Our man [formally] of Amsterdam

The lore of the communal laundry
January 3, 2010, 19:53
Filed under: Amsterdam, Student

With more than 80 student tenants and only 4 washing machines, things can get a little ‘heated’ in the basement laundry, and we’re not just talking about  condensation from the 4 dryers. Having arrived home last night from the mini tour with a backpack full of soiled clothes, I was dreading the prospect of having to take several days to wash and dry more than one load.

Alas though, the place was deserted, except for the rogue panties and socks left behind in machines or dryers and pinned to the group notice board awaiting their owners’ retrieval. Strange that I felt such joy and contentment then at finding the laundry to myself, and we’ll probably not explore that point any more. Seems many kiddies are still on leave, and from a clothes cleaning perspective, that makes me happy.

But it was not always so. In the halcyon mid semester weeks of warmer weather and dirty collars from hours of late night dirty dancing, the laundry was a hot bed of frustration and delay, and into this maelstrom of liquid detergent and undergraduate detritus, something had to give way.

Which is how the laundry lore developed. I do not know if it was discussed at the body corporate or bar room level (probably the latter), but this is how it works. (Note, this only applies to washing, not drying, as some people have delicate intimates not suitable for the rough and jumble of a tumble dryer.)

You leave your clothes basket (or bag) and detergent in a queue in front of a washing machine if it is in motion. And the next day you’d go down to the basement and there would be your clothes shoved into your laundry bag awaiting collection on the bench.

There was no laundry fairy, just the poor sucker who happened to be there when the load had finished and the machine idle, for it was their ‘duty’ to empty the completed load into the supplied bag, place the contents of the next basket/bag in the queue into the machine (using the supplied detergent, which by the way, was mostly liquid, not powder, in case you were interested), and then set your own basket/bag down at the end of the queue. If you worked it right, and had an uncanny sense of avoidance, you never had to actually “do a load of washing” all semester. As for drying, well that was a free-for-all; it was every man for herself, but most ended up buying a clothes horse or drying rack anyway.

Join the queue

However, this lore does not work for people who may object to handling other people’s dirty laundry, but it seems many tenants had no such qualms. For those more sensitive types, you either had to wait for a machine with no queue (which could take weeks) or head to the laundromat on Haarlemmerstraat, which was quite expensive.

I mentioned this lore to some more ‘adult’ friends here in Amsterdam, who lived in apartments with their own washing machines, and they seemed quite impressed that a system of shared responsibility had evolved to solve a potentially heated situation. Someone even suggested the lore might be used to address climate change, but I don’t think it has much application beyond our humble but crowded basement laundry, but you never know.


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