Folding laundry is overrated

Apr 25, 2008 at 10:11 a.m. ET

There are two areas of household maintenance over which I have serious issues. One is doing the dishes and the other is folding laundry.

I know where the dishes issue comes from: when I was growing up, doing dishes was punishment. A misstep meant another evening at the sink. We had a dishwasher, but it was used only on special occasions. Wednesday, my standard dish night, did not constitute a special occasion. To this day, doing the dishes feels like punishment. It's not that I won't do the dishes, I just really, really, really don't like to deal with them. I suck it up and do it anyway.

The laundry folding issue, however, is an unknown. I don't know why I have such a block over it. I can sort the laundry, get it into the washer, get it into the dryer, get it out of the dryer and into a basket, but once upstairs it sits, waiting. Waiting. And waiting some more. I'd sooner scrub the toilet than fold laundry. Usually my husband steps up and handles the task, eventually.

The rumpled look is in, right?

I admit, though, that this particular hang-up is a pain in the patootie. Dishes must get done daily, and do (most in the dishwasher), but not so much laundry. Not only are our clothes typically a bit wrinkled from their extended stays in the baskets, it's really hard to find matching socks in a timely manner (and thus get out to the door to school on time some mornings). I figure since the dishes thing is directly from childhood, the laundry folding thing must be, too, but I don't remember anything specific.

I don't know if such hang-ups are something I should be looking out for with the kids or just accept that they'll have issues over something and I shouldn't stress too much over what it is. But I do overcompensate with the kids in terms of chores because of this; they really don't have enough specific tasks around here. I'm trying to turn that around, however, much to their dismay.

Little adds up to big

I suppose I thought chores had to be fairly substantial tasks, and yes, they each have a couple of those now (and we have regular timed all-family cleanups), but there are lots of little tasks that can be spread out among the kids that can help smooth out household management. Obvious, I know, but bear with me; I never claimed to be an expert at this.

Taking the food scraps out to the compost bin, for example takes less than a minute, but really helps get the kitchen in order. Or collecting the day's newspaper and getting them to the recycling bin. Thirty seconds, tops, but it makes the family room look nicer right away. There's wiping down the table after dinner and feeding the fish and a host of others. Once I identified three or four small daily tasks for each kid, I felt freer about household tasks in general – and more able to contemplate the dishes and the laundry in spite of my hang-ups.

I could pass off the chores I don't like to my kids completely, but I suspect my mother doing the same is part of my root issue here. As much as I say I shouldn't worry about cleaning related hang-ups my kids might develop, I do.

So I can't quite pass off the laundry folding yet, but even there the kids are helping. I dump all the socks out on the floor of the family room and have the kids match them up. It's a bit of a game for Sunshine.

Of course, I figured this out just in time for summer sandal season.

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