Capitalism killed laundry day

In the 1920s, the average housewife spent about 11.5 hours per week on laundry and ironing. By 1965, that had dropped to just under 7 hours. In 2014, that average housewife (and her spouse) spent about 20 minutes a day on the task, or just over 1.5 hours per week.

Laundry might be one of the most hated chores in the history of housework. It’s a Sisyphean task. The moment the job is done, there’s more laundry to do. And unlike cooking, which can be put off by ordering pizza or going out to eat, or dishes, which can be reduced by using paper plates, the laundry has to be done regularly. (Unless you’re a college student, of course.)

And so we complain about laundry all the time. And economists and others study it.

I started to think about laundry this week when a blog post that collected eight decades of images of clotheslines in New York crossed my desk. The images are a striking reminder of how laundry used to be done.

Scrolling through those images was an odd experience. I looked at them and admired the graceful arcs of the clotheslines and the ghostly flutter of the laundry that hung from them. I was reminded of “Love Calls Us to Things of This World,” a poem by Richard Wilbur about waking to the sights and sounds of laundry on the line. To the poet’s sleep-hazy and unspectacled eyes, the laundry on the line makes it look as if “the morning air is all awash with angels.” And the beauty of the vision prompts the poet’s soul to wish,

“Oh, let there be nothing on earth but laundry,
Nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam
And clear dances done in the sight of heaven.”

It’s easy to look at laundry on the line and be swept away by memories of sun-dried sheets. But as with so many other tempting misconceptions that come when we are rich enough to play at being poor, our vision of what laundry “used to be like” has very little to do with what it actually was like.

For that, we have to turn from photographs to contemporary accounts.

When I’m looking for accounts of housework in earlier decades, I turn to Round about a Pound a Week, an exceptional demographic study of the working poor in 1913 Lambeth, a district in central London. But Round about a Pound is all but silent on the subject of laundry. I was mystified about why laundry was absent from a study that details everything from how the women of Lambeth chose to wash their front steps to why they bought flannelette clothing for the children. But the chapter that details how these women spent their days includes a small aside. When the study was done, the subjects told the observers not to record their schedule on washing day. “Washing-day was not considered fair by the mothers. They said, ‘You’d expect ter be a bit done-like washin’ day’; so an ordinary day was chosen in every case.”

The women in Lambeth knew laundry day was the hardest day of the week. They knew it was a statistical outlier, and they didn’t want an unfair assessment of how hard their average day was.

That, in itself, is telling.

But actual descriptions of laundry days are even more so. In 1949, Kate Smallshaw (a former editor of Good Housekeeping) wrote a determinedly cheerful book on housework called How to Run Your Home without Help. Marketed to the middle-class housewife learning to do without servants during the postwar domestic labor shortage, How to Run Your Home without Help was able to assume that its readers would have running water and electricity, unlike the women studied in Round about a Pound.

Even with plumbing and electricity, the 10 pages dedicated to “Doing the Washing” in How to Run Your Home make for exhausting reading. Describing a “very efficient single-handed housewife” and her average laundry day, Smallshaw notes,

“She knew the right way to tackle every household job, and took a pride in doing them all well. Yet with her practice she still finds Monday an ordeal. One reason is that her equipment is so poor. Her single sink, with one draining-board only, is placed in a corner. The wash-boiler, of the round type, won’t take a wringer. She could get a new kind of wringer that would fasten to the edge of the sink […] but she makes do with the old one that must be lugged in from the garden shed each time. […] On a bright day she can get the clothes dry in the garden; otherwise there’s the misery of lots of wet things flapping round the little kitchenette, for she has no drying cabinet of any kind.”

But even with the modern equipment lacked by this housewife, the laundry is an almost unimaginably arduous task when looked at from 2016. Here, for example, is Smallshaw’s description of the newly popular “hand operated simple washing machine”:

The machine is filled, by means of rubber tubing, from the kitchen tap. The water is then heated to the temperature required by gas or electricity, depending on the make of machine. Clothes can be left to soak, boiled up if necessary, or mechanically washed by means of a hand-operated “agitator.” They are then wrung into the kitchen sink for rinsing.

