This may sound like a silly question, but there are in fact several ways to do it, right? Or, wait; have you been under the impression that the way you dry your clothes is the way everyone else in the entire world dries their clothes? Does the idea of drying clothes in different ways than what you’re used to shake your core beliefs? I know, people. It’s tough. But you need to know the truth. There ARE actually different ways to dry clothes. Has your jaw just dropped? I didn’t believe it at first either.
What am I really talking about? I invite you to follow me in the experiences I describe below. Please, also read what I am about to tell you with a sustainability lens in your mind reflecting on natural resource use and its impact on the long-term vitality of our planet. Transport yourself to the U.S. for a moment, then on to Germany, and finally to Zambia. Safe travels.
Battle Ground, WA, USA
“Beeeep…..beeep!” “The clothes are dry!” my sister yells to me from the kitchen.
“Thanks!” I holler back as I continue focusing all my attention on a riveting and dramatic episode of Friends. I force myself off the comfy couch, and walk to the laundry room where I quickly open the dryer only to find that my clothes are not yet dry. “Ugh! I will be late to
basketball practice!” I complain to the empty air around me. I set the timer for an extra five minutes and run to the kitchen to grab a quick snack. “Beep! Beep!” I quickly run to the dryer again and sort through the clothes to find what I need. The warmth and pleasant scent from the dryer sheets reminds me of when I was a child. It reminds me of when my mom would bring me fresh, clean clothes for the next school day.
“Hurry up!” my sister nags at me and my thoughts shift from childhood memories to how I am already late.
I rip the clothes from the dryer, hop in my car and speed off down the neighborhood road, passing my neighbor who is also off to the same basketball practice. “Why don’t we ride in the same car together?” I ponder. The thought rapidly flows into my head and drifts away even faster, far away from my brain as I drive, encircled by the pounding sound of the stereo on high.
St. Georg, Hamburg, Germany
It’s Sunday afternoon, which means only one thing. No, I’m not talking about attending
church. I’m talking about good ol’ laundry time. As the clock strikes 2pm, I start separating my white clothes from colors and carry two full baskets into the basement of the apartment building. I set the washer to the “eco-friendly” mode and watch as 30 minutes are added to the screen. I walk back upstairs, take out my IPhone and start searching for buses and trains that can take me to university the next day, settling on the 10am train. I spend the next block of time organizing my finances and planning for the next few months.
Two hours pass. “Ring, ring!”
My phone alarm reminds me to remove my clothes from the washer. I quickly run down to the basement in order to lower any chance the neighbors may be annoyed with my washer screaming in the basement. In the basement, I am greeted by a neighbor who suggests we start a laundry schedule because “things are getting crowded in the clothes drying room.” I forcefully hold back my laugh as I look around and see endless space to dry clothes. I suggest to the neighbor that we speak about it later over some coffee. I remove my clothes from the washer and proceed to hang them on the provided lines in the basement while thinking, “people are so interesting.” I set a reminder on my phone to collect the clothes in two days – during the middle of the day with the hope that I won’t encounter the same neighbor.
Kasiya, Zambia, Africa
As I scrub my dirty clothes between my hands, I begin to notice flesh slowly peeling away
from my fingers. “HOW on earth do people do this all the time? I miss washers and dryers,” I think to myself. As the intense and vibrant sun beats down on my already burned red shoulders, I daydream of comfortable hot summer days in the US filled with air conditioning and running toilets.
Having distracted myself, I return to the task at hand. Place clothes in bucket; apply water, soap, scrub, rinse and repeat.
I finally finish by hanging my clothes on a line stretched between one tree that has recently been infested by a type of insect I don’t know the name of and a large stick I’ve jammed into the ground. The sun is about to set, which means I have about 30 minutes before I become blind by the night sky. I quickly finish hanging my clothes and head inside my hut to bed. I fall asleep to the distant jangling of farm animals conversing with one another in a nearby field.
What is the point of all this personal experience hoo-ha, anyway? Are we really still talking about the way people in different countries dry their clothes?
It’s bigger than that. It represents something profoundly important. That profoundly important thing is perspective.
After reading each of these perspectives can you tell me which way of life, or “drying clothes,” is the “right” way? Or which country lives more sustainably? These are loaded questions that would most likely be answered differently depending on who you ask.
Who we are stems from our experiences. And the context (or environment) we reside in influences critical decisions. These decisions are far reaching. They extend into our relationships, our jobs and careers, our education, our perspective on the world and what kind of sustainable (or unsustainable) actions we take to preserve it. If we have never seen a washer and dryer our entire life, then hand washing clothes will seem like no tremendous obstacle. Likewise, if we have always used a train to travel from home to basketball practice, we may not understand the need for a car. And while possessing a certain perspective may not be necessarily “bad,” there may also be danger in viewing a problem from only one perspective.
In the brilliant TED talk The danger of a single story Chimamamba Adichie states, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story. It makes our recognition of equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different, rather than how we are similar.” I appreciate the message of these statements for several reasons. One reason is that the message alludes to the possibility of solutions in the face of conflicting perspectives. If we can learn to acknowledge and attempt to take in other perspectives, perhaps we can move toward a set of shared solutions. Maybe we can reach agreements on critical questions regarding politics or laws. Or even which form of washing and drying clothes is best for our planet.
I grew up believing everyone in the world used a dryer to dry their clothes. As a volunteer in Zambia, I was intrigued by the concept of “do it yourself” hand washing and drying and gave it a try. In Germany, I learned that hanging clothes to dry not only makes your clothes last longer (money saved – wahoo!), but actually decreases energy used and may be more sustainable in the long run. All of these experiences have made me who I am today. They have shaped my perspective and understanding of sustainability within different contexts, countries and cultures. If I know that MY perspectives shape my actions in regard to my sustainable (or unsustainable) actions, then it becomes more comprehensible that people act in such different ways regarding sustainability.
While this “put yourself in other people’s shoes” (or rather, “dry clothes” in this context) idea sounds great in theory, how can we actually achieve this?
A few thoughts for change:
- Share and discuss your ideas and perspectives with family and friends: Challenge yourself to have open and honest conversations about important (sometimes uncomfortable) topics. You may not agree with one another, but it may help in understanding a different perspective. Check out Hofstede’s Six Dimensions of Culture to better understand cultural differences.
- Practice an attitude of curiosity and openness: If something is different from you, take an approach of “it’s not wrong, it’s just different.” Seek to understand before you seek to be understood. Ask questions.
- Practice bridging your intentions with actions: If you intend to lessen your carbon footprint then act. Consider taking the bus or train 1 day per week rather than driving. Carpool. Hang dry your clothes once per month. Check out my colleague Tatjana’s blog on intention-action gap within sustainability.
Perhaps, by following these small practices we can all start thinking of our everyday actions from different perspectives in a more holistic way. Perhaps this is the way to find common ground among people in order to progress toward sustainable solutions.
And maybe, just maybe; for the sake of transferability and understanding, we can even start by thinking about how other people dry their clothes. After all, there are different ways, right?