My sister with the PhD folds laundry. The other day she called me mid-load: she’s watching The Bachelorette. We discuss the men on the dates (such ding dongs; so many bare ankles!). We discuss how happy we are to be married and that we are not dating ding dongs anymore. She folds her children’s shirts, her husband’s jeans, her yoga pants, fitted sheets. I laugh on FaceTime as she folds underwear, and we talk about how lucky we are.
Because I love my sister, I do not yell, “STOP FOLDING CLOTHES!” But here’s what I am thinking, and what I know: folding clothes is an absolute scam perpetrated against women.
Women spend hours of their weeks and weeks of their years and years of their lives folding clothes, a job that is designed to disappear. This work requires time and then gets put away in a drawer, and then in a day or week or an hour, the work gets undone. Allen Ginsberg said he saw the best minds of his generation destroyed by madness, and I say, “Ginsberg, I’ve seen the smartest females of my generation spend hours every week folding ratty T-shirts.”
And because I can feel you wondering what we do if we do not fold clothes, let's go over the logistics:
- We place unfolded clothes flat down in drawers.
- We hang up nice/fancy/expensive clothes.
- We buy fewer clothes.
(Number 3 is less about being an environmentalist and more about me being mad about women’s invisible, unnecessary labor.)
(But for real, if you have fewer clothes, you can just ... lie them down in the drawer.)
The final rule, above of all the above rules (this is about laundry and also about feminism), is do what you want. Perhaps yoga pants without wrinkles are really important to you. I, for one, do not mind wrinkles in my PJs or swimsuits or exercise clothes.
To stop folding clothes is one small way of saying, “How I spend my time matters.”
Do you feel attacked? Does this seem too simple? Have you spent hours, weeks, years of your life on labor that vanishes only to be given advice to lay clothes flat? Well, let me propose that when you stop folding clothes and just put them in drawers, you might start seeing other work you do that is unnecessary. You might wonder if you are doing things only because your mother did them. This is great! Scary, maybe, but great. Here is a guiding question as you think about domestic labor: did your father do this chore? Does your boyfriend or lover or husband? And what would happen if you stopped?
Scene: A kid opens their drawer to their folded PJs and dumps them out looking for their favorites, and their mom comes in to see piles of clothes on the floor, and that mom takes a deep breath instead of yells. Watching this, I take a deep breath.
I want to yell: Women! What are we doing with our one wild and precious life? So much of our lives are disappeared, our labor disappeared. To stop folding clothes is one small way of saying, “How I spend my time matters.” You do not need an excuse to sit down and watch The Bachelorette. (Do any men say they “only watch TV when folding laundry”? Why do I hear this again and again from women?)
I started questioning the tyranny of folding clothes early in life. My best friend Erin used to iron her family’s clothes on the weekends when we were in high school, so rather than going out on the weekends I’d sit with her in her basement as she ironed. I remember thinking, this..this seems like a waste of time? But as I grew I found I like a tidy home. Sweeping! Wiping! Surely I should fold all the things! But as I’ve gotten older I have become curious watching people I love fold ugly underwear, and then I started laughing as I realize they don’t question why they are folding ugly underwear? Also was underwear always so ugly? Why does underwear just get uglier?? Seems like a flaw in the underwear system.
Honestly this folding clothes thing seems like a flaw overall.
Marie Kondo calls her method of folding clothes “file folding.” When I watch her folding on TV, I see the clothes getting smaller and smaller, and I cannot help but think the same of the women doing the folding. Perhaps if we smooth over our wrinkles, take up less space, look contained, then all will be okay. (It will not be okay.)
So, lie down your clothes. Lie down your body. Reclaim your time. Turn on the TV for no other reason than that you want to watch a show about ding dongs. Your clothes do not need your care. Your work, your time, your efforts? They deserve hours, weeks, years of your attention. The clothes can lie as you live.