Hanging Laundry on an Outside Clothesline is Meditative Practice

A friend recently commented that she was hanging laundry on a clothesline for the first time in her life. I shared something with her that I came across while pursuing my PhD. (A graduate student in a certain frame of mind – desperately seeking dissertation topic – tunes into the oddest things.) I had heard of a woman in Newfoundland who did an entire PhD dissertation on how people hang out their laundry and what it says about them – personally, socially, and culturally. She included an array of clothesline photos to illustrate her points.

The idea that laundry hanging could say something about the person I am, resonated with me. I have hung laundry on a clothesline for years. I imagine that every woman who hangs things outside to dry has her own way of doing it. A way she pursues with vigilance; a way she believes is “the one and only proper way” to hang out laundry.

I believe in a neat clothesline – something you can look on with pride. There should be symmetry – what the hell – artistry, to what you have just caused to fly free over the landscape. Laundry should be hung so each piece is connected to the piece in front (this allows things to really whip in the breeze and not bunch up). As you hang out the clothes, little metal gadgets that clip and hold the two lines together should definitely be employed – these compensate for the weight of the wet laundry and keep the line at a proper height. I don’t have any hard and fast rules about the order of the hanging. Mostly I try not to overstress my clothes pins by clipping thick items together with the same pin.

I feel offended when confronted with laundry hung on a clothesline in a haphazard or sloppy fashion. This is why I never allow my husband, Bruce, to hang laundry. It isn’t really an issue – he hates doing this task and I really like it. Each piece of laundry has to be shaken out before hanging – you don’t just toss a folded over or squished up piece of fabric on the line – it will dry permanently set in that state. Geez – anyone knows that.

There is nothing in the world like the smell of laundry dried outside on a clothesline – the temptation to bury one’s nose in a shirt or towel and just breathe deeply is hard to resist. Once you have slipped into a bed with sheets just dried on the line, you will never go back to perfumed fabric softeners that tell you they are clothesline fresh

Hanging laundry to dry outside makes me philosophical – it is all about letting go. I have to accept that I can’t control the weather and I certainly can’t rely on weather broadcasts – current, short or long-range. We seem to exist in a micro-climate that doesn’t always adhere to what the weather person reports. I am always taking a chance, rolling the dice, throwing my paltry self against the forces of nature. I make bargains – if the rain will just hold off for an hour or so, if the wind will just pick-up a bit it can compensate for a brief shower or two. And then there are the days I must simply accept the inevitable – days when I go to all the work of hanging out the laundry, enjoying the beautiful artistry of my line only to have to take it all down as rain pelts out of the sky. In it comes, wet and sopping, to be hung to dry somewhere in the cabin. Yuck. My love of hanging laundry outside is matched by the degree to which I detest hanging wet laundry in the house.

Hanging laundry can become a meditative practice. I live in a quiet spot – tall trees that encircle the back of our cabin give way to breath-taking views of the mountains – it’s beautiful and peaceful. I hear the stellar jays and the crows squawking, I catch an occasional glimpse of an eagle flying overhead. It’s a time to gather my thoughts – I have been truly inspired while standing in front of the clothesline with a basket of wet laundry before me. I included a scene about hanging laundry in my novel. A husband is fascinated with the way his wife goes about hanging out the clothes. The scene is poignant as he watches her with such attentiveness and love. It moves to humour when he comments that he has never seen that woman look as satisfied as she does when she stops and looks back at the clothesline filled with laundry. Never seen her that satisfied – get it! We women and our laundry hanging are not to be trifled with.