Life after dryers

Hello! Longtime no blog. Rather than regale you with all of my doings since my last post (mostly work, parenting, and a Fringe show or two), I have more Relevant Life Advice from the Lower Middle Class to share.

If you like me were rattled by the latest climate doom report and wondering what, barring violent revolution, you can do to ensure your children have at least a semi-livable planet (or, hell, ensure that you can retire somewhere other than Mad Max), you may have been pondering that list of “things you can do for climate change” that was going around, which was:

  • eat less (or no) meat;
  • drive less (or not at all);
  • avoid air travel as much as possible;
  • use a washing line instead of a tumble dryer.

I don’t know if I can convince you to become a smug non-driving vegan who’s only flown a handful of times in her life (mostly because I can’t afford it) like me, but I can at least tell you what’s it’s like to give up your dryer and exclusively airdry your clothes and household linens. Because our dryer broke about a month ago and we decided not to replace it.

Our situation: two able-bodied adults, two kids (6 and 3), one dog (13). No one is in diapers or having frequent bathroom accidents. Neither of us has a job that requires fancy office clothes (much). We have a backyard with a washing line and a large indoor drying rack, and our washing machine is high-quality and fairly new. I work about half time and largely from home, so have lots of time to get stuff done around the house, and while laundry is mostly my responsibility, my partner and I share household chores and expect the kids to help in age-appropriate ways. If you are already finding your domestic chores difficult to balance with work outside the home, or have disabilities/health issues that limit the domestic work you can do, or have kids in diapers or very messy pets, or are sharing laundry facilities, this might not work for you. But if you have the space, capacity, and a bit of time, air drying is an easy thing to work into your routine to do a tiny bit for the planet.

So here’s what it’s like. The good:

  • It’s free! Depending on how much laundry you do and how much power costs in your area, you have now saved…according to this, about $1.08/load. We do about 4 loads of laundry per week, so that adds up to over $200/year. It’s not an enormous amount of money but hey, that’s one really nice date night or one really cheap dirty weekend, so get a babysitter and have fun, guys!
  • Your clothes will last longer. Tumble drying makes clothes rub up against each other, that is quite obviously how it works, as well as exposing them to heat. This will cause them to wear out quicker. So yay, less shopping and less waste. Which I suppose also saves you money. Order an extra bottle of wine!
  • If you dry them outside, your sheets will smell a m a z i n g. If you could bottle line-dried sheet smell I would wear it as a perfume, it’s that good.
  • You’ll never have to worry about accidentally putting something that shouldn’t go in the dryer, in the dryer. If you have meddling and/or passive-aggressive relatives they can’t “accidentally” put that nice cashmere sweater or silk dress in the dryer because they were trying to “help”. Yay?
  • The planet is still likely to be uninhabitable in a few decades, but at least you did the bare minimum. Gold star.

The meh:

  • Congratulations on increasing the mental load of your housework! This was the biggest adjustment, the amount of planning involved. Toronto’s climate is fairly damp, so every load takes an average of 24-48 hours to dry – thin items will tend to dry faster, obviously, but don’t count on it. So you can’t think “fuck, I’m out of underwear” or whatever, throw a load in the washer, throw it in the dryer, and be able to leave the house in clean clothes 2-3 hours later. You need to keep a running tally of that underwear count, and depending how reliable the rest of your family is, of everyone else’s too. (Sidenote: if your partner is domestically useless this will probably be extra hard. For your own sanity make him keep track of his own underwear status or at least mercilessly tease him if he doesn’t.)
  • If you don’t hang things well, or if it’s really damp, your stuff might dry too slowly and smell musty. You can spritz your clothes with Febreze, air them out some more, or just live with it. Usually the smell goes away the next wash. This mostly applies to rack drying, usually line-dried clothes don’t have this problem.
  • The “never done”-ness of laundry is magnified. Even when we had a dryer I felt like laundry always either needed doing, was in the middle of being done, or needed to be put away. I now have a laundry room and/or a backyard more or less permanently full of in-progress laundry. Sorry.
  • You’ll have to compromise your standards of cleanliness a bit (see below).
  • Do you own thick fluffy bath towels? They will dry into hard lumpy sheets of cardboard. You can sort of shake them out and pull at them to soften them up a bit, but there’s really no way around this. RIP fluffy bath towels, I’ll miss you.nSame with your dishcloths and tea towels, though I find the hand-crocheted ones dry softer. I’ve also read that Turkish towels air dry much softer but haven’t tested this yet – they’re expensive! Paypal me $40 and I’ll do some field research. Or maybe I’ll crochet a bath towel, just try and stop me.
  • You need more sheets, probably. There is no area of our house that’s large enough to air dry a sheet indoors, so sheets MUST go on the line. I’ve read that even in sub-zero temperatures they will dry (you might have to break some ice off them, though), but if it’s raining you really can’t do anything about it. So minimum 3 sets of sheets/bed are a necessity. Wait for a sale and stock up, bitches! That sheet smell is a nice bonus, though.

