Of Washing Machines and Balance

Of Washing Machines and Balance

In life, you can’t always have—or keep—what you want.

We learn this at a young age, usually when our brother snatches our doll and tears off her head.  Or our sister takes back the sweater we stole from her.

I had a washing machine in my house in Ontario that was 2 years old and worked like a dream.  It was a top loader with no agitator bar, a white monster baby with a huge cylindrical drum for a belly and virtually unlimited capacity.  I could cram three loads into it and the spin was so perfect the clothes came out nearly dry—all pressed up against the sides, socks nestled into t-shirts and jeans resting on towels, waiting for me to come and peel them off and hang them in the sun.  My queen-sized duck down duvet fit inside effortlessly and spun perfectly.

My washing machine had a Spin Only cycle.  This is significant, especially when dealing with a duck down duvet.

Washing machines rely heavily on balance.  A purely technical explanation is that the thingy that rests on the wingding helps the washing part spin around without going bang, BANG, whump WHUMP WHUMP.  At least that’s how I understand it.

All I know is that if I piled the duck down duvet into the washing bin slightly off kilter, it wouldn’t pull the water out quite so efficiently.

That’s why I loved the Spin Only cycle.  If I didn’t get it right the first time, I just had to click the dial one spot to the left and voila! it would wring out the rest of the water with pure beautiful centrifugal force.

We moved, as I explained in a previous post, and our new townhouse came with new appliances.  As a consequence, I left my beloved washing machine behind.

I remember surveying my new washing machine with skepticism.  Brand new, yes, but a front loader with a significantly smaller wash basin.  It required its door left open after doing a load of laundry otherwise it suffered from a mildew stink.  It had that rubber lip that is subject to slime collection.  It wasn’t my beloved white monster baby.

The duck down duvet emerged from a moving box smelling less than fresh. Comparing its bulk to the bin of the new washing machine, I opted for a less-favourite comforter on our bed until I decided if I wanted to risk laundering it in my new machine.  In the meantime, I was busy settling into my new life on the West coast, and battling spiders.

Autumn progressed into the rain and fog they call Winter in B.C. and the comforter was covered with a blanket, then two.  My job became more complicated, my husband started doing the household tasks I had always enjoyed and I started to get grouchy.  One night the two blankets evolved to three and I decided I needed the familiar light airy warmth of the duck down duvet.

The next day I crammed the duvet into the washing machine.  I had a couple of hours before I needed to go to work so I decided to cram some other household tasks into my limited time.  Before long, the washing machine beeped at me—another reason I missed my beloved white monster baby back East:  he used to sing to me when he was finished.  I opened the door, reached in, grabbed the duvet, and attempted to pull it out of the machine.

It was sodden.

It was so heavy with water that it started to drip on the floor.  My arm was wet up to my sleeve.  Like a sponge, the duck down duvet had soaked up all of the rinse water and obviously not let go of a single drop during the rinse cycle.

I crammed it back in as best as I could, slammed the door, and looked for the spin cycle setting.

Bulky. Normal. Delicates. Rinse & Spin.

Rinse & Spin?

My new washing machine didn’t have a Spin Only setting.  What?  My new washing machine DIDN’T HAVE A SPIN ONLY SETTING?

I stared into the machine and at the dial.  What the hell was I supposed to do?  Rinse and spin was going to introduce even more water into the already sodden mess and the last thing I needed was more water.

What were my options?

I could pull the whole duvet out, transfer it into a laundry basket and dump it into the bathtub but how was I going to squeeze the water out of a queen-sized sponge?  I needed pure beautiful centrifugal force.

I turned the dial to Rinse & Spin and pressed start, cringing as I heard the drum fill with water.  I eyed the hose leading from the wall to the machine and toyed with the idea of turning off the faucet but immediately balked at the thought.  I was sure I would break something.  I imagined a scenario that involved a lack of pressure, a kill switch and an explosion.

The timer set itself to 15 minutes and I watched as the drum started to agitate, the duvet gurgling and sloshing with its added water weight.

Then it attempted to spin.  But the duvet was so soaked and the drum so unbalanced, it hesitated to turn over.  I pressed pause and reached in again, this time pulling the duvet up on each side, navigating wet fabric and clumps of swampy feathers as I tried to balance the weight.  I slammed the door and pressed start.


I pressed pause again, opened the door, and physically swung the drum up and over.  Gravity made the duvet slam down to the opposite side and splash me in the face.  I swore at the machine, slammed the door in protest and pressed start.

It moved.  Slowly.  It swung from side to side then turned over once. Then it stopped, like it was thinking.  I pressed pause again and reached in again, trying to balance the weight…again.

I pressed start.

It swung back and forth for a minute or two then ever so slowly turned over.  Then turned over again, gaining momentum.  It was spinning, but gently, tentatively, afraid of hurting itself.

It stopped again.

I sighed, pressed pause and repeated the process of balancing the heavy wet duvet in the drum, closing the door and pressing start.  And it repeated the process of swinging back and forth on its wingdings and thingys before tentatively spinning, a little faster each time.

I planted myself in front of the washing machine, my back against the wall, my chin resting on my arms, my arms resting on my knees.  Realizing none of the household tasks I had planned were going to get accomplished, I stared at the washing machine window with the intensity of staring into myself.  At exactly 6 minutes before the end of the cycle, I pressed pause, readjusted, closed the door, pressed start, the timer set itself to 10, and I watched the machine gain momentum. At 6 minutes I did it again.  Then again.  Then again…

With every readjustment, the spin was faster.  By babysitting it, I avoided the cycle ending and having to choose Rinse & Spin again for what should really be a simple Spin Only.  I watched, I waited, I readjusted.  I composed a letter to the manufacturer in my head: “Dear Sir/Madam, Why the hell doesn’t your product have a proper spin cycle…”

And just when I was about to end the whole stupid process and dream up a way to transport the sodden mess to a laundromat, the washer hit the sweet spot.  Suddenly the duvet was light enough and the machine balanced enough that it spun with pure beautiful centrifugal force.  Delighted, I stayed until the cycle ended and when the machine beeped at me, I ignored its lack of melody and reached in to find the duvet clinging, half-dry to the sides of the drum.  I smiled.

Yes, I had left my white monster baby behind in good old Ontario.  Yes, this machine didn’t have a Spin Only cycle.  Yes, it took some adjustment and patience and simply wasn’t as easy as it used to be to launder my duvet, but the end result was the same.

And being the contemplative, introspective human being that I am, I thought about that.

From dolls and sweaters and washing machines to jobs and household tasks…and places…and people, sometimes we can’t always have or keep what we want.  Sometimes things change without our say and life has a way of taking control away from us and we temporarily lose our balance.

Sometimes with our back to the wall, we find a way to rest our chin on our hands and our hands on our knees and look inward.  With patience and readjustment, we find balance.

But sometimes, just sometimes, we need to ask if the damn thing is going to fit. 

Sure, I had the time and the patience to babysit my queen sized duck down duvet in a washing machine without a Spin Only cycle, but what if…what if the duvet was just a little bit bigger?  Or I didn’t have the time?  Or I didn’t have the patience?  What then?

There’s balance.  And there’s cramming.  And there’s a point when it doesn’t matter how hard you try to cram everything in or how long you are willing to babysit, it’s just going to be a sodden mess.  There’s balance in figuring that out too—not just with duvets and washing machines—but with life.

Do you have a story about your own quest for balance?  Or just want advice on which washing machine to buy?  Leave a comment here.  We’d love to hear from you!

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