Lessons from the Laundromat
A couple of weeks ago, when my family and I moved into our Nashville rental after spending twenty months living as nomads — spending time with my in-laws, my family, and traveling a lot — I asked my wife if we should bypass buying a washer and dryer to go to the laundromat once a week. Without hesitating, she agreed that we should forego purchasing a washer and dryer for now.
We have three children — Solace is five, Belle is four, and Roman is three. Having the ability to wash our clothes, towels, and bed sheets immediately is a convenient and wonderful thing. But you see, it’s hard to advocate for others if you can’t feel a little bit of what they’re feeling. And it’s hard to feel what they’re feeling if you can’t identify, in some way, with what they’re going through.
Sometimes we’re too comfortable to care.
I purposefully aim to make myself uncomfortable from time to time. Like a set of keys in my back pocket when I sit down in a hard chair, I always want a few things in my life poking me as reminders of how incredibly blessed and lucky I am to have the life I have. There are so many who don’t have access to the people, money, and resources I do — things like a washer and a dryer.
Spending two hours at a laundromat every Monday evening reminds me that there are as many people in need around me as there are drops of a quarter into the washing machine slot. Fascinating people of all kinds — single moms, immigrants, minority families — spend two hours a week at the laundromat. And I might not hear their stories, shake their hands, or see how they deal with a coke stuck in the soda machine if I wasn’t sitting on a pair of life’s keys.
The laundromat is my latest experiment, but there have been many others.
I’m currently in my twentieth month of living out of two bags — a backpack and a duffel bag. In the winter of 2016, I got rid of most of my clothes. What fits in two bags? Two pairs of black pants, six black tees, a pair of sweatpants, a sweatshirt, one jacket, and two pairs of shoes. Every morning, I reach into my duffel and grab a pair of pants, a tee, and some undergarments, and I’m ready to go. A grab-and-go wardrobe makes life pretty simple in a lot of ways.
There’s another experiment that always gets mixed reactions. I take one shower per week.
For real. Everyone says it’s gross but it’s not as bad as it sounds. I have very little natural body odor. I’m one of the lucky ones, I guess. I engaged in this experiment primarily to see how much time I could gain back from not taking daily showers and how I could use the extra time with the people I care about.
We have to decide to give a damn.
I realize how countercultural and counter-intuitive these experiments and decisions are. We live in a society of extravagance and indulgence. We’re constantly being encouraged to get what we want and ensured we should have it when we want it.
We’re praised and put on a pedestal for having the most stuff. Comfortable is table stakes for the “good life.”
Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, “Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” I believe this and try to embody it. I want to go one step further with my life. Not only will the whole world belong to you, you now have so much more to share with the world.
More than likely you have a washer and dryer in your apartment or home. And that’s fine! And you probably don’t live out of two bags. Again, completely fine.
But take a moment to ask yourself what you give a damn about. Who do you give a damn about? What are the things standing in the way of you showing that you give a damn about them?
We have a limited amount of time to advocate for the helpless, to love the unloved, and to give so many damns about the people, places, and things around us and around the world. But advocating for those in need requires a large amount of empathy.
Growing in empathy requires some amount of sacrifice and discomfort. We gain empathy when we remain in uncomfortable places for longer than we’d prefer to be there. I’m on a lifelong quest to help people see how important giving a damn is. I want to see more people determined to give more damns than ever before.
Originally written for Fathom Mag