Grit Blogs > Transitional Traditions

Laundry on the Line

I don't suppose it's a stretch to say that hanging up clothes on a braided white cord strung between two large trees is a form of homesteading, but I wanted to include it in my posts because it's such an easy way for people to take that "first step" into a more sustainable lifestyle.

The simple act of allowing the sun and breeze dry the clothes is certainly more time consuming than tossing a heap of wet clothes from one appliance hole into another. However, the meditative and environmental bonuses should outweigh the convenience...most of the time.

Obviously if laundry day(s) lands on an overcast or raining period, throwing the wash into the dryer is almost the only option. Or winter...don't see a lot of socks on the line in January. But I have seen laundry out with snow on the ground, so it is possible to be that hard core. And I have friends who have drying racks built into the walls of their great rooms for rainy days or winter time. So it's definitely possible. Of all the appliances our modern lifestyle afford us, I would say that the dishwasher and the dryer are the most un-essential. A small adjustment and you can get by perfectly without them.

[I don't count a microwave as an appliance that any household should have to begin with, so that doesn't make my list at all.]

Now before you think I'm stepping up to some hand-made soap box, I will be the FIRST to admit that our gravitation to hang laundry on the line came partly from necessity, mostly that. When we first moved in to our house in April, the dryer plug did not fit the outlet and we had to wait about a week before the correct one could be installed. In our house, a week's worth of laundry might as well be a month! I had to get something washed and dried, so we bought some clothes line at the local Fleet Farm and looked for a place to set it up.

Despite two large side yards and a backyard to boot, there are scant few trees with which to string a line. The only option was two mature trees in the shared yard with our neighbors. Andy is a whiz with knots and came up with a hook and knot solution that tied the singular strand of cord to itself without pulling away under the stress of heavy, wet clothes. A single fat nail in each trunk keeps the line from scooting downwards as it wraps around the tree. And within minutes, we had our natural dryer all set in place.


I began the long process of "digging out" which took about two days of washing, drying and folding. After all, laundry is like the mail. There is always more the next day.

Then, just after our trip to North and South Dakota in July, our dryer gave out on us. It spun just fine, but the heating element was dead. So the clothes came out just as wet as they went in, albeit "fluffed." Given that I had purchased the dryer and washer before I met Andy from a college friend who had gotten them used before he began his own higher education, this put the manufacture date at least into the mid-1990's. 20 years is a good haul for a dryer in my opinion, and given the advent of Craigslist, we decided to line dry for the summer and save up for a dryer for the cold season.

We're still saving...and we just welcomed October. :-) Methinks it's gonna be a chilly end to the month and our basement will still be housing that old beast appliance.

We probably wash the equivalent of one full load per day, though I only get to it about every three days. Part of the reason our laundry content might be higher than the average family is because we use cloth diapers and cloth napkins...and we have kids. Who play outside.


When you hang your laundry out on the line, it takes a chunk of devoted time. About a half hour covers both ropes, but that is rarely enough to fit all our clothes. (perhaps if I did it everyday like I should, right?)

We can make it without a dryer, though as the cold mornings set in and I need longer and longer drying times to get the laundry in before dark, I'm longing for that ease of use which comes with an indoor, tumbling sun and breeze machine. When Baby #4 arrives, it will be a blessing to have one in place.

Therefore, I am not as hard core as some in this arena. I love the quiet, contemplative moments one can have while gently clasping a shirt to a cotton line. I love listening to the birds in the mornings and watching the kids play about me while I reach for another sock. Seeing the clothes swinging easily on the wind is also such a piece of Americana that even here in the city, I am taken back to the days on the farm.

However, as Andy can attest, I really want a dryer again! Just for the winter this time, I promise.


Rebekah Sell lives on a small plot of land with her husband, Andy, on which they are hoping to build a sustainable homestead. With a small business and four kids, life is always interesting as Becky and Andy live fully the idea that the journey is the reward. Find her on .

terrie lawson
6/18/2013 5:01:09 AM

In the suburbs of Sacramento, my husband and I live on a quarter acre. I hang dry most of our laundry and do love the few minutes of solitude. Especially in the morning when the birds are singing and the pond pump has started a little trickle(solar pump). Last year we added the outdoor window shades and started hanging our laundry spuratically. We decreased our energy bill by about a 7th. This year , all other things being equal, we simply hang dry more frequently, we are saving another 6th. This year that's about $10 per month from spring through late fall. Here, five of savings would fetch a nice, clean, working dryer off Craigslist.

nebraska dave
10/7/2012 2:05:04 PM

Becky and Andy, The correct term for clothes dryer is a "Solar clothes dryer". I'm afraid I'm hooked on the convince of having a clothes dryer. The weather elements are just too unpredictable here in Nebraska. Winter is a definite down time for drying clothes outside. Then there are the times of rain that prevent the hanging of clothes. Some areas in the city, not where I live, deny the hanging of clothes to dry. Many housing developments have too many rules for me. One area of town that I would never live requires the cars to always be in the garage and only two hours to retrieve the empty trash can on trash day. Too much regulation for me. I don't even drive through that part of town. Have a great solar dryer day.