It All Comes Out In The Wash: A Story Of Love And Laundry

by Audrey Ference

This never happens to me on Laundry Day

Here’s what’s interesting about laundry: everyone has to do it. Or have it done. It is a thing that everyone has to coordinate the doing-of, somehow. And so, it perfectly reveals how certain class things work. If you’re rich, you never think about it, probably. Your clothes float off your body and somehow return to your closet cleaned and pressed. The less money you have, the more work it is to do laundry, and, like so many things, the cheaper option often costs more over the long term.

I’ve never been good at laundry. At some point in middle school, I pissed my mom off enough that she ordered me to start doing my own laundry, and my first load turned all of my dad’s whites pink. Being a thrifty man, he spent years changing into scrubs in front of co-workers in pinkish-purplish briefs and undershirts. I would be 0% surprised if he is still wearing some of them.

Laundry in New York is even worse than regular laundry. Like most every part of life here, it’s a production. You have to locate a laundromat, figure out what kind of money they take, haul your stuff there, come back in time to switch it before some angry weirdo tosses your intimates on the floor, lug it back home, and fold it. It can be a day-long saga and that’s if you have one nearby and it doesn’t require all quarters. In-building laundry is only marginally better. Now you’re dragging laundry and up and down stairs, and the angry weirdo knows where you live. At some point in my 13 years as a transplant here, my vision of the ultimate attainable NYC luxury took shape: a washer and dryer that were just for me. That I could let my wet clothes sit in until they were disgusting, mildewy wrinkle wads if I wanted, because it was my goddamned washer. I understand that this dream is suburban, bourgeois, boring, and probably anti-feminist on some level. I definitely feel shame about that. But listen: to not have my underwear water mixing with someone else’s underwear water? To not have to negotiate the passive-aggressive etiquette of trying to free up a long-finished-but-still-full dryer? To have this, I don’t care what anybody thinks. Here is my journey.

The Garbage Person Years

Year: 2002

Laundry Style: Disgusting

I started my time in New York in a creepy sublet on the Lower East Side, at Henry and Montgomery streets, an intersection cab drivers refused to believe was not in Brooklyn Heights. I had two weird roommates, a mattress on the floor, and a kitchen that slowly filled with bugs when the lights were off. I’d moved from Philly, which is thrift store heaven, so I had enormous piles of sub-$10 clothing. I basically did no laundry. This method carried me for a while, into several more apartments: wearing everything I had, then doing an apocalyptic mega-laundry. I have no idea what I did about underwear, and I prefer not to think about it.

In the Garden Apartment of Eden

Year: 2005

Laundry Style: In an apartment, with a significant other

Everything changed when I moved in with my boyfriend and we had to negotiate shared laundry. We lucked into an amazingly underpriced Fort Greene garden apartment that came with our own washer and dryer. They were ancient and vented out the window with a giant tube that spat dryer phlegm onto the patio, but they were ours. I was young and stupid and did not fully appreciate them. This apartment was basically our Eden. We were able to slowly discover one another’s laundry (and other) quirks in a giant, cheap, beautiful apartment. With a yard! And 1.5 bathrooms! For $1400 a month! You have to trust me that this is very cheap for New York.

At first, I felt a lot of insecurity about sharing laundry. Did I want my boyfriend having to mess with my dirty clothes? Did I want to mess with his? Would doing his laundry with mine a few times start the slow slide into me doing all of the housework all of the time, like in those studies that the Atlantic is forever publishing about why women can’t have it all? (It did not.)

We were somewhat incompatible, laundry-wise. He was very particular about how certain things were laundered, whereas I was raised with a kind of Darwinian fatalism about clothing: shove everything into the washer and if it doesn’t survive, it wasn’t the garment for you. We eventually found a kind of middle ground, and I even started to air dry things sometimes like an adult.

