Laundry Confessions of an Ex-Homesteader

In the first few weeks we did laundry by hand, but this was such an arduous and overwhelming chore, requiring so much water to haul and so much time to line dry the sopping clothes, we soon resorted to the laundromat. Laundry was done once a week, hauled in old recycling tubs to town, washed, then hauled back and hung on a series of clotheslines strung through the trees around the campground.

Trina Holden in “A day in the life of a tipi-dweller” on

a guest post by Kateri

After nine years of living in a small city, my husband and I were moving to the country. We paused for a moment’s rest in between unpacking the U-Haul. My friend who was helping with the move, looked at the clothesline on our new home that stretched from the balcony near the laundry room door down in to the sloping back yard.

“I bet you are looking forward to hanging your laundry out to dry in the sunshine,” he said.

Truth to be told, I hadn’t even given the clothesline any thought.

photo by Kateri

I’m a girl who grew up Little House on Prairie style—except that there were 14 people crammed into the little house without electricity, running water, or indoor plumbing—and there were no plans for improvement. Homesteading and poverty was a deliberate choice my parents had made.

There were some things I loved about growing up, way out in the country, with wide tracts of forests and hundreds of acres of abandoned farm land to roam on. I loved gardening, including the rush to get the two acre garden in the spring and the scramble under the full October moon to bring the harvest in. I spent hours daydreaming as I collected wild herbs from the meadows and forests. I even enjoyed cooking over an open wood fire in the stone fireplace. I have warm memories of canning—hundreds of quarts of pickles, tomatoes, and applesauce—all canned outside over an open fire.

There were many things I was looking forward to about living in the country again. But laundry by hand and clotheslines? That is a part of my childhood I have no desire to repeat.

My memory of doing laundry on the homestead is that it is unappreciated, back breaking work. It meant hauling water from the spring, heating it over a wood fire, then washing and rinsing clothing for 14 people in five gallon buckets and ringing it all out by hand. In the summer we were able to do this outside and it wasn’t so bad, but in the winter it had to be done inside the cramped little house, which meant the floors were constantly wet from the laundry water splashing on them.

And did you know that horses and cows love soapy water? Set a bucket of work stained clothes outside to soak in soapy water and if there is a stray cow or horse anywhere around they will be sure to find it and greedily gulp up all soapy water and for good measure chew a few holes in the laundry to get at more of that soapy goodness. I can’t count the number of times I rescued a bucket of laundry from being chewed or trampled to death by animals who should have been safe on their tethers.

In the summer drying the clothes wasn’t that bad as long as there were stretches of sunny weather. In the spring and fall though we were apt to have more rain than sunshine and the laundry often grew sour and mildewed on the line. Bringing it inside to dry wasn’t much better as the weather was too warm to build a big enough fire in fire place to dry the laundry—if we had, it would have been too hot to be in the house.

Winter was a little better—at least we could build fire hot enough to dry the clothing. But then we had to live with wet clothes hanging from rafters in the living area all winter long—because with 14 people in the house, laundry is something that you do every day. And often the rafters were so thick with laundry drying that we’d end up getting slapped in the face as we tried to go about our daily tasks of cooking and housework.

I have a deep and everlasting appreciation for the miracle of washing machines and dryers. Imagine—there is barely any work involved! Simply sort your clothes, toss them into the washer, set it on the appropriate cycle, and go do something else—cook dinner, write a blog post, or simply sit and relax. There is no mess, no fuss, no soaked floors or clothing that has been eaten up by stray animals! An hour later toss the laundry into the dryer set it at the appropriate setting and shortly you can have clean, dry laundry that is ready to be folded regardless of the weather.

photo by KateriOh, and that clothesline that came with our country home? It is still there, though I haven’t once been tempted to hang laundry out on it. I’ve found that it is the perfect thing to hang birdfeeders on. Birds love to perch on the line between eating. Greedy squirrels and raccoons can’t get to the feeders and I can watch the birds while I am working in the kitchen. The little bag of clothes pins the former owners left behind is still hanging on a hook near the line. It makes a safe and cozy home to for a mother Carolina Wren to raise her brood each spring.

kateriKateri blogs at Dandelion Haven, where she shares bits of the every day beauty that surrounds her in the heart of Michigan’s farm country. She grew up in a restrictive and legalistic Christian home and the past 10 years have been a journey of healing and finding a God of grace and love. As for laundry, thanks to a washer and dryer, that gets done with ease between her often hectic schedule as a visiting nurse, spending time with her husband, tending her large garden, and caring for a little flock of hens as well as two rambunctious little goats.

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  1. This made me smile. I can say that had my growing up days been filled with this kind of laundry and clotheline drudgery, I’d be really unexcited about having one too. 馃檪 As it is, I *am* thankful for a drier. Sometimes slipping a cosy, just out of the drier pair of PJs on is such a luxury in the winter!

  2. I remember being at the homestead for a week. It rained everyday, we had wet sleeping bags and we had to go to the store for diapers. I do not like hanging laundry out at home because it brings in bugs, spiders. I do hang towels to dry in the winter though to keep the air moist- so we don’t get sick as often. I like a lot about homesteading, but I don’t want to every live without running water and toilets. Like your article, Thanks.

    1. I think a lot of people who came to our programs had a similar experience, Debbie! I hadn’t thought about bringing in bugs and spiders on laundry that has been hanging out–I guess bugs and spiders where such an every day part of my life growing up, I never noticed. 馃檪 Thanks for stopping by!