Separate Laundry By Person (Or By Category)

My wife hated this idea. My friend’s wife hated this idea.

But they weren’t doing the laundry. I love this, my friend loves it too.

By separating your laundry by person, you reduce the categories of sorting. If you want to believe me, you can skip the rest of this article. However if you want to understand why, I will go into detail.

Less Categories Allows Batch Processing

Imagine two scenarios:

A pile of you, your SO, and your children’s freshly cleaned clothes. ~6 categories each x 3 people= ~18 categories


Your clothes. ~6 categories

With a smaller number of categories, you may be able to grab all of your shirts without digging, eliminating a category instantly. Next you grab all of your pants. Down to 4 categories. At this point you may have to begin sorting by largest items and most frequent items (as recommended by our ergonomic laundry study). You only have 4 categories, which means you can keep the piles close-by. When there are only 2 categories left, elimination of 1 category necessarily sorts the last category. In the worst case, you sorted 5 categories.

With a larger number of categories, you may have shirts hidden deep into the pile behind your SO’s shirts. Instead of doing all shirts at once, you reasonably can only get the ones on the top layer, you continue to have 18 categories to be sorted after your first round. As you continue you create 18 piles, each with distances separating them, at some point you may have to throw clothes because there are too many categories to fit within arms reach. Maybe you have 2 kids around the same ages and genders, you may have to check the size on each to know which pile they go in. The cognitive load to sort 18 items is greater than 6 items.

This is also commonly done with towels or bedding. You can also separate by category.

A Counterpoint, Transportation Waste

Suppose you have 3 family members, this would involve 3 different loads of laundry. Each time you need to walk to the laundry machine, add detergent, fabric softener, and start it. Later you would return to dry it. Each of these has transportation and operating waste from doing it 3 times instead of 1.

My best advice here is to have plenty of dirty clothes before doing the laundry, this way your laundry machine was full anyway. It depends on a tradeoff between sorting time and how long it takes to walk to the laundry machine. My solution is to do laundry before my bedtime or the kids bed time, our laundry is near our bedrooms so I would be passing by the laundry room anyway.

In the event that there is urgently dirty clothes, which is a near daily occurrence with kids, it makes more sense to do 1 load for all of the kids. Otherwise I’d be making many small trips to the laundry, only to get a few clothes clean each time. By doing these more frequent loads, this also reduces categories as not every category will have been made dirty.

Whatever you do, look to eliminate waste and continuously improve!