The right to dry:

🕔Apr 07, 2009

Ah, northern living. Small towns and close relationships. People know each other. They help each other. And they talk about each other.

Life in the fishbowl is quite public, really. This was driven home to me one summer day as I was hanging out the wash. I was at home with a small baby, having taken a year of maternity leave from teaching high school. As I reached into the laundry hamper and strung up a pair of my comfy undies alongside my husband’s scraggly gonch and a number of stained diapers, a pair of teen boys (who of course I knew) dragged their reluctant feet through the alley on their way to school. Their eyes met mine, and I could hear their words (if only in my own head): “Gross! Ms. D is hanging out her gonch! Nasty!” Sure enough, one of them sniggered and called out, “’Morning, Ms. D,” with a wink-wink-nudge-nudge to his friend.

I finished the task and headed inside, where I started to panic. “Could I get in trouble for this?” I gasped. Hey, don’t roll your eyes—I am a bit of a Nervous Nellie—what I do off-premises (i.e. not at work), if deemed offensive and inappropriate, really can get me in trouble. All it takes is a phone call. Would someone consider my granny panties so unsightly (or my Paris Hilton’s so provocative—Hey, they’re around here somewhere!) that I’d be receiving a disciplinary letter?

I stepped back outside and surveyed the landscape—no police sirens yet. But I did not see another load of wash in sight, and I was gazing at eight other backyards. What was up? I looked harder. Whoa—I didn’t even see another clothesline! When did hanging out your clothes become something that people don’t do?
Just common sense

I grew up in Kamloops, so line drying was a no-brainer. We had a straight line, but a rotary-type would have made more sense, as the first item was dry by the time you put the last one up.

If you hang your clothes out, you know the benefits: the incomparably fresh smell; the whiter whites; that stiffness you have to shake out. The simple act of getting outside is always a good thing, too: it’s meditative. And in the days of garage entries and big-screen TVs, it’s an opportunity to say “Hi!” to the neighbour you never otherwise see or talk to.

Nowadays, line-drying your clothes is heralded as an environmentally-conscious choice. Oh, for Pete’s sake—it’s just common sense! I ask myself again, as I walk around town in the early morning with my baby in the stroller, trying to avoid the streets that smell like Downy Mountain Fresh dryer sheets—or worse, vanilla or lavender—when did people stop drying their clothes outside? (And who on earth buys Febreze anyways? Yuck! Open the window!)

It makes sense to dry inside more during spring or fall rains, but wind is as effective as sun in removing moisture, so don’t write off the shoulder seasons wholesale. Even in winter (although it is a bit hardcore), clothes on the line dry in no time—just finish them up in the dryer and save big on electricity, as dryers account for ten to fifteen percent of residential energy use.

On the upside, thanks to the increase in demand for energy-efficient appliances, the overall annual energy consumption for dryers is decreasing, but 916 kilowatt hours still adds up to a chunk of change, not to mention the resultant carbon footprint—about 650 kg per year, or 2 kg per load! A UK report on the sustainability of the clothing industry indicated that the elimination of tumble drying and ironing would lead to around a 50 percent reduction in the global climate change impact of a clothing product. As well, tumble drying speeds up the untwisting of clothing fibres, hastening their deterioration—that’s what dryer lint is. Before you know it Junior is going to want another 90-dollar hoodie. More cash out the window, and another disposable item of clothing.

Against the rules
Recently, I was in Kamloops visiting family, and a friend had moved into a new subdivision. She had a baby that was still in diapers, and when I saw her throwing a load in the dryer on a thirty-eight degree day I had to ask what was up. “We’re not allowed,” she said.

“It’s against the rules.” My eyebrows hit the ceiling and my jaw hit the floor. Turns out that some silly folk think that having a clothesline in your yard brings property values down. Unsightly, they say. Wow!

I could not find a northern muni-
cipality that had a bylaw against clotheslines; however, a number of city and town planners indicated that developers often require purchasers to sign a covenant regulating factors that purportedly affect aesthetics. These covenants are outside the jurisdiction of municipal law, so not having a by-law isn’t the whole story. I called a few developers, and no one was able to find bans on clotheslines—but I got no guarantees that they’re allowed, either.

Ontario is the only province that has passed a law enshrining the right to dry outside. In all others, it is still provincially acceptable to hamper (ha ha) line-drying. The Right to Dry campaign, started a few years ago in the USA, has its work cut out for them. In the USA, around 57 million residents are subject to covenants and/or bylaws through Homeowner’s Associations, which can and often do limit a person’s right to dry clothes outside. I read one chronicle of a court case where a resident was sued because his neighbour found his clothesline and solar panel unsightly.

When it comes to folly and foolishness in the US of A, we Canadians tend to roll our eyes and chuckle. Stupid Americans, we say. Yet the question remains: why don’t I see more clotheslines? Why should my family be relegated to the sole exhibitionists on the block? We appear to have the right to dry—so why aren’t we? (Weather can’t be our excuse year-round—after all, we also roll our collective eyes at the “they-all-live-in-igloos-and-it’s-so-cold-up-there” stereotype.)

We’re tough. We love the outdoors. We have a decent amount of sun and wind. We’re neighbourly, friendly folk. We care about the environment. We’re thrifty. So let it all hang out! Put up a clothesline and use it whenever you can. If you think hanging out a load of wash is just too much effort—one more thing in your day—then maybe you’ll wear those jeans again before throwing them in the wash, thus saving water and electricity too.

Websites to check out:
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