Hanging out

Local woman on the joys of life without a dryer

Sheryl Hubbard, who does not own a dryer, hangs her family’s laundry to dry, rain or shine.

Sheryl Hubbard, who does not own a dryer, hangs her family’s laundry to dry, rain or shine.


Slow-laundry movement:
Go to www.laundrylist.org for the "clothing-care cost calculator" and other useful information provided by Project Laundry List. Also, head to www.dryingforfreedom.com for information about Drying for Freedom, a documentary about clothesline controversies.

Sheryl Hubbard’s washing machine, in the back of her Chapmantown home, looks lonely. Something pretty standard in American households—although rare throughout most of the rest of the world—is missing. Hubbard doesn’t own a clothes dryer. Hubbard, who estimates that she does four loads of laundry a week for her toddler, her husband and herself, takes every load of laundry—rain or shine—and hangs it up to dry.

“It’s just so hot here—you don’t even really need one,” explained Hubbard on a recent weekend, when Chico temperatures hovered around 100 degrees.

Ten months of the year, she hangs her wet laundry on a clothesline in her back yard. “It’s so dry, it’s done within an hour,” for even the thickest towels, and in less time for clothing, she said. And yet, even when, most of the months of the year, the weather outside dries the laundry faster than the dryer itself—and for free—few people take Hubbard’s lead to ditch the dryer entirely.

“Especially when we had a baby, everyone was like, ‘You’re going to have to have a dryer.’ I don’t know why—her clothes dry faster than anybody’s, because they’re so little!” she said, speaking of her toddler.

Hubbard discovered that dryers were a luxury and not a necessity back in 2000, when living with her then husband-to-be in Turkey, where dryers simply don’t exist. She quickly acclimated to life without one. On rainy days, Hubbard hung her laundry indoors directly onto hangers to dry. Her “hanger technique” was borrowed from her mother-in-law, and she still uses this technique as her standard method on rainy days in Chico.

When Hubbard left Turkey and returned to Chico a year and a half later, she went back to using the dryer, and lived without a clothesline until she moved to a small house in 2005, where there wasn’t space for a dryer.

“I just decided to only have the washer, and there was a perfect spot for a clothesline [outside]” and, even after a move to her current house, with ample space for a dryer, she decided to keep hanging her laundry to dry instead. “It’s definitely part of my job, as it’s something that I do in the household,” Hubbard explained, but “I do it by choice and I enjoy it.”

Often cited as the second-largest energy consumer in a household, second only to fridges (go to www.tinyurl.com/dryerwhack for more information), dryers are still a luxury in most countries. Even across Europe, a land of high electricity prices and small living spaces with standards of living comparable to those in the United States, dryers continue to be rare. Project Laundry List, a New Hampshire-based nonprofit focusing on getting folks to hang their laundry, says that less than 4 percent of households in Italy—a nation with a similar Mediterranean climate to our own—have dryers.

Project Laundry List provides loads of laundry-related information, including a clothing-care calculator, that estimates how much energy and money one spends per load, based on energy costs, type of machine used, source of energy, and more. The average dryer’s carbon footprint—how much carbon is released into the atmosphere per load of laundry dried—has been calculated by UK mega-retailer Tesco as 4.4 pounds per load.

Hanging laundry has thus become an environmental and political statement. An estimated 60 million Americans live in community associations like a homeowners’ association (HOA) or retirement community. Most, says Project Laundry List, “restrict or ban the use of clotheslines.” California Park Association, a local HOA representing the California Park neighborhood in east Chico, falls into this category, as it requires clotheslines to be “enclosed or fenced” so they will be “concealed from view from any neighboring lot or street and common area,” as stated in California Park’s Architectural and Landscape guidelines.

Such a requirement—to essentially restrict laundry lines to the back yard for cosmetic reasons—has resulted in lawsuits, petitions and infighting neighbors across the United States. Similar battles are being fought by environmentalists for the right to have solar panels and to convert front-yard lawns into productive vegetable gardens.

The laundry-hanging controversy was covered in a documentary titled Drying for Freedom. The UK film, released in 2010, connects the issue of clotheslines to the larger issue of “environmental freedom,” which is at the crossroads of “energy waste, consumer exploitation, restrictions in basic human freedoms and the impact this has on our planet,” as the movie’s website puts it.

For Hubbard, who simply enjoys the act of hanging laundry, lessening the household’s environmental impact “wasn’t the reason I did it, but I think if there’s anything I can do to make a little less impact, energy-wise, I think it’s great. … It’s one little thing in my household that I can do.”

But dryerless living has actually trickled into other parts of the Hubbards’ lives, like into their relationship with their stuff. They’ve chosen to have less. “We don’t have tons of clothes. It’s really easy to do a load, and have all my clothes washed,” said Hubbard. “When you do take one of those convenience items [like a clothes dryer] out, you are more conscious of how much you have.”

Part of the reason Hubbard loves laundry-hanging time is to enjoy the sunshine. Hubbard also finds that she pays better attention to the seasons and weather, as she has a reason to be more connected to the outside world. “I’ve learned the weather patterns,” she said. “It’s like, OK, it’s raining today, probably don’t do laundry. But I can do laundry tomorrow—it’ll be sunny and warm.”

Hubbard finds that between her job and her young family, her time hanging the laundry is one of the rare occasions in her week when she can slow down. “I’ll be hanging my clothes, the sun will be out, and I have a moment of serenity and gratitude,” she offered. “A moment of contentment. There’s not a lot of space for that.”