Laundry, Art and Spirituality
Published on January 3, 2012 by guest author: Annalisa Parent

It’s a weird claim to fame, really, but I used up the fifteen minutes of fame Andy Warhol told us we’d all have in the future with laundry art. Yes, laundry art.

My photographs of clotheslines have been published the world over. I’ve been interviewed by international news outlets and The New York Times—all for photographs of hanging laundry.

When I was interviewed by the reporter at The New York Times, I remember her asking “Why Laundry?”

Like any story, it’s complicated, but the short version starts with a college friendship with the soon-to-become founder and chair of Project Laundry List, an organization that promotes, as its sole function, the hanging of laundry, as well as my own convictions that hanging laundry is a moral good.

I explained to The New York Times reporter that I’d grown up in a household where laundry was hung, and while I wasn’t always a huge fan of it (especially in those surly teenage years), I came to appreciate its practicality.

As my friend Alex (of Project Laundry List fame) pointed out in his tenure with the organization, the dryer uses a significant proportion of the average American home’s energy use (10-25 percent of its monthly energy bill - that’s a lot!). Additionally, clothes last longer if they are line-dried, and the sun acts as a natural disinfectant. All that, plus the smell of fresh air on your clothes - I was sold on its practical aspects alone.

But there was more to it than that. In an inarticulate way I tried to convey to the reporter the spiritual quality of laundry hanging. Stay with me - I know it sounds odd. But in the years since that interview, I have come to know that feeling in other ways - a connection to my belongings through the care of my belongings. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t lovingly caress each pair of socks as I dangle it from the line. Rather, I’ve come to understand a concept about care. In Antoine de St. Exupery’s "The Little Prince," the Prince comes to learn that “it is the time you have spent on your rose that makes it so important.” The Prince, having nurtured and protected this rose, learns this same concept I am now coming to know.

Like the Prince, the time we spend caring for our belongings makes them valuable. The time I spend hanging my clothes, washing my dishes by hand, weatherizing the outdoor furniture gives them value because I have spent time with them and on them. Not only because time is valuable in our busy lives, but because I have invested care into these pieces. Sure, I can throw them in the dryer, the dishwasher, spray them off with a power hose or, let’s face it, just go out and buy new ones. But the investment I’ve made means something - to say nothing of the positive impact such choices can make on the environment.

As we come off from a holiday season that’s supposed to be about goodwill and peace, and often is about overindulgence and presents, I think this idea is an important lesson to combat a commercial culture. Without being schmaltzy or “crunchy,” the time we spend on the objects we own gives us a connection to them that’s worth far more than the object itself.

I think this is something my grandmother, who only got one gift per Christmas throughout the Great Depression, and perhaps yours, understood. And I think this is something marketing divisions would like us to forget in their cry to acquire “More! More! More!” But as you consider your new year’s resolutions for 2012, please consider this somewhat-out-there idea that whatever the “roses” may be in our lives, it is the time we spend with them that give them value, and conversely choosing to labor manually over our belongings can give them a new, more spiritual meaning in our lives.

Annalisa Parent is a freelance writer and teacher living in Vermont.

User Comments
J LeBlanc | January 04, 2012 20:42

I love hanging laundry on the line in the summer. It is nice being outside in the sunshine and the sun can bleach stains out of some things much easier than treating them with chemical stain removers.

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