I live in Texas.

In Texas, it is HOT in the summer. Our air conditioner runs almost continuously during the heat of the day, and we keep it set at 80 degrees. Running an electric clothes dryer, even one next to the wall that vents outside, only adds to that burden and contributes to my being a sweaty mess, sitting half-naked under a ceiling fan eating frozen grapes.


So I decided to pester Spaceship Husband until he’d help me set up a clothesline. (I’m short, he’s tall. Much easier if he helps.)

After some hemming and hawing, we opted for a “trial run” of a clothesline looped between two trees in our yard. I’d suspect it cost about $10 to set up – two bags of clothespins and a length of poly clothesline. It’s not perfect (it tends to loosen itself), but it works for now and will be super easy to take down if we have guests/etc.

I’ve learned a few things though, since I installed it. Call it “trial by sunlight” if you will:

  • If you have a yard full of mosquitoes, they will eat you alive while you hang clothes. Bugspray is your friend, and try not to be out at twilight.
  • Clothing hung on a line can be a little stiff if it’s a “knit” and not a “woven” – a couple of good shakes and snaps can help, and that stiffness will wear out in a few minutes.
  • If you hang your clothes in the sunshine, hang them inside out, otherwise the sun can fade them.
  • A clothesline that is a little bit too tall is OK – it’ll sag some when you get clothes on it.
  • You’ll want a good number of clothespins (50 is a good start, I have about 100 – they’re very inexpensive), and you’ll want an easy way to get to them. A canister in the laundry basket works. My favorite is in a simple pocket-apron. You may also be able to find patterns for cool clothespin hangers that actually hang on the clothesline.
  • Put the laundry hamper in the middle of the line and work from there, otherwise you’ll have to keep moving the hamper.
  • You can pair up your socks as you hang them – leave space after each one, and add in the second of the pair when you find it. Then you can just fold straight from the line.
  • It takes about an hour for average clothes to dry on the line – longer for towels, less for sheets. Your mileage will, of course, vary by location, temperature, and wind.
  • Some things (like jeans) you’ll probably still want to put through the dryer. That’s OK too. It’ll take a few loads of laundry to figure out what those items are. One run of the dryer is a LOT less hot than four.
  • Some things, like sheets and cotton things, will actually be LESS wrinkly if you dry them on a line. Which means less ironing. Woo!
  • If you don’t have a yard, you may be able to hang a retractable clothesline on a porch (if you have one of those). If you can’t hang a clothesline in the yard OR on a porch, consider some wooden folding drying racks that you can put up inside. I got mine at Target, I think. I use them for … unmentionables … but they can be used year round and in the rain too. Actually, I think having at least one is a good idea for anyone, clothesline or not.
  • Don’t be afraid to leave things overnight if you need to – one night won’t kill the clothes, and the sun should burn off any dampness quickly. Rain, however, poses a possible soggy problem.
  • Your clothes really will smell good. Kind of… breezy and outside-y. They won’t smell like overheated fiber, like clothes out of my dryer do (even on “low”). And it’s free, post rope purchase.

I’ve been pretty pleased with the results. For one, it encourages me to do laundry intermittently, and not try to cram it all into one hot day whereby I swear off even looking at the washer for another two weeks. It also gets me outside – which is HOT too, but for some reason it’s different being in the sun/wind than it is roasting away folding hot clothes in my living room. (Also, the clothes off the line are sun-warmed, but not nearly as burn-your-knuckles-on-a-button hot as clothes out of the dryer).

And honestly, with as much time as I spend in the garden, I’m out there anyway – I can usually hang a load of damp clothes from the washer, water the garden, weed, do any other garden chores, and then take things down.

Now for the eco-bullshit part.

I’ve debated about writing this post for a few weeks, because of what it could get construed into meaning.

There is so much crap, for lack of a better term, piled onto things like this. I’m not necessarily trying to “get off the grid” (I like me some internets), and I’m not trying to be political. But I do think it’s smart to take advantage of things – like my time (I’m still unemployed) and the sunshine and wind, and my love of gardening and being outside. And if that can be “eco-friendly”, save energy or water, or save myself a few bucks, I’m all for it. That doesn’t give me any moral superiority, it’s just what I can do with what I have.

I think taking care of the earth is smart and responsible. I also think that living like a “modern human” is pretty great too.

I’m not sure why it’s so politically charged to replace burned out light bulbs with fluorescents (which, admittedly, have their own issues) or use reusable things vs. disposable ones or have a garden or recycle or maybe put up a clothesline or a rain barrel (most of which are done as much in the name of saving a few dollars as being “eco-friendly”) without getting sucked into the judgmental, us vs. them, “green” bullshit.

I guess what I’m looking for is perspective – not making things into some great political decision, not demonizing someone who can’t afford to do “X”.

I like showers and my washing machine and being able to read a book in bed with the light on (or turn on a light so I don’t stub my toe into the bathroom door at 3am). And I like growing a garden and finding ways to keep it happy without using chemicals (when I can) and drying my clothes on a line and canning pickles.

That shouldn’t sound mutually exclusive, and I don’t think it has to be.

And I’m really not sure where I’m going with this, at this point. I’m obviously not saying that being environmentally conscious is bad. I just think that there HAS to be a middle ground somewhere, and that there’s a level of name-calling and finger pointing that gets lumped into these kinds of discussions that I don’t like. These kinds of “eco-conscious actions” get politicized so often, and they don’t need to be. Some of them are just fun for me to do (pickles), others make financial sense (clothesline, energy saving appliances), others are little, practical things that anyone can do (using a reusable vs. disposable thing). There’s a HUGE margin (and a happy medium) between Patrick Pollution and Ginny Granola*.

I think most of us fit in the middle somewhere, and that’s OK.

