tall laundry No. 2 basket

Inside: When you don’t have a solid laundry routine, laundry can quickly become overwhelming, especially when you have (a lot of) little kids! Try these five not-so-obvious steps to keep on top of the laundry, and say goodbye to laundry overwhelm for GOOD. 

Nothing builds up faster in a family with small children than laundry (except maybe dishes?). And there’s nothing quite like waking up to various family members complaining that they’re out of clean underwear – AGAIN.

Sigh. This just happened yesterday actually. It’s what happens when things like an intense work project or prepping for a long-distance move throws off our laundry routine.

Thankfully, because I have a set laundry routine, it’s super easy to get back on track.

I know what it’s like to feel like you’re drowning in laundry. In fact, if we’re talking true confessions, in college I used to go buy more underwear just to avoid doing laundry. I’m not proud.

Fast forward fifteen years and five kids later, laundry doesn’t overwhelm me anymore. I’ve stopped the emergency underwear runs, and the laundry runs [mostly] like clockwork.

I want that for you, too! 

So here’s all my laundry wisdom wrapped up in one blog post to stop the laundry overwhelm, and make keeping on top of the laundry a breeze.

laundry piles, with text overlay, "5 not so obvious steps to keep on top of the laundry for good"

Staying on Top of the Laundry Before Capsule Wardrobes


Before I had a laundry routine, I usually waited until a laundry crisis hit (you know the ones – the “oh my goodness, we’re all out of underwear, must do laundry right NOW!”).

Back then, a minimalist wardrobe would never have worked for us. Our closets were overflowing, so my “routine”, if you could even call it that, worked just fine.

I had so many clothes that it took about 3 weeks to get desperate enough to do it. 

By the time I got around to it, mounds and mounds waited for me. But at that time, there were only three of us, and I had the laundromat. With tons of machines at my disposal, doing laundry actually took a lot less time.

All of our laundry, even with far more clothes took less time to complete. I had no reason to change.

You’d think that moving to a house with a washer and dryer would make my life easier. And in some ways it did – like when the stomach bug hit and all the blankets in the entire house were covered in puke. 

But decluttering our clothes PLUS not going to the laundromat changed laundry for me pretty quickly. 

I quickly realized I needed a new system ASAP.

Capsule Wardrobes Forced Me to Rethink My Laundry Routine 

Right around the time I started to rethink laundry, I discovered Marie Kondo and started decluttering like crazy.

The KonMari method suggests decluttering clothes first. I created my first capsule wardrobe and got rid of about half my clothes.

Right after I did the same thing to my kids’ clothes, the laundry crises came with alarming frequency.

Lest I scare you away from capsule wardrobes, I love them – I do.

But I needed to rethink our routines and create a new laundry routine that worked with capsule wardrobes.

Because obviously, fewer clothes means you need to seriously up the laundry frequency. Most of these tips came from that time of rethinking laundry in every possible way.  

piles of dirty laundry, with text overlay, "5 not so obvious steps to keep up with the laundry for good because no mom should cry about laundry"

5 Steps to Help You Stay on Top of the Laundry (for good)

1. Declutter your clothes.

After all that talk about how minimalism forced me to change my laundry routine, I still love love love life with less clothes. 

I love that I don’t wait weeks to do laundry anymore. Because that much laundry IS overwhelming, and you WILL constantly fall behind and fail to catch up. 

You don’t need to create a capsule wardrobe necessarily, although I do highly recommend it.

But you DO need to get rid of the clothes you never ever wear, the ones you probably dread wearing and only wear when something throws a wrench in your laundry routine and you’re desperate.

Maybe a couple back-up outfits are o.k., but do you really need a whole closet full? I know it can feel scary to let go of a ton of clothes – I’ve been there, and I had my doubts at first.

But I promise, once you establish a laundry routine that works with the clothes you have left after decluttering, fewer clothes WILL help you stay on top of the laundry. 

Related: Decluttering Clothes: A Realistic Step by Step Guide

2. Choose a laundry routine that works for you.

How you do your laundry has to fit YOUR personality and YOUR lifestyle. Otherwise, laundry may continue to be a major source of overwhelm for you, and it really doesn’t need to be.

There are typically two camps when it comes to laundry: the “do it all in a day” camp and the “one load a day” camp.

Each one has its merits,but to be honest, it all comes down to personal preference and your lifestyle, which can change over time.

When I had access to a laundromat, I obviously fell into the “do it all in a day” camp, but once we move and I had more kids, doing that much laundry in one day was too much. I quickly switched to the “load a day” routine. 

“Do It All in One Day, Once a Week” Laundry Routine

  • ​Are you an achiever?
  • Do you like to tackle a huge task all at once and feel like its done?

If that’s you, the “do it all in a day” may be your best bet.

You can focus on one thing, feel like you’ve actually accomplished something (so rare in this thing called motherhood), and are done…for a week at least.

​”A Load a Day” Laundry Routine

  • ​Do large household tasks overwhelm you?
  • Do you prefer to incorporate mini, “bite-sized” tasks into your daily routine instead of tackling bigger projects all at once?
  • Do you have a short attention span and prefer a little variety in your day?

If that’s you, you may do better with the “load a day” approach, especially if it can fit well in your morning routine.

I transitioned to the “load a day” routine shortly after we had our fourth child. Even with capsule wardrobes, there was too much to do all in one day.

Having a morning routine made SUCH a big difference for me in making that daily laundry load (now two) a habit.

I take a few minutes to throw a load in while my coffee is brewing, and another few minutes after showering to transfer it to the dryer. If I need to do a second load, I throw that in at this point.

I usually fold the laundry that evening, or the next day at the latest.