More expensive, newly available electric washers could help even more, though they still generally required manual filling and draining. And only the most expensive machines available came even close to approaching the luxurious kind of washer we can pick up for under $500 at Walmart or Sears today. (And we earn the money to buy that washer so much faster!)

But this only considers the issue of equipment. Smallshaw’s housewife had many other concerns that don’t even occur to today’s laundry doers: the need to run each item of clothing through the wringer twice; the separate boiling of handkerchiefs; the endless task of ironing. (Smallshaw does note that certain items, such as “all stockings and socks, woolen underwear, and men’s cellular or knitted-type cotton underwear, needn’t be [ironed], if time is an important factor.”)

All of this makes those photographs of the New York clotheslines a little more interesting and a little less dreamy. Notice that the laundry drying in those pictures is nearly all underwear, petticoats, sheets, and other whites. Washing the darker outer layers of clothing would have been done less often, because of the great weight (especially when wet) and extended drying time. Remember that in days when most homes heated with coal, those whites wouldn’t have stayed white for very long as they hung in the smoky air.

Those women who are leaning out their windows to hang out the wash may look quaint now, but they had been working at this task all day. And they would do it again the following week. And every single week after that. And those clotheslines? They may make a pretty picture in sunny weather, but picture a cold and rainy day, with all that wet laundry hanging in the tiny kitchen of your walk-up apartment in New York.

Consider all that, and then go watch the video below, and remember how much of the world today still does their wash in conditions even harder than those of 1949, or even 1913.

Recent advances in nanotechnology have created textiles that clean themselves with light. Fans of mid-century science fiction will instantly think of the Alex Guinness movie, The Man in the White Suit, where the invention of a similar product leads to panic among textile plant managers and union workers. While many are sure to react to this news with similar distress and to lament the loss of the picturesque clothesline, Hans Rosling and I say bring it on. As a little visit to the laundry rooms of the past reminds us, every minute we now spend doing laundry — no matter how few those minutes are — could be more joyously spent doing almost anything else.


Confident people say…

It happens like this. Your co-worker comes strolling down the hallway and peers around the corner at you. You look up, annoyed by the interruption. She then quickly asks, “I was not able to finish my report for the boss. Can you wrap it up for me?”

Time slows. You are now thinking about how to respond, but nothing feels quite right. So, as always, you say, “Sure.”

You might say “Sure” because you really should help. But most often, this is not the case. “Sure” often comes from a place of defense — a need to please and be liked by the right people.

But let me share a secret. We often say “Sure” because we lack confidence to say and do what we know is right. When it comes to confidence, those who have it always seem to shine, while those who are meek and afraid are taken advantage of.

I am referring to the type of confidence that gives us internal fortitude, not the outlandish bravado that some show to mask deep fears. Confidence is easier said than internalized; it usually develops over time, with practice, patience, and perseverance. But there is no doubt that to succeed in life, it is a must.

So, do you know the one word that confident people say most? It’s obvious when you think about it — that word is, “NO.”

Here are a few reasons that saying, “No” can help you be your best and those around achieve as well. It’s also why confident people are not afraid of the word.

Reaffirms your priorities

The most confident people plan ahead. They have clear goals and know what it takes to get there. This helps them prioritize what is important in their lives — and ignore what does not align with their goals. Every “Yes” should align with these goals; if something does not, the answer is “No.”

Sets clear expectations

The word “Yes” is often said out of obligation. The problem is that “Yes (wo)men” tend to make promises that they can not always deliver on. Frequently, they fail to get every job done. If you do this, it damages the confidence and trust that your team will start to place in you. And when real chances to shine arise, you will be passed over.

Broadcasts your value

We all know the stars whom we can count on to produce great work with a positive attitude. We rely on them. Saying, “No” to irrelevant requests reminds people that you are important, have clear priorities, and your work matters. You do not have time to focus on less important efforts.