How to do it:

  • Wash your clothes and hang them up on a rack or a line until they’re dry. It’s not rocket science, people.
  • OK, to be serious, hit on a rhythm that works for you. I wash around every other night (power is cheap after 7:00 PM here), then either hang it before bed or in the morning, and put the laundry away after 2-3 loads are dry. I wash sheets weekly if the weather is clear. So far this is working out. We’ll see how it goes in the winter!
  • Don’t knee-jerk wash everything every time you wear it. Look it over and give it a sniff. If it doesn’t look or smell dirty, don’t wash it! I promise no one will notice as long as you don’t wear it two days in a row. Unless you are doing dirty, physical labour most clothes can go 2-3 wears before washing. If something doesn’t look dirty but is a bit stinky, try airing it out before washing it.

This is far more than I ever imagined I’d have to write on the subject, but I’m sure there are acres of ground yet to cover. Do Turkish towels really dry soft? How can I get my dishcloths to not be disgusting? What exciting developments in sock dryers do you know about? I’m all ears.

The stars remember us

In time, all ripples disappear in sand,
In wave, in sound, in line and gravity
No deed or being, word or ampersand
Will ever find true immortality.
But death, while welcome, never is the end
As ripple joins to current joins to sea,
And all we are, subsumed, will ever bend
The wave which bent us in totality –
While all of us will die without reprieve,
The stars remember us – and do not grieve.

Lighted windows

In the dockside towers the windows slowly light,
One by one, as their owners carefully file
themselves and their lives away
I see curtains and plants, posters and vases
Tiny tastes of their lives, little scraps of their being.
Inside these boxes a million worlds evolve
Betrayal, passion, boredom, lust
An opera of emotions on every floor
And the elevators divide them, shut in and alone
And I wonder, what is it like, what is it like
(I inhabit this city, but cannot say I live here,
Here in this palace, all curves and glass and light –
Beautiful, hateful, hopeful, doomed
I wonder and wonder, where it is that I am?)
In the blank spaces, where nobody lives
Under the bridges and underpasses
Unlooked-for, unloved, the places nobody creates,
there is a sort of beauty
A beauty of endurance, like those who grow old alone,
And on the bare concrete wall, I read my name:
No one.

She writes sad songs

She writes sad songs with fancy pens
And written, scratches out again
And again she writes in smeary scrawl
A song of love and loss (et al)
And draws another damp, thick line
Through verses good or bad or fine
She writes sad love songs with her pen
Again, again, again.

She thinks, if only she were free
Her songs would spark, would simply BE,
Would simply soar across her breath
And not demand a speedy death.
Her eyes would blaze with verses true
As that is what true artists do.
She writes sad songs and strikes them out
And out and out and out.

I wish I could relate the end
Of my sad-love-song-writing friend
For all I know she writes them still
For good, indifferent, or ill;
And if her pen sleeps peacefully
I hope the same is true of she.
This is the most we can aspire:
Continue on, if we desire,
And find some happiness if not,
Forget – and be forgot.

Simple pleasures

The simple pleasures remain, at least.
If nothing else, they do remain –
A sunlit glow through a covered pane,
A breeze, a scent, a sudden taste,
A fine-turned phrase or a soft embrace,
They remain. They remain.

If nothing else, hold on to these
These quick-sweet moments, darting bright
Hold on to life and hope and light
All you who breathe, here, now, and still
And still beneath the ocean’s swell
We remain. We remain.

There is no answer, no way to peace
The rot within us will come out.
No cure, no change, no turnabout
This is the fate our hearts maintain.
But the simple pleasures, they do remain.
I do not know how long.

I was walking my kid to school the other day – YES THAT BABY I HAD FOUR YEARS AGO THAT TOOK UP ALL MY BLOGGING TIME IS IN SCHOOL NOW, NO I’M NOT CRYING, WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT – thinking about how humans get from one place to another. On one hand we’re pretty awesome at creating complicated machines to transport our weak little human bodies around. On the other hand we stink at it.

I mean, take a city. A city is the human equivalent of an ant hill – it’s where we live together in close proximity because life is easier that way. The entire *point* of a city is to keep the necessities of human life within a manageable distance. Yet few North American cities are really walkable, and even in the few that are the majority of people drive the majority of the time.

As a way of life and an allocation of resources this is really inefficient. Driving is difficult, dangerous, and expensive. That something like 80% of trips within Toronto are done by car bothers me not just because it’s bad for the environment and destructive to public space, but because it’s so colossally wasteful. It offends my frugal soul. Don’t you know that gas costs money? I want to yell at the guy around the corner who drives his kids to school (it’s about a 10 minute walk). Don’t you know that car is going to cost you like 8 grand a year? I refrain from posting as a comment on a friend’s Facebook picture of their new wheels.

But of course people drive. Because it’s easier that way, because it’s normal, because they want to maintain status with their peers, because no other option seems viable, because they’ve structured their lives so that they have no other choice. So be it, when gas gets up to $10/L that’ll change. But if you had to design an urban transport system from scratch, what would it be?