If you can’t decide which laundry routine sounds like you, give them both a try. Experiment, and figure out what fits your personality, family size, and season of life best.

3. Wash and dry clothes on the gentlest, coolest settings possible.

Around the same time I created my first capsule wardrobe, I started thinking long and hard about making the clothes I did have last longer.

I had reduced my wardrobe to things I loved. And even though I could get brand new clothes for free, I didn’t want to spend a lot of time shopping or trying to find replacements for the pieces I loved. The more babies I had, the harder it became to find flattering pieces that fit my postpartum body.

I figured out pretty quickly that the way you do laundry – temperature, setting, stain treatment – drastically affects the life of your clothes. 

I started paying careful attention to clothing labels and sorted clothes accordingly, using the classic whites, lights and darks system with everyone’s clothes mixed together.

But I eventually gave that up because it was ridiculously inefficient and time-consuming. Plus, it didn’t really work to store all the laundry together in one place. 

I searched for a new system and initially considered washing everything in cool water in order to save time and the clothes. After reading this article however (I’ll spare you here, but ewww!), I decided I absolutely could not wash underwear and socks on a lower temperature.

Ultimately, I decided to keep two laundry baskets in our closet for my husband and I’s clothes: one for underwear and socks and one for everything else.

Underwear and socks are washed with hot water and extra detergent and dried on high heat.

Everything else is separated by darks and lights on laundry day (I haven’t been brave enough to try not sorting yet) and washed in cold water on the gentle setting, no matter what the label says, and dried on the “low knits” dryer setting.

Each child has a single laundry basket of his/her own, which I wash on warm.

Related: I Tried Not Buying Clothes for a Year. Here’s What I Learned.

4. Treat clothes with heavy stains immediately.

There are some things that can wait when you have small children – vacuuming, for example.

Mud, blood, or tomato sauce stains are NOT one of them.

When I know about any of those stains, I try to take it immediately and rinse thoroughly with cold water. Next I treat it with THIS stain remover (it’s a miracle worker, seriously) and get it into the washer to soak ASAP.

Having just switched back to a regular top-loading, not high-efficiency washer, I’m loving the ability to soak the clothes right in the washer!

Quick tip I wish I’d had years ago: for the worst stains, use cold water ONLY.

The water temperature you use to treat stains is counter-intuitive. For years, I thought hot water was the way to go and was constantly frustrated by seemingly unbeatable stains. 

Then, by some miracle, I picked up on the fact that hot water actually sets stains, not loosens them.

From that point on, I’ve had remarkable success getting out even tough kid stains like mud, blood and yes, even spaghetti sauce and strawberry stains.

5. Make sure you have enough laundry baskets.

This probably sounds dumb, but what happens when you go to pull laundry out of the dryer and you don’t have any empty laundry baskets? 

First, you get seriously irritated, and second, you very well may walk away from the dryer and totally abandon your laundry routine.

Sound dramatic? Maybe. But I’ve been there –  and having enough laundry baskets can mean the difference between laundry getting done and not getting done.

I used to try to get by with a just couple of laundry baskets, but when you have a family of 6 7, two just doesn’t cut it.

When we moved to our current home, I bought several medium-sized ones on Amazon (a set of 6)

They’re pretty sturdy and perfectly sized. I finally got smart and gave each person a laundry basket of his own.

When the kids take a few days to put away their laundry (I stopped folding their laundry last year), the dirty clothes have the potential to pile up on the floor and drive me crazy!

Extra baskets equals more than enough to store folded laundry, and the dirty clothes, which also keeps laundry overwhelm at bay.

Bonus Tip: Choose not to fold certain clothes.

I won’t get into this too much here because I wrote an entire post about not folding clothes, but I’ve stopped folding my kids’ clothes (and I don’t make them fold them – they just dump them in the drawer or hang them up).

I also no longer fold my work-out clothes, underwear, my pajamas or my undershirt tanks. It’s amazing what you can stop folding if you stop thinking you should.

Related: A No Fold Laundry System for Adults Who Are Tired of Folding

You Can’t Keep Up with the Laundry Perfectly…But You Can Get Pretty Darn Close

There will obviously be times when the laundry system breaks down.

Everyone gets sick at once, kids grow out of things, you go on vacation or your washer breaks. That last one happened to us a few months ago, and it was SO not fun.

But if you go through these steps and figure out a workable laundry routine when life is normal, getting back into your laundry rhythm won’t feel that overwhelming. 

You’ve got this!

How do YOU keep on top of the laundry? Share your best tips in the comments!

Read Next: How You Fold Your Clothes Could Change Your Mom Life (seriously)

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  1. I like doing a load every day. To get a head start, I load the machine the night before. I put my washing machine on an outlet timer that kicks on early in the morning so the wash cycle is done exactly when I’m normally waking up. Then one of the first things I do after getting out of bed is put it all in the dryer.
    Another tip for reducing wear on clothes during washing is to make sure all zippers are closed. Those little teeth can cause a lot of damage!

  2. Oxyclean made into a paste, and rubbed in and leave it, then wash normally – works great! Although I did decide to forgo spaghetti and stick to penne or other shapes instead… ;).
    Natures Miracle works great for kid and pet stains in carpets too, I once got red soda out of white carpet with that stuff.

    1. Author

      Thanks so much! I will have to check out Natures Miracle. We had a recent unfortunate incident with pizza sauce on a rug. 🙁

  3. For spaghetti I spray immediately with Shout, let sit for an hour and then wash in cold water. Comes out every time.

    1. Author

      Thank you so much! I’m going to try it this week. It was getting to the point where I was seriously considering cutting spaghetti out of our meal plan altogether!

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