"A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.”

Henry D. Thoreau



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Your Clothes Want To Be Dry

By Wade Wiebe

Your clothes want to be dry. You can wet them all you want but as soon as you spread them out, they’ll return to their natural state of humidity – the same as all the other items around them. It seems silly then, to waste the highest form of energy (electricity) by degrading it into the lowest (heat) just to accomplish the same task just so you can avoid going outside. It’s even sillier to use the electric clothes drier in the summer with the air conditioner working to take that heat away again, or venting that heat outside in winter. So rather than designing some grand elaborate technology of heat recapture for our house, we decided to follow Leonardo da Vinci’s aphorism: Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. We installed a clothesline. And like so many simple technologies refined over the centuries, the details of its proper use weren’t as obvious as they first seemed. Here are some things we learned.

When attaching a clothesline to a tree, you can avoid broken or excessively slack lines by attaching a pulley to the tree, and run a rope through it, tied to a rock or other counterweight – about 20kg (50lbs). With one end of your clothesline assembly* attached to the house (*two pulleys and a loop of line), you can now fix the other end to the counter-weighted line, suspending the rock in the air. Designed in this way, when the tree moves or the line is loaded, the rock will rise or fall, but will always return the line to taut.

Plastic-coated clothes lines inevitably crack, rusting the cable within and staining your clothes. Bare aluminum line is too narrow and slippery to get a good pinning. 3mm (1/8”) cotton line is cheap and works great. The stuff I bought from E.G. Penner has a nylon/polyester core, and I’ve only changed it once in 5 years.

An inaccessible clothesline is a waste of time. You will never use it. Although an exposed clothsline is standard, the ideal location for a clothesline is under a covered porch. The porch is accessible and gives rain protection. A clothesline doesn’t need to be in the full sun either. Dry air is what actually dries your clothes for the most part. The sun disinfects and gives a fresh scent, but its intense heat can fade and weather your clothes too, just like a dryer does. Always dry your clothes inside out.

Since line dried clothes aren’t tumbled with a fan, there’s no lint trap for those times when you wash your black pants with a receipt still in the pocket. Invest in a nice horsehair brush to sweep your clothes from time to time. Actually, brushing your clothes is a great way to remove minor scuffs or dust-marks. By brushing, you don’t need to wash them as frequently.

Traditional wooden clothespins with a metal spring work great. If you have a stationary line, leave unused pins on the line where you’re going to use them anyway, rather than storing them elsewhere. Just make sure to clip them so that they can slide back and forth on the line freely, so you don’t have to unclip-reclip when you want to move them. This is an important point.

Sometimes in wet or cold weather, the clothes needs to come inside to finish off, which is why we have a portable wood rack. Really, the wood rack is the perfect complement to a clothesline. We use it often, especially for ‘smalls’ and cloth diapers. It’s also the best option for apartments and homes that have no place for a clothesline. This portable rack holds more than you’d ever expect.

We also line dry in winter. What I love about winter drying is the incredible fresh scent that the clothes take on. It’s worth trying for fun just to smell the difference between summer and winter clothes – and to stand your frozen pants on their own to amuse the kids!

Like all matters of simplicity and self-reliance, line drying clothes requires that you plan ahead and think about what you’re doing. Some may count this as a disadvantage, but I do not. I find there’s a lot of pleasure in taking those quiet minutes to hang clothes on the line. Often it’s the reason I’m outside at nine o’clock on a winter evening. But the bonus is that I see the starry night sky – but for the clothes line, I would have missed it.

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