Airing Your Clean Laundry in Public

29 May Airing Your Clean Laundry in Public

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 24.5.21


For a woman who owns three tiaras, I am surprisingly fond of staying home and doing the ironing. Honestly, I am looking at my diary right now and as much as I am excited at the prospect of many nights out working in my favourite frocks, I am also looking forward to the respite of an evening at home giving them a good press.

My laundry is one of my favourite rooms in the house. It is painted bright orange – so bright that the nice man I hired to paint it this particular shade of tangerine phoned me twice to make sure I’d written down the right name from the colour chart. When I came home to see it for the first time, he stood in the doorway, apprehensive, and pointed in its general direction with the handle of his brush. “Is this… what you wanted it to look like?” I assured him he had followed my instructions perfectly. I remain delighted.

It’s not just the room that I am fond of, but the whole laundry process. Washing, soaking, stain removal (I have a book purchased long before you could google that sort of thing on the interwebs), and then the drying, folding, ironing, and putting away. When my weather app shows me a forecast of bright sun, I immediately cast about for things I can get out on the line.

Outdoor drying is my favourite. In winter months I might be forced to use the dryer but, for as long as I can, I am all about pegging things out. Good for the environment, good for the power bill, and amazing how a few hours in sunlight can lift the last of the shadow of a stain. In my imagination, sheets and towels and pillowcases absorb sunshine into their fibres and therefore happiness into my home, and I hear my mother’s voice talking about leaving things to be returned to their righteous state “in god’s good air”. 

So every time I read about a Body Corporate banning outdoor clothes drying, I am filled with enough hot rage to fluff up a king size duvet set. The argument seems to be that pegging out your smalls ruins the image and “special character” of a carefully curated community. As though the better places are inhabited by people who don’t wear undies.

I first came across this concept a few years ago while staying with family in Melbourne. The city hadn’t had a drop of rain for something like a year, and it felt so hot and dry I suspected that by the time you’d finished pegging out your sheets they’d be ready to take inside. Yet apartment owners were stuffing everything – polo shirts, chinos and silk camisoles – into tumble dryers, lest they make the place look unkempt.

It struck me then – and I still feel this way – that this was an outrageous waste of a natural resource (sunshine) and money (power bills). Given how much damage we’re doing to our planet, it feels rude to turn down such a kind offer of free drying from the sun and the wind. But there is more to my love of outdoor drying than energy saving, sustainability and fiscal concerns.

There’s also the romance of seeing part of our lives flapping cheerfully in the breeze. The colours, the shapes, the little peek into each of our private lives that a clothesline or balcony rack offers. The joyful discovery that tame neighbours might be sleeping on wild sheets, or that they’ve acknowledged winter now with the winceyette. Or the inspiration that comes when you see a new shade of bath towel and realise it might be time to refresh your own choices.

And think of those vibrant images of apartment dwellers in faraway places, each telling a small story about who lives inside each of those otherwise identical boxes stacked on all sides. Understanding that people might live in homes of the same shape and size but the way they live is very much their own can make you feel braver about being you.

Each time the debate about airing your clean laundry in public hits the headlines (anywhere from Hobsonville to Edinburgh to various American states) someone – usually more than one – will raise the issue of bras and knickers. That they don’t want anyone to see theirs, and would rather not see anyone else’s either.

I am always tempted to throw in a follow-up question regarding how they feel about ankles and décolletage. Because if you spend a lot of time pretending to yourself that no one wears underwear, you probably have some very firm ideas about modesty all round.

My best advice to anyone with a public-facing laundry rack would be to keep a range of options in view – beige nana knickers pegged out alternately with the flimsiest of fluorescent g-strings, just to keep the neighbourhood guessing.