*How did granola get to be such a symbol of the radical environmental movement? It’s tasty…

Clotheslines and Eco-Bullshit
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7 thoughts on “Clotheslines and Eco-Bullshit

  • June 23, 2010 at 9:17 am

    THANK YOU for writing your thing about middle ground on environmentalism. I 100% agree and wish more people would see it that way.

  • June 23, 2010 at 9:46 am

    Fully agree as well.

    I’d like to think that I’m somewhere in the middle ground myself. Yes, I believe that the environment is important, and that we made a huge impact on it. No, I do not believe that the world is going to end because someone doesn’t recycle a plastic bottle. I believe there IS room for diversity and all perspectives in the “environmental movement.” To me, if it’s a relatively minor inconvenience and I can make a positive impact, I will. Yes, I recycle. In fact, the City of Fort Worth has a great recycling program and will take darn near anything that can be recycled. It arguably has decreased my trash-trash substantially — down to 1-2 trash bags per week instead of several. Instead, it’s my recycle can that is at least half full, if not stuffed on a weekly basis. Yes, I do believe that makes a difference.

    I’m also debating adding a compost bin for all my fruit and veggie food scraps. We’re working hard to eat healthier and have significantly increased our fruit and veggie consumption. I’ve noticed that I’m throwing away a lot of rinds and corn husks and peach peels. Again, it’s not because I’ve got a fear of full landfills, but if I can be responsible for taking care of a little bit here and a little bit there, it adds up.

    I too have added a clothesline to my backyard. I decided to purchase one of the retractable clotheslines from HomeThing (Orange!). I think I paid $35 for the 40′ line. Our HOA says clothes lines aren’t allowed, so I didn’t want to push my luck having one out all the time … and having the hubby duck constantly while mowing. I just pull it out as I need it. (Side note – these do work well, as long as you don’t over load them. A medium sized load will do fine, overloaded with multiple pairs of jeans will draw the line out, sagging into the grass.) One way I’ve been corralling the clothespins is in one of the mesh wash-bags hung with a carabiner on the line. I can just pull it along the clothes line as I’m hanging laundry and it’s simple to get to. However, it’s a little tricky to get the clothes pins out of the bag one handed. I think I’m going to hunt down a new solution, something that I can leave on the line and will drain water when it rains (no soggy rotten clothespins) but that I can attach to the carabiner.

    A note on what we dry on the line. Hubby does NOT approve of towels line-dried. They get rough and stiff. As do the cloth pre-fold diapers we’re using with our daughter. And one pair of my sleepy-pants … I think they’re a light flannel and they get stiff as a board. Everything else hits the line. As Anna noted though, cotton knit and synthetic shirts do great on the line and it makes it really simple to hang on hangers in the closet when they’ve dried in that shape.

    Speaking of cloth diapers, let me digress for a moment. No, you can probably guess that I’m not using cloth diapers to “save the whales / fishes / birds / caribou.” I’m using cloth diapers because it’s a LOT cheaper over the long run. The average family spends more than $2000 on diapers through potty training. I’ve spent about $150 so far and will probably spend another $100. So, for about 10% of the cost, I’ve got a more environmentally-conscious plan. Valid trade? I think so. It just means I do laundry more often. But one load every other day really isn’t that much … especially since I wash more clothes with a baby anyway. =)

    Thanks for bringing this up Anna!

  • June 23, 2010 at 10:04 am

    Totally agree on the environmentalism thing. Nice to know I’m not the only one.

  • June 23, 2010 at 10:21 am

    Count me as another in 100 percent agreement. The environment is not as fragile as my grandmother’s fine china. It’s also not indestructible—but if we’re really going to destroy, we’ll need to work harder at it. Right now, many, if not most of us, are at least taking baby steps in the right direction. I don’t see us regressing.

  • June 23, 2010 at 10:29 am

    Hallo Anna! I haven’t taken time to comment here before, but figured I’d throw my two cents in on this one.
    My last job title was Sustainability Coordinator, aka “The Green Girl,” for a manufacturing company. I had zero background in the environmental industry, but because I believed in the philosophies (and could talk my way into anything), I got the job. I wound up doing a ton of research into anything and everything ‘green’, related to our business or not, and learned a lot of interesting things. But in the end, I came to the conclusion that being “green” is STUPID. Why? Because living this way shouldn’t have a label. It shouldn’t be a subset of society. So many of these “green” practices are common freaking sense, are healthier, and save money. The fact that there are options that are completely the opposite is what gets to me. The fact that there are foods manufactured with more chemicals than real ingredients is so idiotic to me, and that food that’s *real* is more expensive, and has a social stigma attached…??!? Oh, you shop at Trader Joe’s, you must think you’re better than the rest of us! GAH. I write my ‘green’ blog and keep doing the research and sharing what I learn though, because so many people just keep buying what the commercials tell them to, and living the way the big companies say is best – here, buy these paper hand towels! Because you’re too lazy to wash yours! – here, buy this meal-in-a-bag! Because why buy real food when the fake stuff is easier! There’s convenience (I will NEVER give up my dishwasher!), and then there’s straight-up enabling of a lazy-ass society. If I can at least educate my friends and family, and help them make some decisions that are healthier and just happen to be environmentally friendly, then I want to do that. And if that makes me a hippie-treehugging freak, then I guess I need some new Birkenstocks. 🙂

  • June 24, 2010 at 11:14 pm

    I have never in my life ironed a sheet. >_>

    Are you supposed to…?

    *shifty look*

    • June 24, 2010 at 11:22 pm

      @Lili – good grief no. But you might iron things like cloth napkins (since they look kind of rumply on the table if you don’t) or a shirt. And in general, I’ve found line-dried things just need less ironing.

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