Tuesday, December 03, 2013

How to clean a carrot

Young People Today don't know how to do their own laundry. Apparently. This has been the thing - the meme before memes were a thing - since forever. And I've never understood how this caught on. Is laundry so difficult? If this hadn't yet come up, you get to college, you see the machines, you figure it out. It will be the very least momentous challenge you face as an adult.

Of course, you may make mistakes. When I last did laundry, I noticed tiny bits of carrot greens in the washer where I'd included a tote bag that had, evidently, once held carrots. Then sure enough, after the dryer runs, I open the door and out pops what it took me a moment to realize was a carrot - a full carrot that had been through the wash-and-dry cycles. It looked really odd and I regret not taking a picture.

This was in any case quite, quite far from my first time ever doing laundry. If I were 18, we might blame helicopter parenting; I'm 30, so we're instead going to blame my not having noticed a carrot remained in some tote-bag fold. But with all my laundry-doing experience, I could very well see that the clothes (and, let's not forget, tote bags) were just fine. Once you have the basics (keep red stuff away from the whites, and don't put sweaters or bras you care about in the dryer), laundry is tough to screw up.

Well! It turns out that 30-year-olds with laundry issues are this great sign of the times. Or something? I feel as though this sort of thing has come up before, but should we really be looking to a therapist to diagnose a generation? Aren't the people who seek therapy inherently unrepresentative - more troubled and likely wealthier than the norm? Brooke Donatone tells us, re: the 30-year-old laundry-phobe, "Her case is becoming the norm for twenty- to thirtysomethings I see in my office as a psychotherapist." Perhaps so. But of twenty- to thirtysomethings more generally?

Here's the bit I found most baffling:

A generation ago, my college peers and I would buy a pint of ice cream and down a shot of peach schnapps (or two) to process a breakup. Now some college students feel suicidal after the breakup of a four-month relationship. Either ice cream no longer has the same magical healing properties, or the ability to address hardships is lacking in many members of this generation.
Feeling or becoming suicidal after an objectively minor romantic disappointment seems if anything a kind of ancient approach to love, at any rate not especially millenial. Certainly not in the alleged era of hook-up culture.

But more to the point, the difference here isn't generational but just a more general matter of well-being. If you're typically happy and have friends (as is the implication) to share the ice cream and schnapps with you, a breakup is less devastating than it is if you're already on the edge of some kind of crash. Some young people will always be in one category, others in the other, many somewhere in between. (The gap between suicidal and so blasé as to need only a dessert and a drink to get over someone you were hung up on is, needless to say, tremendous.)

What I'm missing, I suppose, is where the millenial angle fits in. The relevant questions would seem to be a) whether more people today are depressed than used to be, and b) whether today's depression manifests itself differently than earlier variants. Doesn't depression traditionally entail a sense of hopelessness, a feeling of just the kind of incompetence that would make a task like laundry seem impossibly daunting?

21 comments:

Petey said...

"What I'm missing, I suppose, is where the millenial angle fits in."

Being the vulgar marxist that I am, I'd attribute it to the massive lack of jerbs, not helicopter parenting.

caryatis said...

"A generation ago, my college peers and I would buy a pint of ice cream and down a shot of peach schnapps (or two) to process a breakup."

Yeah...I have close to zero faith that this person remembers faithfully how she felt after a college breakup. Feelings naturally fade with time.I can't remember how it felt to be six and afraid of the cat, but it happened.

And might it not be a self-fulfilling prophecy to tell _a whole generation_ that we lack the ability to address hardships?

Phoebe said...

Petey,

I suppose so. If you're 30 and considering grad school as an escape, maybe that's some kind of desire for eternal childhood, but more likely it speaks to something broader about the economy. Entry-level jobs ask for at least a year of related experience, thus defining recent grads as inherently incapable of work. It's an economy that defines ever-older adults as children, as eternally unprepared for the workforce.

All of this is dispiriting, although it's debatable whether it leads to the kind of distress that would make doing laundry overwhelming.

Petey said...

"All of this is dispiriting, although it's debatable whether it leads to the kind of distress that would make doing laundry overwhelming."

Consider the carrot...

(Also, consider the coincidence, or lack thereof, that both the economic and mental states are referred to as "depressions".)

Britta said...

Being the vulgar marxist that I am, I'd attribute it to the massive lack of jerbs, not helicopter parenting.

Yeah. The realization that the white collar employment structure is crumbling and our middle class is dissolving is making me depressed. That and our insane healthcare system. (The recent NYTimes article didn't help).

