Barely out of college, I got married in my early twenties and moved into my husband's home, half way across the world. With the exception of a two year interlude in the UK where I did learn to take care of home and do more than my share of chores, growing up in South Asia allowed for house help and my 'Bua' had been with us since I was one. She spoiled me and pandered to all my weird requests. Let me not get too far into the rabbit hole of how I abused that power over the years. Suffice it to say that apart from taking care of my own laundry a handful of times while we were in England, I had not touched detergent otherwise.
Highly qualified as a professional and mildly qualified as a housewife, I arrived into my new home with two suitcases full of clothes and not much else. My husband had lived alone for a few years prior and the home already had basic furnishings. I learnt about the merits of various cleaning supplies, grocery shopping and slowly learnt the science of cooking (the art of it eluded me for years). And I also learnt about laundry.
My basic modus operandi in life used to be to spend more time trying to figure out how to be efficient with a process rather than doing the task itself. True to form, I would gather an armload of laundry, and just get the machine started. I did not know about lingerie bags - my husband had none (and it’s just as well!) - and I did not care to spend the time sorting the clothes. In my home country, clothes were hand-washed individually, and as such the sorting concept was foreign to me. I cannot begin to count how many white underclothes I managed to turn pink, while I grumbled to my mother how clothing from my native part of the world is simply too notorious for having color that runs (it possibly could not be my fault).
And then arrived the steady, frequent and baffling recurrence of losing his socks in the wash. Even though his engineering mind had solved for this years earlier by only having the same kind of white pairs of socks, I would get very frustrated when folding laundry and finding a last unmatched pair. I felt the sock was having the last laugh at my expense. Angrily, I would throw it away, thinking he has several other pairs. Well, that is a short-lived strategy when every run ends with a lost sock. And the problem literally got out of hand once we had children, and their doll-sized clothes and socks got blended in with ours.
Over the years, I modified my approach to the laundry problem, and in retrospect I have come to realize that much of what I chose to change in my behavior also mirrored major life decisions as well. I had never imagined that a single sock could be so powerful.
Sometimes, it is difficult to separate the forest for the trees. My armload of blended laundry problem is similar to how many life problems seemed to me. House issues got blended into marital issues, which got blended into financial and social issues, which got blended into self-worth issues. Without clear separation of the problems, the constant sense of stress can be crippling. I had to learn to create compartments for my issues, and actively work to minimize cross-contamination.
Just like in life, being able to sort the laundry by color and type helps to tackle the problems in a bite-sized manner. Sorting the laundry means I can spread out the task over a number of days and not be overwhelmed with it all on one day. And, of course, no further pink underwear!
Find the Right Tools
Navigating relationships is hard. Different upbringing and socialization can produce disparate value systems which can be difficult to get aligned. I came from a wide-spread, active social network with little exposure to a couples dynamic, into an arranged marriage and my husband's hermit-like existence. Understandably, we floundered for a long time to find common language for us both. Mutual resentment can spin out of control when both of us feel unheard. One of my greatest discoveries is Dr. Gary Chapman's book 5 Love Languages, through which it dawned on us that each of us are justified in how we love and wished to be loved. This fundamental idea that each of us are valid in ways we are, help to broaden understanding and tolerance in wonderful ways. Even though the book is marketed for couples relationships, the underlying message is easy to extend and apply to how we engage with and relate to the world.
Parallel to life, I have discovered spot removers, Bounce static sheets, fabric softeners, lingerie bags and multiple laundry baskets, all of which make it easier to address mistakes in a process I didn't understand before. Recognizing that one can be creative about how one solution for a given problem can solve another, I have never been fooled by the branded lingerie bags that have suggestive and lacy lingerie printed on the top. I buy the basic kind and in addition to lingerie, I also put in pairs of socks in them!
Let It Go
The sock theory still haunts me. Once in a while, when I am in a rush, I still make mistakes and put in tiny little socks blended in with the clothes. This is one of my recent lone rangers. The big difference now is that instead of being perturbed or feel mocked by the sock, I calmly put it back in the drawer. More often than not, weeks later the missing pair shows up in innocuous spots. Over time I realize that my earlier inner agitation was born more from a need for closure than the idea that a relatively cheap piece of clothing had lost its pair. With life experiences, I know that the universe cannot always be kind and give us closure on all threads. There are arguments we will have to disengage from without a win; situations we will have to walk away from without a solution; circumstances we will have to live through without much control over the variables. Closure is no longer a worthy goal. I let loose ends remain loose ends in the hopes that, like the errant sock, something will come my way that will allow me to make peace with the dissonance.
I thought of the title for this write-up some twenty years ago, when rifling through my dryer in my tiny laundry room in our single story starter home. At the time, I had thought my piece will only talk about the comical aspect of how the dryer eats our clothes, and how this single sock gets the last laugh. Two decades worth of life's ups and downs, and meandering maturity, give way to a deeper understanding of what this sock symbolizes for me. Somethings, if left alone, will find a way to resolve itself. And sometimes, that may not be true and the onus of the interpretation remains with us. Maybe I will never find the pair to this sock but it will remain as a memory of my precocious children and a remnant of a life journey well worth taken.
(c) mh 2020