Unwrinkle Your Mind

August 7, 2019

Unwrinkle your mind

How the warm routine of ironing turns a chore into a chance to adore

By Leigh Brown

I used to hate ironing. It's a pretty low task on the hierarchy of household chores. It's the one that nobody volunteers for and eventually becomes a rock-paper-scissors loser’s task. Think about it: in your house, people will clean toilets and empty the trash before they will go near the ironing board.

Why? It's hot. Tedious. You have to really pay attention to what you're doing, because otherwise you'll miss the shoulders and then the sleeves don't come out right, and then you have to think about starch (and nobody wants to think about starch because frankly, starch requires an extra step).

So look at what we've done to our clothing in an effort to avoid ironing. Almost everything now is wrinkle-free. It's made from some modified, chemically-based fabric that means you can avoid ironing.

In fact, while we’re listing the things that are wrong with ironing, let's include the heat. Again. It could be zero degrees outside in the polar vortex and if you're ironing, you're still sweating because it's a hot job (did I mention that nobody wants to do it?)

Today, I had to iron because frankly I didn't even really know what was still in my pile - that giant pile in the laundry room. Everything else has been put away except that stinking ironing pile and it's staring at me every day that I'm home.

We lose a frown when we slow down

I decided to iron; got out all the goods and got busy. Surprisingly, I found out that, indeed, I need ironing in my life. Because ironing is a slow and tedious task, it forces me to slow down. I'm not home every day. With a job that has me traveling, the volunteer work, and the things that I do with my daily real estate work life (and did I mention the mom jobs and the wife jobs?), when I'm here, I’m often out of the house. Ironing just didn't seem to be important enough to make the top of the to-do list.

However, now I realize that it's those mundane-tedious-awful-slow tasks that really matter the most. It's while I'm standing here ironing that I look at my husband's shirts and realize, well, I might need to take him shopping. (No: scratch that; I'm not going to take him shopping. I might need to shop for him.)

But I look at this and realize that my husband goes to work when he doesn't want to, and he goes to church even when I'm not home, and makes sure the kids have a role model that shows them what a good, strong man looks like. A good strong man doesn't look like what TV would have you believe. It doesn't look like what the media tells you about men (the vast majority of whom are NOT toxic and who should be celebrated, not emasculated). A good strong man cares about his family and takes care of them.

So, ironing his shirts gives me a new way to appreciate all that he does for this family, and frankly that makes me appreciate him.

Then I get to iron my daughter's stuff. She'll never notice that it's ironed because she's 14 and her job is not to notice things. Her job is to get crabby when I say hello or when I ask a question, and then it's also to get random hugs here and there when something goes the right way. Ironing is one of the things that can go the right way in my relationship with her.

Then, of course, there's my son's shirts. He's 13. It's interesting how 13-year olds operate. They simultaneously want to be invisible but noticed. In fact, my daughter is wired in much the same way. I do believe it has to do with the teenage years. You probably wouldn't go back to them either, but my goodness, don't we look back as adults and say, "Oh, you didn’t have to worry so much." If only you knew that life was going to bring you tasks that are far worse than what you deal with in middle school. (In fact, at some point life's going to require you to iron, so you should learn how to do it now.)

But I iron his shirts, and I think about the trip we were on. We bought this one particular shirt. He went with me on a business trip and we had the most amazing time together. We’re all just so busy. When you travel (and I don't know if I'm lucky or unlucky to be able to travel as much as I do) sometimes you forget to slow down and spend just those little bits of time together.

It's the dates with my son, frankly, that are the amazing bits of time. The dates with my daughter that cause me to realize what an amazing human is growing up in my household. I don't know why I don't think about these things at other times. Probably because there's always something else to do. There's always a text to reply to or an email that needs to be sent, or a white paper that will absolutely benefit me to read it.

Then there's social media, which is simultaneously a blessing and a curse. I do believe we pretty much all look at it that way, because ironing would never be listed as a “social media joy.” I don't think there's going to be a television program on Netflix about ironing. Although, frankly, I think there could be, because I look at ‘The Art of Being Tidy’ and I admire Marie Kondo for what she brings to people. She's bringing the opportunity to think carefully about things about which people usually don’t think carefully. I don't know that we think carefully about much of anything anymore in a world of convenience. A world that says, "Let me sell my house to a hedge fund online and not consider the implications to community and to neighborhood and to my long-term wealth and how long it's going to take me to regain the $22,000 I just forked over for the sake of convenience."

Reliving memories in a mist of starch and steam

Think about what happens when you buy a shirt that's made of cotton, which will need ironing. What a gift it will be to slow down and appreciate that shirt. I find that, yes, the better stuff does last longer. And y’all, when you have the shirt that's been to a lot of events – the one you've worn a lot – don’t you love the memories from it? That's half the fun! My cousin has one of my grandmother's ... well, several of my grandmother's items. Let's be honest – she doesn't throw anything away and, of course, my grandmother's stuff was polyester because that was the hip thing in the '60s and '70s and so cool, but whenever she pulls those things out of her closet and wears them, she gets to think about our Mamaw, and she gets to know that she's in the same space and in the same clothing. We lose that gift when our only goal is the ephemeral. In fact, you don't iron things that are short term and ephemeral. There's no point in it.

Perhaps we should think carefully about what we're buying and what we're keeping and what we do with those things, because the memories matter. People matter far more than the clothing. (And then don't forget that ironing can be really cheap!  It’s like shopping right now in my house without going and spending any money, because I'm finding things I had forgotten I owned because this ironing pile had grown so large.) I do believe I might go find more things that require ironing. I'll slow down and iron more often, because I can serve my family in this way, too.

~ Leigh Thomas Brown


REALTOR®. Author. Coach. Keynote speaker. Leigh Brown is laser-focused on inspiring people to be better, strive for more, and to take the reins and lead!

Learn more about me at www.leighbrown.com


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