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The laundry avalanche

My husband James has a policy never to check a bag when he travels, and we have friends (a mom, dad, and two kids) who managed to spend a year traveling the world with everything they needed only in carry-ons.

But I was carting around checked luggage when my bag was stolen recently. Traveling for work through Paris, I had to take a shuttle bus from Charles de Gaulle to Orly, the airport on the other side of the city. Like the other passengers, I left my bag underneath in the bus's hold. When we got to Orly it was gone: either someone had taken it (and not by mistake or a different red rolling luggage would have been left in its stead) or it had somehow gotten jostled off the bus and destroyed by vigilant airport police?

I'll never know what happened to the bag. I was most sorry about the loss of the Christmas music in English, books, and magazines I was bringing for a group of orphans I used to work with, and the gifts I had for my hosts, and for friends.

I also lost all of my clothes, shoes, and undergarments. I happened to have an extra pair of pants, socks, and underwear in my carry-on, not through good planning but because I had stuffed them there in my rush to pack. It turned out, that was all that I needed.

I washed my socks and underwear in the sink every night and they were dry by the morning. I used the second pair of pants as pajamas and exercise clothes, and never had to decide what to wear because I only had one outfit. Though I was a little embarrassed to be conducting interviews in a pair of faded blue jeans, I didn't miss my clothes a bit.

Then I came home, back to my real life of cream cheese smears on T-shirts and toothpaste gobs on pajamas, courtesy of my rambunctious children. (In the interest of full disclosure, however, I have to tell you that I managed to spill soup on my shirt all by myself while I was away, leading to a mental note not to blame my kids for all the stains on my clothes.)

In the short time I was gone I had forgotten about the piles and piles of laundry in our house. In early America laundry was done only once a week, usually on Mondays, and it was an onerous task that involved fetching water, lighting fires, rubbing clothes on rough washboards with lye-based soap, and hanging them out to dry. In our house, laundry is done almost daily and all I have to do is stuff clothes into the washing machine in our kitchen, have a moment of existential angst when I convince myself they will get clean if I use cold water even though I really want to wash them on warm, turn the dials to the right place, and press "On." But despite the ease of the 21st century, the laundry never seems to be "done" in our house.

My friend Karen, who has four kids, may leave the lettuce on the table for two days before getting it into the fridge but she always manages to put the laundry away. We do not, and piles of clean laundry start spilling over from the one basket we have (the second one broke under the weight of all the clothes.) In the morning rush to get dressed for school, my girls make things worse by flinging clean laundry all over the room as they try to find underwear and matching socks and the one pair of pants they have to wear or else they absolutely cannot leave the house.

We have a children's book in which a Zen master (in this case a Polar bear) only owns one robe and one bowl. Laundry and the dishes are a simple affair for him, and he never has to waste time choosing the right clothes. Maybe if we adopted James's carry-on only policy to our closets, we could level the self-imposed mountains of laundry.