City & Politics, Essay

The Social Beef: Laundry manners

Last week I had two loads of laundry to do in my apartment building. A simple task, yet sometimes things go wrong.

My apartment building has one washing machine in the entire complex. It’s not a huge building. It’s a four-floor low-rise with four apartments on each level. So the one washing machine accommodates anywhere from 16-30 people. Two washing machines would be better; one washing machine is too light on for my liking.

Here’s why.

I walked into the grimy basement laundry room armed with my clothes basket in one arm and juggling my keys in the other hand. Someone’s washing machine cycle had finished, but their wet clothes were still in the machine. A full load, too. I waited ten minutes for the owner to fess up and collect their items, but grew impatient. So I walked back upstairs and waited for some time to pass.

After 45 minutes, I walked back down and the load was still there. I thought about removing the clothes,  but does one really want to touch other people’s clothes? Yes, they are clean, but, what if you start taking the stranger’s clothes out and in walks the owner staring at you with their items – heaven forbid it happens to be underwear– in your hand. When you don’t know someone that well, getting caught fondling their undergarments, hankies, socks and tee shirts with pit stains is not the best initiation. So, with regret, I had to put off my laundry time for another day. All because someone couldn’t be bothered walking down to claim their clothes and remove them from the machine.

A week later I raced down to the laundry room, peered in the window and saw it was free. Finally, the washing machine was empty. I raced back down, spilling dirty clothes along the hallway as I went. I threw the door open and I put in two loads. I made note of the time — 30 minutes. I came back within that time and put in load number two. Again, I made note of the time. In my time calculations, I must have set the wrong time, because when I returned to pick up my second load, my clothes were plastered all over the floor. Instead of placing them on the nearby bench, they flicked and tossed my clothes like a Greek salad all over the room. I must have misjudged my time by ten minutes – max.

Clearly, there are two trains of thought here. Is it rude to remove someone’s clothes from the washing machine when they aren’t in the room? When I was confronted with the same situation a week earlier, should I have just done the same thing instead of waiting for someone to claim their clothes?

Something must be done. Here’s what we need: laundry police.

They’ll be hired by landlords across the city and uphold the steady and systematic flow of the “clothes wash” and enforce a one-in-one-out policy that forces you to sit, watch as you clothes get cleaned. Perhaps they could also introduce a ticketing system, where you take a number if the laundry room is experiencing high traffic? Once you get your number, you can then head back up stairs to your apartment and wait until the laundry police texts you your number. This way, you’d know when it’s your turn to dump your clothes in the wash. It nullifies awkward touching of other people’s clothes and it offers a system – a system that is flawless.

At most urban Laundromats, you don’t really have the luxury to walk off and collect your clothes at a time that is convenient for you. Public pressure prevents you from doing that. Generally you take a book, newspaper or magazine and you sit and keep watch over your clothes maternally as they embark on the weekly ritual of cleansing. This is also another model that apartment buildings need to adapt to. Landlords need to make laundry rooms more appealing for tenants to sit in. Perhaps offer a nice comfortable chair to sit in; maybe a few beanbags and posters on the wall of exotic holiday destinations, such as Hawaii where volcanic mountains meet beach. If laundry-goers had a reason to stay and watch their clothes, the process would become more efficient and orderly. Most laundry rooms inside apartment buildings are stuck in the pits of the basement where exposed wooden structures are, spider webs and people’s bikes live. If they became more conducive to reading, crosswords or board games, apartment dwellers would wash their clothes more often and basically anytime during the week – not just Sundays at 5 p.m.

Until these laundry room innovations happen, I’m stuck with picking my clothes up off the laundry room floor.


Justin Robertson is a freelance journalist. You can follow him on Twitter:@justinjourno

Illustration by Sarah Jennings.

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