Simplifying Laundry for a Large Family

By Rachel Jones from

Minimalism and large families are a perfect fit. Granted, if I tell people my bio… “I’m a mother of 6 and blog about minimalism…” I get plenty of snickers and “A minimalist with lots of kids? Isn’t that a bit of a contradiction??”

Well, no, it’s not.

Minimalism is about letting go of non-essentials so you have the time to devote to things you want in your life. In my case, I do want children in my life. (Most days anyway!)

The more children you have, the more simplified living makes sense. Every time a child joins the family, something has to give for me to stay sane and parent the children.

Laundry is one of those areas that people fear. When people think of how many children I have, they think “Ugh, I’d hate to do her laundry!”

But you know what, now that our family has embraced a minimal lifestyle, laundry is not a big deal. I think I do less laundry than a lot of my peers who have fewer children.

In fact, I timed myself and found that I spend a total of 30 minutes each week on laundry. That’s a whopping 4.5 minutes each day!

How do I manage? Well, let me tell you:

Wash/dry/fold/put away one load each day.

Generally I start the wash in the morning when I’m cleaning up the kitchen and washing dishes from breakfast. It’s part of my morning routine. I have the buzzer on the wash and just switch it to the dryer as soon as I hear it. I fold it most often when dinner is cooking.

Each person takes care of their own. Well, except the 3 year old, I help him. But I’ll sort the clean laundry and then have all the kids come and get theirs, fold it and put it away. Which means, I only fold the towels, little one’s laundry, Brian’s and mine.

Don’t sort.

If you love sorting clothes and the idea of washing everything together makes you cringe, then just ignore this advice.

The way I get away with this is, I don’t buy whites.

With this many kids, whites won’t stay white no matter what I do, so I have completely given whites up. I’m not going to kid myself and say I’ll get them when the kids are out of the house – if I’m wearing white I will splatter spaghetti sauce on it, so I’ve embraced living without white clothing.

Since I don’t sort, when something is dirty, it all gets tossed in the washer. We don’t have laundry hampers in bedrooms, instead, when clothes are dirty, they get taken to the washing machine.

I do have to remind the kids each day to put their dirty clothes in the washer. But I’ve always had to tell my kids to pick up their dirty clothes, so that’s nothing new.

Since everyone is always putting clothes and towels into the washer, it often fills up by the end of the day. The  next morning, I will start the wash and the cycle repeats: wash, dry, fold, put away.

Limit how many clothing items each person has.

I don’t regulate the older teens, but the ones I still buy clothes for, I do. Each child has enough clothes for 5 days, but enough socks & undies for a week.

This depends on your child’s habits, some kids can wear the same jeans for a week without getting dirty, and some have to change 3 times a day. In our family, we have a mix of both. My son’s pile of clothes to fold and put away are always 3 times more than my daughter’s.

As adults, Brian and I have limited our wardrobe as well. You can read my list of clothing items here.

Brian’s is even more streamlined then mine, with only the basics: 4 pairs of jeans, 5 dress shirts, 5 t-shirts, 1 belt, 3 pairs of shoes.

Have clothes that can be mixed and matched easily.

I’ve contemplated moving to more of a uniform, but I’m close to it right now and most of my clothes are jewel tones, so it doesn’t matter that they all get washed together.

Brian’s clothes are all dark tones, a lot of black, and what I buy for the kids are dark/bright. I stick with basics: jeans and shirts. Accessories are limited, we each only have one fleece/sweat shirt, one coat, etc. We don’t have lounge clothes.

Wear clothes more than once.

There is no need to wash jeans frequently. Most shirts can be worn 2 days before they need to be washed, and pajamas can be worn several days easily.

During the winter months, this is easier to do. With the summer heat, shirts need to be washed more often and I can’t get away from that. But as a general rule, the clothes either need to be soiled or worn 2 days before I put them in the wash.

What this looks like for me: I find it easiest to just wear the same outfit 2 days in a row. It doesn’t bother me, so it’s easy to keep track of how often a shirt has been worn and when it’s in need of a wash.

As with anything, when you get down to only the essentials, the time you spend taking care of it (moving it, washing it, folding it, finding space in the closet or drawers, etc) decreases. You may be doing a load of laundry every day and spend 4 minutes a day putting it away. But that also means that you will never have to spend an entire weekend catching up on a month worth of laundry.