Simplifying Laundry for a Large Family
Minimalism and large families are a perfect fit. Granted, if I tell people my bio… “I’m a mother of 6 and blog about minimalism…” I get plenty of snickers and “A minimalist with lots of kids? Isn’t that a bit of a contradiction??”
Well, no, it’s not.
Minimalism is about letting go of non-essentials so you have the time to devote to things you want in your life. In my case, I do want children in my life. (Most days anyway!)
The more children you have, the more simplified living makes sense. Every time a child joins the family, something has to give for me to stay sane and parent the children.
Laundry is one of those areas that people fear. When people think of how many children I have, they think “Ugh, I’d hate to do her laundry!”
But you know what, now that our family has embraced a minimal lifestyle, laundry is not a big deal. I think I do less laundry than a lot of my peers who have fewer children.
In fact, I timed myself and found that I spend a total of 30 minutes each week on laundry. That’s a whopping 4.5 minutes each day!
How do I manage? Well, let me tell you:
Wash/dry/fold/put away one load each day.
Generally, I start the wash in the morning when I’m cleaning up the kitchen and washing dishes from breakfast. It’s part of my morning routine. I have the buzzer on the wash and just switch it to the dryer as soon as I hear it. I fold it most often when dinner is cooking.
Each person takes care of their own. Well, except the 3-year-old, I help him. But I’ll sort the clean laundry and then have all the kids come and get theirs, fold it and put it away. Which means, I only fold the towels, little one’s laundry, Brian’s and mine.
If you love sorting clothes and the idea of washing everything together makes you cringe, then just ignore this advice.
The way I get away with this is, I don’t buy whites.
With this many kids, whites won’t stay white no matter what I do, so I have completely given whites up. I’m not going to kid myself and say I’ll get them when the kids are out of the house – if I’m wearing white I will splatter spaghetti sauce on it, so I’ve embraced living without white clothing.
Since I don’t sort, when something is dirty, it all gets tossed in the washer. We don’t have laundry hampers in bedrooms, instead, when clothes are dirty, they get taken to the washing machine.
I do have to remind the kids each day to put their dirty clothes in the washer. But I’ve always had to tell my kids to pick up their dirty clothes, so that’s nothing new.
Since everyone is always putting clothes and towels into the washer, it often fills up by the end of the day. The next morning, I will start the wash and the cycle repeats: wash, dry, fold, put away.
Limit how many clothing items each person has.
I don’t regulate the older teens, but the ones I still buy clothes for, I do. Each child has enough clothes for 5 days, but enough socks & undies for a week.
This depends on your child’s habits, some kids can wear the same jeans for a week without getting dirty, and some have to change 3 times a day. In our family, we have a mix of both. My son’s pile of clothes to fold and put away are always 3 times more than my daughter’s.
As adults, Brian and I have limited our wardrobe as well. You can read my list of clothing items here.
Brian’s is even more streamlined than mine, with only the basics: 4 pairs of jeans, 5 dress shirts, 5 t-shirts, 1 belt, 3 pairs of shoes.
Have clothes that can be mixed and matched easily.
I’ve contemplated moving to more of a uniform, but I’m close to it right now and most of my clothes are jewel tones, so it doesn’t matter that they all get washed together.
Brian’s clothes are all dark tones, a lot of black, and what I buy for the kids are dark/bright. I stick with basics: jeans and shirts. Accessories are limited, we each only have one fleece/sweatshirt, one coat, etc. We don’t have lounge clothes.
Wear clothes more than once.
There is no need to wash jeans frequently. Most shirts can be worn 2 days before they need to be washed, and pajamas can be worn several days easily.
During the winter months, this is easier to do. With the summer heat, shirts need to be washed more often and I can’t get away from that. But as a general rule, the clothes either need to be soiled or worn 2 days before I put them in the wash.
What this looks like for me: I find it easiest to just wear the same outfit 2 days in a row. It doesn’t bother me, so it’s easy to keep track of how often a shirt has been worn and when it’s in need of a wash.
As with anything, when you get down to only the essentials, the time you spend taking care of it (moving it, washing it, folding it, finding space in the closet or drawers, etc) decreases. You may be doing a load of laundry every day and spend 4 minutes a day putting it away. But that also means that you will never have to spend an entire weekend catching up on a month worth of laundry.
