How Doing Laundry Helped Me Survive 2020

The calming cycle of wash, dry, fold, and sort has always been a sort of Zen thing for me. In these anxious times, I’m soothed by warm clothes coming out of the dryer in a clean, comforting jumble, ready to be smoothed into neat piles. As a news junkie, I found that putting on NPR or CNN to update myself on the day’s news while doing a repetitious, calming activity like matching socks turned out to be the perfect combination of stimulation for the brain and sedation for the body. It’s helped me get through 2020 with shards of my sanity intact.

Working with the union of mind and body used to be my profession — I taught adaptive Yoga and Nia classes, mostly to the 50+ crowd. When the pandemic hit, well, that was over. Fortunately, a few months earlier I had started working as a Loopie washer after seeing an ad on Facebook. Loopie is a new Seattle startup serving as the Uber of laundry (to oversimplify somewhat). Folks who hate doing laundry (or are too busy) are served by others who enjoy it — or have some time on their hands and a need for extra income. I left a note in the Facebook post’s comments saying something dorky like “I love doing laundry!” and was invited to apply to be a washer.

Like Uber drivers, Loopie washers are part of the gig economy. We get paid by the load, and we take the work we want on the days we want it. Unlike a driver or Instacart shopper, we don’t get feedback ratings, surge prices or tips -– and we don’t leave our homes. Being a person who is very careful to minimize my exposure to the novel coronavirus, I was glad to have a way to earn money but still stay home, and help flatten the curve.

To start, Loopie asked for a photo of my washer and dryer — to make sure it was modern enough, I guess — and gave me a link to training videos that showed the proper technique for folding, sorting, rubber banding (that’s what keeps items neat in transit) and packing. After one paid “audition” load to show I had the “right stuff” to be a Certified Loopie Washer, I got a supply of detergent pods, dryer sheets, rubber bands and (yup, even before Covid hit) latex gloves and disinfecting wipes. Safety first! I’m a fan. It was also helpful to know that washers could refuse any order that we didn’t feel comfortable doing.

The engine starts when a customer uses the Loopie app to place an order. They specify how many loads, and their preference for any specific wash temperature or detergent. The operations team then sorts the orders out to drivers, who find a washer who is ready and willing to take the order. Considering it’s a startup, things have worked pretty consistently this year, but as they grow into Portland and other markets, procedures can always change.

Loopie drivers are the friendly folks who move the spiffy blue laundry bags from customer to washer and back. When an order comes in, the driver du jour will text me with a message like “Can you take 2 bags for Marie, wash cold with lavender detergent, due tomorrow between 2–4?” I’ll generally say, “sure thing” and the bags will appear at my door within 15 minutes. If I’m busy, traveling, or ill, I’m always free to say no. If it’s a customer I don’t enjoy (more on that later), I’m free to turn those down too.

Being quarantined from the fitness studio gave me more time to follow my passion — volunteering for political candidates in the 2020 election — and my Loopie loads got me off the sofa (text banking is pretty sedentary work), and brought me more income than I made teaching movement classes. After a slow start, I now make around $200 a week. And I never had to leave the house or interact with the public, things that felt especially fraught as Covid cases in Seattle continued to climb.

As people like my husband and our neighbors started working from home at the start of quarantine, I was sure that I would get fewer loads to wash. After all, I figured, if you’re at home all day, it’s easy to throw a load in during a break between meetings. Not to mention that most of us were living in sweatpants and PJs, at least from the waist down. What happened was quite the opposite. I had more loads to do!

There are any number of explanations. For one thing, moms — amirite? — were at their wits’ end trying to stay employed while their young ones were underfoot All. The. Time. In addition, folks who never had their groceries or restaurant meals delivered found that the safety and convenience of food delivery could be replicated in other ways.

I’m given 24 hours to complete most loads — though there are occasional same-day orders that pay $20 instead of $12 per bag (I’m told the Loopie team is always considering on other income opportunities for its washers). The time each load spends in the washer and dryer are fairly predictable, but the time it takes to fold an order varies widely. I love an order of towels, because they are uniform sizes, and take minutes to fold and pack.

Children’s clothing takes the longest, because, well — the items are smaller! I generally don’t mind them, because my own little ones are in their 20s now, and it takes me back to when they wore those adorable onesies and overalls. I like going the extra mile to bind up the toddler’s and pre-schooler’s clothes in separate piles, because anything I can do to help an exhausted young mama gives me a good feeling. But the kiddos who are school age and leave every single item inside out? Sigh. That load can take an hour to turn each arm, leg and sock out properly before folding. They will go on my DNW (do not wash) list, and my driver knows to send them elsewhere. Another DNW is the Egregious Overstuffer. The person who crams every possible item into the bag, sometimes rolling it up like it was going in a suitcase! The overstuffer’s clothes will get washed, but they won’t get clean because items in the washer need room to move. I will usually have to dry them in two loads, and sometimes I can’t fit them back in the bag after washing.

Sometimes a detergent pod (Loopie uses Dropps pods, which come in several scents, or unscented for sensitive types) will get stuck to an item of clothing and it will need to be re-washed. That’s a drag. More often, though, I will find myself chuckling at the funny sayings on my client’s T-shirts, or I’ll fold a cotton sweater that is so soft and yummy that I will look at the label and order one for myself on Amazon or Ebay.

Many of us were shocked in October, when the Labor Department reported that in the month of September, 865,000 women over the age of 20 dropped out of the American workforce compared with 216,000 men in the same age group. The overwhelming reality of trying to keep a job and manage online school — and household chores — hit women pretty hard. I wonder if a few of them would enjoy a home-based business as a Loopie Washer that has nothing to do with multi-level marketing (which I tried in my younger days). Or if some of them could manage work/homeschooling more easily if they downloaded the Loopie app and experienced laundry being taken off their hands.

The laundry rolls around in the dryer, and the weekly payments roll in on my Paypal account. I’m safe and warm and listening to All Things Considered while folding sweatpants and securing a pile of briefs with a rubber band. Not a bad gig, as the gig economy goes.

Midwestern. Middle aged. Left of center. Usually right.