Monday, May 9, 2011

Beating Laundry on Rocks

No, I'm not beating laundry on rocks or scrubbing on a washboard. I only feel like it sometimes.

The title of this post has been knocking around in my head since my washing machine quit on me last week. I've been taking my laundry to my neighbor's to wash it, then hanging it to dry here at home (when the wind and rain let up). I have nothing to complain about other than a little inconvenience. I know this. I really don't mind waiting another week before my machine gets repaired. The excessive use of towels in this house is starting to bug me, but then I could be fighting to get the munchkins into the shower instead of trying to control the volume of showers being taken. I'm picking my battles on this one. And stealthily retrieving wet towels from unmade beds and hanging them back up to dry.

Actually, this idea of beating laundry on rocks has been bouncing around my head in conjunction with another couple phrases: "Make do." "Know what is enough." I don't plan on taking my laundry down to the river anytime soon (or sponging off the neighbors indefinitely). The question that arose last week, though, to repair the 12-year old machine or buy a new one, brought up all kinds of questions about modern society for me.

We live in a world of haves and have nots. This world (I'm speaking of a modern, capitalist society, aka The United States) is also one based on consumption: it's what drives our economy. When terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center, the President admonished us to go shopping. The business report every hour on my radio station news lets me know if I should be worried because stock "A" is going up or stock "B" is going down. The price of oil is "x" amount. We hear about peak oil, environmental degradation, the end of the world coming on May 21. And still as Americans we want more and more. We have washing machines, toasters, computers, televisions, all kinds of equipment that "make our lives easier" but that are not made to last. When the toaster doesn't perform perfectly we throw it out and buy a new one. Every few years we have to get a new computer to handle all the new games, programs, connectivity.

I'm not trying to shout from a soap box. And I know that anything I'm saying here has been said many times over by writers much more eloquent and informed than myself. I guess I'm just one person feeling bombarded by all the survivalist stuff, end of world stuff, disposable economy stuff, all the wanting that swirls everywhere around me, and the intense dissatisfaction that comes of not having. It's not wanting the basics so much but all the bells and whistles (big cars--or extra ones--boats, big houses with multiple bathrooms, gigantic televisions, cable) that are supposed to improve our quality of life. I don't want to go back to having to make everything from scratch, including corn to feed the chickens or flax to make thread. I don't even have a garden for goodness sake, and nowadays just reading the local paper, you'd think a person without a garden was the worst of freeloaders.

Faced with a decision to plunk down nearly $500 to repair my Energy Saver front loader or else buy a new one, I found myself staring down this very real dilemma that all of us are going to face, at one point or another. If I junk this machine, I'll have to spend nearly double to get something that is energy efficient and water-saving. If I repair it, I face the real possibility that the machine will break again really soon, because it wasn't meant to survive years of constant use. It was meant to be replaced by the newest computer-driven washing wonder. I don't want to take on a new machine. I want to hope that I will have tricked our disposable society by repairing my machine, thereby eliminating one more machine in the landfill and one more machine made by someone in a factory in China.

The real costs of our disposable life are so incredibly enormous (I'm thinking here of The Story of Stuff) that it's hard to know how to live responsibly and kindly toward everyone and everything around us. It's hard to know how to make do, know when you have enough, know when you need to just beat laundry on the rocks instead of blindly perpetuating this cycle of consumption that is literally killing us, body and soul.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You should read the book "Rediscovery Values: A guide for economic and moral recovery" by Jim Wallis. It is written by a Christian viewpoint, but really makes points that apply to everyone - and by everyone I mean the U.S. I'm attending a Bible Study at our church and we use this book as part of our discussion. I keep finding myself saying "I've somehow known this all along, why has no one else seemed to?"