The Rockwood Files: What’s your thing?

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

About six years ago, a weird, wonderful thing happened. I taught our kids how to use the washer and dryer, so they’d know how to start a load or change a load when asked. I even taped up instructions in the laundry room explaining how to sort colors and what water temperature to use for different types of clothes. When to use bleach. And more importantly, when not to use bleach.

I stressed the importance of hanging up clothes while they’re still warm from the dryer. I showed them how to fold, how to bundle socks, how to wrangle a fitted sheet into something resembling a folded square.

Then about a year later, on a day when I’d ordered everyone in the house to sort their dirty clothes into designated piles outside the laundry room, our oldest kid stepped forward with a proposal.

Him: Mom, I’ll do all the laundry this weekend if it means I don’t have to do other chores.

Me: All the laundry? Not just yours?

Him: Right. All of it.

Me: And you’ll sort it like I showed you? You won’t cram the machine too full? You’ll change all the loads, fold all the things, and put them all away?

Him: Yes.

Me: You realize you’ll have to change loads all weekend to get it done?

Him: Okay.

Me: (Realizing this miracle offer might never happen again) Son, you’ve got yourself a deal.

Much to my surprise, the kid not only did all the laundry, he continued to do it every weekend. With no grumbling! No procrastination! It was like a teenage dream come true. Over time, his laundry skills began to surpass my own. The kid can fold with precision and never rushes the job just to be done with it.

Eventually we realized that laundry had become his “Zen thing” – a repetitive chore or activity you like even though most people find it tedious. But for you, it’s somehow calming or satisfying. You can’t always explain it. It just is.

Most people have at least one unusual Zen thing. For example, show me a closet that’s grown bloated and chaotic with too much stuff, and I’ll tackle it with trash bags and my nerdy label maker. I’ll organize it top to bottom and then stand back to admire the transformation.

My husband Tom never met a car he didn’t want to wash or vacuum out.

Our teenage daughter likes to scrub the bottom of our white ceramic kitchen sink with Ajax so she can use the sprayer and watch the dirty suds slide into the drain.

And my mother waters outdoor plants like it’s a religion. Sometimes, even when the plants don’t need a drink, they get one anyway because she needs to give it to them.

What all these Zen activities have in common is the act of creating order or fulfilling a simple need. Even when you can’t fix or conquer something tough in your life, the laundry is doable. The sink is scrubbable. You can make sense of the crazy closet even when everything else is a mystery.

No wonder spring cleaning became an annual tradition. Sometimes we need a simple ritual to give us a sense of control that often eludes us.

So, here’s some exciting news. In 13 days, our oldest son – also known as the Laundry Grand Champion of the World – will move home from college for summer break. Not only does that mean this mama bird will have all her “babies” tucked into the nest for three glorious months, it also means I’ll get a 12-week break from doing laundry. I’m giddy at the mere thought of it.

What’s your Zen thing, and when’s the last time you did it? It’s spring, my friends. Go enjoy your fresh start, no matter where you find it.

Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click hereTo check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.