What a Broken Appliance Taught Me About Sustainability

Read how this author learned to value sustainability at home when her dryer broke.

“Screeeeech — screeeeech — screeeeech!”


That’s the sound of our clothes dryer as it slowly took its last breath and settled into eternal stillness.

That wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear, especially less than a month after our house’s main water line backed up into our basement. Recovering from that catastrophe was taking all the home-decision-making-capacity I could muster.

It was definitely not what I wanted to hear with a new baby who drools and spits up on everything. And it was definitely DEFINITELY not what I wanted to hear while my son was wearing cloth diapers on the regular — diapers that I cleaned in my machine, diapers that were due for a wash at the time of the breakdown.

Fixing the thing is probably not worth the $100+ part, as this isn’t its first dance with disaster. But the problem is that it’s part of one of those stackable washer and dryer sets that is purchased as one piece, so I’d have to rebuy both a washer and dryer, even though the washer still works.

We didn’t have time to step back and research replacement options. So instead, in a sort of passive-dismissive decision, we started hang-drying our clothes. After all, the washer still worked.

Initially, it felt like work. But, over time, this seeming inconvenience transformed my perspective.

What if living a more sustainable lifestyle wasn’t as hard as it may seem? What if hang-drying clothes really only added five minutes to my wash routine but saved two or three loads of clothes in the dyer a week, eliminating waste from dryer sheets, cutting our energy usage, and lowering our carbon footprint?

And it got me wondering: What other sustainability practices could be that easy? A few easy actions come to mind immediately:

  • Using hand towels and rags instead of paper towels;
  • Instead of tissues, using a handkerchief, or just a plain ol’ bandana, (shoutout to my husband for the example!);
  • Using reusable shopping bags (thanks, Aldi, for giving me no choice!);
  • Carrying a reusable water bottle;
  • Turning down the heat and bundling up in layers;
  • Sweeping instead of vacuuming hard surfaces;
  • Taking shorter showers;
  • Embracing a brown, dry yard in the summer;

The first week or so of hang-drying clothes, it was an inconvenience, for sure. It means doing laundry ahead of time instead of when I need clean clothes for the baby RIGHT NOW. It means thinking about the time of day, as doing laundry at noon means I’ll have to wait until the next morning for clean clothes. It took effort to begin with, but it’s now becoming muscle memory.

And maybe it gets harder, like during busy time periods or when summer rains slow down drying. Perhaps at some point, we’ll get a new clothes dryer. I am not sure hang-drying is a long-term laundry solution for families, and air-dried sheets just aren’t as comfy. But the perspective will remain. And I intend to continue hang-drying some clothes regardless because of what it has taught me.

Caring for creation in my daily life comes down to little things — we don’t have to save the whole planet all at once. And with each action, I’m shaping my life around values that center less on what’s convenient for me and more on respect for this creation we’ve been given.

And, hopefully, as my son grows and learns from our household habits, he’ll learn to always be shifting his perspective and caring for creation, too.

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