Written and performed for Yellow Arrow Literary Night, August 2, Baltimore, Md.
It was one of those first big fights in a relationship. You know, the kind that leaves you raw and achy, because up to that point, you imagined the person could do no wrong? And made worse because the crime was mine. Unknowingly, I had inflicted improperly folded clothes on my boyfriend.
We had just moved in together and in a moment of what I assumed would be much-appreciated thoughtfulness, I washed his dirty clothes. It was one of those lovers’ milestones, when you see your clothing mingling with theirs. His and hers socks, tee-shirts, swirling in the laundromat washing machine, getting clean together. I washed the clothes, dried them, folded them and that’s when things got crumply.
When my guy returned home, he saw the pile of folded garments and turned to me.
“Did you fold my shirts like this?” he asked.
I nodded as my gut told me something was suddenly off.
“This isn’t how you fold shirts,” he declared and shook his head in disapproval.
Now, I worked retail in the 90s at a mall. While I wouldn’t put myself in the top 5 garment folders of former Gap employees, I am confident in my ability to neatly organize a shirt from wad into a flat square for storage.
Did you know, there are even videos online explaining the proper way to fold clothes? You have options. Do you like the sleeves of a tee-shirt tucked under or to the side? What does that say about you? Did you ever wonder? And, do you convey love to your shirt as you fold it? Guru Marie Kondo encourages you to “place your palms on the shirt and press affection into the fabric, make sure the garment knows you appreciate it.”
As I watched Kondo on YouTube offering adoration to her cotton tops, it made me recall all the years my mother thanklessly washed laundry for me and my brother. She would remind us, sometimes often, to pick our clothes up from the bedroom floor and put everything in the hamper. She carried away baskets of dirty school clothes, foul gym uniforms, muddy jeans, and soiled undies. Magically, a fresh smelling stack of neatly folded items reappeared by bedtime every Sunday evening.
Reflecting back as an adult, this was real love: when someone takes the time from a too-busy life to wash and fold anything, everything: towels, shirts, blankets, socks. That’s enough for me to know, without a word, how much I am cared for.
Honestly, I have never tried the Kondo method of folding clothes. As I race about between multiple jobs and other commitments, I have not had time to fall in love with my jeans. These days, if my husband or I get the laundry washed and dried before one of us runs out of underwear, it’s a win.
Folded clothes, with or without love pressed into them via the palms, seem like a luxury to me these days. There are weeks when nothing gets folded. Sometimes in the fray of our hectic schedules, we bump into each other picking through the chair-drobe - you know, that big arm chair in the bedroom where all the clean clothes are tossed if there’s not time to fold them. Still, when I see the mound of fabric on the chair, I am grateful. It means my husband recognized a necessary chore in my absence, and attended to it. I always try to remember to thank him.
Oh - and the boyfriend from years ago? I can recall standing there, watching him shake out each shirt, muttering under his breath with annoyance. To him, each fold represented the control he needed over his life. I’d folded those shirts as an expression of affection, as a way to say “I am your partner and willing to care for you.” Turns out that was the first in a series of red flags that led to him - and his shirts - moving out.
As for me, I suppose I am more aligned with Marie Kondo than I realized. While I may not press passion into my socks, I do see love and kindness when I look at a pile of neatly folded clothing.