The Great Laundry Folding Debate | Seventh Generation
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The Great Laundry Folding Debate

Author: robin

Perhaps you know someone who sounds like this. Perhaps you are even married to him. Perhaps he pitches in on housework when it suits him, like when he is trying to prove that he bears no resemblance to studies showing that working women in dual-income households still do the lion's share of the housework.

In any case, one night while watching the baseball game, he folds the laundry. Perhaps he makes sure previously mentioned working woman is in the room and witnesses this event. Perhaps, the same night, he even puts the laundry away.

But perhaps he puts the clothing where he thinks it belongs -- whether he is sure of rightful ownership or not. So the wife's favorite pajamas go missing for, oh, about a week. When questioned (in a loving and gentle manner) as to the whereabouts of said pajamas, perhaps he gets incredibly defensive and says, "This is the thanks I get for folding the laundry?" Now, perhaps the wife inquires (again lovingly and gently) into the effort required to ask members of the household to identify their belongings before they are "put away." No, apparently making sure clothing gets to the right place isn't identified as a reasonable request in "Man's Guide to Folding Laundry," or book five of the best-selling series, "I Said I'd Do It," now in its 1000th printing.

So perhaps the pajama bottoms stay missing until the morning they are unearthed -- in a rarely used dresser drawer in younger's son bedroom and only because of a late-for-the-bus frenzy to find a clean pair of shorts for gym class. It should be noted that there were witnesses.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the next time a load of laundry is washed, white boxer shorts accidentally get mixed in with a bright new red t-shirt. Perhaps when questioned about how such a thing could happen, she says, "This is the thanks I get for doing the laundry?"

As for those studies about women doing the lion's share of the housework? I will only say this: ROAR!

How do you handle the division of labor in your house?

