We’re sitting at the midpoint of winter, entering what isn’t an easy month—or easy season—for many of us. To beat back the gloom, today we’re sharing the things—big or small—that are saving us right now.
The idea comes from Barbara Brown Taylor’s wonderful memoir Leaving Church. Even though most of us know exactly what’s killing us, it’s harder to name what’s saving us.
Once when Taylor was invited to speak at a gathering, her host told her simply, “Tell us what is saving your life right now.” She says it’s too good a question not to revisit from time to time. And today, we’re doing just that.
We’ve been doing this for years now, and my own answers to this question have varied. I’ve written about the small sips that are saving me—one of my favorite essays ever, though those sips are impossible in this particular winter. I wrote about travel advice as life advice. Last year I told you about jigsaw puzzles and Friday coffee and taking the long view. Over and over again, I’ve cited sunshine and long walks and good books and sleep as essentials for getting through these dark days.
All these things remain true. (Except for those coffee planning meetings in actual coffee shops—oh, how I miss them!)
For this unusual year—in which my recurring seasonal dread of the flu has been usurped by a higher-stakes threat—I wanted to bring you something new. And when I wracked my brain, my thoughts turned in a direction I didn’t expect: the laundry.
Who would have thought it?
In my defense (lest I sound wholly unbelievable), it started with a book.
I have a long history of domesticity reading enjoyment, and so when I saw that a new book all about laundry was coming out in spring 2021—from Flatiron, much to my surprise—I couldn’t download my review copy fast enough. I read the book in the woods—on a vacation of sorts—back in October. I loved it from page one.
The book is Laundry Love from “laundry evangelist” Patric Richardson, and you better believe you’ll see it in this year’s Summer Reading Guide. (Yes, it really is that engaging.)
What is it about domesticity that makes for such satisfying reading? And not just on a comfort level—there’s so much drama bound up with laundry! When he writes about laundry, Richardson must also discuss Kentucky ancestry, or the family barbecue sauce legacy, or the time he was called to the church to scrub a stain out of a bride’s dress after an affectionate toddler had given her a big hug—while carrying a permanent marker.
Since I was reading in the woods (aren’t they beautiful?), I couldn’t exactly put the book’s advice into practice right away—but I highlighted this thing to pieces. (I just counted; I saved 49 highlights on my Kindle.)
But then when I got home, the real fun started: I bought new detergent. And a laundry brush. I went on a shopping spree on The Laundress website. I filled a spray bottle with vodka. I wadded up aluminum foil for my dryer. I experimented with his ways of doing things—like washing athletic clothes, or even sweaters, right in the washing machine. And when my clothes got really dirty, I found myself flipping to Richardson’s notes over and over again to figure out what to do.
I’ll gloss over most of the details, including the baskets full of garments I’ve refreshed and rescued, but my laundry education culminated last week in an epic victory: with my kindle highlights open beside me, I removed lipstick and a nasty chicken tikka masala spill from my favorite ivory cashmere sweater. After cautious applications of vinegar, laundry soap, sodium percarbonate, and a gentle scrub, all traces of the bright fuchsia and oily tomato red were gone.
I never thought I’d find such satisfaction in laundry. I was so proud of myself. And surprised at how gratifying I found this small thing to be.
But I probably shouldn’t have been. For the duration of the pandemic, I’ve noticed myself gravitating towards projects that let me establish control over a narrowly defined aspect of my life or my space: I organized my fridge and then, for the first time in my life, I put actual labels on the shelves to mark where things go. I reconfigured my spice drawers with new square tins that accommodate more supplies in a tight space.
(I doubt it’s a coincidence that I’ve done all these things in my own home that I’ve spent so much time in these past 11 months.)
And by golly, I’ve learned how to care for my clothes so that they’ll look good and last longer, giving me the satisfaction of a job well done and a craft mastered (or, at the very least, improved upon).
Entropy being what it is (you should see the laundry this family of six generates every blessed day), I can practice these new skills multiple times a week, if I choose to. Laundry is a team effort around here, but when it’s my turn, I’m leaning into the enjoyment factor—pouring a cup of tea or a glass of wine, queuing up an audiobook, and starting the loads and folding the clothes not begrudgingly, but with the satisfaction of doing something meaningful for myself and the people I love.
It feels odd to say that laundry is saving my life, but it’s not really the laundry that’s doing it. It’s the transformation of a once-begrudged task into an intriguing puzzle (and you know how I feel about puzzles); the subtle shift in mindset to approaching the quotidian with intention and care.
So much is out of my control right now, but that lipstick stain? I’ve got it covered.
What’s saving your life right now? Share your own blog or Instagram post below, or simply type out your list in the comments section.