Published on
The Kingston Whig-Standard (Canada)

Hung Out to Dry: Where Are the Clotheslines?

Jane Etherington

In recent months, the provincial government has come to the realization that hanging one's laundry "al fresco" is good for the environment. Clothesline bans have finally been lifted. So where are all the wet socks?

Clothesline bans were a product of contracts between municipalities and home-builders as they attempted to please the ever-fastidious neobourgeoisie who would rather run up exorbitant electricity bills and drown polar bears than hang their unmentionables in public.

Clotheslines are, after all, esthetically incorrect, aren't they? They're unpleasant-looking - with or without clothes on them. They're a reminder of the days of yore when our grandmothers wore curlers to the grocery store and hydro lines were above ground.

Clotheslines are a symbol of the working class and households without clothes dryers. There are a staple of rural settings, where no one seems to mind the sight of knickers waving like flags in the wind. But many believe clotheslines don't belong in upper-middle-class neighbourhoods with no trees. They're a thing of the past. They aren't modern. They aren't chic.

What is chic, it seems, is living beyond one's means, living on credit, having it all, taking it all and disregarding the environment.

Since the lifting of clothesline bans, I have not seen an influx of clotheslines in single-family residential areas. Why? Because we still have the mind-set that we are above clotheslines. When you spend a lot of money on a house in the "right" neighbourhood, the last thing you want is someone's flannel bedsheets blocking your view. After all, isn't this why the builder cut down all those trees in the first place?

Even in older, more established neighbourhoods that have clotheslines, they aren't used a lot, much to environmentalist David Suzuki's chagrin. Mother Nature's free source of wind and solar power is unused and unappreciated.

Perhaps drying clothes on a clothesline is too labour-intensive for some. First you have to purchase and put up a line, and then you actually have to go outside and peg your wet items to it (it will maybe 10 minutes of your time). And you can't use your favourite expensive fragranced dryer sheets (liquid fabric softener instead?). Oh, and if it rains ...well, forget it.

The tradeoff for accepting the inconvenience of clotheslines is fewer greenhouse gas emissions, a lower electricity bill, clothing that smells like fresh air and loofah-like towels (my personal favourite).

But if you want to use a clothesline, what do you do in the dead of winter? I have childhood memories of cardboard-like clothing coming off the line on crisp January afternoons. Yes, the sun still shines in January. And there's enough warmth in that sun to effectively dry your towels. And even if you only use your clothesline during the summer months, isn't that half the battle? A little bit is better than nothing.

Perhaps embarrassment is the issue. No one wants the neighbours to see their linens or undergarments. For intimate clothing items, there is such a thing as an indoor line, or a portable unit that sits on a patio or deck.

The anti-clothesline phenomenon must be a North American thing. Certainly in Europe and many other places, clotheslines are central features of homes and vibrant parts of the landscape. They are so prevalent in many places that they are the norm. Some homes I have visited in Austria and Germany have clothesline rooms, with doors leading out to balconies for convenience. Eco-friendliness is not new, but rather traditional. And North Americans seem to have lost an affinity for all things traditional.

I don't find clotheslines offensive. What could be offensive about clean laundry? And clotheslines don't make a political statement about one's social or financial status. What they do reveal is a household that cares enough about the environment to have a positive impact on it.

Jane Etherington is a member of the Whig-Standard's Community Editorial Board.

© 2008 Osprey Media

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