The Art of Laundry

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I never much loved doing laundry. I never much hated it either, but I could also think of other more special things to do with my time. 

When we moved onto Seas Life, I was so concerned about other things (Google searches: How do boats sink? Can you die of sunburn? Best-lasting vegetables on a sailboat. What to include in your homemade First Aid kit) that “how-to laundry” never crossed my mind. 

I learned, however, - like I’ve done most things - by waiting until the moment that I needed laundry arose. And not long after that laundry turned into an art. 

The rules are pretty simple, and they aren’t what surprised me. What caught me off guard was how my attitude, approach and mentality to laundry changed. 

First, the rules: 

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  1. If you want your clothes to dry in any considerable amount of time, use fresh water. 
  2. Since fresh water is limited on a sailing vessel, wait for rain storms and put out as many buckets, pans, jugs, bowls, cups that you can. 
  3. During the rain storm, hang up as many dirty clothes as you can, so the rain can rinse them. If you don’t have time to do this step, no worries. Carry on to step no. 4.
  4. After the rainstorm, pour your rain water into your manual washing machine. 
  5. Pour in nature-friendly detergent
  6. Manually crank the washing machine to toss the clothes around, removing dirt, salt, sunscreen and sweat. 
  7. Pour rain water into another bowl near by and rinse each item with fresh water before hanging to dry. 
  8. Hang the clothes to dry during a high wind, high sunshine day. Use at least two clothespins for each item to prevent the wind from stealing your favorite clothes. 
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Pretty simple once you’re aware of the upcoming weather. Occasional glances toward the sky reveals your laundry schedule - or, at least, your capturing-fresh-water-for-laundry schedule. 

But as I’ve gone through this routine, I’ve become surprised at how… beautiful it can be. 

The first change I noticed was how special it felt to provide and have fresh, clean-smelling, soft-feeling clothes for my loved one and myself. Spending long days in the sun smothered in sunscreen and sweat and salt water, you become accustomed to your natural musk and mix of grainy and slimy residue on your skin and clothes. But to provide clean clothes free of musk, oily sunscreen and environment, feels nice. It’s a reminder that something like clean sheets or towels, T-shirts or sundresses are still sacred. 

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The second impulse that changed was my attitude toward the process. When, in my mind, I re-oriented my mindset from a required task to a precious opportunity provided by nature, I feel almost excited about it. (Don’t you dare tell Ryan or allow him to read this). When nature provides the fresh water, it’s as if a gift has fallen from the sky. Then, when using it to wash my clothes, I feel the blessing transfer from the skies, through my hands, to my clothes, through each thread of my clothes. I feel gratitude. 

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After immersing the clothes in the fresh rain water (feeling it seep through each finger as I press the cloth downward), I have to squeeze each item free of suds and water. Before right now in my life (I’m 32 years old), I’ve never had to squeeze a single item of my clothes for the purpose of laundry. Sure, I’ve squeezed a towel free of chlorine-filled water or a bathing suit free of the ocean, but I’ve never had to squeeze anything from my washing machine or dryer. Now, I squeeze each time, one by one, as if meeting them closely for the first time. I see how their seams are sewn differently. I feel how each shirt, made of different materials, feels and reacts with the soapy water. I see how the colors bleed or fade or stain. 

Next, they have to be hung to dry by the wind. Taking each piece, I pin them as they flop back and forth to the lifelines on our boat. One pin. Flop flop flop flop. Second pin. Flop. Secured, I take a second to ensure the weight of the garment doesn’t outweigh its pin set up. If it seems off balance (or if it’s one of my most favorite clothing items), I add another pin in the center, for security. 

Then you listen. You can hear the clothes flopping in the wind. You can smell the fresh soap suds blended with the salty air. 

And you wait for them to dry in the sun, thankful for the rainstorm that made this happen. Thankful for the clean clothes. Thankful for the time to appreciate something as seemingly mundane as laundry. 

Until you see storm clouds rolling in. Then you scurry to do it all again. 

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