Sparkling white sheets flapping in a soft spring breeze, sweetly scented naturally, not thanks to a plastic-wrapped package. Gracefully faded jeans waving in the sun, developing just that right shade of worn blue that makes you feel as though you’re striding down a country lane. I love the idea of clotheslines. The image can be idyllic, right up there with wild strawberries in your very own vacant half-overgrown pasture.
Romantic images of a simpler life aside, there’s no debating the environmental virtues of outdoor clotheslines. They save a tremendous amount of fossil fuel. Why then, am I writing the “anti” side of this debate? As it happens, although I grew up in a household that never had a dryer, electric or gas, I now live in a carefully planned community that does not permit outdoor clotheslines. In many ways we are a green neighborhood. Our houses are highly energy efficient, and we’re lucky enough to be walking distance to both the local library and our lively downtown, so we often walk to do local errands rather than drive. But guidelines from our homeowners association’s architectural review board specify that clothing lines and outdoor clothes dryers are not permitted; nor can we hang items on our porch railings to dry. The reasoning is purely aesthetic, and in the specific context of my community, perfectly valid. We all live close together, with very little private space. Residents of single-family homes can see into each other’s yards, front, back and sides; in the case of our multifamily units, there’s no outdoor space that isn’t in full public view from one street or another.
One person’s colorful free-form patchwork waving in the breeze is another person’s visual clutter only too obviously consisting of pillowcases and pajamas and everything else that we so conveniently toss into our washers. Everyone knows you don’t air dirty linen in public. Airing clean linen, not to mention your entire washable wardrobe...that’s not quite so simple. Where there’s a right place for a clothesline, it’s great. But as with so many other things, there isn’t always a right place.
Willa SpeiserResident and member of architectural review board at Warwick Grove, Warwick NY
I love my washing line*. Hanging clothes out on a breezy summer day just feels right. Washing lines don’t shrink my clothes, they don’t make them smell funky and they don’t use any electricity.
I grew up in South Africa and so became accustomed to my mother doing laundry and hanging clothes on the line. Everybody there had a washing line and because of mild winters it could be used virtually year round. If it rained, the clothes had to be brought in and then hung out again once the rain stopped. It may seem like a huge effort but back then, it was the only way to dry clothes.
I don’t own a tumble dryer. I do not have the space. Although tumble drying clothes is quicker than line drying, they use a lot more electricity and with every drying cycle, my clothes shrink just a little bit more. I would also be spending more money by driving to the Laundromat and dumping quarters into somebody else’s tumble dryer.
I like the feel of folding clothes after bringing them off the line. I rarely have to iron my clothes. It’s all in the art of folding them. They are not clingy and they smell super fresh. I also use my washing line to hang sweaters, scarves and hats after they have been packed away for the summer months to give them a nice fresh feel. Depending on the weather, I can leave my clothes outside in a nice natural environment for as long as I want.
Unfortunately, I cannot hang my clothes outside in the winter time. This is when I resort to several drying racks in my bedroom. This annoys my husband intensely but since he pays the electric bill, he is forced to oblige!
Lajla AbramsResident of Monroe, NY
* British English: Washing line – A strong cord which you can hang wet clothes on while they dry.