There are places we go that feel comfortable and totally familiar. Grocery stores. Our parent’s house. The gas station. Although I haven’t been to a laundromat since I was in college, I classified one in the same list as places I can go and know what to do.
Laundromats have changed in the years since my youth when all you needed was a roll of quarters and a bit of detergent.
These days, you might find a laundromat equipped with couches, wi-fi and pre-loaded card-operated machines.
If you’ve ever traveled to a foreign country, even where the same language is spoken, there are always subtle differences. Always things that seem familiar but are just not “quite right” to your senses.
the unexpected classroom
Laundromats, it turns out, are microcosms of this phenomenon. Learning to seek out the ones that work for me (coin-op with wi-fi preferably) has taught me a lot.
And I think about it like a magnifying glass to things I’m learning throughout this year of travel. Fitz Cahall featured a short (The Pee Tree) on his podcast The Dirtbag Diaries awhile back where the narrator talked about finding a way to communicate what he’d learned and experienced on a big expedition in a way that others could relate to.
It can be difficult to capture the essence of a big experience. Sometimes it’s in the small, ordinary moments where our lessons and experiences are most clearly seen.
We haven’t encountered anything epic on our trip so far. No life-threatening encounter with bears or running out of gas 50 miles from the nearest station. We haven’t been stranded by weather or broken down on the side of the road with no food. So far living out of a van for a year, while certainly different, has felt pretty ordinary in a lot of ways.
I’m not sure exactly what I’m learning just yet—I figure the lessons will start to crystallize once we settle and have some time to reflect and process.
But I was thinking about this whole laundromat experience and about how as much as it’s awfully ordinary, it’s provided me with insights into the larger scheme of life.
take your time
Our world can seem pretty rushed these days. Comments about how quickly the summer has gone or how fast the weekend went by are common utterances. We protect our to-do lists and search out ways to make everything work. To get everything done as quickly as possible so we can move on to the next thing.
I find that I’m just as likely to seek efficiency at the laundromat. I’ve been known to cram two loads of wash into one dryer in the hopes of saving a little money and getting it done even a few minutes faster.
What happens, though, as you might suspect is that with more things stuffed in the dryer, the longer it takes to dry.
And the more things we try to fit into a day, the longer it takes to do them.
honor the time you have
Speaking of time. Remember the mention above about the coin-op machines versus pre-loaded cards? There are laundromats out there that do not accept quarters. For real!
These are the more high-tech establishments that cater to regular customers. For those traveling through, it means you have to get a card. Which means you have to first assess that you do, in fact, need a card. Then you have to track down the one (usually busy) employee to secure one. Which means you pay for the privilege to have a card and then figure out how much you’re going to need for your wash and dry loads (a tricky business when the dryer is 25¢ every 10 minutes—more time can be spent tracking down the employee to reload the card for an extra 50¢ or $1).
Then you use the card in the machines (taking more time to read instructions on how, exactly, this works). After your loads are complete, you must then track down (again) the (still busy) employee to get the balance on your card returned.
Whew. That took a lot longer than you’d planned. I’ve begun to search out “coin-operated” laundromats to avoid this entire process, which has worked out pretty well.
Technology is all well and good, but if it’s taking (or is going to take) more time and energy than you’re willing to expend, seek out simpler options.
Honor your time and choose your activities and commitments with care.
assess the real problem (don’t just throw money at it)
When you’ve got a huge load in the dryer and it’s not drying, it’s tempting to simply load more quarters into the machine. More time = drier clothes right?
Throwing money at a problem can often just prolong the problem. After much frustration and hrumphing about how long it was taking our clothes to dry, I finally split the load into two different machines. Turns out cotton takes longer to dry than synthetics, so giving them their own space worked wonders.
Five minutes later, we had happily dry jeans and t-shirts.
Walking into a laundromat can be surprisingly intimidating. There are rows and rows of new, shiny machines that look like they came right out of a Star Trek episode.
The patrons often look like they’re in as much (if not more) need as you are for a shower (when you’ve gone more than seven days without).
The lights are bright and sounds loud. Yet everyone else seems to get it. The employees are pros at folding the drop-in laundry. The machines are humming and spinning away. And you’re standing there, a little lost, wondering how to start a machine when they don’t take quarters.
Trust yourself. Remind yourself that while it’s unfamiliar, it’s not insurmountable. You can, in fact, learn how to work the machines. Or your new business. Or the new sport you’ve just taken up.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to get it wrong at first.
keep your ego in check
Yes, maybe you’ve been doing laundry for 30 years. You’ve got it down to an art. Even experts keep learning, right? Be careful of making assumptions. You will likely be humbled.
Realize there’s always more to learn.
let it go
Sometimes you just have to let things go. Yes, your active wear does best air-dried. That’s not always feasible when you have two feet of clothesline for a full load.
Yes, you can dry it on low. But sometimes that takes $5.00 and two hours. So you dry it on high for ten minutes. It’ll survive.
Let it go.
What about you? What unexpected place have you uncovered hidden secrets? What helps you stay grounded when you encounter those familiar-yet-unfamiliar places?
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Other posts you might enjoy:
- Assumptions On the Trail: A Rant and a Plea
- Expectation vs. Reality
- The Open Road
- The Power of Nature: Reconnecting With My 10-Year-Old Self
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