Over many years, and through many mistakes, I have learned to check pockets before I throw clothing in the washing machine. It all started years ago, when my children would tuck crayons, tissues, toys, and trinkets into their pockets for safe keeping. The first crayon that went through the laundry was purple. A pair of boys’ tan cargo pants received the brunt of the damage. But since the crayon was in with a load of light clothes, it wasn’t difficult to spot streaky purple scars on shirts, underwear, socks, and even a pillowcase.

From then on, I tried to be much better about checking pockets. But all it takes is one day of dead-tired chores for me to slip up. And slip up, I did. This time, it was an orange crayon. Orange seems to be a grittier, stay-in-place kind of color. The orange crayon ruined one pair of (again) tan cargo pants when it disintegrated and stuck in the pocket like glue. Oh, and it bled through, so there really was no chance of wearing the pants again.

The next time I checked pockets too quickly, a few years later, I missed a lip balm. Lip balm melts very nicely down to nearly nothing in the heat of the dryer. There was just enough left to permanently leave an oily mark on everything it touched. Several more items were ruined.

Since these incidents, I have gotten much better at checking pockets. Often, I find spare change that I have dubbed “laundry tips.” Usually, I find a penny or a dime or a quarter here and there. Sometimes I might retrieve a dollar or two folded up into a tiny square, or to my disappointment, a baggie full of cracker crumbs (these I don’t eat…).

The stakes are higher nowadays, with flash drives and cell phones stored in pockets and sometimes forgotten. One of these items left in a pocket and run through the washer could cause some serious data loss, and as I mentioned, occasionally I am dead tired. So I have added an incentive for my offspring to check their own pockets: Anything I find while doing the laundry is mine to keep if I choose. While laundry tipping is often an involuntary activity, it always results from the voluntary refusal to check one’s own pockets before throwing clothing in the hamper.

Of course, sometimes they catch their mistakes before I can benefit. The other day, I was working in the kitchen when W walked in and started up the stairs. “I should probably go remove the ‘tip’ from my laundry,” he said as he passed. He had thrown his pants in the hamper with a pocket full of Christmas money. To my estimates, it would have been my best “tip” to date!

My loss, but clearly, the message is starting to sink in.


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