Clotheslines and Eco-Bullshit

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…

Things I’ve Learned While Redoing Our House

This afternoon we finished remodeling the bathroom. As always, there’s way more left to do (like painting baseboards, and stripping and repainting the cabinets) but the major work is done.

Which means, in just over seven months, we’ve redone every single room in this house, with two exceptions – the little yellow bedroom (since it was little, and yellow, and you can’t really screw that up) and the great room (which has gorgeous hardwood judges paneling and therefore hasn’t been bothered with). In that time, I’ve learned a few things. Some of them seem obvious now, but we didn’t know much going in.

  1. No matter how many tools you have, you will need more. Don’t forget to add “tools” into your project budget. This includes a lawnmower and a weed-eater/edger. You didn’t need those in an apartment, but if you don’t have both in about 2 weeks, your neighbors will HATE you. Also, it costs about $50 to pay a landscape company to do your yard each week. You’re not really saving any money in the long run.
  2. You need a real mop, and you need a real broom, and you need a real dustpan. The people on TV lie. Swiffer ain’t gonna cut it when you have construction mess. I like my Libman mop, but any good, sturdy mop with a head that you can remove and wash will work. I’m also a huge fan of the GreenWorks Dilutable cleaner.
  3. You really don’t need any fancy, expensive cleaners. I use the GreenWorks Dilutable stuff for floors/buckets of soapy water, a biodegradable toilet bowl cleaner, and vinegar+water.
  4. Goo-Gone is wonderful. I could sing many praises to the wonder of Goo-Gone.
  5. There is very little you can’t do yourself if you’re not willing to take the time to learn how. This is frequently the kicker between “we’ll do it ourselves” and “we’ll pay someone else”. Time.
  6. Asking the internet is a really wonderful thing. All kinds of people want to teach you projects! Just remember to watch more than one youtube video. This is the internet, after all, and you might find the moron before you find the master.
  7. Remember that anyone who gives you a time estimate on a project has done that project before. You haven’t, and so you will take longer, due to learning/trial and error/oh shit we forgot to… etc. By “take longer” I mean double, if not triple, your estimated time. Also double your budget. And did you remember the tools you’ll need?
  8. Make friends with someone who’s done it before. It’s a lot easier to learn to fix a faucet if you have someone to show you how to do it the first time. My dad and father in law have been our resident teachers in that department. Also known as “I don’t know either, let’s call dad.”
  9. Some things you can do by yourself (painting).  Some things you can’t (hanging drywall). Learning to tell the difference can take some time.
  10. Schedule your projects wisely. We decided to tackle our rotted out, sinking back porch in June, because it was leaking water into the house when it rained. As such, we had the hottest two weeks on record, it was 100+ degrees and 80+% humidity all week. Granted, we didn’t have much choice (water in house = BAD!), but doing that project in November would’ve been a lot nicer.
  11. Schedule your projects around your budget. You can repaint a room, including primer, for less than $100. You can’t redo your bathroom for that.
  12. Water, water everywhere… Find a good plumber. Ask your neighbors, ask your mover guy, ask around. We asked our electrician and he told us the name of HIS plumber. When our bathroom ceiling fell in, and we had to have the entire plumbing system in the house replaced – not a job we were up to doing ourselves due to that “Time without working water” thing – that number was VERY handy.
  13. Wallpaper can be removed with a mixture of a little fabric softener in a spray bottle of hot water. If you can peel off the vinyl layer before you spray, great. Otherwise, you’ll also need a wallpaper scratchy tool thing. You don’t, however, need really expensive wallpaper removal solutions except in extreme cases.  As an aside, however, if you’re going to remove wallpaper this way, make sure you like the smell of the fabric softener. ‘Cause it will be everywhere.
  14. Don’t be afraid to mix paint, especially if you bought too much of something. The lovely green of our back bedroom and the soft beige of our hallway and piano room are self-mixes from leftover other paints.  And we have PLENTY left for touch ups. This is another great use for the “oops” paints you’ll find at the hardware store – which are usually at a really great discount.
  15. Don’t underestimate the power of the little things. A new coat of paint, new cabinet pulls, maybe a new light fixture or a new ceiling fan, even different art on the walls can make a HUGE difference. If you’ve got a real fixer upper, sometimes those aren’t enough, but small changes can be very effective in the long run.

All in all, I think we’ve learned a lot. In that time, I’ve stripped walls, learned how to drywall (including tape and float), learned three different kinds of wall texture, primed, painted, ripped out a porch and put it back, taken down a tree, cleaned out flower beds, cut sod, made curtains, hung blinds, changed cabinet fixtures, watched as my husband changed out faucets (<3 him for that) and learned how to do electrical repairs, replaced showerheads, resealed a tub, and cleaned more goo off of more random crap than I’ve ever done before in my life.

It was definitely worth it, though.

Because this isn’t just the house we bought, or our first place, or a house in Houston. This is OUR house.  We have the bruises to prove it.