Debbie Does Laundry

I am so happy for Debbie Schwartz.

I read in my paper this past weekend that Debbie has given her laundry room "the star treatment"!!!!!

What can this mean? Why, let me tell you:

Her super-capacity washer and dryer sit on marble floors and bask in the light of twin bronze chandeliers. A Romanesque sculpture stands on one of the wide polished marble counters designed for folding laundry. The large room has the same cabinets as her gourmet kitchen and a tile stall to dry delicates. There's even a garden view.

Oh my! But wait, that's not all! Debbie, you see, longs for the fresh scent of laundry hung to dry on a clothesline. Not to worry, Debbie, you won't have to break a nail fussing with clothespins:

And for those who miss the simplicity of a clothesline? A $3,750 indoor air-drying unit promises to deliver something close to a fresh-breeze scent.

Yes, global warming be damned, no technology is too expensive for Debbie to get back to simpler times and fresher scents.

Apparently, people with more money than brains (and no consciences) have already decorated the hell out of their kitchens, bathrooms, closets, and entertainment room/media centers, and they've created their "outdoor living spaces" complete with large-screen flat-panel t.v.s. What's left to burn the cash on in the house? The laundry room! How about these statistics:

In 1992, only 17 percent of American homes had a separate laundry room. Today, 56.7 percent of households do. The average space devoted to laundry work is now 47 square feet, enough to hold a full-size washer, dryer, sink and hampers. For those with household incomes more than $100,000, it's almost double, according to the research.

That's a lot of laundry rooms out there just begging for the star treatment!

But folks, you just have to realize, a large laundry room is almost a necessity.

Lynn S. Neuberg says a large laundry room helps her manage her Bel-Air Crest household. When she's having an outdoor party, caterers prepare trays in this room and use its door to the backyard, sidestepping the kitchen.

Sooooo nice to have a back entrance for the help!

Ruth Schwartz Cowan has shown how the invention and development of household technologies, meant to be labor-saving devices, actually created more work for women. (See More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave.) When she wrote about households as units of consumption, I wonder if she could have imagined a Debbie Schwartz or a Lynn Neuberg. This is consumption at an extreme level.

Cool new technology for men is geared around leisure pursuits. But cool new technology targeted at women is geared around...housework. Making more of it. Don't just dry your laundry! Dry it in our new high tech machine that gives it that fresh, dried-on-the-line scent! Don't let laundry be a chore that needs doing, to be shared by everyone in the house, and let's get it over with as soon as possible - make it a luxury, leisure-time pursuit for women! Encourage women to lavish attention and money and time on the laundry room - because even though they have careers and lives outside the home, home and hearth will always be the women's sphere.

This article ran in the "Home & Design" section of the Philadelphia Inquirer, but it really ought have run in the Science section as a horrifying example of how gender, class, and technology intersect with each other and with global warming. Encouraging women to consume at this level - or to aspire to consume at this level, since we aren't all as rich as Debbie apparently is - is completely irresponsible. In the front pages of the paper I daily read articles about the effects of climate change in this or that place on the planet; today's paper had an article about how development is killing Barnegat Bay. And yet, in Home & Design, the Debbies of the world are still held up as positive aspirational role models for women.

What's that? Oh, it's just Debbie complaining about the heat wave and the drought, as she pulls the fresh-scent clothes out of her special dryer. Crank up the air conditioning a little more, will you? And pass me a bottle of Evian from the fridge.

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Truth be known, I have a stacked washer/dryer of normal capacity. I use them once a week to do anywhere from 5 to 8 loads of laundry.

I don't have anywhere to string a clothesline so the dryer is a must.

Wow. Why would anyone want to use more house space (and money) than absolutely necessary on a laundry room? I'm happy with my "laundry room"/entranceway to the garage, which is just big enough for my washer, dryer a couple of baskets and one person. Of course I don't have marble counters, fancy cabinets or state of the art appliances in my kitchen either, so I'm obviously way behind the curve.

Our first house, although small overall, happened to have a large laundry room. And as the person who does most of the laundry in the family, I can tell you that it was great! It had enough room for a large table for folding laundry or doing projects, and a wash basin for messy cleaning jobs, and it didn't feel like being squeezed into a closet. Our current house, although much larger, has a tiny laundry room with only enough space for a washer and dryer and little else, and frankly, it sucks.