I’m starting from the basic principles that good transportation: a) is good for the user; b) is good for the environment; c) doesn’t unduly harm other people or animals; d) inexpensive; e) is accessible to the greatest number of people, and f) is easy. Bearing that in mind…

1. WALKING AND MOBILITY DEVICES – Walking with or without a mobility device should be the default mode of transport. Walking is good for you, safe, almost impact-free on the environment, free to the user (though mobility devices are not), and very easy.

2. CYCLING – Riding a bike is also very good for you, relatively safe for the user – though not as safe as walking, of course – generally safe for pedestrians, and relatively easy. Most of us learn to ride bikes in childhood and, as they say, you never forget. You have to pay for your bike and any parts and maintenance, but that’s it. Don’t let anyone tell you that you need specialized clothing to ride a bike around town, other than a helmet and maybe a reflective vest. You can ride a bike safely in almost anything.

3. PUBLIC TRANSIT – Public transit is mostly safe for the user and the non-user alike, though women often experience sexual harassement and attacks on public transit – ask me about the time a guy tried to lick my face on the subway!  Buses which run on petroleum products do harm to the environment, though not as much as private cars. Ease of use and cost vary between regions. The TTC is easy enough to use but expensive.

4. DRIVING – If this were the food pyramid “Driving” would be about as big as “Fats and oils”. Use sparingly. Driving is bad for the user, destructive to the community, dangerous both to the user and to non-users, very difficult, and really really expensive. Not to mention, in spite of a rigorous testing programme, most people can’t drive for shit. Just stand at any reasonably busy intersection at rush hour and see how many Ontario Highway Traffic Act infractions you can count if you don’t believe me. I once counted 7 waiting for a light to change, including someone doing a U -Turn against the light IN THE MIDDLE OF THE INTERSECTION. No wonder it feels like you’re taking your life into your hands every time you leave the house.

Of course, if you live outside of the human anthill (I suppose there are solitary ant species?) your pyramid is going to look different, but then I’m not talking about you, am I? You go on with your…solitary ant life, whatever that is.

A few weeks ago the worst thing that has ever happened to anyone happened to me: the local grocery store abruptly shut down.

There was no warning. One day it was open, the next there was a sign on the door that some kind of serious structural issue needed to be fixed right away and the store was closed until further notice. Rumours went through the neighbourhood. The roof had caved in. The floor had collapsed. It was a nefarious plot on the part of the parent company to tear it down and sell the very valuable land for condos. The man in the hardware store on the corner told me the parent company wanted to buy up the whole block, tear everything down, and build a huge Shoppers Drugmart.

I will be the first to say that it was a bad No Frills. It frequently made lists of “The worst No Frills in Toronto”, of which there have been a few. The quality of the produce was decent, if you knew what you were looking for, but it frequently ran out of staples, like garlic or sweet potatoes or soy milk. What kind of grocery store runs out of garlic? This one did more than once. But as bad as it was, not having it is much worse.

Here are some things I have started rationing since No Frills shut down:

  • Fresh fruit other than apples
  • Tofu
  • Broccoli
  • Greens

Here are somethings I buy more of than before:

  • Frozen fruit and veg, they keep a long time and are space-efficient 
  • Samosas. They have really good ones at one of the small groceries I go to in the neighbourhood. Not complaining.

Here are some things I have given up in buying period:

  • Whole wheat pasta (they sell name-brand white pasta at the dollar store, that’ll do)
  • Whole wheat flour (too heavy and bulky)
  • Juice (too heavy to carry from anywhere else)
  • Bulk toilet paper (too bulky to carry on transit)
  • White vinegar (too heavy, not worth it)

Here are some things I haven’t figured out how to reliably buy yet:

  • Disposable diapers and wipes
  • Baby cereal 
  • Canned beans unless it’s an emergency (too expensive to buy in local stores)
  • Olive oil (I found some reasonably-priced stuff at a fruit stand on the Dabforth but it’s hardly in my orbit or a reliable source)

It could be much worse. There are multiple small South Asian groceries in the neighbourhood, whose prices are on the high side, but carry a decent selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, dry goods, dried beans, and spices. There’s an organic grocery store for your $3 avocado and vegan marshmallow needs, and two dollar stores which carry an inconsistent but reasonable selection of dry goods. One even had baby cereal last week! (Personally I will buy name-brand food from a dollar store but not store-brand or unrecognizable brand. Call me a snob, I don’t care.) The possibly-nefarious parent company of the shuttered No Frills even runs a free shuttle bus to the closest No Frills, about 5 km away. It’s an infinitely nicer store – a friend who lives nearby refers to it as “Some Frills” – but there is no getting around the fact that what used to take 20-30 minutes out of my week now takes 2-3 hours, or that I have to think carefully about my ability to carry whatever I buy, or that I have switched to less healthy foods or rationed staples in an effort to save my sanity.

I know that even without No Frills you couldn’t call this a food desert – maybe a food semi-arid area? – and that eventually we’ll figure out a routine of food acquisition that ensures a reliable and reasonably cost-effective food supply without tearing our collective hair out. My kids will not die because I fed the more simple carbs or more frozen veg than before. But it still stinks and I would like to strongly register my disapproval of the entire situation.

In closing if you would like to buy me a giant thing of toilet paper and about 35 packets of vegan baby cereal I will not say no.

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