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Doing Laundry Is Good For My Mental Health | Red Magazine

This piece was written for the May edition of Red magazine.

“You can’t get spoiled if you do your own ironing” Meryl Streep famously cautioned – the implication being that smoothing out your creases prevents you from slipping into the seedier puckers of Hollywood. Well, I’ll see your ironing, Meryl and raise you this: I actually get a kick out of doing the laundry. Seriously, hear me out. Because nothing can hamper the sheer, unadulterated pleasure I take in washing dirty clothes.

I realised how much I love laundry when travelling back from holiday earlier this year. It took 25 hours and four flights to get home; my husband is freakishly terrified of flying; I was ill; and on the third flight I lost my uninsured phone. Bizarrely, and in a way you might not believe, the one thing that stemmed the flow of tears was the thought of all the laundry that I could do when I got home. I hadn’t dispatched a ‘load’ for almost three weeks; there would be darks, lights, coloured. Possibly even one for towels. Happiness bloomed through the dark and stormy turbulence.

My love of doing laundry is primal and basic, about bringing order when it can feel like there is none. It is not about domestic drudgery, or a feeling that I belong in the kitchen. I am a Type A independent feminist who relies, in that particularly middle-class workaholic way, on my amazing cleaner, Mimi. But washing is like brushing your teeth, or even clearing your inbox, it’s about self-care. Hanging out T-shirts and pants, slinging tights over the drying rack, tucking a tea towel here, or a pair of boxers there, clarifies and streamlines my mind.

I am an anxious person with a whirring mind and a frantic disposition. I am not, however, very good at attending to it. As the work piles up and I find myself pulled here there and everywhere, the Headspace app lies dormant on my phone. But there is one mental health-improving activity that I am rigorous about: doing the laundry. I’d like to add here that I am not a water-wastrel. I may possess a domestic peccadillo but rest assured, I don’t wash one flannel at a time. I wait until the right amount of clothing accrues and then I pounce, with glee, like a predator on its prey, with all the accompanying frisson of a good kill. Neither am I precious about my products. I don’t go in for fancy laundry softeners or expensive washing tablets. A Persil pouch, a Bosch and a concertina drying rack hits the spot just fine.

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I wouldn’t go so far to say that the subsequent cleanliness of my clothes purifies my soul, but I will share this tale. When I was 11 I was sent to boarding school. I was terrified of leaving my mother and every day of the week before I left I sat in her favourite room, the sewing room, where she would concoct anything of her imagination (dresses for dollies, quilts for grannies, curtains made to her own satisfaction.) Legs crossed, with hot tears plopping down my face, I folded and re-folded my M&S multi-pack knickers as they came out of the machine. I can remember the heartache and the mint green pair that spelled ‘Tuesday’ in embroidered curlicue like it was yesterday. The soundtrack to this memory was the calming sound of the washing machine, lulling my pre-pubescent emo agony with its gentle waltz. I spent much of a week next to that washing machine – weepily parlaying its contents into baskets before my mother could get there. Somehow, at one point whilst doing this, I realised that everything was going to be okay. And it was.

Putting on a clean outfit is self-care at its most rudimentary. But putting on a wash makes me feel present and efficient. I can’t be bothered with the time-consuming task of ironing, but I doubt that I will ever get to the stage when I don’t feel like bunging on a wash. In that moment, at least, my brain stops fizzing and popping. So take joy in the small domestic tasks you might previously have viewed as chores, find the one that calms you down. You can fail at everything you set your mind to that day, or week, but you need never fail at doing laundry. And it’s never failed me.

Photography by Eva K. Salvi

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