Friends, I’m writing you from the swirl of a tiny domestic crisis.
If you want to hear something important and profound, I’m afraid this missive is not that. It really is the story of a tempest in a precious privileged little teacup… or perhaps a cute laundry basket.
However, if life feels exhausting and you just aren’t up for being destroyed or heroic yet today, come sit and chat with me.
Cue dramatic music:
my washer isn’t working.
To be more specific, it works– but only on the Quick cycle.
That’s 20 minutes, start to finish. What with all the spinning and the pondering and the rinsing, that means the clothes only get washed for about 3 minutes. They come out about as clean as you’d expect them to.
So I’m doing smaller loads. Like wildly smaller loads. And sometimes running them twice.
Since I normally do 4 – 7 loads of laundry a week, that means I’m currently doing over a dozen. Each week.
Because I have 47 children.
(And a fuzzy grasp of math.)
Now before you come at me for playing the martyr and being such a bad feminist and imagine me pale and downtrodden beneath the baskets of drudgery, let me be clear that my husband and my three oldest kids all do their OWN laundry. I do mine, the two youngests’, and the household laundry such as sheets and towels. This is by explicit agreement and negotiation with my husband: he does cars, I do laundry. I believe we both think we are getting the better deal.
(We find that clear delineations between our areas of responsibility make for a happier marriage. For instance, he is in charge of all outside gear– coats jackets shoes boots mittens– and I am responsible for inside clothes, like shirts and pants and underwear and pajamas. We each take total responsibility for our area, from taking stock to buying to storing and finding. Just yesterday I heard my youngest mutter, “Where’s my darned water shoes, that’s dad’s department…” as we scrambled to get ready for the beach.)
Sidebar. Listen, as long as I’m sharing useful household tips, much like Jo March, that reluctant yet capable literary matriarch, I’ll tell you my very best laundry hack. Give each human in your household their OWN laundry basket. Wait til it’s full, then sort THAT human’s basket and THAT human’s basket ONLY–don’t mix two people’s things into one load– into lights and darks. Wash and dry. Fold, mindlessly, while pleasurably imbibing your favorite TV show or podcast, because there it turns out there is absolutely no mental load in folding ONE person’s laundry. You just fold. You make satisfying, tidy little origami stacks. It’s kind of soothing. You don’t have to think about it. You don’t fritter away your brilliant mind wondering, “Whose sock is this? Is this the middle kid’s black t-shirt or the younger kid’s identical black t-shirt?”
Nope, this way you can fritter your mind away watching something really indulgent and questionable, like the Sex and The City reboot. (We all know that Mrs. Maisel is too good to fold laundry to; you might miss an outfit if you blink.)
Back to my broken washer.
I’ve been on a waitlist for a repair visit for many, many months. I am no longer holding my breath.
I’m also unwilling to simply get a new washer and turn this giant, expensive, still quite functional machine, which is only two years old, into a piece of garbage in a landfill.
And maddening as this current standoff is, it has shown me some things.
For instance, I discovered that I have a lot less resistance to grabbing a dozen stinky dirty balled-up kid socks and turning them inside out…than 50 stinky socks.
And folding one quick load of laundry is not nearly as daunting as one triple the size.
It’s not just 2/3rds less daunting… it’s like 90% more doable. The math is mysterious.
Also, my whole life is running in 20-minute increments at the moment: oh, that load is done, is it remotely clean– no not at all– okay start it again!
Which feels absurd.
And yet? It turns out that 20 minutes is actually a pretty functional time period to punctuate my days, if it must be punctuated, which is perhaps why the Pomodoro timers (and method) all function according to that magical 20-minute window.
Which brings me back to a fundamental piece of wisdom that has changed my life again and again, yet I often still forget to remember.
Breaking things down into tiny tiny steps, steps like gumdrops, is often the key to getting started– which is always the key to getting them done.
I talk about this all the time in the Queen Sweep: gumdrop steps! try doing it for just five minutes! try doing it for just ONE minute, really, I chirp on our calls, practically hearing them all roll their eyes at me…but also knowing that next week, they will sheepishly admit that actually, breaking it into smaller pieces did do something wild and magical and hard to explain.
Just as I sheepishly have come, once again, to the profound conclusion that breaking things down into absurdly tiny steps is actually the key to getting all things done.
It melts resistance.
Fine, my mind says with great bristliness. Fine, I’ll try to type a terrible stupid first draft of that for literally sixty seconds. FINE.
And then five minutes later I am merrily typing away, because getting over that hump of resistance is the hardest part. (My Queen Sweepers call it getting past “the wall of awful” though I’m pretty sure we didn’t invent that phrase.)
No matter how many times I do it, my brain is always willing to go along, to be willingly enticed into doing something, anything, for just 60 seconds.
This works with making art, with Swooping my house, doing taxes, and with tackling big scary overwhelming tasks like trying to turn myself into a gardener.
But it starts, and perhaps ends, with my neverending dear companion–