If I was designing my dream home, it would definitely have a fancy laundry room. The "indoor air-drying unit" does sound bizarre, but the impression I got from the article is that that was an example of what is available, and not something specifically in Ms. Schwartz' home. From the picture accompanying the article, her laundry room did not look that over-the-top to me, and the modern front-loading appliances are probably reasonably energy efficient.

give me a break.

You know.... most of these new 'fancy' expensive appliances are huge energy savers!

And yes those fancy front loading laundry machines save ridiculous amounts of energy over the older cheaper top loading ones.

I think those of you who are defending energy-efficient dryers have missed the point(s) here. Points being: the massively conspicuous consumption that follows on the heels of over-development (which the environment cannot sustain or support); the building of McMansions that include things like huge pimped-out laundry rooms; the encouragement articles about people like Debbie give to the average woman to aspire to these things, to consume in this way, to make household chores a form of luxury leisure time pursuit and technological fascination; the way in which all of this contributes more to climate change. It's not about whether or not Debbie's $3,750 dryer is energy efficient. Maybe it is. It hardly cancels out every other negative thing about that laundry room. Selling women a nearly $4k dryer because it evokes the "simplicity" of laundry hung to dry on a line (and clearly, the person who wrote that never hung wet laundry on a line) is wrong in so very many ways that its energy efficiency is almost beside the point.

My old, stacked, apartment-sized washer/dryer finally gave up the ghost a few years ago, so off I went looking for a replacement. I found exactly one comparable, and even that was about 2 inches wider. Everywhere I went, breathless extolations on the signs, "Can wash and dry 26 pairs of jeans in one load!" Who the hell owns 26 pairs of jeans, let alone needs to wash all of them at once? (Yeah, I know, families with children, but still, is there no market for two person households wanting a clothes washer?)

Digby wrote a wonderful post in this line on Monday discussing "Falling Behind: How Rising Inequality Harms the Middle Class" by Dr Robert Frank.

Why Paris Hilton Is Personally Making You Miserable

[T]hat sense of dissatisfaction and anxiety so many of us feel is a direct result of the conspicuous consumption of the fabulously wealthy overclass trickling down through society and making it necessary for people to constantly buy more, even as they are earning the same. According to Frank, it's not just keeping up with the Joneses or class envy or any of the other things that people usually attribute to those who live beyond their means. It's a natural, human response to the context in which they live. Frank makes a compelling case that measuring yourself against your neighbors, co-workers or whatever, isn't just a matter of "keeping score." It's the way we make sense of the world. And that measure is affected every day by what the super-rich are buying.

In a delightfully droll passage, Frank describes going shopping to replace the battered $89.00 bar-b-q he'd used quite happily for years, until all his repairs finally failed and it fell apart. He sees this amazing Viking grill extravaganza with burners for stir frying and rotisseries that practically cook the food itself and deliver it to your table. It costs $5,000. But, boy is it awesome. He reluctantly turns away and contemplates a different model with some of the same features, but now that he's seen the top of the line, it just isn't as impressive. But being a responsible consumer he realizes that he can't be that extravagant and he considers buying this more basic model -- for $1,160. It's so improved from the banged up old $89.00 model on which he'd happily grilled for years they might as well not even be called a bar-b-q, but in spite of that, he feels a vague sense of disappointment at what it doesn't have compared to the fancy Lamborghini level grill. Buying it would feel positively frugal, even though it's ridiculously expensive on its own terms. I'm sure you've all been there. You have no idea what's out there, but once you see something with all the bells and whistles you subconsciously compare everything else you see to it. And something that you would have found to be an amazing improvement over what you once had, suddenly becomes a compromise.

For the record, Frank settles on a $250.00 Weber and felt extremely frugal buying it --- though it cost three times what his other grill had cost. But you can also tell by the loving detail with which he describes those more expensive models, that they made a lasting impression. He went back a year later to look at them again and the top of the line model was now $13,000.00 --- and that $1100.00 model now looks like a worthless piece of junk by comparison.

The rest is comic digby gold.

