Truth in the Clothespin Massacres

It’s a death trap. We didn’t expect this when we moved into our apartment on the third level of a mid (20th)-century tower just outside of the wall in Lucca.  But we have now struggled through four months of plastic clothes pins falling to their death from ill-fated efforts to air our laundry. Not a single one has survived, and our replacement costs are mounting.

I’ve had plenty of experience with using the Tuscan dryer; my husband and I have been traveling back and forth between US and Luccaland for some time. We embraced life without a clothes dryer and incorporated it into our wash day routines in Minnesota long before making the permanent move to Lucca. We had our European front-loader, the retractable clothesline for when it wasn’t a zillion degrees below zero outside with lines strung above the furnace for the rest of the year. Easy-peasy; it would be no problem checking off a “clothes drying” requirement should it show up on the integration agreement to be presented to the Prefecture.

Not true.

More to Learn about Airing Clean Laundry 

One of the first words of advice from friends when we settled into a home in the hills outside of Lucca years ago was to absolutely avoid the costly use of an appliance such as a dryer. Avoiding it was a savings of about 300 to 500 Euro per year in energy costs a (certainly more today given the recent price increases). No problem. We quickly adapted to hanging out our clothes and cluttering the house when there was not enough sun or it was too wet to do the job outside. Ninety-percent of Italy air-dries their clothes, so we were just getting with the program and doing what good newcomers do.

I even became obsessive about checking the weekly forecast on my weather app.  It was essential information to determine if I was going to have my favorite black shirt to wear at a forthcoming weekend dinner party, or if the sheets could be laundered before that crispy feeling of crusty grim settling into the cotton weave became a bedtime greeting. I felt the communal burst of energy when the weather app’s predictions and actual sunlight aligned and brought neighbors and their laundry out to the cortiles, gardens and balconies.

Yet, with all that experience in the countryside, the transition to urban balcony-drying presented another one of those new, pesky expat challenges. Oddly enough, a Facebook post from a Minnesota-friend who had just relocated herself into expat life in Portugal helped me see I had an issue. In one of her very first social media posts upon arriving in Portugal she confessed fear of dropping a precious piece of laundry from her balcony clothesline seven stories into the sky; a fear that seemed to come more from the prospect of a walk of shame to and from an elevator ride to reclaim her errant laundry than any real consequences for her clothes.

I was having a similar clothes-hanging problem. I was dropping plastic clothespins like flies from our balcony lines. It was a massacre: everyone cracked, most splintered to bits, all rendered lifeless and useless.

I Needed to Get Better at Doing Laundry

Faced with the tasks of overcoming the ramifications of clothes pin dropsies, supporting a friend through her first moments of expat transition, and accepting that immigrating to a new land and making it my new home means constantly searching to get it right, I got down to doing some research. First, I came to appreciate that I didn’t pay nearly enough attention to things like hanging clothes inside out to keep the colors from being washed out by the sun. This is important if money is to be saved beyond simply nicking away at the sky-rocketing utility cost associated with operating a gas or electric dryer. Saving a bit on clothes by cutting out the clothes dryer and its wear and tear on fabric is not be left out of the cost-benefit analysis! Besides, conserving energy and giving clothes longer life are cool, good green things to do.

 Also, I was stupidly missing the obvious; if you want to avoid awkward pinch marks in your clothes, they need to be hung upside down or with the pins clamping areas that are not going to be so revealed. And, thank goodness for the discovery of the little “chandelier hanger” for delicate items reduced the risk of fly-away socks and underwear while also maintaining a thread of modesty as a neighborly gesture.

My advice for my friend in Portugal; not so useful. I was losing clothespins right and left but managed to avoid dropping any clothing for months. But the day finally came when I added clothing drops to the list of laundry mishaps. A single sock and later, a tee-shirt found their way to the ground and then, magically, back to the apartment door handle without any intervention on my behalf. Apparently they somehow screamed stranieri and a kind neighbor knew exactly where they belonged.  I guess if my friend in Portugal does not add any European-brand clothing to her wardrobe, this is solution that will work for her, as well.

As for reducing my clothespin death toll, all the research advised going wooden. I get it; the wooden pins don’t crack and instantly bust apart upon impact like the plastic one’s.  Still, they do not offer the hoped-for, failsafe solution.  Their demise is slow, but just as certain: they rot. The sun and rain destroy them. What’s worse, rather than losing one here or there over time, they deteriorate en masse!  One day you’re hanging clothes and there you have it: a box of splintered mush.

Another Lesson Learned

Packing up and moving your life to another place is about trade-offs and adaptations. In our case, we let go of the clothes dryer and embraced the routines, cost-savings, and smug little feeling of doing better for the environment by using our Tuscan dryer for laundering. It’s good, but not perfect. The definition of a trade-off is that just as something new is gained a little bit of what you once had is lost. There are many things I love about living in Lucca. But, there are also moments when I feel the loss of some of the things I relied on or were fond of in my life before taking on the expat journey. I hate losing those clothespins. But, at some point I’m pretty sure that witnessing a clothespin splinter after a crash landing from my balcony will simply feel like a normal part of the new, everyday routine of my expat life.

Just another reflection on the minutia that fill the days and lives of an expat in Lucca.

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2 thoughts on “Truth in the Clothespin Massacres

  1. Loved your observations about this very real challenge! Enjoyable reading from clothes dryer land!

  2. A fun read!! Being, I recall how surprised I was to find that everyone – everyone – in the US has a dryer. Something I’ve noticed (also living in the hills nearby) is how few people use washing lines, instead choosing to crush washing onto a small standing clothes dryer. I wouldn’t like to iron the results.

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