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Laundry Hogs 

When to use all the washers or ask a friend for a big loan

Wednesday, Jan 5 2005
Dear Social Grace,

In your book [Urban Etiquette], you suggest that a "considerate tenant" will use only one washing machine at a time in an apartment-building laundry room with two machines. I understand that this would then leave a machine open for someone who urgently needed to do their wash within the next 25 minutes. However, with the length of the wash cycle being less than a half-hour, it strikes me as equally considerate to do both of one's loads at once, thereby freeing both machines more quickly for the next person (assuming that there are no signs of anyone interested in beginning in a load within the next half-hour). Using this approach, both people would then be able to spend less time running up and down the stairs, as they would be able to do more than one load at a time and clear the laundry room in less than an hour.

Emily S.

Dear Emily,

You're correct that when I penned that particular laundry-room etiquette rule I was imagining an apartment dweller preparing for a night on the town and thinking happily to herself, "Oh, I can wear my lucky green shirt tonight! It's in the hamper, but there's just enough time to do a load of laundry before I have to be on Muni!" -- and then going down to the laundry room to find both washing machines occupied by one neighbor. But I was also assuming that a wash-and-dry cycle would take about 75 minutes (in the laundry rooms I've had the pleasure of using, the norm seems to be about 30 minutes for the washer and 45 minutes for the dryer).

So you and I are approaching this etiquette problem with a different set of assumptions. My laundry takes longer than yours, perhaps. But the fact is, there's no way for you to know whether a neighbor is interested in starting laundry in the next half-hour (because you can't knock on every door in your building). And if a neighbor with urgent laundry needs finds both washers occupied, she can't know whom to ask about cutting in (for the same reason).

Faced with this problem of etiquette, I applied Social Grace's Law of Limited Resources (essentially, share and share alike) and Social Grace's Good-Neighbor Directive (in essence, don't be a jerk to the people next door). That's why my solution was what it was: Don't use up all your building's washers or dryers at once because one of your neighbors may need to do a load of laundry, too. For now, I'm standing by that verdict. But I'll add that if you have a lot of laundry to do, and if the idea of running up and down the stairs many times seems too much, you might consider finding a public laundry with numerous machines in which to do your washing.

Dear Social Grace,

I have been considering buying a house; however, since I have been a student for the last four years and will continue to be for another four years, my resources are very limited. My parents are not in the position to get a second mortgage, but I do have a close friend that's very wealthy. Would it be wrong of me to ask this friend for assistance? I have been good friends with him for more than four years and I would classify him as my mentor and friend. I have never asked for anything from him, but he regularly gives me assistance. Financial issues are always very touchy, so I am very uncertain.

Many Thanks,
Struggling Student

Dear Struggling Madam or Sir,

Here's an illustrative story: Back when Social Grace was a struggling student, his resources were also somewhat limited. Like you, he was unable to afford a house on his own. And like you, he had a couple of close friends who were very well off. So here's what Social Grace did: He rented a tiny but inexpensive room in a shabby but bohemian house. There was barely enough room for him to sit down and write thank-you notes for the lovely dinner parties and other gorgeous events his well-off friends occasionally invited him to (and he was ever so grateful for those invitations!), but he was happy.

Years went by. Social Grace left college and embarked upon a career in etiquette advice. Eventually, he could afford to rent three tiny rooms (with a view!) in a better-kept apartment building. And there he lives to this day, carefully shepherding a slowly growing down-payment fund while covetously monitoring new loft developments in "up and coming" neighborhoods.

My account does not have a fairy-tale ending, to be sure, but it does have a certain gritty realism. Anyway, it's the first part of my memoir that bears upon your situation and supports my advice: If you can't afford to buy a house right now, you need to stop considering a real estate purchase. Asking your friend for a loan (which I hope is what you meant by "help") would be inappropriate and unwise. Instead, make an appointment with a financial counselor and learn how to make the most of your own resources. In case of a true emergency, do ask your close friends for help. In the meantime, be grateful for the many things they give you without being asked.

About The Author

Social Grace


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