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?

Californians to be free to hang laundry on clotheslines

In a move toward energy conservation, California will soon have “laundry liberation“:

In what a legislative analysis called a “modest energy conservation and freedom of choice measure,” Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday signed legislation requiring property managers to let renters and homeowner association members string clotheslines in private areas.

Assembly Bill 1448, by Assemblywoman Patty Lopez, D-San Fernando, comes amid heightened concern about greenhouse gas emissions in California – and the energy consumption of driers.

One columnist notes the class dynamics at work:

As a class signifier, the clothesline has always been highly charged. In the late 1960s, tumble dryers began to creep their way into middle-class households — according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, fewer than half of American households had dryers in 1980; by 2009, it had jumped to 80% — the clothesline has connoted a certain unsophistication if not downright poverty.

That’s especially true in big cities, where clotheslines hanging between buildings are an indelible marker of tenement living and overall blight. I visited Beijing a couple of years ago, and hanging laundry was ubiquitous even on the balconies of expensive high-rises. During the 2008 Olympic Games, I was told, the Chinese government prohibited outdoor clotheslines as part of an overall image-control effort. As soon as the Games were over, the laundry went back up.

The primary argument against clotheslines is the perceived effect on property values. Yet, why not give people the choice to dry clothes outside rather than put it in the hands of homeowner associations or local governments? I would guess that many middle and upper class residents still won’t hang clothes outside even if they can. At the same time, it could be a nice economic benefit for households with less money.

Is the status tied to using a clothes dryer in your own home more about consumption (having the ability to buy such an object and pay for its ongoing use) or the ability to keep personal items (like dirty laundry) within private areas?