Take Back the Wind

April 9, 2011 by Categorized: Earth Matters.

Do you feel helpless about the health of the planet?

Probably, you do, if you’re reading this blog.  I don’t think I need to spell out the danger we are in, environmentally.  Resource depletion, extinction rates, climate change… the environment is in the news a lot lately, but rarely is the news good.  It’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

Here is a piece of advice: do one small thing.

Choose something, however small, and change the way you live.

Now, there are a lot of options for what that one small thing could be.  But my advice, on this suClothes drying in the sun.nny day in New England? If you live anywhere that you have access to a yard outside, install a clothes line, and begin to use it.  Do it because it’s practical, and human beings like the feeling of being practical.  And do it because it’s fun…unlike, say, turning your thermostat down to 45 degrees in the dead of winter.

And do it because it actually makes a difference.

All by itself, you will be saving 5% or more of your electricity usage.  That’s 5% less contribution to global warming from your personal domicile–in one fell swoop.  Nice payoff, for a hunk of rope and some clothespins.

I know.  Some of you live where this is not possible, or where it is difficult.  Apartment and condominium living can be tough this way, it is true.  (Though there are those who are working to make it easier–and it is worth noting that it’s the norm in many countries in Europe, for city dwellers as well as those in the countryside.)

But if you live in the country, or in a suburb, or even where you have access to a balcony or porch, and you are not line-drying your clothing, you are missing out.

I am sitting in front of my computer just now… but ten minutes ago, I was taking down line dried sheets.

Do you remember that smell, from your childhood?  Or are you one of the unfortunate ones, who grew up after the craze for “convenience” made Americans think of clothes driers as necessities? If so, you have my condolences.  Or if, like me, you’re one of those lucky ones who gets to go out under a clear blue sky, watch the birds, hear the wind, and sleep on sheets and pillowcases that smell like morning and green grass and joy… well!  Aren’t we lucky?

Even in winter, I hang the sheets outside.  I’m an addict; I admit it. Having learned how delicious and sensual this small pleasure is, I cannot do without it any more.

Today, however, I celebrate spring, not with a maypole, but with three full loads of laundry flapping in the wind.

Gone are the short days of winter, when I had to hang all but my sheets inside on racks to dry.  Now all of my laundry is softened–yes, softened!  Don’t listen to the propagandists out there who will tell you otherwise–by being tumbled gently in the breeze.

And I have done something–one small, concrete thing–to protect the planet I love.

Yeah, it’s not going to single-handedly avert climate change.

Though if we were able–just think of it!–to cut our carbon emissions nationally by 5%, that would be cause for feasting and celebration, wouldn’t it?  So why not celebrate the small changes that are entirely within our power?  Why not do something concrete, physical, and–wait for it–actually pleasant and enjoyable, and make that small amount of difference?

It’s a hell of a lot more fun than sitting around inside, waiting for the world to end–or even just for the buzzer on the drier to sound.

And no: it isn’t more time consuming than your drier–at least, not in terms of time you spend at it.  The clothes are not noticeably stiffer when dried outside.  And if hung with care, clothes wrinkle less and are easier to fold.  I haven’t lost a sock since I began line drying–it’s so easy to hang them up in pairs.

It’s not hard. It’s not expensive. And–believe it or not–it’s not drudgery, but a chance to be outside, in the wind and air, and to know you’re making a small contribution today.

Go for it.  Seriously.  Take back the wind.  And while you’re at it, take back the sun, the sky, and the scent of line-dried sheets and towels.

Comment Feed

21 Responses

  1. Lovely points Cat.

    Living in Africa, I,and all my neighbours,hang the weekly washing up every Saturday and in my case Sunday too.
    Sunday morning a half hour after sunrise is the time I’m most likely to spot Black Eagles – who know it’s Sunday, and are wheeling silently high overhead, looking for remains from the braai or maybe a young puppy or two..
    Terri in Joburg

  2. I’m sure it’s not this way everywhere, Terri… that not everyone is rewarded with the flight of eagles (or, in my case, red-tailed hawks or migrating geese) when they hang out their laundry.

    But it is a shame more of us here in the United States aren’t aware both of how the “necessity” of an electric or propane dryer is seen as silly and wasteful in much of the world (including places a good deal wetter than most of the U.S.) and, even more, how easy and joyful the practice can be.

  3. This was one of the topics I was going to post on!

    We live in a small mobile home, smaller than most city apartments. We hang our clothes on racks during the winter and on the line in the warm months.

