Hang Me Up to Dry


I think it’s safe to say that, before I started traveling full time, I had never hung up laundry to dry.

This isn’t to say I never did my own laundry. On the contrary, for years I insisted on doing my own, feeling this was something I would need to know how to do long into the future, and that if I could master the skills involved with washing, drying, and ironing my garments, I would be at the top of my man-game, needing no one to help me on my way to wardrobe splendor.

But then I left the US, and found myself afloat in a sea of unfamiliar services and skill sets.

In Argentina, for example, I couldn’t find a washer and dryer to save my life; just a shop down the street that advertised itself as a fluff and fold. The service was scary cheap, and I actually had to have a friend come over and confirm that they would indeed wash and dry my clothing. I found this hard to believe, because the same service would have cost a full month’s wages in Los Angeles.

Most other countries, though, had washing machines, and I would happily load the metal box with shirts and pants and detergent and turn it on, only to realize, after turning the knob, that there didn’t seem to be a dryer nearby. I’d peak around corners and ask my landlord, and I would always get the same answer: “What’s a dryer?”

Growing up in the US, hanging clothing is considered old school. It’s something that poor people and hipsters do (just to be alternative), and though I’m sure there are still some people somewhere for whom laundry is still dried that way (out in the country, perhaps…I picture mountain people with no electricity washing their clothing in streams and then hanging it out to dry by the cows and chickens and toothless children), it’s simply not a common enough sight that I can remember ever seeing people hang up laundry as a child, teenager, or even as a poor college student.

No, in the States, we use machines. Big, loud, churny machines that pump in hot air and dry out clothing quickly.

And sure, sometimes that clothing shrinks in the process, but sacrifices must be made for progress to march onward, and sometimes that sacrifice comes in the form of a little black dress or American Apparel t-shirt, which goes from fitting ‘just right’ to ‘children’s clothing’ after a mere 20 minutes in the big metal beast.

But now I find myself on the other side of the world, sitting in the living room of my apartment in Kolkata, India, surrounded by furniture draped with bed sheets, pants, and underthings, the chairs and couches spaced out to allow for optimal ventilation, the doors open ‘just so,’ allowing big, fluffy towels to be hung from them without being smashed in the door frame.

Every once in a while I glance up from my computer screen, look around my apartment and smile at the ridiculousness of it all.

I’m sure I’m doing it wrong. I’m sure people who hang up their clothing at good at this, and have figured out a way to make it work without decorating their home like a haunted house, socks and pillow cases dangling from every available perch, instead of fake cobwebs and giant plastic spiders.

Walking around town, I can see that the locals hang their wash outside their windows and over their balconies, but I can’t bring myself to take that step just yet. I know, logically, that so long as I use enough clips and watch the weather, it’s unlikely that I’ll lose my bed spread to an errant breeze, but knowing how steep the learning curve on this kind of thing is for me, I still haven’t worked up the nerve to walk out onto the balcony of my 19th-story apartment and think, “Yeah, this would be a good place to put my freshly washed underwear.”

Baby steps.


  1. Oh dear – I am definitely a hanger-upper! It’s a 3rd world environment over here in England ;-)

  2. Bless you for turning something so ordinary in a story that makes me smile :) We hang clothes to dry all the time here – outside (weather providing) or inside the house. There’s racks for that which you buy at the local department store.

    Looking forward to your next tale on daily chores turned extraordinary :)

  3. I live in a big city in California and I always hang up my clothes to dry. I find a lot of Asians (like me) do that rather than using the dryer. It saves energy! :)

  4. You should take some hangers and hang them up in your shower ( if you have hangers and a shower). Or you can hire someone to wash your clothes. Someone will come to your house weekly to hand wash/ dry them. Though I don’t think you’d want to do that. You have options.

  5. Thanks Colin for making me smile on a rainy Saturday morning (not the best day to hang clothes…). Maybe I should create an online course that helps you take your cloth-hanging skills to the next level, with the added bonuses of an extra e-book, audio interviews and 30 day e-mail support!

  6. Go Colin, take those baby steps and save the environment!

    No laundry shop where you live in K.? I actually never did my own laundry in India.. (but then I didn’t live in an apartment that had a washing machine like you do!)

    Clothes racks anywhere? They do make life much easier as Esther pointed out.

    I think the US is the country with the most dryer usage. Most people in Europe, Asia etc hang their clothes up..

    Good luck!

  7. It’s so commonplace here in North America to use a dryer, but I met a german girl who has never used one in her life… and it makes sense.

    It’s wasteful, when you think about it – Assuming your energy comes from a thermal generating station (for example coal), you are using heat to generate electricity then transmitting it to your home only to turn it back into heat (except you only get ~35% of the original energy, due to losses.)

    The dryer at my old apartment didn’t really work very well, so I bought a cheap ikea drying rack and hung up everything in my room. Now that I live somewhere with a good dryer, I only use the dryer occasionally (it makes my towels nice)

    As priyas already mentioned, plastic hangers work well (metal ones might ruin your clothes)

  8. I’m from rural Texas and I would like to preface my statement with: my family and I are not backwoods folk. Most of us have all of our teeth.

    When times were rough, my mom would go “old school” and hang our clothes out on the line. A sun-dried pair of jeans feels great actually. Only problem we ever had was a stray ant or two, or bird poop.

  9. I didn’t know it was so ambiguous in the US. Hanging is still very common here in Oz, Dryers are lazy and wasteful. Not to mentions skyrocketing energy costs.

  10. Colin, I always love hearing the random channels of thought provoked by traveling. Kudos on turning laundry into a seven paragraph post!

    Note :Do you read any particular travel authors, whether blog or book? I’d be curious to know some of your favorites!

    Oddly enough, i have always been afraid of the little black dress shrinkage – it’s fat girl syndrome – I’ll endure any inconvenience to make sure my clothes all fit properly. Or maybe I just have bad laundry luck (true statement). I live in a tiny apartment and still hang dry at least half my clothes on the old radiators and dresser knobs.

    I’m at least part ghetto, I know.

    I remember adoring the quaintness of the breeze blown undergarments flying over the allies while living in Nice, France.

    Look forward to more Bryson-esque posts of life in India!

Comments are closed.