My Story: Learning from My Mother-in-Law

contributed by Julie

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When I first met my French Canadian mother-in-law, Angele, she struck me as being a very thrifty woman. Initially, I was not into the thrifty mode myself and so I thought some of her ideas were pretty unusual. Angele always washed full loads of laundry using minute amounts of laundry detergent in freezing cold water. She then lugged the laundry outside in winter, spring, summer and fall and dried the loads on a clothesline. I was aghast. You would have been too if you had seen the frozen specters of shirts and towels dangling on a snowy line. Her thrifty ways made an impression (mostly about the strange ways of French Canadian people), but I continued to do my laundry in the same unconscious way I had always being doing it, which was very wastefully in terms of the products being used and the energy being squandered. In fact, I even did it this way at her house! Whenever we went to Quebec to visit her, I would pour on the laundry soap, wash in hot water and dump the loads into the dryer. It must have made her frugal heart shrivel, but she kept quiet.

Fifteen years later, having caught the frugal bug, I am now copying her ways and enjoying the savings. In addition, I am not washing clothes as often as I used to. Prior to my conversion, I washed loads and loads of laundry since I believed that a single wearing or use was sufficient to warrant immediate sterilization of the offending garments. Now I am more inclined to let towels dry out again and be reused. I am appreciative of repeated use of clothing and I encourage the children to wear their home clothes over and over, since they are usually worn inside the house and do not tend to get as soiled as their school clothes. This loosening of my standards with reference to laundry has spread to the use of water, detergent, softener sheets and the dryer. I try to use warm or cold cycle in the washing machine, minute amounts of detergent and to line dry the clothes. This final step ensures that the clothes are wind dried and smell spring fresh naturally. Also, it decreases our electricity consumption.

Sometimes, I will use the dryer briefly to smooth out the wrinkles, but usually the clothes go straight on the line. It goes without saying that I never use an iron to get them perfect; our clothes are good enough to go after their sojourn on the clothesline.

Another benefit to drying garments on the line is that it is a very pleasant activity. Rather than being holed up in the dark, claustrophobic basement laundry room, I am outside in the fresh air, sniffing out the first signs of spring in my garden and enjoying a pause in the hurried pace of my life. These pauses have been far more beneficial than I ever anticipated. For example, now that spring has arrived in the barren wastelands of the Canadian hinterlands, I am immersed in the rebirth of my garden. I have taken the time to notice the first red fists of rhubarb balling up like an infant's baby hands in the loamy earth. I have been stopped cold by the blood red droplets of ladybirds falling on to the gray blanket of the spring grass. The spurs on the anorexic arms of my lilac trees are curved over like extremely long fingernails. There are blue jays, magpies, sparrows and our V-line convoys of Canadian geese everywhere I look. All these sights and scenes are all around me, but I never seemed to see them. Pausing to put the laundry out on the clothesline, like pausing to do dishes by hand, seems to concentrate my attention on what really is worthy, what really is beautiful and priceless in my life. Laundry savings really have translated in value savings in my life.

"My Story" is a regular feature of The Dollar Stretcher. If you have a story that could help save time or money, please send it by

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