My Coin Laundry Experience

Where do you do laundry? I bet most of my readers have a decent (at least) washer and dryer at home. When was the last time you used a public washer and dryer? College? (I believe my alma mater now does laundry services for its students. Though I call those students lazy now, I wish they had that perk when I was there!)

Earlier this year, I used a laundromat to wash some of my clothes, and the experience was definitely eye-opening.

My Story

For 13 weeks in 2011, from January to April, I commuted to work in Allendale. A couple of different places were my Homes Away From Home. Usually I would drive down from Greenville early Monday morning, and return late on Friday night. The weekend was a time to be with family, to rest, and to get chores done (like washing clothes).

But one weekend in March, a group of college students would be coming for a mission trip over Spring Break. Joanna and I knew that this would be a good weekend for our family to be in Allendale, to connect with the students and to facilitate ministry opportunities. But it also meant that I would be away from home for 11 days. I had to adjust my usual routine, which included needing to get some of my laundry done down here.

There is a coin laundromat in Fairfax, the 2nd largest town in Allendale County. (Actually, the sign is missing an “i” so it reads “Con Laundry” – which is pretty funny considering over 10% of Allendale’s population is incarcerated.) That’s where I washed my dirty clothes.

The Cost

I washed a load of whites and a load of colors (see, I know what I’m doing); I was surprised that each load cost about $3. To save money and time, I dried them in one load, at a cost of about $2. As I watched some other individuals washing their clothes, I started doing the math about what it would cost my family if we had to use public laundromats each week.

Granted, I did not have full loads in the machines, so my cost of $8 was a little inflated. Joanna does an average of 8 or 9 loads of laundry per week (for our family of 5). Let’s say that we could wash and dry each load for about $4, so our family would need to spend about $30 per week for laundry machine usage. Over a month (and let’s reduce the cost to factor in slightly larger loads) we would spend $100 (minimum) at the laundromat.

Want to reduce costs further, like by really stuffing the machines and drying the clothes on a clothesline (unless it’s raining)? OK, I’ll hack that cost down to $70 per month.

In a year, we’d have spent over $800 just to use machines. We could easily have bought a washer and dryer for that amount. Over 5 years, even including utility costs, we could have paid for the appliances several times over.

And that’s just the monetary cost. What about the time that it would cost our family? How many hours per week/month/year does a person use just sitting in the laundromat? Sure, you could maximize that time reading or such. But how much more convenient is it to throw a load of laundry in while you are cooking dinner, watching TV, or playing with your children?

You young moms think laundry is a burden, and you’re right. But think about what it would be like to drag all that work down the road for a 3 hours each week. Where would you fit that in your schedule?

The Problem With Handouts

Is the answer to provide a washer and dryer for every family in Allendale? No way! In a previous post about government and entitlements, I quoted from an article from Steve Saint (who, I just figured out, is the son of Nate Saint, who was killed in 1956 by  Aucas). Here’s another snippet from Projecting Poverty Where It Doesn’t Exist:

“Often charity to help the poor attracts more people into poverty. One example I have noticed takes place when North Americans try to care for the needs of orphans in cultures different from our own. If you build really nice orphanages and provide good food and a great education, lots more children in those places become orphans. I see this happen all over. When we attempt to eradicate poverty through charity, we often attract more people into “needing” charity. It is possible to create need where it did not exist by projecting our standards, values and perception of need onto others. Giving handouts creates more problems than it solves. It is like casting out demons with long leases.”

We don’t need to just buy someone a washer. We need a more sustainable and long-term goal. The cure for poverty is not just more aid.

Challenge (and Change) the Mindset

In cultures of generational poverty, the typical mindset is to do what is needed for the short-term. A family cannot afford to spend $300 on a washing machine, but they can scrape up $20 per week to use the laundromat. I’m not saying that this thinking is right or wrong; it’s just the way it is.

But since handouts do not help in the long-term, we do have to challenge and change the mindset. We have to challenge the mindset that says:

  • what satisfies now is better than what will satisfy later
  • the struggles of the now are so great that we can’t move past them
  • the solutions to the struggles should be easy

Mindsets and perspectives must be changed, and this happens best in the context of loving and committed relationships.

That’s why I love the vision of Culturally Engaged, where serving opportunities are intended to create and strengthen relationships, to positively impact the culture. Handouts are not inherently wrong, but outside the context of true understanding and community, they won’t help sustainability, and they probably hurt in the long-term.


Related Links:

**image courtesy of FrenchByte via sxc.hu

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4 responses to “My Coin Laundry Experience”

  1. Bob Sutton says :

    When we focus on our daily needs, we’re more apt to focus on Him who is our provision. But most of us are busy planning out our earthly futures based on fear and statistics… It’s ironic how those of us who have been amply blessed lose our sense of need and focus on our Heavenly Father.

Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Spring Break in Allendale « Mission: Allendale - October 31, 2011
  2. Poverty Cure « Mission: Allendale - November 8, 2011

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