Personally, I am looking forward to owning my own place so that I can put in an old fashioned hand cranked machine. No electricity, no carbon output, and who needs to pay for a gym membership when you actually get off your dead ass and do real work now and then? Plus, that shit only costs like $40.

We have a fixer-upper Victorian house in an otherwise very swanky neighborhood. We are the hillbillies on the block (you can tell, because we mow our own lawn, and when we paint something, we never call interior decorators in to "do our colors"...oh yeah, and we always do the painting ourselves). I keep telling my husband we are too in touch with our inner hippie to actually be living in this freaking white bread, acres of green lawn, slice of yuppie heaven.

Anyway, I've been bugging my husband since we've moved in to put in a clothes line for me. I'd do it myself, except I am handyperson-challenged in some areas (in particular, putting a post in the ground such that it is actually vertical, and then actually stays vertical permanently). He thinks we'll be lynched by the neighbors. He may in fact be right about that. Drying one's clothes outside indeed. The very idea...

OK. So we'll put up a 7' privacy fence in the backyard, and *then* put up the clothes line.

Come to think of it, even in less swanky areas of town, I almost never see anyone drying their clothes outside anymore. What's up with that?

I want a laundry room large enough so that it fits the piles of dirty laundry behind closed doors when company comes. Heck, maybe big enough to shove all that other mess that seems to accumulate.

I have a clothesline that I hang laundry on but no one can see it unless they are actually deep in our yard and I do own one of those 26 pair of jeans washer - it saves a lot of time with a larger family. It also saves a lot of water and energy.

When I was younger, I would help my Grandmother with laundry on her old wringer washer and basins. I remember quite well the ritual of recycling the water from one basin to another to reuse the rinse water and finally to use the rinse water for wash water. I also remember one occasion when we were about finished squeezing the laundry through the wringers when my Grandmother commented that she thought that the green kitchen curtains has already been done and hung out. After all the wringing and rinses, we discovered the 'green curtains' were really a poor garter snake that had crawled under the last pile of laundry. Grandma would talk to the snake as she went about her cleaning, canning, or basement work as it sat under the stairs. After that she added the poking of laundry stacks with sticks to the laundry ritual so no more snakes would get washed. Grandpa on the other hand was scared of snakes so he wasn't upset that it got washed.

By SuzyQueue (not verified) on 15 Aug 2007 #permalink

My reading comprehension sucks these days; after re-reading the comments I finally noticed the phrase "pimped-out laundry rooms" in one of your rejoinders, Zuska. Hee hee ;-)

I agree with SuzyQueue in some respects...I don't need a pimped out laundry room, but I do need a room where I could shove the heaps of crap that seem to accumulate around our house would be great. Oh wait...didn't they used to call that "the incinerator room"?

"Oh, it's just Debbie complaining about the heat wave and the drought, as she pulls the fresh-scent clothes out of her special dryer. Crank up the air conditioning a little more, will you? And pass me a bottle of Evian from the fridge."

I am so glad that someone in the US sees how ridiculous this is. I wish some other people could get the message. Whatever happened to "as big/as much as you need"? Now it's more about "you only live once".

With respect to clotheslines, in France at least, there are zoning laws such that many buildings/communities require you to hang your laundry in a not publicly visible location (backyards, and not on building balconies unless below the railing). This meant I hung my laundry in the small bathroom over the bathtub for twelve years. My mother thought I was insane.

Only last year, when we had to replace our dead washing machine (that you can no longer get anyone to fix when it requires changing parts), did I prevail in household decisions and get a stackable dryer - but I use it about once a month. I'm in the habit of hanging, as long as I have to sort it all anyhow into dryer or no dryer.

By the way, I'm aware of where Evian originates and is bottled. I am in no way holding up France as a model of civic behaviour with respect to recycling and inconspicuous consumption. But there is a lag in acquiring gadgets that are both wasteful to produce and to dispose of - at least, there was a lag until the marvelous Nespresso machine marketing.

I hang up half my clothes on a drying rack inside in the small laundry room I have because if I don't they will a)fall apart after only a few washes because things I can afford are made in China and not durable, b) are workout clothes that are not suppose to be dried, or c) are pants (especially my expensive - because all mainstream designers think tall women are also fat - jeans) which will shrink and no longer be extra long!