The Curse of the Chinese Laundry

I was listening to an historian talk about a mostly forgotten part of American history: Chinese laundries.

They were both a cliché and a reality. And they were a fixture of the urban landscape about 100 years ago. You’d bring in your crumpled mess of clothes on a Monday and pick them up, freshly cleaned, pressed and folded on a Thursday.

And what was the death of the Chinese laundry? Cost? Social morés?

Nope. It was electricity. With electricity came the invention of washers and later dryers and the possibility of moving a smaller version of a Chinese laundry into your home. More convenient! Cheaper! Big time saver!

And the result? Now we have a never-ending chore called laundry. Whoever has that task in your household will talk about loads of laundry as a topic of daily conversation. “I did four loads today.” “Can you believe six loads and I’m still not done?” “I did laundry ALLL DAY.”

I bring this up because of another “advancement” in technology: the home office. More convenient! Cheaper! Big time saver! And already I see the repercussions. “Excuse me, I need to take this call.” “Hold on a sec, it’s the office.” “No big deal, I can bring this stuff with me this weekend and work on it at the hotel.”

Now we have a place where there is no peace, quiet or guilt-free zone. Our chores and responsibilities circle us like overdue college term papers.

9 to 5 Monday to Friday, has become 5 to 9 and Monday to Sunday. So let me offer a little help from our old friend Laura Ingalls Wilder, who would stitch this saying on dish towels:

“Wash on Monday
Iron on Tuesday
Mend on Wednesday
Churn on Thursday
Clean on Friday
Bake on Saturday
Rest on Sunday”

First off—yikes! A whole day to churn butter? And ironing? Who were they trying to impress? Anyway, the point is, they had a lot of stuff to get done and to make it manageable, they broke the list down, assigned it a day and when the day was done, so was the chore. (Mending? Put it in the basket, I’ll get to it Thursday.)

So let’s see how this works:

Paperwork on Monday
Outbound calls/Appointment setting on Tuesday
Write on Wednesday
Meetings/podcasts on Thursday
Shop/prepare/errands on Friday
Household work on Saturday
Rest on Sunday

Not sure that it will fit on embroidered dishtowels, but it’s a start. I’m sure you have your own lists/tasks/stuff list. By planning the important things first and letting the interruptions slide to the “later” pile, instead of the other way around, maybe we can feel like we are running our lives instead of our lives running us!

Can I hear an amen?