The most confident people know who they are and how they add value. They don’t need to prove their self worth by saying yes to every request that is made of them.

We all get paid to set boundaries and clearly communicate what we should work on. This is what confident people do best. The next time someone asks you for a favor, do not blindly accept it without questioning its value. Over time, this habit will make you great and increase your confidence that every day you are getting even better

Increase your happiness

10 Scientifically Proven Methods to Increase your Happiness Right Now

 The best way to pay for a lovely moment is to enjoy it. ~ Richard Bach

Do you even remember the last time you felt sheer pleasure, or unmitigated glee? What is your most recent recollection of bubbling over with happiness? I mean, when you felt so giddy that your cheeks were glowing, your heart was thumping, and your eyes welled up with unfettered joy? If that hasn’t happened to you in the last little while (or even a very long while), don’t fret.

As John Barrymore once said, “Happiness often sneaks in a door you didn’t know you left open.” Chasing happiness isn’t really going to make it magically appear, but you can create the circumstances that ‘leave the door open’ to a joyful and meaningful life by setting the stage for happiness, and allowing it a grand entrance. You can feel happier right now, with these scientifically proven methods.

Exercise for seven minutes.

I don’t care if you stand in one place and jump up and down, go for a walk, or climb the stairs at your office, you can feel happier right now by being physically active. In a study described in the book, The Happiness Advantage, three groups of patients treated their depression with medication, exercise, or a combination of both medication and exercise. The results of this study should be extremely motivating. Although all three groups experienced similar improvements in their happiness levels early on, the follow-up assessments proved to be radically different. When tested at six months to see if they had ‘relapsed’ into depression, 38 percent of those who took medication alone slipped back into a depressed state, and for those who exercised? Only nine percent relapsed. The proof is evident. You can feel better by exercising, and it doesn’t take much.

Write down 20 things you are grateful for.

Don’t type up what you are grateful for, write them down, since it requires more neurons to do so, and you’ll feel much better. Robert Emmons, often called the world’s leading expert in the science of gratitude, says that people who keep gratitude journals experience higher levels of positive emotions, more joy and pleasure, and stay alert and optimistic more easily.

Take a 15-minute power nap.

Getting more sleep is one of the best ways to feel happier. “You’re putting energy in the bank when you go to sleep,” says Barry Krakow, MD, medical director of Maimonides Sleep Arts and Sciences, Ltd. in Albuquerque, N.M. “On a cellular level, the body is literally repairing and restoring itself. Without it, you can’t do what you want — physically or mentally.” This also means that you’ll likely find negative emotions creeping in more easily, and find it difficult to constructively handle emotions like anger or frustration, because sleep deprivation increases amygdala activity (a brain structure integral to experiences of negative emotions such as anger and rage) and a disconnect between the amygdala and the area of the brain that regulates its functions. Power napping for at least 15-20 minutes will already start to improve your mood and cognitive functioning, and getting rapid eye movement or REM sleep, which usually takes 60 to 90 minutes of napping, plays a key role in making new connections in the brain and solving creative problems. Napping is even better for you than drinking a cup of coffee.

Get outside.

There a 101 reasons nature makes us feel good, but ‘green science’ as it is called, is learning more about how the blue sky and green trees really affect us all the time. For one thing, nature teaches us that we are perfect just the way we are. When we are alone in nature, there is no classism, racism, homophobia, or sexism. A rushing river doesn’t care what level of the social hierarchy you’ve reached, or haven’t. Time slows to a more manageable pace, and we experience profound healing on levels mainstream medicine likely will never understand. For starters, you are breathing in fresh air, and absorbing Vitamin D, which is a known precursor for making happy hormones. Being outdoors is so uplifting that many people describe is as being a spiritual experience. If you can only be outside for a few minutes every day, take advantage of that opportunity. Your happiness is forever connected to being one with nature.

Be with your peeps.