photo: Ruthanne Reid


yehudit45 picture
I made sure my children, sons and daughters alike, learned to cook and do laundry. Each kid had a daily job (set table, empty dishwasher, sort laundry, etc) and a larger Sunday job: one son at age 10 did 3-4 loads of laundry every Sunday, a daughter cleaned one of the bathrooms, etc. Today, my older son is in charge of the laundry in his house, and cooks dinner 3-5 nights a week (and my daughter-in-law frequently thanks me for teaching him these skills). The way I see it, teaching children skills like laundry and cooking is giving them the tools they need to live independent lives, and these life skills are as important as learning to read and write.
g.brantner picture
I was a simgle mom raising two boys with the help of my Mom and Dad. My boys can do laundry and fold clothes. Do their own cooking and mending. My sons can also hot starch and iron jeans, thanks to my Mom. They were also taught by my Dad the correct way to make a bed. My oldest son went into the military and had no problem bouncing a dime off his bed! My youngest is now a single father raising three kids alone. He says he has a much easier time because of his upbringing. He even hems his girls' clothes. And they are teaching their sons and daughters the lessons they learned as kids.
bunigrl33 picture
The comments by Patchwyrk and raemancini could have been written by me. We have the same exact situation in my house. My husband finally put his "tower of clothes" away after about 4 weeks of piling up.
mamallama10 picture
What I have done to make my working daughter's live easier with her laundry is..I purchased a medium sized tote, color coordinated with the children's bedroom theme, for each child. I made a 5x7 cardstock note that says, 'Mom, every time I take a load of my clothes to my room and put them away, I want you to know that I am growing up and showing responsiblity. I want you to be proud of the way you are bringing me up.' I then put it back to back with a current school picture and laminated it. I attached it to the ring handle of the tote. This gives them a sense of 'importance' in the job they are doing! Karen M.
dbscandy picture
I happily did my husband's laundry for 7 years, 7 months and 7 days. It was a joy to me, not a job. Now, I do my laundry only, and he takes his to a service. I miss him AND his clothes.
tcrlady picture
I think this article had good intentions-- pointing out the absurdities of modern life, but it's true, gender stereotypes are at play here. My boyfriend and I are vegetarians, and he enjoys cooking standard, simple fare. I come from a more eccletic, daring background, so I like to experiment with various cuisines while cooking, and he's happy to do the dishes after. In his previous relationship, he was the sole laundry-doer, so he knows how to sort, wash on appropriate setting, dry, hang to dry, and fold virtually everything. While I don't mind doing laundry one little bit, I don't mind that he has the propensity for doing it "correctly." So yes, boys can do the "girl" jobs and no one is worse off for it.
5525carin picture
First thing I have to say is I find this to be a very condescending article. Nobody in the world is perfect. As the full-time homemaker of the house I have accidentally put someone's clothes in the wrong drawer. That's life! I do all the "domestic" chores in the home, that is my "real job". I take great pride in it. Without my family there would be a great void. I never expect my husband to pick-up any of my duties. He works harder than a lot of men we know. Without his slave wage earnings we would not have been able to invest in our income properties, and yes he is an awesome and caring landlord. So on the occasion that he does do something in the "domestic" arena that does not turn out to be perfect, who cares, the world did not end. I am sure when I have helped him hang windows, pull electrical cord, hand drywall, roof, etc., he was probably wishing a buddy could have helped instead. But in the end he is probably grateful for some kind of help. Count your blessings and hold them tight, you may not have them tomorrow.
Phyllidia picture
I remember a good 15 years ago when I was working full-time and commuting 55 minutes each way, into another time zone even (mornings were great but the late evenings were a bear). I remember the night I came home late and the husband said from the couch "So, what's for dinner?" When the non-profit job I was working ran out of funding and I began looking for a new job, I told my very beloved husband that I would be looking for a part-time job. And I explained why. :)
laundrylist picture
See Men folding the laundry is statistically unlikely, spj. People often bring up the issue of leisure time for women who have to attend less to the things of the household with the advent of things like the tumble dryer. That has not really worked out to be true. See and and More Work for Women by Ruth Schwartz Cowan.
etubalenaj picture
Basically, my husband works and I do all things domestic...cook, clean, laundry, kids, lawn mowing, snow shovelling, household repairs...EVERYTHING. Sounds archaic but he's out of the country more than half the year (but not in one stretch). A few years ago, he decided to do his own laundry...I'm still waiting for that to happen as I end up doing at least one leg of the laundry journey for him. On occasion, he will do something domestic, but only if it suits him...sad but true:(
kittylittle picture
My husband does all the cooking. I mean ALL the cooking. I do the cleaning and the laundry. It's worked for us for 25 years. We never argue about chores. I stay out of his kitchen and he stays out of my laundry room.
spj picture
Way to perpetuate a stereotype about men. What's next ... an article about "Man in Kitchen"? I don't think women like being stereotyped; here's a news flash: Neither do men. I happen to be quite good at laundry, and believe it or not, I'm just a regular heterosexual male. Frankly, I've known women who are not that great at folding or sorting laundry. Why pick on men?
chrisndan0202 picture