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My kids (Ages 8, 8, and 11) are responsible for doing their own laundry which has been a game changer for me. I waSh my clothes, my husband’s, and Household items. We don’t use any DISPOSABLES so i find that I wAsh a lot of dish clothS, cloth napkins, snack sacks, and Rags. We do our best To use these things multiple times but they still add up. Plus, my husband is a serious Runner so there is The daily sweat-soaked workout outfit. (Fun!) i also hanG out laundry in the warmer weather as my daily meditation so i dont begrudge thAt time. 🙂
We do this as well however like the above poster we use cloth napkins, rags and dish cloths so that adds at least an extra 2-3 loads per week(we have a farm) plus we hang our clothes on the line to save energy and costs. so it takes longer for laundry to happen (my kids aren’t old enough to reach the clothes line yet so I have to hang them all.)
My husband and I don’t have kids yet, but its nice to see we’re on the right track to making laundry easy!
ever since we started living together, we do our laundry together. we don’t sort; everything gets washed on cold. almost all of our clothes are cotton (or cotton blend) anyways, so its never an issue of ruining anything! there are a few pieces that can’t be dried, so they get hung up instead (if we ever have a yard, i want to line-dry).
my mom still sorts by color for herself and my dad, and ends up running tiny, tiny loads of laundry. it makes me cringe, its such a waste of water 🙁 but she’s convinced ‘its not a big deal, we can afford it!’…but that makes no sense to me.
That’s great Meyli. Starting out simplifying in the beginning makes life so much easier!
I no longer fold my undies, tank tops, bras, they go directly into fabric totes on top part of my armoire, huge time saver, next time I have go replace athletic style socks, I’m getting all same color and style, so I no longer have to match up SOCKS. TEEN daughter’s clothes go into her tote she can fold and put away on her own.
Went with GREY, cream and black colors in light layers so I don’t have TO think about what to wear.
You may have just revolutionized my laundry!!!! I must make changes.
We don’t sort our clothes before washing. Everyone has their own basket in their room and each has a day of the week that Is their day to wash their clothes. The whole basket goes in, wash…dry…take to their room and fold/put away. No more sorting 6 peoples clothes, especially socks when 2 of the kids wear the same size. We also started them doing their own laundry as young as 6 (with help) and by the time they were 8 they could do it all on their own. I always felt it was my job to teach them how to take care of themselves rather than do it all for them.
I adopted the “uniform” for my civilian clothes last year, and i already wear a uniform to work. The Simple change made such a huge difference in my life i didn’t look back. Jeans or leggings with a white t-shirt, add a carDigan and vest for fall and winter. I alSo recently started the “put in the waSher when you take it off” with kids and i can say it really helps. I do about 4 loads a week including swim team stuff and the dozen cloth “paper towels” we use each day. Thanks for inspIration to trim back kids’ wardrobes even more.
I’m curious how bed LINens fit into your laundry schedule.
On Saturdays we do a whole house cleaning, that’s when we normally wash sheets and put them back on the beds. 🙂
This has been a great article on laundry. I don’t have a laundry issue and never did even though I had 4 children, and hung out all the laundry. But I think your idea of not having too many clothes is a great idea. I just went through my husband’s old blue jean drawer and just found out he had at least 16 pairs of jeans……crazy…i tossed 9 pairs of jeans….Also my rule is whenever I buy one item…….e.g. a new set of sheets, the old set of sheets have to be tossed or recycled. I have 2 sets of sheets for our bed…..on monday mornings, after we get up, we immediately strip the bed, and re make it with the second set of sheets because i don’t like having to make the bed later in the day….this has worked out really well. I do this for the beds in the guest room also….I do like wearing white, and like washing my tea towels, the dog towels in hot water with detergent and bleach….so do have one load of white a week, one load of darks, one load of sheets and shirts, and perhaps another load of odds and ends. Laundry does not have to be an issue….buying and buying and buying is not the answer…because one only gets more and more laundry.
We got rid of cotton towels and switched to Norwex a couple of years ago. Microfiber dries quickly, so we only have 1 bath towel EACh, which get washed weekly.
Kitchen towels are hung after use unless they are dirty.
So for our family of 3, THERE are two loads of laundry per week. One for everything but the sheets, second is just sheets.
I also got a FLIPfold fRom HSN several years ago. They come in sets of 2. I gave the bigger one to a friend, kept the smaller one. With it, folding shirts and towels is much faster, and the results are uniform, so everything stacks really neatly.
I’m with you on getting rid of the whites. Switched my husband to all grey and black underwear and t-shirts with the exception of a few white that I no longer wash SEPARATELY. I am switching from hampers to laundry bags. they take up less space and fit in the closet on a hook plus its easier to transport laundry downstairs in a bag rather than in a bulky basket. I put wash in the night before and set the delayed start. Its done when i wake up and then it gets tossed in the dryer. I hate doing laundry so i appreciate all the tips!
