Whenever we are planning a family trip, I am inevitably asked several weeks before we leave "if I've started packing yet." I must admit, I'm always a bit flummoxed by this question, as I don't know how I would pack a family of five for a trip of any duration several weeks before the departure. We simply don't have that many clothes for everyone! That has been a particular strategy of mine with regard to the extremely limited storage in this house. The boys both have about a week's worth of clothing, give or take, the baby has a bit more, I have a bit more (since I am the one who is likely to be on the receiving end of bodily fluids from little people), and my husband has a week's worth of clothing in both business and casual attire.
I know I spend an awful lot of time talking about clothing. Well, clutter starts in the closet, and I'm definitely not immune. I will say that I think I've finally got my wardrobe into great shape and I've a much better eye for what will and will not work with my aesthetic. Which basically means, I'm buying less, buying better, and buying smarter. My closet has pieces that all work with my vintage-esque look, and are organized by outfits rather than by type of clothing. My closet is a ridiculous Victorian job that is just over two hangers wide and approximately 12" deep. There are two closet rods hung back to front that are about 7" long each. I have another similarly sized closet on the little landing outside our bedroom, so I have a total of 28" of closet space. Each rod comfortably holds between seven and eight hangers, so I put all the dresses on one side, separates on the other. My winter wardrobe hangs in the hallway closet, along with a few items that are for in between weather or don't fit yet (still working on that baby weight!) But I digress.
But here is the point about laundry. We are a family of five, and my oldest child is 4.5, the youngest 14 months. I currently do laundry about twice a week, usually a dark load one time and a white load one time, with the occasional load thrown in for soiled bed linens or pajamas. I find I usually do more when a baby is first born (probably once a day, or every other day), but as the baby gets bigger, a little less, and then less yet. Over time I've figure out several tips for doing laundry infrequently with a growing family.
One is have fewer clothes. This sounds paradoxical, as the child with fewer clothes will need them washed more often to have them clean to wear. But actually, I find it cuts down on the laundry significantly. If there is less overall clothing in the house, there is just less to wash.
Another is to wear clothing more than once. Before everyone gets all skeeved out about the poor hygiene over here, think about it. In generations gone by, people wore the same set of clothing for a whole week, and changed for Sundays. I'm not advocating that sort of austerity, but my general rule of thumb is, if it is still visibly clean, it is clean enough to wear again. My boys often wear their clothes 2-3 days at a go. (Although we do have the odd stretch where M is going through 2 shirts and 2 shorts a day with meal/diaper messes. It happens). E has just reached the age of occasionally wearing an outfit two days in a row, but mostly she needs fresh clothing every day right now. (I think it goes without saying to change one's underthings every day...)
Maybe I'm weird, but I make my kids wear bibs at every meal. Even the 4.5 year old. It makes the wear and tear on the clothing so much less and ensures that they can wear said clothing for more than a day (or a meal!) at a time. I'm extremely fond of the Bumkins Super Bibs as they have a pocket in the front and can be washed out after every meal and still will be dry for the next meal. And they are waterproof (for soup spills and the like). I also still insist on sippie cups for all the little people. H could technically handle having an open cup, but then M thinks he needs one too, and he can't handle it yet. Plus H is clumsy and inattentive at meals and tends to knock over his sippie cup all the time anyway. So it is one less thing to clean up.
Finally, just do all the clothing together. Of course, separate lights and darks, and if you want to, do a whites-only load, but don't do the baby's things separately from everyone else's or it just gets ridiculous. I use All Free and Clear for my detergent and no one has ever had a problem with it in our house. Use Dreft for the whole family if you are very concerned about it.
I will say I'm not very good at folding/putting away clean clothes in a timely manner (there are times when stuff sits on the drying racks in the basement for several weeks before getting up the stairs, but that is more an issue of stairs than of laundry). I usually pull the basket of clean stuff up to our bedroom on the third floor the same day, but then fold it a day or two later. I know, I know! I'm working on it. I do pull out anything that will be horribly wrinkled by sitting in a laundry pile for more than a few minutes and hang that up right away (like my husband's button-down shirts, or his pants), but otherwise, the clean stuff can wait until I'm ready to do it. It helps also that we have a small capacity washer, so each load is fairly manageable. Two loads together take about 20-30 minutes to fold and put away. Lately I've been folding the laundry on the first or second floor while I'm doing something else, and that seems to be helping me stay on track with getting clean laundry put away in a timely manner. I find if I've got a movie on the computer, or music on the stereo, or some other form of distraction, it is easier for me to fold it and put it away.
I know, nothing earth-shattering, and I know that those of you with larger families are probably laughing your heads off at me right now, but that is what is working for us at the moment. I'm off to fold some laundry.