    • HH–I’m glad, both that you’ll be posting on the topic later on (hint, hint! A good message bears repeating!) and that you manage to hang things up inside.

      After all, our grandmothers, many of whom were city dwellers or lived in small or crowded houses, especially by today’s standards, all hung their wash up to dry, and thought nothing of it.

      So much of what will make sense for the future involves honoring the past–and not just the dim, distant, romantic past, but the decades of the near past, doesn’t it?

      I wonder if there’s a way we can invite readers to share photos of their indoor as well as outdoor drying spaces? Sometimes I think people just need a little practical inspiration to begin a new habit…

  4. Cat: I shall post on it again later, probably not until late spring/early summer.

    Laundry is done on Sundays here on HH. The next time I have to dry indoors I’ll take pictures and post them. I agree that some need practical inspiration to begin a new habit.

  5. And even if you’re in a situation where you can’t hang laundry outside, or hang all of it — you can often at least do a little bit.

    I live in an apartment with no outdoor space. It looks like there used to be a line in the basement (old, ’40s era building) but the landlord is a hoarder who won’t clean it out and make it possible to USE the line, which is a shame.

    Still, I manage to hang at least some of my clothes on the shower curtain and let them dry. I’ve found it doesn’t work for everything — heavier things like jeans won’t dry for over a week, so it’s unfortunately not practical — but I manage to do a significant amount that way.

    It’s also worth noting not everything needs to be washed on first wearing. I wear things like jeans and sweaters (not worn next to skin) quite a few times before washing them, which also helps.

    • Not to mention the virtues of washing in cold water and using less soap–recommendations by the detergent companies usually over-saturate your clothes with detergent, which can make them stiffer and cause allergic reactions for some. Half usually is sufficient, and the energy saved by using cold water only is also significant.

      While there’s no one magic bullet that will turn around the disaster that climate change is likely to become, there are many, many small changes we can all make.

      I’m lucky enough to have access to a good indoor space I can use to dry my clothes in winter. But still, there’s nothing like the clean, heavenly smell of clothes dried outside in the sun… *grin*

  6. Great post!

    I’ve taken to hanging up wet laundry in the room. I live in a dorm, so a clothesline isn’t possible at the moment, but I love coming back into my room and smelling that /cleanness/, better than the most expensive incense, saturating the air. And it feels good knowing that I did something, however little it might be.

  7. If you’re going to do this and you live in the suburbs, though, check your deed covenants if you have them– or you could find yourself with a fine and the ire of your neighbors.

  8. I live in an apartment that doesn’t have a balcony but I still use a pine clothes rack in my hallway to dry my clothes. I don’t remember the last time I used a drier. It’s been years!

    Additionally I use an ecofriendly laundry soap with lavender essential oil in it… so the apartment smells great and the clothes dry naturally.

  9. It’s probably good to note that hanging clothes to dry and washing with cold water both help preserve clothes longer so we don’t have to replace things as often. Perhaps that just one of the more hidden benefits along with the more obvious energy savings.

  10. Hanging the laundry on the line is like meditation for me. After I hang the clothes and towels, I love watching them blow in the gentle mountain breezes. It gives me a sense of nostalgia. If you look at it like a holy act, it will be one. All the benefits will follow.

  11. It’s not that cut-and-dried. I try to hang laundry outdoors during the 6 weeks we can expect it to be dry. And I run out and yank it in out of the rain nearly half the time, and throw it in the dryer to finish. Yes, I fondly remember the scent of freshly-dried laundry as I took it off the line for my mother. And how good it smelled again, as she (or I) ironed nearly every piece of it to get it smooth and soft again — and irons pull huge amounts of power. But I also remember how it smelled when we took it off the basement line in the winter, where it had hung for two or three days, getting stale and musty.

  12. i use my clothesline almost all year here in the northeast. I like to imagine my clothes flapping in the breeze like my neighbor’s Tibetan prayer flags sending prayers of cleaner air and environmental consciousness out into the universe/

  13. A post on The Greenists about making your own laundry soap.


You must be logged in to post a comment.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. [...] and towns all over the country, it is actually illegal to line-dry laundry, despite the obvious ecological and personal benefits of this age-old practice. Why? “Many homeowner associations seem to believe that the act of [...]

  2. [...] of the biggest electricity hogs in your home is the dryer. Cat’s post talked about this earlier this year. Now that winter has come to the northern hemisphere, you may [...]

  3. […] and towns all over the country, it is actually illegal to line-dry laundry, despite the obvious ecological and personal benefits of this age-old practice. Why? “Many homeowner associations seem to believe that the act of air […]