Just as 2020 was circling the drain, a day before the new year dawned, one final aggravation just had to have its way: the washing machine gave up the ghost. It had served us faithfully for a decade, alerting us to its cycle completion with a chirpy little ditty countless times, so the squealing and thumping it emitted that night of December 30th, accompanied by a telltale burning aroma, bore the unmistakeable strains of requiem. We thanked it and, after a moment of silence, transferred the final drum full of clothing to its sturdy sidekick, the dryer.
Our pod family friends immediately offered the use of their unit, which would have been extremely convenient considering that their home is almost a stone’s throw from ours, and my dear friend, Kate, proposed that I mask up and run loads at her beautiful house in Ivy. My mom even volunteered to pick up and do our laundry for us, but I was bound and determined to see this out. Here was my second social experiment: what would it look like and feel like to go without a washing machine for seventeen days? I mean, it’s not like everyone has one. It would be a good exercise to live for a while without. We’ve learned that we can live without so many other things this year, and considering that the ability to launder using an appliance in our own dwelling is a creature comfort afforded only to those considered affluent by worldwide standards, I thought it would be worthwhile as a way to emphasize the appreciation we should recognize for the luxuries we sometimes might forget are luxuries.
I could wash things in the sink if necessary, but I knew we all had enough clothing to go that long without NEEDING to launder. I wanted to showcase this fact, the explicit fact of our privilege, for my kids as a way to show them the excess implicit in a lifestyle as comfortable as ours is. I wanted to test myself, too, and shine some perspective on how fortunate I am to own things like a washing machine and a dishwasher; as much annoyance as chores like laundry and dishes are, they could be a whole lot more arduous to accomplish without the automaticity of Samsung and Whirlpool and Maytag literally at our fingertips. In an admittedly minuscule way, perhaps this process would amplify the wattage of the bulbs in our gratitude lanterns.
Well, I can show you how a couple of weeks’ worth of laundry stacks up over here:
We watched the pile creep up the map, all the way to Scandinavia, topping out with the mesh bags of school masks right there at Rovaniemi, which happens to be the capital of Lapland as well as the “official” home to Santa Claus and a prime location for viewing the aurora borealis, so says Google. This process was most difficult for Liam, who is particular to the point of pedantry when it comes to his clothing, especially as it pertains to which underwear he pairs with which outfit and which day of the week. He likes to have the whole week ahead laid out for himself, frequently fretting over the whereabouts of his Friday underwear when it’s only Monday. He also likes to wear the same things over and over again until I finally draw the line and say, for example, that he must retire any clothing that is size seven or smaller (he’ll be eleven in three months). I wanted to push him out of the conscription of his self-imposed sartorial safety zone, compel him to struggle against his reluctance to try the new clothing hibernating in his drawer, to practice feeling uncomfortable in this short-term, relatively unthreatening way.
And, by jingo, he did it. Because this all began over the winter holiday weeks, he couldn’t even seek solace in the monotony of the school uniform at first. No, this was full-bore NEW SHIRT NEW PANTS, lo, NEW UNDERWEAR territory. He hardly complained that he hadn’t seen his “Monday undies” in a month of Sundays or that he was missing that familiar pinch under the arms that only his outgrown Old Navy crew shirts could provide. He bravely donned that hand-me-down hoodie and even the tie-dyed number he’d previously proclaimed aesthetically objectionable and, dare I say, he rather liked it.
I do declare that I felt a sense of relief when the new washing machine, a ravishing black top-loader with just enough but not too many features, was delivered and installed. But the look on Liam’s face when he put that first load of laundry into the shiny silver basin? Sheer glee.