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Zen and the art of folding laundry

By JOANNE RAE M. RAMIREZ, The Philippine STAR Published Mar 07, 2023 5:00 am

I remember when I was in college at the University of the Philippines, my philosophy teacher devoted one semester of his class to the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert M. Pirsig.

In the book’s introduction, Pirsig explains that, despite its title, “it should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It’s not very factual on motorcycles, either.”

The book is a fictionalized autobiography. To me, it was all about one’s outlook in life. I remember the comparison between viewing the world through the window of a car or bus, and viewing it from a motorcycle—the latter giving you a windowless, unobstructed view. On a motorcycle, you see the world pass by as it is, unframed, untamed.

Anyway, two weeks without a live-in housekeeper was, to me, like a full semester of Zen and the Art of Folding Laundry. Full of realizations, too, from atop the motorcycle of life. Unframed. As real as real gets.

Still recovering from an injured ankle, I thought it was going to be a nightmare simply because like most of those from the post-Baby-Boomer generation, I grew up with yayas or helpers. One need not be from the aristocracy in the Philippines to be able to afford house help. As we grew older, household help became more scarce, as many have found greener pastures abroad.

So our household of two has one housekeeper, with help from the many laundromats in our neighborhood, and fast-food delivery from time to time. 

Whenever my helper goes on her annual vacation, I realize what a charmed life I have with her around. Even if my husband and I are empty nesters who have invested in a dishwasher (a housewife’s best kitchen assistant, because although you can bring your dirty laundry to a laundromat, and your dusty car to a carwash, you can’t bring your dirty dishes to a professional “dishwash”), I realized that I have a better life because I have a helper who lives up to her name.

While lost in my world of folding sweet-smelling laundry, I suddenly felt like I was the one awash in peace.


My mother’s obsession whenever she is in the United States is doing the laundry with those high-tech machines that wash and dry and make your entire house smell like Downy. Even on our last day in her home before flying back to Manila, she would insist on doing our laundry, “para mabango ang maleta ninyo pag binuksan ninyo sa Pilipinas.”

Since my pet peeve is seeing the neighbors’ laundry fluttering with the wind (even if it is against HOA rules), I implored my husband to buy me a pair of washer and dryer, not just a spinner. 

Sometimes the most mundane tasks can be the most meaningful parts of our days as it gives us the peace we need.

With all the ammunition in our home for a maid-less interlude, I thought I would manage quite well.

“Everything is pushbutton,” my husband Ed would say confidently. As the days passed and the novelty of living like we were newlyweds in an Airbnb with dishwasher and washing machine and other aids, I realized I am really the product of my generation and long to wake up to a breakfast table that was already set.

Sure, pushbutton gadgets are a godsend. It is easy to separate colored and whites from the stash in the hamper, toss them in the washing machine, then in the dryer. After about an hour (depending on the load), voila! Your laundry smells like roses. They’re virtually creaseless. No more extended sampay!


Then, what? You still have to fold the laundry, my dear. The machine won’t do that for you. And even if you have everything done in a laundromat, who’s going to put the laundry inside the cabinet? You tend to keep the clean laundry in a holding room till you realize you have more clothes in the “holding room” or “holding table” than in your closet!

You can’t escape taxes and you can’t run away from folding laundry, I kid thee not. They will not fold up by themselves. Uh-uh. This was the one time I missed my housekeeper most.

"While lost in my world of folding sweet-smelling laundry, I suddenly felt like I was the one awash in peace."

Tackling a tall hamper of laundry isn’t just mechanical. It is an art. You have to learn how to fold shirts and tops right so that the collars are in the center. You have to stack them right like in a Uniqlo shop before the shoppers storm in. Folding underwear is also an art. Which side up? Folded or rolled? Socks. Bath towels, hand towels, face towels. 

While lost in my world of folding sweet-smelling laundry, I suddenly felt like I was the one awash in peace. Fold one sleeve, the other sleeve, then fold the shirt into two, collar-side up. Repeat. Doing something mechanical and methodical is relaxing, even if I was as focused on it as a law student taking an exam. 

Then before I knew it, the hamper was empty. The clothes all folded, segregated, and stacked neatly. Those that needed to be ironed were hung, and ready for the laundromat. Ironing is the most expensive service in laundromats (aside from dry cleaning), so that tells you how valuable a planchadora is.

" As in life, don’t wait too long to mold a child, mend a fractured relationship. Set things right while feelings and relationships are still warm."

I learned that when folding laundry, timing is everything. Fold laundry while they’re still warm from the dryer. That way, they become virtually creaseless. As in life, don’t wait too long to mold a child, mend a fractured relationship. Set things right while feelings and relationships are still warm. When people and/or relationships stay crumpled too long, it will take more than a gentle hand to smooth the creases. Don’t wait till you have to iron out things.


Restore your laundry to its proper drawers. Hard as it is, you have to put things back in their proper places. This is when procrastination rears its ugly head. If you can, just do it. In life, we gotta do what we gotta do or live with the consequences—misplaced socks being the least of them.

Same with the dishes. If you are fortunate to have a dishwasher, put back the clean dishes, glasses, utensils, etc. in their proper places before the next meal. Otherwise, you will realize you have a new load of dirty dishes and no room because the dishwasher is still full of clean dishes! What an irony! So you have double the work—taking the clean ones out, and storing them before putting the soiled dishes in. You end up bending and stretching like a ballerina.

My dear faithful housekeeper is back. I truly missed her. 

But being without house help, even just for 14 days, has imparted many invaluable lessons, many realizations. Why, it also introduced me to a new art form!