The Austin American Statesman recently published our neighbor Susan Van Haitsma’s commentary on the benefits and pleasures of line-drying clothes.
Updated: 5:12 p.m. Friday, June 23, 2017 | Posted: 5:03 p.m. Friday, June 23, 2017
When summer temperatures soar and we are encouraged to find ways to reduce energy, I take extra satisfaction in my favorite household task: hanging out the laundry on a clothesline.
During Austin summers — even in the shade in humid conditions — laundry often dries more quickly on the line than it would in an electric or gas dryer. As a lifelong clothesline aficionado, I enjoy “hanging out” all year, but especially during these furnace-like days, I look around and wonder why more people don’t do it. As one easy way to lower greenhouse gases — particularly in the Southwest — isn’t air-drying a no-brainer? Let’s ride this heat wave.
Let me count the ways I love hanging out. First, because it’s green and makes efficient use of our natural resources without damaging or costing anything. Our abundant sunlight is a natural purifier — and who doesn’t love the fragrance of sun-dried clothes and bed linens? I also find that laundry waving in the breeze is beautiful. Think of the picturesque photos of laundry on clotheslines around the world. I’d like to see such scenes return to this country, where they once were common.
Hanging out also is good exercise and is meditative, not so different than a yoga practice. And, if your yard, like mine, does not have a privacy fence, pinning laundry affords extra occasions to say howdy to your neighbors. “Hey, bro, just hanging out. You?”
I came by my love of hanging out naturally. An early family photo shows a happy girl of about 4 in her boots in the backyard handing clothespins to her mom. I groused about other household tasks, but hanging the laundry was something I always enjoyed — and I think that’s because my parents did, too. Even through their elder years, my folks continued to use a clothesline in all seasons in Wisconsin, using the basement during winter. My farm-woman Michigan grandmother hung bedsheets outdoors throughout the winter, carrying them indoors stiff as boards to thaw in the kitchen. Living as I do in a favorable climate, I imagine my grandmother’s surprise if I were not using the solar energy so near at hand.
I understand that many living situations in Austin don’t appear to lend themselves to stringing up clotheslines, but there are more opportunities than one might think. Hanging clothes to dry indoors on clothes racks and hangers can be a great way to make air moisture levels healthier when air-conditioning in summer and heat in winter tend to dry out the air.
Most new apartments and lofts have balconies where racks also could be set up. On a few occasions when a green lawn has been handy, I’ve laid out laundry on the grass, where the oxygen is as beneficial as the sunlight. If there are neighborhood or building regulations that forbid clotheslines, this is a good time to challenge such rules. Because most ways of making Austin a greener city are hard, it seems silly to place unnecessary hindrances on the easy ways.
Cutting back on the use of a clothes dryer may be a small step toward energy reduction, but many people making small energy savings add up to big savings. There are complex ways to make use of our sun and warm air, but some forms of solar technology are simple and available to all of us. Every time I pin up or take down what I consider my prayer flags on the clothesline, I feel good. Going green is a daily pleasure — especially on the warmest days.
Van Haitsma lives in Central Austin.