09 April 2010

Achilles and my Laundry Basket

In my last post, I explained why Achilles will never catch up with a tortoise if the tortoise has any sort of head-start on the great warrior at all. It was very depressing.

Please enter the equally depressing never-ending world of my Laundry Basket.

From time to time, I find piles of dirty clothes on the floor.

But I can't put them into the clothes basket because ...

... it's full. and I can't make any room in there by putting some in the wash because ...

... the washing machine has a washed load in there that has been waiting for at least six hours to be hung out to dry. But I can't hang anything out to dry because ...

... the clothes airers are full. Usually they are full of clean dry clothes that have been waiting to be folded for anywhere up to a week. But I can't get them inside to start folding them on our bed because ...

... I already have an ever-so-slight folding project going on there as it is.

But when the folding is eventually done, you know what happens, don't you?  Oh yes.  The folded piles go back where they belong, we pull out clothes one by one, wear them, and then ...

It's enough to make you cry. Or at least put you in a blue mood with the futility of it all.

Instead of seeing this laundry problem as a finite but vicious circle motivated by our disinclination towards nudism, I have started thinking of my laundry basket as an infinite well of items to be washed.

Let's say my laundry basket is full.  It's not that big a supposition.  Now, I usually can't fit all the items in my washing machine, so I'll wash HALF the items in my basket, and leave the other half for later.

Heh.  I like that.  "Later."

While the machine is washing my clothes, I have some time available.  I walk into the bathroom and find some clothes from bath-time last night, then I head into our room, Jessie's room, Buzz's room and Woody's room, collecting items that need to be washed as I go.  I move into the kitchen and decide to freshen up the tea towels, the hand towels and face washers.

I then take the little pile into the laundry, put it in the now-vacant top half of the laundry basket, and realise that the top half of the laundry basket is no longer vacant.

It's the paradox of Achilles and My Laundry Basket.  Forget the tortoise, I have bigger fish to fry.

I wash some of the items, but by the time they're finished, there are more to wash.  By the time they're finished, there are more to wash.  And by the time they're finished ... you get my point.

The way I see it, there are two ways to halt this insanity, both of them with less-than-satisfactory outcomes.

1.  I wash everything.  Since the infinite nature of my laundry dilemma is caused by my inability to wash more than half a laundry basket of clothes at any one time, I put in a massive effort and get it all done, perhaps with the help of a maid.  Every item clean, dry, folded and returned to its place.  That Utopian scenario will remain in place for three and a half minutes, at which point Buzz will wipe his food-encrusted mouth on his shirt, Jessie will spill a drink down her front and Woody will eat something.  Anything.  And lo, the Law of the Infinite Laundry Basket will again govern all things Laundry-Related.

2.  I wash nothing.  I stop bothering.  I just stop.  At some point, every item of clothing we own will be stuffed into the laundry room, and as a family, we will embrace nudism.

Both outcomes are, as I said, less than satisfactory, and while I'm on the topic of things that are less-than satisfactory, I will mention ...

... ironing.  The number of shirts hanging there waiting to be ironed is my sister's fault.  She was, for a while, coming over every Monday morning for an "Ironwoman Morning."  She'd bring her ironing board, her iron and a pile of clothes and hangers.  We'd iron in tandem, then she'd leave.  It was great - so great that she hasn't come over for weeks now.  And it would be completely beyond me to go to her house to iron, so there we are.

But I digress.

In closing, I wanted to share with you another of Zeno's paradoxes: "The Dichotomy."  According to Zeno, in order to complete any journey, you first have to complete half the journey. Then you have to complete half the remainder. Then you have to complete half the remainder of that. Then you have to complete half the remainder of that. He said that logically, no matter how close you get to finishing your journey, there should always be some ever-decreasing distance left. (He then proposed that it was impossible to complete any journey, it was not even possible to get started, and that motion itself was impossible.  Some of the recent philosophers who have studied this e.g., George Cantor, ended their days in mental hospitals.)

