Trying Detergent-Free Laundry

I am trying different ways to reduce the damage I do to the earth. Little things…no ambitious projects yet. So, when I saw a thing called a washing ball that was advertised as cleaning clothes with no detergent, I was intrigued. I am afraid that I did little up-front research, I just read all the glowing recommendations on the web. I calculated the savings of not using detergent for 1000 washes, the suggested life of the washing balls, and decided it was worth a shot. I decided to order them and figure out the chemistry after-the-fact.


A few days later, they arrived. I put both of them in the wash with a load of lights and set the washer for warm wash and cold rinse. When they came out of the dryer, they smelled like nothing. They literally had no smell what-so-ever. I was pleasantly surprised. I have overly-sensitive sinuses and “fragrance free” and “unscented” are adjectives on many of my personal care and cleaning products. Finding something that had no smell, no chemicals added to mask or “remove” smells, that appealed to me.

At first, my daughter declared that she would not wear anything washed without detergent because it was yucky. I informed her that she was free to do her own laundry. Somehow she survived the detergent-free clothing and towels.

I decided that I may as well get wool dryer balls to complement my washing balls. These are six tennis-ball sized balls of compressed wool from New Zealand. I tossed them in the dryer and started washing and drying my clothing with nothing but water and lots of agitation. My clothing came out of the dryer very soft, but with some static electricity, especially if the load was mostly towels and fleece.

Things hummed along nicely for weeks. My clothing was clean and soft. But one day, I put on a shirt and it had a smell. It wasn’t a bad smell in the usual sense. It wasn’t sour or musty, but it had a smell. All day long, I could smell this smell that wasn’t dirty, but wasn’t clean. I was suddenly inspired to look at the supposed chemistry behind the washing balls.

It turns out, there is little to support the use of washing balls. They may help due to adding some agitation to the wash. Some studies show no difference between using washing balls and using detergent. So, why use detergent? My experience and opinion is that water alone is not enough. I normally use about half the recommended amount of detergent and have never had any problems with that. Perhaps I can get by with even less.

So, why did my clothes get so clean and smell-free for so long? I suspect that this is due to residual detergent that wasn’t completely washed-out of clothes in a normal washing cycle. But as more and more of our clothes were washed multiple times, the residual detergent was eventually rinsed away.

A lesson-learned for me. I got so excited about a way to help the environment and help my budget, that I leaped before I looked. I didn’t check out the science, which was non-existent, before I decided to try something new. That’s ok. I did learn something from the experience and now I am going to try a more eco-friendly detergent and try using even less detergent for each wash.

Find the Joy in the Journey and don’t be afraid to try something new!





Adventures in Spain: My Search for Mi Amiga

This is my third attempt at writing this post. The first one was just so-so. I set it aside. I started afresh and kept returning to the piece until I finally felt that it was exactly what I wanted to say. Then, as I searched for the perfect photo for the perfect piece, the final draft of my post vanished. This has happened to me before, but usually I can dig around in cyber-space and find my work eventually. I’ve looked and looked to no avail, and ultimately waited six weeks to admit defeat. Time to snatch victory from the arms of defeat. I will start once more…

Many years ago, twenty-three-and-a-half to be exact, I was the new home-owner of a 100 year-old,Queen Anne Victorian house. I was also pregnant, although I didn’t know it yet. Once I learned of my joyous condition, my biggest concern was what to do about childcare. Immediately, I thought of having an au pair. I had the room in my big-old house…although the house needed a lot of work…I called it The Money Pit after the old Carey Grant movie, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. With a downstairs bedroom adjacent to a full bath, it was the ideal house to have a live-in babysitter. I didn’t want, nor could I afford, a live-in nanny at $15-$20 an hour. What I wanted was a young woman on a cultural exchange program who would share my home and family life for room, board, tuition money, and a modest salary in exchange for minding my children and sharing her culture with my family.

We had our good, bad, and decidedly ugly moments, but in the 16 year span that followed, I never regretted my decision to welcome au pairs into my home. Three, in particular, became close friends to me. This was an added benefit, as friendship was never the real goal. But, these three…I treasure them like dear sisters. Two, I’ve kept in close contact with over the years…and attended their weddings. I hope to be known to their children as their US Auntie someday…But one, one I lost. As much as I tried to reach her, my messages were lost in cyber-space.

She was Spanish, from Pamplona. At one point, I found her on Facebook, but she didn’t accept my friend request. Sometimes she’d send me Yahoo greeting cards and I would reply to the attached e-mail address with a note. She never responded. Eventually, I decided that she’d lost all of her English. That wasn’t far from the truth.

