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Hanging out

Lessons from under the clothesline

Hanging out


Reach. Grab. Sling. Pin.

Reach. Grab. Sling. Pin.

I can get lost in the rote rhythm, but why would anyone in an age of damp dry and dewrinkle settings want to? Use a clothesline, that is? 

It’s a good question, especially when it comes from a friend who lives in a neighborhood with covenants that would keep her from erecting one even if she leaned that way. But the plain truth is this: I just like to hang out. 

My habit has nothing to do with being eco-chic or even economical. Mr. Edwards, the gas man, once set me straight on that fallacy as he skirted past flapping sheets on the way to our propane tank. “You’d do better to cut back on your oven use,” he called out, ducking. I nodded and smiled, not bothering to explain just how unlikely that was, with seven seated around our table. 

But thinking back, curtailing my oven usage might have been easier than trying to explain to him what I don’t really understand myself. That I like lugging laundry to the backyard where there’s sun and grass and a cat that’s glad to see me. That I think wooden clothespins have aesthetic value. That getting four loads hung out by noon makes me feel, well, productive. It helps that I have a husband who champions any effort to cut down on utility costs, one who considers the stiffness of line-dried towels a value equal to that of a loofah sponge. “It’s multitasking,” he reasons. “We dry and exfoliate at the same time.” 

Naturally, some days this outdoor business is a chore we do without, thanks to Whirlpool. Other days, though, it is a satisfaction, like when I take in the sight of whites waving in the wind, strangely juxtaposed between an old barn and a new-fangled fire pit in our backyard. Funny how it’s the clothesline bridging the middle of that scene that best represents a life luxury—time. Time to fashion a diorama out of pinpoint cotton and a pair of pillowcases. Time for talks under a stand of five stretched-out strands, where words are spoken through teeth gripping an extra clothespin and instructions are given (again) about hanging from the hem. 

On a good day, sheets snap in the breeze, unleashing the smell of lavender detergent to float free and surprising. On a good night, we wrap ourselves in them, fingering crisp corners that demand a nod to the work of our hands. Yet I wonder, am I failing to redeem the time when I choose a backward path? 

I weigh it out as I string 50 pounds of wet jeans and towels along our nylon strands for all the world to see. Yes, I weigh it out, and maybe that’s the whole point—a clothesline has clarifying qualities, the kind that duet with that luxury of time. Standing silent beside one, I am apt to sense sins like harsh words toward the owner of this shirt or a lack of prayer for the one who wears that one. I find I cannot deny stubborn stains in the bright light of day. I wrestle with heavy loads and things like J.C. Ryle’s sure saying about spiritual darkness coming in on horseback and going away on foot. 

My friend, the one with the covenants, could probably appreciate that aspect. She likes sure sayings. She likes Ryle. She did, in fact, listen politely as I described how an orderly row of just-hung socks can represent a day’s fresh start. But when I gave her the “it’s humble work, beautiful in its simplicity” line of logic, I lost her. She sputtered: “So, help me understand. If you’re not saving money and you’re not going green, then you’re doing this for … for … ?”

Well, I guess I’m doing this for … me. So I’m coming clean. Some folks have comfort foods. Some have Instagram feeds. I have a clothesline.

Reach. Grab. Sling. Pin.

Reach. Grab. Sling. Pin.


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  • MR
    Posted: Thu, 04/01/2021 09:07 am

    Thank-you for putting into words the rationale behind hanging up my laundry on a clothesline for 25 years!  Becky

  • Lorie Rosseau
    Posted: Thu, 04/01/2021 09:09 am

    I love hanging my clothes out to dry on a line also. It saves us a significant amount of money on our power bill, for which I am thankful. 

  •  ljp in oregon's picture
    ljp in oregon
    Posted: Thu, 04/01/2021 11:19 am

    For my 51st birthday, I gave myself a retractable clothesline. I've had access to clotheslines earlier in my marriage, and my mother had a clothesline all of my life. Hanging out clothes is my favorite household chore. For me, it's the joy of being outdoors, while still accomplishing work, and the work itself, unlike gardening, is relatively light and certainly doesn't require any thought. I would still use my clothesline even if it didn't save money. I suspect there are a surprising number of people who feel this way about this chore.

  • CA
    Posted: Thu, 04/01/2021 01:13 pm

    I had a couple of rasons for hanging out clothes; I felt that I was "Practicing the Presence of God",  I loved watching towels snap in the breeze, I felt calm looking out at the sheets and towels on my patio, and they dried faster outside than in the dryer (I liv in San Diego).  Did I also mention the feeling of line dried sheets when you slip into a bed made with them?  In our new house the HOA says no to laundry outside, so it will hang in the garage.