My family isn’t yet ready to get rid of most of their clothes (I purged 50% of my wardrobe after reading Marie Kondo’s book, but no one else is following my lead yet). However, I was able to pinpoint the problem in our “laundry flow” – it’s not the washing and drying, it’s the sorting and folding. I have a half-helpful husband. He’ll run the wash and dry it, but then he’ll leave the clothes unfolded and never, ever get back to them.
when I would see the 4-5 loads of laundry waiting to be folded and carried all over the house, I’d just get overwhelmed and give up. we would wear wrinkled clean clothes right out of the hampers.
the best solution for us (so far) has been washing a single type of laundry each day of the week. Actually, it’s only 5 days a week: Kitchen/bath towels, linens, adult clothes, kid’s clothes, and catch-all on Fridays. I got my husband to lay off washing/drying everything in sight, posted a sign with the day’s category, and now I fold like items only. And they go to 1-2 locations only, so I’m not opening and shutting every drawer in the house every day. oh, so much nicer.
Rachel, I love your idea of washing all the dirty clothes together every day. However, I have a question. At the end of the day we have all of our dirty clothes, dirty kitchen washcloths and towels, and rags used for cleaning up messes or wiping down the bathroom that day. Do you throw all of that together? I’ve always done all the kitchen towels and cleaning rags in a separate sanitary cycle, but they always end of getting a mildew smell before I ever get to them. Do you separate those items and wash later or find it’s okay to wash them all together each day, maybe on a hot cycle?
I do wash them all together- as rags, napkins and towels are dirtied, I toss them into the washer. I’ve had to wash on hot all the time. I don’t think it’s the best for wear, but the front load washer seems to smell more if I don’t. I don’t worry about sanitizing, the rags seem to get clean and I figure some germs aren’t bad.
I am getting rid of our whites!!! Thanks for the encouragement.
We are a family of 8, one load a day is our schedule. My kids don’t have dressers but have hanging canvas cubbies in their closet, which helps With space. That each have enough clothes for 2 weeks, 1 week of uniforms and 1 week of regular clothes, 3 church outfits hang next to it. Each child has one type of sock so the are easly separated/matched by color/style/child.
We are family of 6 and we have a minimalist lifestyle but we also use no disposables. We have cloth diapers, wipes, rags, cloths, napkins and extras that take additional load time. Plus we as others have mentioned hang all our clothes to dry. It all is a part of minimalism. If you are subscribing to minimalism I am hoping that you are seeing the big picture about the impact stuff has on the environment.
Quick Question: Once you wash and wash and wash and wash your clothes.., like 52 times (or more) each year.. aren’t they worn out? I mean, you are replacing them often, right? I hate to shop, so I’m thinking I’d rather have more clothes and not have to replace as often… but I still find myself wearing the same things over and over and I have 1 load to my husband’s 4 loads, since we own rentals and he works in them a lot..
I hate to shop as well! I look for high quality, that washes better. Sometimes that means spending more. The kids don’t wear their clothes out, and my husband’s work clothes tend to wash/wear really well. So it’s just my clothes that show it, and they’ve lasted well for about 2 years.
We are currently living overseas for several months with only what we could carry in suitcases, so naturally our wardrobes are quite minimalist. I expected to have less laundry as a result, but I haven’t found that it makes much of a difference. We still wear clothes, and they need washed no matter how many clothes are still in the closet. The kids play outside a lot, so they aren’t able to rewear clothes every day. So I wash just as much… It’s just the same few things over and over. And then there is ironing. Ugh!
Any ideas on getting a husband to rewear clothes instead of dropping them in piles on the floor? 😉
Wait a minute please, in your post about your capsule wardrobe, there are several white items.
And, I’ve seen your photo of your family at one of your latest posts, and you were all wearing white! I remember, because I thought then: “maybe one of her techniques to simplify is to wear white!”. 😀
Was that an old photo, and you have changed your point since then?
Please, don’t get my question wrong in any case, I’m just curious. 🙂
You’re right- I have an old photo where we all are in white shirts (that we no longer have) and a new photo, where I had to go buy everyone a white shirt… and the 4yo had stuff on his shirt before we even got the picture taken! LOL I totally thought someone would ask about it because I’ve told countless people “we don’t have white clothes.” 😳😂
😁 You know, we’re watching… 😄
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