Maya Resnikoff said...

As a college student in a sociological methodology class, I wrote an ethnographic paper about college laundry rooms. So I spent a bunch of extra time sitting around in them, and I got to see some stages of the learning process. One of my favorite moments was helping someone with decision making (to wash again or not) after he realized that he'd forgotten to put the soap in. It came to mind, reading this- because we all make funny mistakes once in a while.

Phoebe said...

Caryatis,

Indeed - I can't imagine that response to a breakup. Neither having ever had it nor witnessing anyone else responding in that way. It seems like something out of a sitcom, where the whole thing needs to be resolved within a set number of minutes, never to be mentioned again.

There's definitely a lot of self-fulfilling prophecy all around. That may well be what propagates unpaid internships - the much-repeated "fact" that millenials can't function in an office environment leads to jobs that don't pay, which in turn lead to employees who don't want to work. Along similar lines, I'm not sure one would want a therapist who'd come to the conclusion that an entire generation had this particular problem

Phoebe said...

Petey, Britta,

Yes, depression-depression. This would still need to demonstrated, though - which I'm not sure that article quite does. Even in better job markets, there are people too depressed to do their laundry.

Maya,

I'm curious what you discovered with that project! (And I'd rewash in that situation.)

Britta said...

On the laundry issue, I have always been incredulous of people who claim not to be able to do laundry. I've been doing my own since age 11, and have never encountered laundry I was incapable of doing (if doing includes knowing what to get dry cleaned). I was especially disdainful when I read the statistic that 95% of Italian men can't do laundry, and my own laundry-doing-in-the-US boyfriend with a feminist mother has never done laundry in Italy. I wondered if 95% of Italian men were mildly developmentally disabled, until... I tried to do laundry in Italy. The washer had 18 settings, some of which had to be paired with each other, and some which couldn't. If you set it on setting 3, you would have to know to come back in an hour and change it to setting 5, otherwise your half-done laundry would just be sitting permanently in a pool of water. There were settings for every combination of fabric possible, and every possible temperature combination or agitation type you might want. Not being used to being waited on, I insisted on doing my own laundry until I realized it was more work for my boyfriend's mother to come down every time and tell me how to set the washer than it was for her to do the laundry herself. Not that there aren't major problematic gender issues in that only women learn how to do laundry, but now I understand why people not specifically trained in a washing machine wouldn't be able to use it.

What I find hardest about laundry is not so much the actual doing it as satisfying my own perfectionism & cheapness. I 1) prefer to wash clothing on the warmest setting possible for the fabric, 2) not mix drastically different colors, even if they're color fast, and 3) fill up the washer all the way. This causes problems when I have, say, a white blouse and dark tights that need to be washed cold delicate, white sheets that should be washed in hot, a red shirt that should probably be washed on warm, and a pair of blue jeans.

Petey said...

"Yes, depression-depression. This would still need to demonstrated, though"

Suicide rates are dramatically up over the past 5 years in Greece, Spain, and Portugal, all of which are experiencing depressions that make our troubles look like a mild case of the blues...

Petey said...

Re: laundry and helicopter parenting, an example from 80 years ago:

"Over the Thanksgiving holiday, my mother told a story about my grandmother's college days. She went to school in Washington, D.C., but she sent her laundry back to her parents in Cleveland. She'd put it on a train, and it'd be back to her in no more than a couple of days—the train service was that frequent and efficient. This was the late 1920s or early 1930s."

Britta said...

Oh, also, my friend's mother went to a liberal arts college in CA in the 1960s. She had a roommate/friend who was the daughter of a wealthy actor, and had no idea how to do laundry. Apparently she sent it all out to be dry cleaned, including the underwear. Another example of the wealthy and clueless predating those born after 1980. Not to mention not much earlier everyone not poor had servants.

Petey said...

"On the laundry issue, I have always been incredulous of people who claim not to be able to do laundry. I've been doing my own since age 11 ... Oh, also, my friend's mother went to a liberal arts college in CA in the 1960s. She had a roommate/friend who was the daughter of a wealthy actor, and had no idea how to do laundry. Apparently she sent it all out to be dry cleaned, including the underwear."

Given my upper-middle class upbringing, I had almost never done laundry before heading off to liberal arts college.

So, given that there was a private service offering to do your laundry by the pound, (just stuff it all into a a duffel bag, they pick it up, and it's back the next morning), and given that my parental allowance made such a service affordable to me, I eagerly took advantage. On the bright side, at least I wasn't having it dry cleaned.

