The washing machine at my parents' house broke when I was in elementary school. The laundry room was a yellow, walk-in closet-sized room off of the kitchen that held the washer and dryer, a sink, and a counter my mother referred to as "the breakfast nook." I remember the room being clean once for I'm not sure how long -- I remember excitedly eating cereal at that breakfast nook when I was maybe seven years old, give or take -- but by the time the washing machine broke, the room was basically inaccessible. There was an approximately five foot high mountain of laundry from the back wall to within a foot of the doorway, where it sloped abruptly downward. The washer could only be reached by standing on some of the clothes, followed by strategic leaning. I recall a beautiful pink sundress I had never worn being relegated to that pile because it had wrinkled in the dryer. My mother didn't believe in ironing, and that was years before she bought Dante and me each our own iron and ironing board for Christmas (I was genuinely thrilled, and I think Dante was too -- she had previously thrown away or piled up anything that wrinkled, which severely limited our wardrobe options). I don't remember what made up the rest of the mound.
After the washing machine broke, my mother started doing the laundry at the laundromat. She said the house was too messy to let someone in to fix the washer yet. She had to get the laundry room cleared out. Years passed. As I got older, I started helping her. Once or twice a month she would load up all the household laundry into large garbage bags, I would haul them to the car where they took up the entirety of the trunk and backseat, and -- because I had either school or work pretty much any given weekday of the year -- we would spend Saturday at the laundromat.
She started yelling at me for putting my clothes in the hamper after
only wearing them once, as I had always been taught to do. She yelled
at me for only using towels once too, though there was nowhere to hang
them except over the shower, where they got extra wet the next time
someone used it. That's where we kept them though. We could only ever
tell which towels were our own because my mother always bought brightly
colored beach towels instead of normal bath towels, and none of them
looked identical. You just had to remember which one you'd used and
hope everyone else did the same.
I remember asking in my teens why we didn't just clear out the laundry room and get the washer fixed. My mother frequently complained about how little money we had, and I saw how much we spent in quarters every trip. My mother brought large Centrum vitamin bottles filled with quarters, and they each held multiple rolls. She insisted it would cost even more in water bills if we did the laundry at home. She said she would also be expected to do laundry every day if we had a working washing machine at home, and she refused to do that.
When I got to college, the laundry room in my dorm was made up of the little machines designed for home use. It was ironically my first experience using a classic washing machine with a lid and an agitator, like the one we'd had in my house all my life. I was used to the high-capacity, industrial-grade machines we used at the laundromat, and I needed help the first time I used the dorm's equipment. "You didn't do your own laundry at home? God, you're spoiled," a dormmate informed me. I didn't correct him. After all, I didn't do my own laundry at home. And at one of the most expensive private universities in the country, "spoiled" seemed like a significantly more flattering image than the one people would associate with me if they knew the details.
My mother finally replaced the washer and dryer in one of her spending sprees after I graduated from college. According to the paperwork from my parents' divorce, they cost $5000 when she bought them a decade ago. I don't know if anyone other than Dante has ever used them. I've had my own personal washer and dryer since my husband and I bought our house. Laundry is my favorite chore because it feels like I'm getting something done while a machine literally does the work for me, and I don't have to leave my house. I can sleep on fresh bedsheets every week and have my favorite clothes ready to wear with less than a day's notice. I've had to have someone come over to fix the machines and even replace
them at one point, and I have to say -- it is still easier than going to the
laundromat. Then again, I've never had to scale a Matterhorn of wrinkled laundry to use them either.