Family · Marriage

Death by Laundry and Other Confessions

photo 2-4Some things are so bad you just have to get them out, shove them right out in the light in hopes that decades of failure might find redemption through honest confession.

Here it is. My name is Kelli and I suck at laundry.  The washing, the drying, the folding, the ironing. All of it. There is no garment that enters our home that is safe from the peril of my absent-minded neglectful care.

After 26 years (today by the way!) of marriage, the reality of my laundry incompetency has become a fact of life around the McKnight household. I even know exactly why this task eludes me. Laundry, in its ability to relentlessly reproduce, is the task I try to complete 100% on autopilot. It is THE necessary evil to be done while doing and thinking about other things including, but not limited to: talking on the phone, holding imaginary conversations, jotting down the grocery list, planning dinner, doing squats, more talking on the phone, making dinner and/or watching obscure documentaries on Netflix.

Laundry has to be the household chore that first made multi-tasking fashionable.

In honor of our anniversary, I did the depressing math. 52 weeks a year of an average of 8 loads of laundry a week times 26 married years is 10,816 loads of laundry, give or take 200. After this much repetitive practice, you’d think a girl would learn.

But no matter how many times I commit to being a better, more mindful and caring laundress, life happens and I’m talking on the phone or burning dinner or running out the door and into the dryer goes the new cotton t-shirt.  The  “MOM, DO NOT DRY THIS ONE” shirt. The darling red cashmere sweater that was a $10 thrift store find? Wore it once and then into the doll clothes bin it went.

There was a phase not too long ago when maddening bluish splotches stained everything. I have no idea how they got there and could not for the life of me get them out. Although, let me clear, stains just do not come out for me. I am the anti-stainwhisperer and am in awe of my friends who can get rid of stains and if there was a class, I’d be the first to sign up.

I actually feel like there must be this secret laundry club that requires a special invitation to join, like the Junior League.  Surely there is a place where they sit around darling tea tables, dressed in crisp white unstained linen shirts sharing the wisdom of stain removal and drying techniques and wrinkle free khaki pants.

I am the sad girl left sitting in a corner holding the kid with spaghetti stains on their Easter outfit.

Seriously, I am the mom who burned an iron hole in the front of the prom dress five minutes before the date arrived. (Thank the laundry gods for ruffles and a safety-pin and 2 seconds of clarity to keep my mouth shut.)

I almost cry with longing when I see men with crisp white undershirts sticking out of the necks of their dress shirts. My laundry cabinet is stuffed with products that promise and never deliver whiter whites.

Years ago I quickly realized that moving to new more humid state brought its own set of laundry challenges. Now I am punished for my forgetfulness with consequences. If wet clothes don’t promptly get placed into the dryer the results are either a) having towels that will forever smell like mildew or b) having to rewash everything and risk yet another missed dryer deadline.

Speaking of dried clothes, where would I be without the guest room bed to hold the weekly loads of clean but horribly wrinkled clothing. I know there must be a better way, but honestly I have better things to focus on.

This inability to figure out the mysteries surrounding the care and feeding of clothing is probably imbedded in my DNA somehow. Like natural-born athletes, some just know their way around a washer/dryer and some do not.

My dad worked as a mechanic in the oil fields of New Mexico. His work clothes took special care and I had watched mom pour special additives into his separate loads.  I learned how to do this chore, with the impatient half attention and annoyance of a teenager. Not surprising, I poured bleach and ammonia together ON TOP of my dad’s greasy oil field work clothes. Not only did I ruin jeans, socks and work shirts, but the toxic fumes from this chemical combination could have killed me, if my dad didn’t first. I probably need to admit that this happened more than once.

And as long as the beans are spilling, 30 minutes before my high school graduation, I offered to iron my grandmother’s dress she HAD MADE especially for the event and promptly melted a hole in the polyesterish fabric. Nothing says love quite like that.

So it was with a thrilling sense of achievement that I latched on to the “make your own laundry detergent” recipe that went viral on Pinterest.  Last summer I made a batch of this wonder soap and even stored it in adorable containers I discovered at a flea market.

See, I come from a long line of frugal homemakers and this just made me feel oh so homemakey. My grandmother is the kind of woman who buys 30 pounds of bacon when it’s on sale, fries it all up in one exhausting afternoon, then freezes the whole lot. These efforts are then pulled out of the freezer and re-fried. Which is actually really weird, but making this homemade laundry soap made me feel close to her for some reason. Maybe it’s the Naptha-Fels Laundry Bar. What even is that? I think the wizards of the internet added it because of its vintage packaging and exotically secretive properties.

Anyways, guess what? The whites have been whiter! The colors brighter! The grocery bill smaller! Last summer’s batch lasted 10 months. Oh, yeah! After all these years I thought I might be learning something. WELCOME TO THE CLUB, GIRL!

Pride goes quickly before the fall, people. This week I tackled my second batch on a whim and got cocky and in a hurry. In true form with all things laundry, the idea was get it done quickly to get on to something more worthwhile. How do I “grate” those Naptha-Fels soap bars? Oh yeah, I think I used my milkshake/green smoothie blender . With two bars down, and one to go my trusty Ninja motor started getting a little hot.

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So much for frugal, now that I have to buy a new Ninja. I’m left digging through the drawer looking for the cheese grater and am once again irritated with a laundry task. Where was the novel joy I felt the first time? It truly is the eternal disappointment.

With bloody knuckles from grating the remaining 1/2 bar of devil soap, I attempt to “stir” the 15 pounds of powder.  I can’t remember how I stirred or grated all that soap last time. This time I end up with a trash bag lined garbage can. Also, there is no spoon big enough for a job this large. So like a paddle in a churn, I dig into borax and baking soda and soap shards up to my elbows. I realize I’m breathing this stuff in and start to feel light-headed. Man, this stuff tastes bad. Can you get high on this stuff? Immediate flash back to the day Trace started kindergarten and I was cleaning out the garage closet to clear away the sadness, swept powdered rat poison on to my face, had a panic attack and called 911.

I stop with the incessant churning before another imagined poisoning takes place and begin to somehow transfer this massive amount of laundry magic into my cute containers. Between my impatience and the holes torn in the garbage bag, I end up looking like a cocaine junkie and have to clean the entire laundry room from top to bottom.


I have tried to pawn the laundry chore off, with mixed success, on my spawn. Let’s just say, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I know it could be worse. I am so ever grateful for clothes and electricity and water and hangers and closets. I truly am. I even bought an essay by the revered Kathleen Norris devoted to laundry. I read and even memorized parts of Ann’s 1000 Gifts and laundry has been documented heavily in my gratitude journals in an attempt at redemption.

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But with a few clicks of the calculator, that almost 11,000 number begs venting a few stories, does it not? I asked Todd to comment on my mad laundry skillz this morning and without hesitation he pled the fifth, smart man.  Happy Anniversary, babe! So glad I’m a whiz in the kitchen.


12 thoughts on “Death by Laundry and Other Confessions

  1. How positively delightful!! There is hope simply because “after children” there is so much less of this housewifey duty!!

  2. Love it! Lauren says she has to remind herself, “I am only one generation removed from people who lived through the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression!”

  3. Soo hilarious Kelli!! I can just see you covered in white “stuff! Kudos to you for actually making the stuff! Don’t think I’ll try it myself!! Happy Anniversary to y’all!!

  4. Casie and I just finished reading your hilarious story about your love for laundry! Who cares if you can’t make your own soap, look at you writing stories that tickle our funny bone.

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