Design Challenge: Reducing Piles of Laundry in the Bedroom

Levels of Laundry

My wife and I both had parents that used hampers but we trace our organic approach to our many levels of laundry to Bill Murray’s character in Ghostbusters 2 as seen in this clip:

This system served us well enough until for years. Then we found ourselves in our mid 30s tired of dealing with occasional moth issues, an inability to remember what was clean vs what is beyond wearing in public without being washed, and worrying that maybe it was time to grow up and do what our parents did. If you’ read my archives you’ll find a hamper that we designed and built. It’s a sturdy copy of a flimsy store bought design and overall it worked fine.

The hamper is not the system.

Our entire system needed examined from dryer to washing machine. We set aside most of a week’s stay-at-home vacation to try to figure it out and implement something new. Here is the process we took.

Define the Problem

Laundry is a collection of clothes, linens, towels, etc. which need washed before they can be worn or used again. Laundry does not equal clothes, it equals dirty clothes, clean clothes by definition are not laundry and our issue was larger than clothes too. If we limited our question to How do we do our laundry better? Or how do we reorganize our dirty clothes? we’d not be solving the problem. Our problem was larger. We started by talking about these areas of concern:

  • How much clothing and other textiles do we own (hereafter referred to as textiles)? Do we own too much?
  • How do we store clean textiles?
  • How do we use and categorize textiles?
  • How do we store textiles between uses and washing?
  • How often do we wash discrete categories of textiles?
  • The washing process and the journey to and from the washing facilities reduces our trips to the washer and causes pile ups.
  • Our desire to not overuse water, energy, and soap or to wash things when they’re clean enough limits our trips and causes pile ups.
  • How do we prevent clean and dirty textiles from getting mixed up?

This is a complex set of issues. Defining the question we were trying to answer was not easy but here is what we settled on:

How might we process and store reusable textiles before and after uses? 

This question works because it doesn’t limit our answers to clean or dirty, or the many layers between those two states. It also doesn’t limit the question to clothing. The questions of how we deal with dirty towels or towels that are not totally dirty both fall under this larger question.

The Design Process is Almost Never Settled

This would be a good time to say that we’ve not yet had that ah-ha moment where we’ve revolutionized the practice of laundry or developed a whole new way to organize clothes. What we have accomplished thus far is a partial solution based around our analysis of the issue. We’ve yet to create something new. That said we’re still working on the project. For now the following is what we’ve done.

  1. Took inventory of existing clothing, towels, sheets and other linens.
  2. Washed or otherwise cleaned all existing textiles.
    1. Threw away, donated or repurposed all textiles that were no longer needed.
    2. Evaluated the room needed to store all textiles if all were clean and none were in use.
    3. Categorized all existing textiles as use and by season.
  3. Created or purchased new storage solutions for all existing textiles.
  4. Committed to a process of putting away all clean textiles in their assigned places immediately after washing
    (this step should (and has) help(ed) keep clean and dirty from mixing).
  5. Identified pre-hamper places for storing textiles that are able to be reused before being washed (jean, sleepwear, etc).

Ultimately we might not need to completely redesign laundry as we know it but our analysis and reprogramming of our system has helped in a substantial way. Being better organized and having a less chaotic bedroom has meant better sleep, less fights over what animal gets to lay on what pile of clothes, less wrinkled clothing, less fretting over what to wear, and has allowed me to streamline my wardrobe somewhat. I don’t have a uniform but I have fewer looks which I’m finding suits me nicely.

Check back regularly to see if we do come up with some revolutionary solution to the laundry problem. You never know.