Spending time with friends and family is one of those ‘can’t buy me love’ things that really does add to our overall happiness. Daniel Gilbert is the Harvard College Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. The professor tells us that most of the things we do in life are to acquire more time with friends and family – so why not just cut to the chase, and DO that. The ‘happiness’ expert says, “We are happy when we have family, we are happy when we have friends and almost all the other things we think make us happy are actually just ways of getting more family and friends.” The ‘can’t buy me love’ aspect is quite real, in fact. The connections we have with friends and family is worth as much as $132,000 a year in terms of life satisfaction, according to the Journal of Socio-Economics. If you don’t have friends, you can make some new ones by taking a class at a community college, joining a sports team or look for a social event to meet new people in your city.


A study by the University of Sydney surveyed 350 people who had meditated for more than two years, and compared those results with existing government surveys on people’s mental and physical health. Those who meditated were found to be ten percent happier than those who didn’t. While that doesn’t seem like much, meditation can also give us more mental clarity, feelings of peace and of gratitude (see number two), and 76 other scientifically verifiable benefits that you’d otherwise be missing out on.

Watch the Weather.

The American Meteorological Society has published research that found temperature has a bigger effect on our happiness than variables like wind speed and humidity. It also found that happiness is maximized at 57 degrees (13.9°C), so keep an eye on the weather forecast and head outside when the weather is prime. If you live in a warmer climate, find a shady spot and sit in nature.

Help somebody.

Doing good deeds, or helping someone else for 100 hours a year contributes massively to your overall feelings of peace, well-being, and happiness. “A lot of times we think that happiness comes about because you get things for yourself,” said Richard Ryan, a psychologist at the University of Rochester, but “it turns out that in a paradoxical way, giving gets you more, and I think that’s an important message in a culture that’s pretty often getting messages to the opposite effect.”

Stop the commute.

Okay, so you can’t just up and quit your job, but you might be able to work out a ‘flex’ schedule that allows you to work from home a few days a week, or you might even consider moving closer to your workplace. Why? Commuting makes us unhappy. A Swedish study found that commuting is so hard on folks that people are 40% more likely to divorce if one person commutes more than 45 minutes to work every day. If you absolutely must sit in traffic for an average of 38 to 60 hours a year, then at least listen to an uplifting book on tape, or learn a new language. This can make you happy, too.

Learn something new.

A core psychological need for humans is to learn and master new skills. Psychologists call this need ‘mastery.’ You can see it in babies learning to crawl or sit up for the first time, but also in grown adults mastering a violin concerto, or learning how to converse in a second language. Learning something new in one area of our lives also often triggers an add-on bonus of learning something new in another area. It’s a win-win-win situation. You learn one thing, and this helps you learn a bonus skill or concept, and this also leads to more happiness. You don’t have to get formal certificates or professional qualifications. Just learning how to plant a garden or play a new chord on your guitar can boost levels of happiness.

“Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

There’s benefits associated with taking time to relax, meditate, do things you love etc, but that means taking YOU time!

This challenge will help you set out on a journey that can transform your life.


Resolutions don’t happen in a vacuum…

This is especially true if you are in a relationship. At the very least most require support from those around us. And, at most, they require their active participation. To wit, the resolutions of others become your resolutions as well (and vice versa) if they require you to participate in order to be successful.

Last year, for instance, my wife decided that one of her resolutions would be for us to have monthly date nights. As parents with a young child, it is important to get some time to connect one-on-one outside of the house. Well, unless her plan was to go out alone, that is a resolution that could not happen without my active involvement. It had to be one of my resolutions too.

I wanted to have friends over for dinner once a month. Well, unless my wife was on board with such a plan, it couldn’t happen. In effect, my intention became a resolution for her as well.

And even those things you think are just for you — to exercise more, to eat better, to meditate — may not be able to be successful without our partners actively supporting those efforts and allowing us the time, space, and resources to achieve them. Accountability helps here too. If those around you know them you are more likely to be held to the goal.

This is all to say that you should be making and considering your resolutions in the proper context. Make sure to discuss them with those around you and that they have a chance to buy-in to them where needed. Find out which ones of theirs will involve you and plan accordingly. Only then will they have a true shot at being successful.