The case for Laundry Independence

Recently, I was approached to speak about College Readiness. Parents asked me a number of questions about finances and academic skills. At the end of the discussion, I was asked by the moderator.what is the one thing you wish every child knew before they went off to college?”

“What is the one thing you wish every child knew before they went off to college?”

My answer? “ How to do their laundry. “

Although it is not really about laundry, is it? It is about independence, time management and personal responsibility.

Later that week I was speaking to a former neighbor who was inquiring about her 17-year-old son Romo’s* chances of getting into an elite college. He is bright. He is well-mannered. He is well spoken. He runs 3 clubs in his competitive High School and is a sports team captain, with a 32 on his ACT. He plays lacrosse well enough to score a Division 3 starting position if he so chooses. Romo is also incapable of doing the simplest task for himself. From 0600 to 2200 every day, his mother is at his beck and call. He has never washed a uniform, fixed a snack, made an appointment or ironed a shirt. He excels at the tasks he is given by coaches and teachers. I am sure he could manage to empty the dishwasher. His mother routinely says that it is “her pleasure” to do these things for hstudent_w_laundryer son. She states that she does them so Romo can concentrate on the bigger things.

College readiness does not just mean that you are able to perform the work assigned.

Success in the classroom is just part of it. At some point in their college career, a student will be tired, sick, dirty, overwhelmed, confused, frustrated, lonely and hungry. It will probably happen at about 3 am in the morning before an exam or test. They will have no clean underwear and an old toothbrush. Their bed sheets will have needed changing 2 weeks ( or 2 months) ago. They will smell bad. Being able to finish studying, perform well on the test AND do laundry AND take a shower is a sign of adulthood and blossoming independence.

So what are some of the ways you can foster this kind of college readiness?

Have a list of chores for your student to perform which relate to his own well-being and comfort, and have them do them regularly:

1. Kids as young as 4th or 5th grade are capable of changing their sheets once a week. Pick a midweek day. ( laundry rooms on campus are busiest on the weekends. Getting them to wash sheets and laundry midweek at home, means establishing a regular laundry day at college when it is the most efficient use of time.)
Students may not be able to get to all their laundry all the time in 9th grade, but by 12th, they should be independent in that respect. Teach them to sort. teach them about dry clean-ables. Teach them to wash new jeans separately.

2. Have them use their smartphones smartly. Set reminders for appointments, for meetings, for due dates. Have them set reminders weeks out…. “ term paper due 4 weeks from today.” “college application to the University of New Hampshire due in 6 weeks.”

3. Give them a small budget and let them manage it. Every student should be able to budget a week’s worth of lunch money by 7th grade, and a month’s by 10th. Give them a system to work within…envelopes, check register, whatever.

4. Let them approach people for help. Asking a coach or teacher for help is a skill set. Knowing when you need more help than 15 minutes after school is important. Knowing where to get it is just as important. Encourage your student to seek help, but enable them to ask for it themselves.

5. Let them fail. Students need to know how to fail and how to recover from failure. The world does not end. The sun will rise and students figure out how to correct the mistakes of the past so they don’t make them again.

6. Give them a schedule and reasons to stick to it. As they get older, students can set their own schedules within their family’s framework.

7. Teach and model punctuality. If class starts at 9:30, teach them to be in their seats at 9:25, ready to learn. ( Dinner time is a great way to press this lesson home.)

8. Teach them to look around themselves for what is working for others. What habits do successful people around them have?

9. Get them to understand the schedules of others. Library closes at midnight. Post Office closes at 5 pm. Lunch at the Cafeteria is from 11-2. Professor’s office hours are from 9-1. How can we get to the things we need to get to, as well as to class and homework.

10.Teach them to prioritize and make hard decisions. Having your 7th grader decide between 2 birthday parties on a Sunday so she can study for a math test on Tuesday might be a struggle- but it also teaches them to understand their role as a student is the most important one they have.

So let’s get back to Romo. Romo will probably get into his elite college. He will struggle his first semester with time management. He will probably sit in the laundry room with a textbook at 2 am one night studying and cleaning his sheets. He will miss a class or two and have to explain to the professor why. Hopefully he will begin to understand that his full time job is College- and his success in it. I have no doubt he will succeed after stumbling. But his parents could have prevented quite a bit of his stumbling with some skills learned throughout high school. College readiness isn’t just about knowing how to write a research paper or scoring a great internship…. it is about the daily minutia of living independently without the safety net of mom’s laundry service.


*as always, students are allowed to pick their “nom de guerre” to maintain their anonymity. In this case, it is safe to assume, Romo is a Cowboys fan.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *