When the credit crunch starts to bite

When people stop using their tumble dryers, you know the credit crunch is starting to hurt.

A friend popped round to see me the other day. She’s one of those people who comes and goes with the season, she and her husband spending some of their time in Britain, some in France and some – though increasingly little, what with petrol prices the way they are – at their house in Spain.

Despite having been solidly middle class most of their lives, in retirement they are feeling the pinch. And the sign? She’s buying a clothes horse. 

Oddly enough, I’d had the self-same conversation with my sister only hours earlier. She too was looking for a clothes horse – evidently something of a rare beast now in the UK, where people are expected to use tumble dryers. Since clothes horses are ubiquitous in my neck of the woods, where virtually no-one owns a tumble dryer, I advised her to wait until she visits me next month and take one home with her.

It is the size of their last electricity bill that has inspired both of these women to stop using the tumble dryer, as I myself did two years ago after a whopping 500 euro bill. "I bet 200 of that is the tumble dryer," I said, and so it proved to be. A shame, because I did, and do, like the softness that tumble drying gives to your clothes and the ease of washing the bedding, drying it and getting it back on the bed in a single day.

However, as we all know, tumble dryers are the children of Satan. They are bad for the planet – I got no sympathy from friends when I gave mine up, as they’d thought me a decadent cow for having one at all. They consume a vast amount of electricity and they also destroy your clothes – just look at what’s in the lint trap: that’s your clothes disintegrating. My clothes now show far less damage for NOT being tumble dried (and interestingly, in cotton things, less shrinkage too). 

An American friend, Linda, would be horrified. She can’t get over the way the French hang their washing OUTSIDE on lines to dry, where people can SEE it – to her, a sign of complete hillbillydom. Well, I guess that’s a cultural thing – she’s probably changing her tune now that the bills are rocketing. 

I dry my clothes on two flat dryers that open out like big ironing boards and which are great for reblocking sweaters etc (I don’t have a washing line outside). In summer, they just stand outside the door, hopefully in the sun, while in winter I have a different routine. I put a washload on when we light the woodburner each evening, then just before we go to bed, I empty the washer and put the clothes out on the rack to dry overnight in front of the stove. That way, you use up the excess heat and you don’t have wet washing cluttering up the house during the day.  

The smell of it is comforting somehow – I grew up in a house with only a coal stove and no central heating, so it’s the smell of childhood, I guess. And at least I have the satisfaction of single-handedly saving the planet. 

Watch out for an article on economising later in the week. 

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