When I left school and started working, it seemed quite natural to take on domestic staff to help around the house and in particular to do the laundry and clean house.
This is a story that has stood the test of time, a story that is told on many continents and in many cultures where a privileged group are effectively sustaining a secondary economy of relatively underprivileged and uneducated people whose only hope for existence is either servitude or industrial labour.
A natural consequence of this absence of a need to perform my own domestic chores ultimately led to me really not seeing any major value in washing and ironing. We do it because we need to, not because we want to and not because we really find therapeutic value in it.
For a period of time, after university and following a big move, we did without domestic help. Then while living in the Middle East, picked it up again. The relationship was different. No family-like ties or bonds were established and the relationship was explicitly commercial. The housekeeper was fee-paid on a per visit basis and there was no child care involved, no seasonal gifts and barely a pleasantry exchanged. It was all rather complicated and yet simpler than it used to be.
When we moved to the US, again, we abandoned the idea of domestic help.
Periodically we would engage a contracted cleaning service to clean house but laundry fell as a responsibility to each family member that could reach into the top leading washing machine and retrieve their laundry.
Appliances replaced domestic helpers and clothing fabrics were carefully chosen based on the level of wash and wearability. Cotton was a common choice because of its natural properties.
wearing what is natural
We only ironed our clothes in the motherland in order to avoid misadventures with parasitic fly larvae .
My brother still bears the scars of mishandled laundry and the consequences.
The only way to avoid these horrible things is to either tumble dry your laundry or iron it. Since tumble drying is inefficient in countries where the sun shines so brightly, tumble dryers are not very commonplace and most laundry drying is done on a washline – ironing is the most effective approach. Did I mention I hate ironing?
I also hate wire coathangers – the wire coathanger is really only much good for laundered shirts and dresses and they are like paperclips, when accumulated in a pile, somehow always get tangled up. I also hate plastic coathangers – it is wooden ones for me. Yes, they take up more space in the closet and they don’t last forever but they’re natural, durable and have a good permanent shape.
I also like cotton over polyester and poly-cotton – as a consequence almost all of my formal or dress shirts are cotton. Not only is it breathable, it also tends to wash better, is perhaps a little more environmentally sound and pretty durable.
I think a cotton shirt if treated properly should probably last you at least ten years before the collars start to get a bit manky. A washed cotton shirt though, often needs ironing otherwise you always look like you just went to bed in it and woke up in it.
first world problems
What to do?
Some years ago I watched a film with Harrison Ford, I think it was Patriot Games, with Ford playing Jack Ryan. In one scene he opens a box of freshly laundered shirts and puts one on. The memory was seared into my brain. That was a cool thing. It was like a new shirt but obviously wasn’t meant to be. It was a boxed, laundered shirt.
So, when presented with the opportunity to not have to iron, not have to fold and have this new shirt experience every time I wanted to wear a dress shirt, why would I choose otherwise? When I was a road warrior traipsing up and down the West Coast, my life was basically lived out of a suitcase and if I had used the cleaners to launder my dress shirts and put them on hangers, I would have had to fold them to travel and get rid of those pesky hangers.
Repatriating them to the cleaners could always be done, I have done that, but I am sure the cleaners think I am a crackpot when I do that. You pay a premium for laundered and folded but travel with dress shirts is a cinch from then on out.
Finding a place that provides a folded shirt service in the big smoke of London is easy too, every dry cleaner offers the service and they periodically get quite price competitive.
an awkward moment
For a while I stopped wearing dress shirts, I was either working from home or wearing golf polo type shirts that don’t require ironing but I started again recently and got into the habit of accumulating a pile before I would take them to the dry cleaners.
Just before I went away last month I dropped off a couple of dozen for washing, pressing and folding. Yes, 24 to be precise! Typically I would drop them on a Saturday and then pick them up the following Saturday but since I was disinclined this weekend past, I simply went to get them today.
Typically I would drop them on a Saturday and then pick them up the following Saturday but since I was disinclined this weekend past, I simply went to get them today, a week day.
The cleaners I use, don’t box them but instead poly bag them – they used to be celluloid but plastic seems cheaper these days. There are some annoying aspects to the whole bagged, tagged and stiffened process but for the most part, it is ok because sometimes the shirts will go for weeks without being worn and have them bagged keeps the dust off and the stiffener keeps the shape.
I arrived at the cleaners this afternoon, armed with two reusable grocery bags to tote them away and while I patiently waited for the customer in front of me to get his business done, he eventually paused and offered me his place, evidently what he was trying to do was going to take a lot longer than he expected.
I produced my receipt and pointed to the shirts – I know my shirts and they are quite distinctive. As the shop assistant proceeded to hand my shirts over, the previous customer erupted with commentary to his significant other who was also in attendance.
Wow, I thought I had a lot of shirts, I have never seen so many shirts, and some of them are really nice shirts!
How does one respond? I was a bit taken aback. Then to make it all the more awkward, a second customer appeared and then they all started having a conversation about shirts and my shirts in particular!
Most of them are long sleeved, I do like a nice shirt, yes there is nothing better than a nice shirt etcetera.
I recall commenting on their reaction sheepishly without making eye contact, I am not sure what I said, but it was all rather awkward.
I daresay it was not their intent to embarrass me, but I did feel a little embarrassed by all the fuss. What they failed to fathom is that this was roughly six weeks worth of shirts all laundered simultaneously.
The resulting outcome has me wondering whether I should do this again. In the end, I would say probably yes I will do it again. I actually have more shirts but then again you can never have too many!