Coming from a retail (clothing) background, I used to HATE doing laundry. Why do something for free at home when I get paid to do it at work? So I would let laundry go for weeks (dare I admit it... even months at a time). I would simply buy new socks and undies on an as needed basis. But, I did learn the best ways to fold everything! My hubby actually learned these ways as well while working as a temp when we had a store opening, but he seems unable to retain them, no matter how many times I give him a refresher course. Back in the days when I was still working, I had 90% of the laundry responsibility. He would pitch in and help whenever my schedule got truly hectic: inventory, corporate visits, the holidays. But if I had items that SHOULD NOT EVER GO INTO THE DRYER, I had to safety pin a hair scrunchie (yes, it was the nineties) to the tag of each item as a visual reminder for him before I put it into the hamper. Now that I'm a stay-at-home, I do all the laundry. Occasionally, he'll throw in a load, but I NEVER allow him to fold!
rachelr picture
Great comment! Last year I started to get my boys in the act by helping me fold the towels, dishtowels, bedding, etc. My younger one helps separate socks. But somehow along the way laundry folding became all mine again. After folding thousands (millions?) of items, I'm pretty darn good at it. And I'm fussy, but I tell myself that I have my reasons for things to be folded neatly. But you're right, the only way to get really good at it is to spend time doing it. And explaining why it's important to do it a certain way if I really want it done that way. We'll see!
gleng1 picture
When I was a kid my dad taught me how to fix a flat tire on a bicycle. Why? Because I'm a boy. He never taught my sisters, even though I'm sure they could do just as good a job as I do or better. (And since my sisters ride bicycles it would certainly be a valuable skill for them to have.) By the same token, mom never taught me how to fold laundry. Why? Because back in the late 50s/early 60s laundry is something that women did. Clearly this is a lousy division of labor, but that's how it was back then. I don't like folding laundry because: 1. Who does? 2. I just stuff my underwear, socks, and T-shirts into a drawer -- why fold it at all? AND... 3. I find folding laundry frustrating because I'm not good at it, and I'm not good at it because no one ever taught me how. Pants? Not so hard. Shirts? A mystery. Want your boy to help fold? Start by patiently showing him how.
slywlf picture
Nowadays I have to do it all, as hubby is in such ill health simply getting to and from the bathroom is a risky process. There was a time, however, when I was the sole breadwinner and he a house-husband. He was already on VA disability, and couldn't work, but he pulled his weight around the house as best he could. He did virtually all the dishes - we used to get asked sometimes "Do you have a dishwasher?" and we would nod and both point to him ;-) Vacuuming and garbage detail were also his, and though after one episode of the dreaded red item in with the whites he swore off laundry, he was always willing to help divide and fold the finished laundry. He also took care of mowing when he was up to it - other days I would do it, with pleasure. After all the good years I am doing it all now, but I can't say it isn't for lack of will on his part, only physical capability.
grampysgurl picture
I have always done the lions share of the laundry, now that we are living dryer free I am doing close to 100% of it again. When I went back to work full time my husband took the laundry over for a good 5 years and did a pretty good job at it. He has always pitched in when needed. As crazy as it sounds I am enjoying laundry more that I am drying on the clothesline... I enjoy the few minutes it takes to put it up and take it down... it's quiet, mindless time. I'm hoping to still be hanging outside in January here in New England.
brandi84 picture
When I was going to college I did it all. But Sense I have a "real" job now, he does his own! And then when he has no clean ones there is no one to blame but himself! And he is quickly learning that if he doesnt help out with the rest of the house/kids laundry I will leave it on the couch for days. I am not a clean freak and if he cant find the time then I'll do it on my time. Its just not as important as time with my kids or him or 'me time' or friends.... BM- bend
anniepoo picture
I do all the laundry. My husband tried once but he dried everything and shrunk all my jeans and a few sweaters. After that episode he won't even touch it any more and that is fine. I do the laundry and he cooks. I hate to cook!!
raemancini picture
We've found it's healthier to divide and conquer - there are chores he hates that I don't mind and vice versa. And some of us are better at some things than others are. I take on the laundry, for my own sanity and wardrobe-preservation. But I draw the line at putting his clothes away, so there are times when there is a tower of his folded laundry feet-high, multiple loads-worth, to which I turn a blind eye (even though the cats have used his leaning tower of laundry as a parapet perch to see out the bedroom window). It's one of the relationship deals we've made - not worth the battle, and definitely worth it to be able to avoid some of the chores that annoy me - like taking out the trash!
amanda77kr picture
Perfect blog post. I do my own clothes. No one - not even Mom - can do them "right". If I ever want to find other laundry items again, I wash them. Otherwise they end up in the bin-o-clothes my husband keeps everything in. I still find washcloths, dishrags, and the occasional missing sock in that bin. Husband is a construction worker, so he does his own laundry. When he's out of pants to wear. And only enough loads to get him through the week. I jest but it's a good system actually.
Patchwyrk picture
I wash all the clothes. I do this because otherwise he will wash his icky undies with mine and also I try never to run the drier. After they are dry I fold stuff quick before it gets in the basket. I stack his stuff on his side of the bed and put mine away. We have a deal that I do laundry and he does dishes. It works.