Murphy’s Law of Laundry

In the spring of 2016, the spin cycle on my then 15-year-old washing machine stopped spinning. I’d lift the lid to pull out laundry and move it to the dryer and it would still be soaked. I’d turn the dial to spin, and it would complete its work. I called in a Sears repairman. This was years before hybrid work was available, so I had to take vacation time in addition to the $200 price tag of the repair. As he worked, the Sears rep told me the new energy efficient washers don’t work like the old ones, so I might as well keep this one running as long as I can.

I remembered his words a week or so later when the repair didn’t stick. Every few loads, the cycle would get stuck, and I’d have to turn the dial.  I should have called Sears back, but this was during my ‘exhausted new solo homeowner’ era, and I just didn’t have the bandwidth or want to use vacation time for more repairs. I decided I could live with the extra manual bit since after all, I wasn’t carrying my laundry to the river and washing it by hand. I kept the inconvenience in perspective.

Three years later as Andrea arrived as a long-term house guest, I explained the spin cycle hack. Just turn the dial and it will get up and go again. I told her at the time about my plan to coax this machine along. (She saw firsthand all the ways I was MacGyvering my way through life.) At the time we figured we’d be replacing the machine during her stay. Andrea moved away permanently two years ago. I’m still coaxing.

Then last summer, a church friend advertised that she had a nearly brand-new washing machine she needed to off load. For the low price of a donation to a beloved non-profit and me finding a way to pick it up, the machine could be mine. The lightbulb flickered, and I saw this as my frugal solution when the now 22-year-old machine finally called it quits.

A Girl Scout couple in our circle met me at the home of the washing machine with their pickup and loaded the machine into the bed of their truck. At my house, they unloaded it and put it in my garage. At the time, I was making my way through a massive load of free mulch and logs that had been delivered to my driveway. I repaid my friends’ kindness with a load of logs for their firepit.

Last week the dryer’s session ended, and I opened the door to switch out the laundry. The clothes were nowhere near dry. I closed the door and restarted the dryer. I thought maybe it was an extra heavy load and didn’t think too much about it. But then I noticed in subsequent loads, I was having to add extra dry time to get the clothes dry. Eight years ago, the realization that the machine that I don’t have a spare for is starting to fail might have brought me to tears. But not today. It makes me shake my head and shrug–even laugh. That’s life.

I am nine days away from my divorce being nine years old. I am reflecting a lot on who I was then and who I have become. The lessons have piled up, and I am so grateful for developing my ability to respond rather than to react. Life kept life-ing, and I kept learning and growing, and making the best of the situations as they presented themselves.

Post-divorce life has humbled me. In my middle-class upbringing, there was money for repairs. It might be tight, but I wouldn’t feel the squeeze. My mom was an excellent money manager, and there was a savings account that could cushion the blow to the budget. I had to grow comfortable with a less direct approach to solving the problems before me. While I, too, had a savings account, I quickly learned that if I used it at the rate that things were breaking in my home, that small balance would be quickly depleted with little hope of replenishing it in time for the next emergency. This is when I summoned my creativity and resourcefulness and discernment. It was around this time that I learned about the six-month interest free Firestone card that helped me finance my regular car repairs. This was a way I could minimize the damage and still take care of what needed addressing. The calculations and recalibrations were exhausting, but I figured it out. And gosh, did I have opportunities to practice!

In the midst of the chaos, I felt like a failure. But with the benefit of hindsight, I see successes sparkling all around. Our throw away culture admonishes us to do away with any little inconvenience. To not pause before launching into an expensive repair or to dare I say it, live without a microwave, until you have the cash to replace it or a friend offers you the one his parents were getting rid of. (Another real event.)

Eight years later, my willingness to turn the dial to restart the spin cycle has saved me hundreds of dollars and given me breathing room for the next repair that can’t wait. My experiences have developed deeper empathy for people whose financial circumstances are far more fraught than mine. For those who do not have a savings account, a credit card with reasonable interest rates, or a safety net of friends and family. I have little tolerance for the rhetoric about pulling oneself up by the bootstraps. It’s fine advice if one has boots to pull up, but about those who don’t have any?

While it’s easy to wish the way could have been easier the past nine years, the lessons I learned are priceless. I am so close to paying off the credit card debt that has been a constant companion in my post-divorce years. I value that through it all, I have managed to make use of my savings while also keeping it intact. When the credit card balance is finally zero, I can finally support causes that meet the needs of people who are doing the best they can but still have more month than money. This will feel so good!

The slow deaths of my washer and dryer remind me about the confidence I have in my ability to handle whatever gets thrown–or gently tossed–my way. A wet load of whites or darks is no match for me.

2 Comments

  1. Self-reliance is a blessing that comes from tough experiences. This is a piece of writing. Thank you for sharing!

  2. One of your best pieces, my friend! So impressed with the easy flow and metaphor.
    I love your resilience, faith in yourself and others, and giving heart. You’re pretty dang awesome! The world is a better place because of you – and I mean it! Thanks for the read!

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