Fighting for the Right to Hang…Laundry
Anyone who doubts how important it is to scrutinize the manner in which our culture understands (or fails to understand) its construction of nature should consider the recent clothes line controversy that is riddling homeowners in many planned living communities. Only in the United States would drying clothes outside, in the air and sunlight, be considered as an “unnatural” detriment to property value. Apparently, our undergarments are too ghastly to display in public.
That is the claim made by some opponents of clotheslines, I discovered this week while watching TV. In the last few days, I’ve happened upon Alexander Lee’s name twice: first in Orion Magazine’s “Ear to the Ground” section and then again last night on ABC’s World News with Charles Gibson. Lee, an environmental activist and founder of Project Laundry List, has dedicated his life to promoting the clothesline.
According to the ABC report, U.S. households spend at least $100 per year drying their clothes. A simple, energy efficient solution, and one that requires a little space and about $10 worth of technology, is to hang clothes outside to dry. Especially in the summer months, clothes actually dry faster hanging outside than in a dryer. Towels especially develop a nice crispness that actually allows you to absorb more water from your naked body when stepping out the the shower than towels dried in electric dryers. And, of course, hanging clothes outside is a zen-like experience, a meditative experience like gardening and fishing that allows you to consider anything from the patterns of your wardrobe to nothing at all.
In our current energy crisis, which is actually a more widespread environmental conservation problem, why wouldn’t all U.S. citizens dry their clothes outside? Apparently, many are prohibited from doing so. The ABC report appealed to the sentiments of Richard Jacques, a homeowner association president in New Hampshire who explains his resistance to clothes hanging: “I don’t want to see any [clothes] out. I want to see nature. Sheets are not nature.” Of course, depending on how one defines nature, especially if the definition is expanded beyond “trees, flowers, and grass,” nothing in planned communities is “nature.” Jacques isn’t just a cranky neighbor worried about his suburban vistas being compromised. He’s among many people who refuse to acknowledge the extent that our ideas of what is “natural” depend on and are implicated by what our culture dictates.
Several states have already passed laws that prohibit homeowner associations and apartment complex owners from forbidding residents to hang clothes out to dry. And while it’s a good thing that Florida is among these states, it’s also a bitter irony because of its extreme humidity. If you live in a state where neighborhood associations, bastions of contrived community, prohibit drying clothes outside, please put them in touch with Project Laundry List. It’s the right thing to do.
Finally, for those who already do hang clothes out to dry, but live in an area riddled by mosquitoes, here’s a tip. Dry your clothes, and then throw them in a dryer for about 5 minutes. That should do the trick.