The first moment I met her, she stepped off the plane from New York, fresh from her au pair training, and fell into my arms. That just may have been the moment in my life when I went from being a non-hugger to being a hugger. She was so relieved to have arrived, after several days of dis-orientation, into the arms of her new “mother”. I was pregnant, just a month…something I needed to tell her, although in the end, she was on her way home before I finished my maternity leave.

Somewhere along the way, she learned enough English to converse…I on the other hand, didn’t learn much in the way of Spanish. When she returned to Pamplona, she didn’t practice her English for 14 years. She had a job where being on Facebook was a liability, so, she put up a profile, then took it down again. Years went by. Sometimes my son, who became fluent in Spanish in high school, was able to converse with her briefly, but for the most part, she was lost to me.

When my older daughter decided to spend a semester at her university’s campus in Madrid, I encouraged her to reach out to our former au pairs in Europe, and several of their au pair friends whom we’d met. She had no luck with our friend in Pamplona, who watched her from the age of 3 and a half to 4 and a half…until the very day that I flew over to spend a week with her. She was seven months pregnant and over joyed to see us.

I arrived in Spain and met my daughter. We took the Metro and she showed me the home she shared with a host mother and roommates…not so dissimilar to our au pair experiences. We walked to her school and she shared her art projects with me. Then we went to the train station and bought tickets to Pamplona. We couldn’t get seats on the train we wanted, so we had tapas before catching the train. I worried that we were keeping our hostess out too late…but, ah! Spain!

I napped briefly on the train…the only sleep I’d had in two days. As we pulled in to the station, I looked expectantly out the train windows for mi amiga. I didn’t see her. We disembarked onto the platform with our bags and looked anxiously around. We proceeded into the station itself and looked around. There she was, time slipping away from me, I saw the same girl from 15 years ago. I ran into her arms and my daughter soon joined the embrace. Tears of joy blurred my vision.

So, try and try and try again. Whether it is getting that perfect draft or finally reaching a long-lost friend, never give up!

Find the Joy in the Journey! This Journey is just beginning!

The Procrastinating De-Clutterer

I have limited energy these days, but lots of time (this seems to be a common problem…you have one or the other, never both.). So, I am continuing my quest to cull my closet (oh, and my drawers, and the multiple laundry baskets in my bedroom and closet, and multiple Sterlite bins in my closet and in the attic, and other various and sundry locations where my clothes are hiding). It is a major task, and one that I’ve avoided like crazy over the years. Recently, however, I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. So, I am using the book as inspiration…but not, as it turns out, as a strict instruction manual.

So far, I’ve only gone through folded clothes…T-shirts, shorts, jeans, underwear, pajamas, sweaters, etc. I have so much more to go through; I have clothes dating back to my teens. I find that I cannot go strictly by Ms. Kondo’s directions. As it turns out, she’s been throwing out her things (and those of her family members) since she was a child. How much more could she have to discard? I, on the other-hand, have five decades of stuff…plus the left-behind stuff of my ex…another fifty years worth of stuff. Oh my goodness! When you look at it that way, I have over 100 years of stuff to sort not counting all the stuff my three children have accumulated.

So, rather than having three categories for my clothes (discard, donate, keep) I’ve made my own categories. I still have discard and donate, but as for “keep”, I’ve given myself the following:

  • Keep until I can sell it…This is something that I no longer want or need, but which is still in fashion, still in good shape, and is worth the effort to try to sell
  • Keep because I still love it and even though it is too small for me, it fit me just last year. Now that I’m getting back to my usual level of activity, I’m sure it will fit me again by next year.
  • Keep because I still love it and even though it is way too small for me, I have a reasonable weight-loss goal that will get me back into it within a year or two.
  • Keep because my daughter saw it in my discard pile and decided that she loved it.
  • Keep because it has sentimental value and according to the book, I should save sentimental items until the end of the process.

The way I look at it is that I have procrastinated way too long in de-cluttering my closet and I need to accept the inspiration the book gives me and reject the parts that put me off of the whole thing. Truly, the more stuff I can get rid of or compartmentalize into easily discarded lots, the better.

So, now I have a second garbage bag of discarded clothes (I must be pretty good at discarding-as-I-go) and an ever-growing pile of donations. I am quickly moving to the most dreaded part of this task…the hanging clothes. Before I had children, I had a penchant for buying high-end clothing…some of it is classics and some is just stuff I paid a lot for and hate to toss or donate. I will need to employ the “thank you for bringing me joy” method of disposing of such items as explained in the book. I’m sure it will bring me happy memories, so, onward I go!

Find the Joy in the Journey…Joy is rarely found in objects, so keep those that do bring you Joy and don’t feel bad for letting the rest go.

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Can Tidying-Up Change Your Life?