So, my next question is:

When does all the laundry stop?  

Does it ever stop?  One would logically assume that my constant treadmill of laundry would be put to rest once I pop my clogs.  Snuff it.  Kick the bucket.  Shuffle off the mortal coil.  Enter my Eternal Rest.

But when will that be?

Perhaps the nature of my recent musings on infinity are in the nature of a mid-life crisis, so let's say for argument's sake that now, at the age of 33, I am truly midway through my seemingly-infinite mortal laundry toil (neglecting those blissful pre-laundry days when my poor mother did it all, with scant regard for the influence of Zeno's paradoxes and the nature of infinity as applied to laundry.)

This argument shall assume my mortal account was credited with three score years and ten, minus four due to hardship faced in the laundry room.  That's 66, in case you're lost.  I'm nearly lost, myself.

So as of this year, I have completed half my earthly laundry.  In 16½ years when I am 49½, I will have completed half of what remained.  Then 8¼ years later when I am 57 years 9 months, I will have completed half of what remained.  I could continue this example a few more times, but I don't know the alt codes for eighths and sixteenths, so I will stop there.

Suffice to say that I will keep on completing half of each new remainder and on and on I will go, getting ever closer to being 66 years old, but never quite making it and never quite popping my clogs either.

Forever to be denied my Eternal Rest from laundry, forever to decay slowly, growing ever-closer to blowing out my 66 candles but never actually making it, all the while putting piles of clothes into and taking piles of clothes out of the washing machine, putting laden airers into and taking laden airers out of the sunshine, putting piles of folded clothes away into cupboards and putting piles of dirty clothes into the laundry basket.

It's a pity it will never be finished, really.  If it WAS, I'd be able to devote my time to cleaning my kitchen.  Organising the playroom.  Doing the floors.  Bathrooms.

Ad infinitum.


Jen said...

Unless you choose to become a nudest, laundry will never stop. *sigh*

Anne said...

It gets a bit less when they leave home!!!!! One day I actually found myself looking for stuff to make up a laundry load so that my laundry basket would be.....EMPTY.
Ironing, now thats another matter altogether!!!!
Anne uk.

Hairline Fracture said...

Yes, if Sisyphus had to do what moms do, he'd run back to push his rock up the hill every day. It seems so POINTLESS sometimes, ya know?

Crazy Sister said...

An older mum once told me that when you look back on your life, the time you spent actively raising a family would account for just a tiny sliver of a pie graph. As Anne said - that amount of laundry isn't actually a lifetime constant!

I have a friend with two washing machines. Imagine that.

Crazy Sister said...

And I'm loving the philosophical mathematical posts. You do them so well!

I have a book for you about Schrodinger's Cat...

Tracy P. said...

Seems like you could solve this by replacing your present laundry basket with one only half as big. You're not using those clothes that are in the bottom anyway. ;-)

Emily Sue said...

I can't solve the laundry problem but I can help with the ironing. I like to use the 'natural attrition' method. I fold all my ironing into a basket (folding is a key step) and then it sits there waiting for the end of time... but sometimes I remember that a top I quite like is sitting at the bottom of the ironing basket. I go to retrieve it, thinking I shall be forced to iron it, and lo and behold it no longer needs ironing! This is because:

1. My standards regarding what constitutes 'crushed' are slipping; and
2. The weight of the other clothes on top of it served to smooth out most of the creases anyway.

Lindethiel said...

My inner nerd smiles at the complexity of this post. But frowns at the complexity of washing. (I let hubby do it!)

Givinya De Elba said...

Ah, the bliss of the newlywed existence. I love the way you use the word "let," Lindethiel.

Perhaps I could also offer to "let" your husband do my washing?

Swift Jan said...

egad! Washing, folding, ironing... ICK ICK ICK ICK ICK...

So depressing isn't it!