Family camping hits and misses: DIY Laundry


My oldest daughter demonstrating the art of washing your own clothes while wearing two camping un-dryables: the hooded sweatshirt and jeans.

When my husband and I planned our summer holidays we decided to make them more than just fun and include a bit of life skills. Since we have 5 daughters — including, to be honest, an infant who still wears whatever the heck I say — frugality in their change of clothes was a survival skill that was sorely lacking. And by survival, I mean mostly my own as the Chief Laundry Matron.

To teach the girls frugality in their change of clothes, we decided to skip the laundromat altogether and make the children wash their own clothes. We purchased a large yellow janitor’s bucket-on-wheel with a mop wringer. We hoped to use it as a laundry-washer-and-wringer. We also went shopping for a proper hand-washing laundry detergent. My first lesson in DIY laundry was to learn that not all gentle detergents are created equal. In other words, there is gentle machine detergent and there is hand-washing detergent. For longer-term use, you cannot get away with repeatedly (read daily) washing clothes by hand in machine detergent. I learned this at the last minute and left with a jug of grocery-store bought Ivory Snow. It did the job but in the future I will shop for something meant to be dumped back into the ground.

The laundry routine got off to a bad start when we realized that the yellow janitor bucket would not fit in the camping trailer. Well, not with our current rate of packing. Fitting 10 in a trailer meant for 7 doesn’t only mean that you will be cozy — read “cramped”– it also means that you are storing more stuff than the trailer was meant to store. Leaving the wringer at home meant hand-wringing and putting-up very wet clothes to dry.

The drying time was a problematic issue. When camping in PEI, where the weather was dry and windy, our clothes took half a day to dry. But in Quebec where the weather was hot, humid and the campsites shaded, drying took at least two days. I say “at least” because we left Quebec City with a basket full of wet clothes that finished drying in the St-Lawrence River wind in Riviere-du-Loup.

The drying issues didn’t stop with the weather. Another challenge came, what’s new, from the size of our family. Even with washing small loads daily, I didn’t have enough clothesline to hang 10-people’s clothes. I relied on a folding drying rack but stacking clothes side-by-side also lengthens drying time. Add the daily load of beach towels and bathing suits and the drying real estate comes at a premium. Last winter as we were planning our trip, I made a list of camping clothes I wanted to find for the children. It included a lot of active wear from MEC in synthetic fibers and nylon blends for quicker drying. I was hoping to find most of it in consignment stores but didn’t follow-through with as much enthusiasm as clothing 8 kids on a budget warrants. We left with our usual canvas and t-shirts. And those take a long time to dry, especially when they sport fancy add-on such as cargo pockets and shelf bras. To top it off, some children — who shall remain anonymous — tossed the carefully crafted list of “Things to Bring” and packed their own duffel bags with enough clothes to bypass the entire laundry exercise. Not only didn’t they learn anything about laundry frugality but we tripped on their humongous kit bags for two weeks, shedding bits and pieces of sanity with every hit.

Laundry logistics was also a concern in the planning of our daily activities. To be kept under control, the laundry monster had to be fought a little daily. But planning daily laundry without interfering with the hot water needs of mealtimes and personal hygiene made it difficult to leave the trailer. I had to face the fact that regardless of the value of the learning experience, 6 people doing a handful of laundry daily was seriously inefficient. In the interest of having a family holiday, I ended-up doing most of everybody’s laundry. Overall, I washed half of our total laundry burden by hand and took advantage of laundromats for the other half.

I’m not giving-up on DIY laundry and the teaching of clothes frugality. Next time, we will bring the wringer bucket even if I have to toss a few overstocked items (like the playpen and my guitar: really, we c0-sleep… in a 26X8 ft camper trailer… why did I think that (a) I would use the playpen, and (b) I would play a musical instrument after bedtime. Why?). I will also carefully oversee my children’s packing to make sure that they don’t bring their entire wardrobe and that their clothes are easy to wash and dry. And I will buy a washboard. That will be the best part.

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One thought on “Family camping hits and misses: DIY Laundry

  1. Tu te donnes bien du mal à leur apprendre quelque chose qu’ils apprendront par expérience eux-même ! Après 40 ans de va-et-vient entre la France et le Canada, cette année est la première année où j’ai utilisé TOUS les vêtements que j’avais emportés. Enfin, j’ai mis en pratique ce que je me dis chaque année : moins est préférable à trop et en voyage, on a tendance à mettre toujours les mêmes choses. Résultat ? Une valise beaucoup moins chargée.

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