Laundromats as “iconic places of loneliness”

Several experts suggest urban laundromats can be lonely, depressing places:

They’re often harshly lit and filled with strangers — weary, industrial where no one really wants to be. One could say the same of train stations, banks and other public places.

But there’s something deeper going on with Laundromats, mental health experts say, that can lead to feelings of depression and anxiety in even the most stoic dryer jockey.

Antoinette D’Orazio, a licensed mental health counselor in Hartsdale, New York, who specializes in depression, has found that Laundromats can often trigger toxic emotions…

Roger Salerno, a psychoanalyst and professor of sociology at Pace University who has written books exploring urban alienation and estrangement, calls Laundromats “iconic places of loneliness,” in part because they rouse up subconscious longings for domestic stability…

In general, Salerno added, women are more susceptible to this Laundromat-induced loneliness than men, because women have been historically more socialized toward domestic activities and the concept of having a family to care for.

This fits with some larger images of cities as lonely places: you have to go somewhere else to do laundry and there may be people around but you don’t know anyone. People may think they are good neighbors but few people are going to enjoy neighborly interactions while doing laundry.

I could think of several ways to help limit these issues:

  1. Make sure housing units have to have at least washing machines. Or, perhaps more Americans should have washer/dryer combos in one machine like many Europeans. This would be a cost to landlords and could be a space issue in many expensive neighborhoods. Additionally, this contributes to the privatization of domestic space – but perhaps this process is already irreversible in the United States.
  2. Some laundromats could set themselves apart by being more social places. The goal is to have a lot of machines yet why not charge a little more and host social activities?

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