Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Clean and Green

There's a new "green" trend these days, and like many "green" trends, it hearkens back to the past as a way to make the future more environmentally friendly.

Since my college days, I've dutifully recycled my paper, cans, boxes and used motor oil, kept my shades down in the summer, walked or biked when possible, conserved water and even tried cloth diapers and composting. But a couple of months ago, my husband challenged me to cut back on our clothes-dryer use, and he hung up a simple line in our back yard.

Now, I have memories of hanging out and bringing in clothes from our backyard line when I was a kid, but I admit I wasn't thrilled at the prospect of adding more housework to my current list. With three very busy kids (and two in football), we go through a lot of stain remover, and I wash about one (BIG) load a day. Yet I knew I had to "walk the talk" and give this a try.

After stringing up more line (so I can actually hang at least one full load) and buying more clothespins, I started hanging up all our laundry, and I've found I actually like it.

There are many good reasons to eschew the clothes dryer. Not only does hanging your clothes out save money and energy (clothes dryers account for up to 15 percent of the energy used in the United States!), but it uses fewer chemicals (no fabric-softener sheets) and is easier on your clothes (less wear on your clothes means less lint in the lint trap). It only takes a few minutes' more work, and your clothes and linens end up with a fresh, natural scent that isn't from a bottle.

Sure, there are some drawbacks. One of my children complains about his now-crunchy underwear, and the birds have left a few small "calling cards" now and then. But overall, I find my new ritual rather relaxing and enjoyable. For a few minutes, I get to escape our noisy house and think my own quiet thoughts amid the birdsong and airy breezes. And that nice, fresh scent is really soothing when you climb between your sheets.

Now you've probably heard that you should never air your dirty laundry in public, but what about your clean laundry? Throughout the world, clotheslines have been the norm for thousands of years. In many parts of the world, electric clothes dryers are still considered a luxury. Only in the United States has the once-ubiquitous clothesline now become so old-fashioned that it is actually outlawed in many locations for "aesthetic" reasons. Think about it: In how many upscale neighborhoods do you now see clean clothes blowing in the wind? It's another one of those time-honored traditions that could be in danger of being forgotten if not for its preservation by a few nostalgic and practical folks.

With all the talk now about global climate change and energy consumption, it's nice to know a simple alternative such as air drying your clothes can be an effective way to fight pollution and save energy. It is estimated that if we all hung our clothes out to dry, we'd save enough energy to shut down several power plants. Isn't that a worthwhile idea?

One movement that is trying to do just that is called Project Laundry List. Its website is a great resource for all questions relating to air drying, and its members are lobbying the public to turn off their clothes dryers as a way to help the environment.

Here in Texas, it's so easy to use a clothesline. We have more hot summer sun here than we could ever want or need, and on a dry, 100-degree day, my clothes are done in less than an hour. Luckily I have no community regulations against air-drying my clothes, and I like the fact that I'm actually using some of that dang-blasted heat for a good purpose.

I've found a darling little book that tells all about the history and use of clotheslines. Called "The Clothesline," by Irene Rawlings and Andrea Vansteenhouse, it is packed with photos, anecdotes and antique images. It's a fun read, and it recalls the days when every housewife had a weekly laundry routine, and nosy neighbors judged others by the way they hung out their clothes. Like aprons, fresh-baked bread and homemade quilts, clotheslines are a symbol of humble simplicity.

It's wonderful to know that even in these modern times of traffic, TV and electronic gizmos, it's still possible to refresh your laundry and your mind by the little task of hanging your clothes on a clothesline.

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