But two months into the semester, I'd watched other students use the machines in the basement, seen it was pretty damn simple, (non-Italian machines), and decided I'd rather use the allowance on more sensible purchases, such as weed and liquor.

Key factor in my case: lack of carrot-o-phobia.

(But on the other hand, I did have an inordinate amount of trouble in remembering to remove all match packs from pockets. It turns out that they make a real mess.)

Phoebe said...

Britta, Petey,

By "laundry" I meant in the States, in laundromat-type settings, in recent years. There were and are more complicated ways of getting clothes clean. The laundry system a young American adult is likely to encounter is so simple as to be a fairly weak barometer for privilege/aloofness/helicoptered-ness. It's possible to be so rich you never have cause to learn how laundry's done (which is, as Petey's own case suggests, unusual), but it's the sort of thing where it takes one occasion of needing to do it and you know enough. It's not like cooking, where a childhood of never having to cook for yourself means a steep-ish learning curve. Same with cleaning the bath (ugh). Laundry's more like, if you need to get it done, it just happens.

As for the broader point, does Slate accept letters to the editor? Because Petey ought to write one. The economy does seem more relevant here than the helicopter parenting that the more troubled of the privileged may, these days, receive.

Petey said...

"As for the broader point, does Slate accept letters to the editor? Because Petey ought to write one. The economy does seem more relevant here"

You do know that Slate's official motto is "Trolling the Internet for Fun and Profit Since 1996", right?

What's next? Should I send a letter to the editor of Pete Peterson's The Fiscal Times patiently explaining that gutting Social Security and Medicare to finance estate tax cuts and high income tax cuts is, perhaps, bad public policy? Or even that fiscal austerity in the face of a long-lasting depressed employment situation is, perhaps, insane public policy?

(And, of course, let's not forget that Slate is owned these days by Don Graham, who has been relentlessly pushing the Pete Peterson line in his various media properties for over a decade now. Dean Baker used to refer to the pre-Bezos WaPo as "Fox on 15th St." due to it's consistently insane right-wing economic coverage. No vulgar Marxism allowed in Slate.)

caryatis said...

I kind of want to stand up for the non-laundry-doers here...having laundry done for you is one of our symbols of privilege, but I think it's quite rational to outsource it or delegate it to another household member.

Not because it's impossible to learn, but laundry is time-consuming and unpleasant, only needs to be done once or twice a month, and possible to screw up. I think there's a pretty strong case that everyone should learn to cook at a basic level, because eating happens often enough that it's impractical to outsource or delegate it every time, and because many people like cooking. But laundry?

...I had to do my own for around ten years, and never felt I was more than minimally adequate. I didn't take any risks with settings other than cold water for fear of ruining my clothes. My time is much more efficiently allocated when my mother or boyfriend does the laundry.

Phoebe said...

Caryatis,

Fair enough, but I'm not sure what you're arguing against. If you can afford it and aren't particularly control-freak-ish about it, someone else can do it, or it's a chore that should go to whoever in the household has the most time/minds it the least. My point, in any case, was just that if you're in a position to all of a sudden need to "learn" how, there's virtually nothing to learn. I don't see doing one's own laundry throughout one's life as some kind of essential character-building act. But the issue for this therapist's patient was, it seems, that this individual's laundry wasn't getting done, by anyone.

fourtinefork said...

Everyone here knows of Jolie Kerr and her Clean Person column (formerly at the Hairpin, now on Jezebel)? She's got a book coming out, too. I always thought I was reasonably competent at laundry doing, but she takes it to the next level. Her advice on meat tenderizer, for blood removal, has saved more than one set of sheets. And my yoga clothes are far less stinky since I discovered the joys of Borax through her.

All I want in my next apartment is in-building laundry. I long ago gave up the dream of my own washing machine, but I will sell out if it means not having to go to a laundromat. I'm just not sure how to sell out as an art historian!

And yes to some European washing machines being absolutely terrifying. I spent a summer in Hungary and decided, upon seeing the machines, that I was handwashing everything.

Petey said...

"I'm just not sure how to sell out as an art historian!"

Forgery?

Phoebe said...

Fourtinefork,

It's so obvious how you should sell out - Nars! Get hired by them to promote their products! But maybe on forums with more Nars-shopping readers than WWPD.

Petey said...

Why not both? Forge Nars product placement into artworks.

Larger audience than WWPD...