Drop It, Drop It Off, Girl

Year: 2008

Laundry Style: Laundromat drop-off

When the landlords of our perfect apartment returned from abroad, they wanted their probably-awful adult children to live in our paradise. Kicked out with only our fig leaves and tears, we found a new place that was kind of a disaster. No laundry. Though a large and nice laundromat was granny cart walking distance from our not-as-good apartment, one too many laundromat fights enticed me to experiment with drop off laundry.

Drop off seems like a no-brainer. It’s more expensive, sure, but you hand someone a bag of dirty clothes and come back a day later and the clothes are clean. Not just clean, but folded in these otherworldly blocks, so neat and geometrical they pop right into a drawer without bunching up or getting scraped off into the mysterious behind-drawer space. I could never figure out how they did that. The downsides of drop off: everything comes back weirdly crispy? Like even though you give them your brand of detergent and dryer sheets, the clothes are always a bit al dente. Maybe they dry them longer?

Sometimes things got mixed up, and I ended up with someone else’s things, or some of my things were missing. Most importantly, I never got over the ickiness of a stranger having to touch my dirty undies. That never sat right with me.

Ha Ha, Yes, They Really Called It a Penthouse

Year: 2009

Laundry Style: Shared machines in a basement

Our next place, a fourth floor walk-up billed as a “penthouse,” had shared laundry in the basement. There were six apartments in the building and two washers and dryers, so you might think laundry would be a non-issue. Unfortunately, those thoughts are the naive thoughts of a person who’s never lived in a “self-managed” condo building in Brooklyn. Imagine every petty, passive-aggressive laundry thing you could do, and add in the fact that nobody told us for the entire first year that there was a big tub of quarters in the locked basement room that we were allowed to use.

My boyfriend, who had by now become my husband, took over laundry duty after being laid off. The comical laundry rudeness of some of our neighbors became a focal point for his angst. I cannot overstate how much drama became attached to doing the laundry every week, and how much, even after getting a job and returning to shared laundry-doing, this weighed on my husband in particular. Like, he still bitches about it to this day. When we decided to try and have a kid, it was at least partially the laundry situation that made us realize we needed to live somewhere else with a baby. Mostly it was other things, but the five flights of stairs plus baby laundry math definitely factored in.

A Shit Show in Every Sense of the Word

Year: 2013

Laundry Style: Building laundry machines in the lobby

My requirements for this apartment were, I thought, completely reasonable. It had to have an elevator, and it had to have laundry in the building. The place I found in a large building seemed like the perfect new parent apartment: 2 bedrooms, an elevator, and yes, building laundry. No more stairs, plenty of washers and dryers, anonymous neighbors. My enthusiasm for this apartment was tragically misplaced. The always-broken elevator meant I walked down 5 flights of stairs while in labor, then walked back up them two days post-partum. There was a massive apartment flood from a burst pipe. No hot water for weeks after I got home from the hospital. And to top it off? Every time I tried to run two washers and two dryers at once, I’d come down and find them all mysteriously turned off mid-cycle, along with the lights in the lobby.

Trying to restart them one time, I looked behind the wall of machines and found six (!!!) washers and dryers plugged into a power strip, which was plugged into a regular wall outlet. That was when we started to look for another new place.

Paradise Regained

Year: 2014

Laundry Style: Two brand new machines, exclusively used by yours truly

Because we were now responsible for the safety of an entire other life and the structural integrity of the apartment we were living in had come into question, we started looking for a new place. Did I want to move twice in one year, this time with a tiny child? No I did not. But it was worth it because we found a great place and guess what? It has a basement. A basement with a washer and dryer. My own personal washer and dryer that only I use.

My laundry dreams have come true, and I have to tell you, it’s as wonderful as I imagined. I hum when I do laundry. I almost look forward to it. It’s so easy. There’s no such thing as laundry day: I can do it whenever, while doing something else. When I hear that little “done now” song from the dryer and decide to ignore it for a while, I feel like Jay fucking Gatsby and his giant pile of shirts: wealthy, decadent, and surrounded by laundry that needs folding.

Audrey Ference hopes to never set foot in a laundromat again. Very occasional tweets @audreyference.