And here is a worksheet to help you figure that out.
I think that there are lots of ways to skin this laundry system cat. If you have a good one going for your laundry, then — good for you! I affirm you! And a lot depends on whether you have a dedicated laundry room with plenty of… room, or whether you have to make-do in the basement or mudroom, like I do.
Also, there are just not many good pictures I can take of laundry, so bear with me, all you visual people!
I’m going to tell you about my way. This is a kid-tested, decades-honed, homeschool-proof, flexible system that does not take over your life.
Fair warning: it also does not produce a home free of laundry baskets in various stages of delivery. If you are looking for such a system — one in which a basket of clothes is no where to be found — I suggest you
1) hire a laundress
2) give up ever doing anything other than laundry
3) go naked
4) get rid of almost all of your children.
Otherwise, welcome to my world! Everything I tell you is based on a family of at least 6. If you have fewer, you may not need so many baskets, but this system is just fine.
Now, you will need to rid your laundry area of the piles of things you have in there. Most likely, you have a lot of stuff that you thought at the time, “That is an unusual load of things. I’ll get to it soon.” Like, maybe, a bedspread you’re not sure your machine can handle? Some sweaters you think might shrink? Some very dirty towels?
Whatever it is, get to the bottom of it. Take the bedspread and a couple of others to the laundromat. Decide to do the sweaters on the “hand washable” cycle or get them to the dry cleaner. Start some loads of towels with hot water and bleach.
Take a day, pull everything to the middle of the room, and plow through all the piles until one way or another they are gone. Put all the clean stuff into a room to be sorted later.
Now, while you are at the laundromat, go over to the dollar store and get yourself four plastic hampers. This is what you need: one for lights, one for darks (these should not be super big), one for towels and sheets (this one can be large), and one for “special needs” loads (not large; I’ll explain soon). If you have a couple of really cute wicker baskets you have been using, you can deploy them thus: one for the ironing (mine is not cute or wicker):and one for the kitchen, pantry, or mudroom for soiled items from those areas (this one is wicker, very cute; I looked literally for years to find one to fit this little space). Otherwise, get two more hampers at the dollar store.
If you don’t have them, you need 4-6 ordinary plastic laundry baskets, preferably stackable.
Now, find a place not far from the bathroom or bedrooms for the 4 hampers. We keep ours in the upstairs hall. I can’t even take a whole shot of mine because I’ve had them for so long; the covers are long gone and they are a little the worse for wear. They don’t match. (Well, they match each other but not the others. You know?) They are actually kind of sad. But that’s okay. I’m not you-know-who.
Here is where you have to convince yourself that your children can and will understand what they have to do. And they can! and they will! if you insist. They must, every night upon disrobing, place their dark clothing into one hamper and their light clothing into the other.
I am here to tell you that even a two-year old, if a girl, and definitely a three-year old, if other, can learn this. Usually they interpret it to mean that outer clothes go in the darks and underwear into the lights, and if you firmly explain that a light yellow t-shirt counts as light and black socks count as black, usually a five-year old can get it. Yes, you will have to adjust the occasionally mis-filed object.
Insist that they put TWO socks in. Spend a week making a point of directing them to put whatever socks they have randomly thrown about into an appropriate hamper. Mudroom hamper is fine. Just get it in there. I am death on taking socks off wherever one happens to be. Any perpetrator will be dragged from kingdom come to dispose of them properly. This is why most of my loads come out sock-even. When you (they) master this, train them to turn them right-side out first. Oh yeah, we’re talking brutal efficiency.
Towels and bedding go in the larger hamper. Small children really don’t have much to do with this, and I say more about it in Worksheet II. But older people can know what to do with a dirty towel.Any special clothing, such as sweaters, dress shirts, nice delicate cotton knits, dress pants, silk tops, and lingerie go in the “permanent press” hamper. I have always taken care of those things, since a mistake can spell disaster here, where the other categories are more forgiving. See, mine is very small, because hardly anyone is here any more.Think about it. If the laundry is pre-sorted, doesn’t it make life easier? Do we really enjoy going through dirty laundry to get it in the right place? Is it necessary to add this dreaded step to a stupid, Sisyphean, thankless task? Yes, no, and no. And this is my secret. Pre-sorted dirty clothing. It’s worth it. More in Worksheet II.