My Suitcase Experiment: How I Cut My Laundry in Half


December 18, 2018

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I sat at the kitchen table of a new friend’s home recently. She has eleven kids. I have two.

Needless to say, I was taking mental notes on any “mom hacks” I could glean from our conversation.

Between sips of hot lentil soup and comments on the softly falling snow outside, the topic of laundry came up. I decided to be open—what did I have to lose? Like I said, she has eleven kids, so I figured she could sympathize with my laundry situation.

I took a deep breath.

“I’ve been behind on laundry since our second baby was born a year ago,” I confessed. “And I’ve already pared down my wardrobe, so it’s mainly kids’ clothes. Washing it is no problem, but it’s the folding and putting away part I can’t seem to do. Honestly, since we still co-sleep, we just throw the clean laundry in the crib and dig it out of there.”

She paused. “Figure out a system now,” she said gently. “The sooner the better.”

While that certainly wasn’t the response I expected, it was the one I needed. I needed a “laundry mindset shift.” I needed a way to approach that pile of clean clothes with a sense of confidence, not overwhelm. But how?

My answer came while packing for our annual Thanksgiving trip to Seattle. What if I tried a “suitcase experiment”? What if the only clothes I had to manage for my two children were the week’s worth of outfits that I had fit into this neatly ordered suitcase? Now that sounded manageable.

For the first time in a year, I felt a spark of excitement while staring at a clothes pile.

While on vacation that week, I did laundry just three times. Much better than the six or seven loads I usually did each week. I came home determined to begin this laundry experiment.

Once we were home, I lined up a good chunk of childcare and got to work. The suitcase stayed zipped, but every other piece of clothing was handled. Clothes came off hangers and out of drawers, finding new homes in bags to save or donate.

Hours later, I had three big bags of kids’ clothes ready for Goodwill and one bag to save for next season. Then I opened the suitcase.

Organizing was easy. My daughters’ wardrobes each fit neatly into their own 10-by-20-inch plastic drawer: a row for dresses, a row for pants, a row for long sleeved shirts, and a corner for underwear. A few special dresses hung in the closet. Every item had a home, and every item was something my daughters frequently wore. This was simple. This was manageable.

And manageable it remains. I now do laundry every other day (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) and usually once on the weekends. And when the clothes come back clean, it takes ten minutes tops (if uninterrupted) to fold and put them away.

My four-year-old daughter has not asked for even one item that I removed from her closet, and she loves how easily she can dress herself now. She even seems to enjoy the routine of helping put clean clothes back in their home.

Gone are the days of my husband searching for socks before work or my daughter crying because she can’t find her special sparkly pants. And gone are the days of me hiding when the topic of laundry comes up. This minimalist system is working for us. All thanks to an honest friend and a suitcase.

If you’re inspired to try your own suitcase experiment to minimize your laundry load, here’s how:

Step 1.

Get a large suitcase (or multiple suitcases if you have a large family). Imagine you’re going on a week-long vacation where you can do laundry as needed.

Step 2.

Pack what you would for each member of the family whose clothes you’re responsible for. (Leave your husband’s clothes alone, unless he is on board to minimize his wardrobe and wants to do it with you. You may want to make your own wardrobe a separate project and create a capsule wardrobe where you can mix and match pieces to create variety).

Step 3.

Remove from sight any remaining clothes that did not get packed in the suitcase. You don’t need to donate anything right away. But do keep it hidden somewhere. See if your children miss anything. You can easily retrieve an item if they request it.

Step 4.

Unpack the suitcase and find a home for each item. This is where it will go when you put away laundry or quickly tidy up a room.

Step 5.

Observe how your laundry routine changes. Is your load lighter? Do you have more time on your hands? Do your rooms look neater and more organized? Are your kids less stressed when deciding what to wear? Are they more willing to help put clothes away?

Step 6.

Tweak the process as needed. Remember, this is an experiment. As you observe the process, you can make changes until you have a system that works best for your family. It’s not about comparing. It’s not about the number of clothing items you own. It’s about eliminating the laundry overwhelm, bringing more peace in the home, and making more time for what matters most.

Happy packing!

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