The Arms (Almost) Have It

These past few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity with Eight Grade Graduation and other end of middle school events, quarter close in an acceleratedly crazy work environment, and the dawn of multiple summer sports for my newly minted high-schooler.

I’ve not run enough. I’ve not been to the gym to do my strength training enough, I’ve missed lunch and then over-consumed at dinner too much. In other words, I’ve lost my equilibrium and my health goals have been tossed to the side for the time being.

Today, I had a couple of important meetings and had to dress accordingly. We’re a rather casual company. Given my status as a plateaued weight-loss woman, I am rather limited in my wardrobe…especially in these days of 90 degree weather when it’s still spring.

So, this morning I grabbed a top that I recently bought on a whim at TJ Maxx. Now, I’m not much of a shopper these days, but my daughters wanted to go there and I got fairly mesmerized by their discounted merchandise. The top I wore today is sleeveless, which is against the corporate dress code. I wasn’t too worried about it, but I did try a jacket or two and decided it was just too hot for a jacket and went without.

Now, the funny thing is that when I took a last glance in the mirror, I didn’t even think about my arms. It wasn’t until much later, after all the high-level meetings and hot assignments, that I finally had a second in front of the mirror in the ladies’ room to think about my arms. Huh…not bad. Not the taut, muscular arms of my dreams (think Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2), but, well, not bad!

So, not all is lost in my quest for health and strength to carry me through for the rest of my life…I may have had to take a step back temporarily, but I didn’t even realize the progress that I’d made in the months prior.

Find the Joy in the Journey…sometimes it just sneaks up on you!

Couch Potato to Runner: Tackling the Treadmill

It is now too dark to run before or after work, so my only outdoor runs lately are on Saturdays. I’ve had to learn to adapt to the colder weather, but that was easier than I thought. Managing snow and ice while running, on the other hand, is not on my agenda for now. This means that I will spend more and more time with my treadmill, which so far is not inspiring. I think I’ve come up with a reason to look forward to my treadmill, at least I’m going to do my best to make friends with the beast.Treadmill

It is a beast. I have it in my bedroom which is on the second floor of our house. This seemed like a great idea at the time, but given how big it is, it has become a permanent fixture with little chance that I can find a way to move it to the basement, where surely it belongs. It folds up, but still takes up lots of space and offers tempting places to hang stray jackets and hangers.

I’ve primarily used my treadmill for walking and when I started running on it found that it makes an awful racket. Being on the second floor, and not being exactly level, the pounding of my feet on the conveyor resonates and builds to a noisy crescendo heard and felt throughout the house. I certainly cannot run on it early in the morning nor late at night, so I’m left with the time after work and before making dinner.

I’ve gone at the treadmill as at an enemy. I carefully attach the emergency tether to my clothing so that if I fall, the beast will stop. I have a friend who slipped on her treadmill and had to live with bruises and scabbed knees for over a month. That’s not for me. I will keep my knees, and other body parts, safe from a moving conveyor at all costs. That is not to say that the tether is completely reassuring. I also grip onto the handles of the treadmill with such might that my arms are almost as sore as my legs by the end of the workout.

The other day, however, I found a reason to look forward to the treadmill…I can tell it how fast I want to run and by Jove…I run that fast. I can also tell it to take me up a perpetual hill, and it obliges. When I run outside, I just run at a steady pace without knowing how well I’m doing until I finish…but the treadmill can keep me on a faster pace.

I am not a fast runner, and have noted previously that I can walk faster than I can run. I hope to change that. When I got to the point where I could run a 5k, it was at close to 15 minutes per mile. Over time, I got that down to 14 minutes, but then I was stuck at that pace for a long time. My recent weight loss efforts are paying off in more ways than one because now I’ve achieved close to a 13 minute mile when running outside in cooler weather.

Back to the treadmill…on Monday I set the treadmill to keep me on a 13 minute per mile pace and found it relatively easy. So, on Wednesday, I set it at a 12 minute per mile pace. Everything went fine for the first two miles, although I was pretty tired out and wanting to quit. At 2 and a quarter mile, my hips started to ache. Oh, here I go, I thought. I will be really sore tomorrow! I kept on going and got to 2 and a half miles. My hips still hurt, but I was getting used to it. I couldn’t give up so close to the end, so I pushed on and finished the 3 miles. Surprisingly, I was not sore the next day except a little bit when I went for my walk.

I now have an idea for my treadmill that will keep me getting back on it through the winter. I plan to slowly increase my speed over the coming months so that when the spring arrives, I will be running at most a 10 minute mile. At that point, I can try the Bridge to 10k app and take my running to the next level.

Find the Joy in the Journey…even if that means figuring out how to turn something as boring as a treadmill into an inspiration!