in Colorado’s winds. Ace Hardware had the type I wanted, but it too was a flimsy piece of junk! So I turned to the internet, only to discover I had to search under “outside clothes dryer” to find what I wanted.

One man in Maine is still making a living providing galvanized clothes posts for tight-wads like me. But his $200 price tag, plus shipping, seemed extravagant. However after doing the math, I determined I would save enough to recover its cost in six months, while the dryer continuously burns cash.

So if your household budget is tight - perhaps it’s time to consider a clothesline. Then when your children come home from school condemning you for your lack of “greenness,” (and they will) you’ll have the perfect opportunity to teach them what “saving the planet” is all about.

Now, thanks to Representative Marsha Looper, subdivision covenants restricting “energy saving devices” have been relegated to the trash heap where they belong. So should a neighbor become bothered by your clothesline, add a few broken columns to your yard. Those and the flapping clothes should make it look as quaint as Italy.

Just be sure to post a sign to keep the photographers off the grass!

First published in The New Falcon Herald
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