A look at the social construct of the laundromat

Posted at 8:27 AM, Feb 15, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-15 10:27:26-05

GREAT FALLS — Most people would prefer to have laundry access in their own homes. Many don’t have that luxury, me included. Since the purchase of a new puppy, I’ve had to change my living arrangements and adjust my life. The laundromat has become a part of my weekly routine.

My short time of being a customer of the laundromat has given me time to observe others, and more importantly, myself. I am more appreciative of the things I do have in my home while gaining respect for those that are like me.

The laundromat has helped me expand my thinking on how we as humans all have a basic need for hygiene.

I’m not the only one who views the laundromat as a community gathering space.

Robert Starnes has been a resident of Great Falls for less than a year. During that time, he’s had to utilize the services of the laundromat.

Robert Starnes

“We get people of all different beliefs and thoughts and race and everything else. We're all here for one thing, and it's just to wash clothes and all that other stuff doesn't seem to matter.”

Isn’t that the truth?

The laundromat is a clubhouse washroom. I choose Falls Cleaners for the safe atmosphere, friendly attendants, and access to washing machines.

Kayveon Burley, another Great Falls resident, chooses to use Falls Cleaners even though he has access to facilities in his apartment complex - for the same reason.

Kayveon Burley

“(It is) trusted in all the people and nobody bothers anybody’s stuff. You know that you can put a load in and then go run some errands and then come back, put it in the dryer and everything's good.”

Although running errands while in the middle of a laundry cycle is possible, Falls Cleaners advises not to leave clothes unattended. Theft is inevitable to some degree in such a public place.

Kayveon’s perspective is the same which got me thinking back to a similar service in my hometown of Red Bluff, California. The laundromat is an unattended business and many customers can be perceived in a negative light. Not once can I recall an instance of someone’s clothes being stolen or vandalism of property.

Of course, with some exceptions, these things do happen. With a 24-hour news cycle, it’s easy to believe that crime continuously happens. That isn’t the case.

Dr. Deana Koepke is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Providence, and she believes that people are naturally good.

Deana Koepke

“From the time that we are very young, we absorb messages about how we're expected to act and how we can expect other people to act. What I always think about is when we're learning to drive a car, when we come to a stop sign, we know to stop and we expect other people to stop at that stop sign, we just learned that's how you're supposed to behave,” Koepke explained.

She added, “We get conditioned again from a very early age to know that stealing is wrong, and you should respect the property of other people. So I think what is interesting is a different question, which is why would we assume that people would steal our clothes from the laundromat?”

Burley believes it’s mutual respect for one’s belongings; he noted, “I was always raised to do unto others as you want them to do unto you. That's how I was raised. So, I would never have the thought to touch somebody else's stuff because I wouldn't want anybody touching my stuff.”

I agree with Kayveon. With some exceptions, clothes are less of a material item, rather, a personal need. The clothes on our backs tell our life story, what we’ve done, and what we plan to do. Like the perspective, Forrest Gump had on people’s shoes. Clothes are a social construct that society says we need and how they appear says more about us than who we are as a person. Because you use the laundromat doesn’t mean that you are of a lower socioeconomic class. It means you have a desire for a basic need that fits with those around you.

“I think of it as a social contract in it's an illustration of how we are all the same, no matter the differences that exist between us.” Dr. Koepke explained.

Aside from the sole purpose of the facilities, to wash clothes, time is wasted if you aren’t utilizing the few hours it takes to run a full load of laundry. In college, a laundromat in downtown San Francisco I had to use had a coffee shop, WIFI, and free television. Falls Cleaners lacks coffee and television, but it offers WIFI, a place to sit, and a few vending machines. The necessities to make your time worthwhile.

Robert Starnes said, “I've seen people do everything from crossword puzzles to their taxes. I've seen them do everything in here, you know, students doing classwork projects, kids playing video games. It just kind of forces you to relax and take your time because, again, everything's on a timer. You're not going anywhere until the time is up.”

Starnes is right. Everything is how you view it, and perspective goes a long way. Why not maximize your time if you’re stuck in a wash cycle? Most who use the service have discovered how to do that.

If the laundromat were to not allow one particular type of visitor, you’d think maybe a cat or a dog. If you thought those two options, you’re wrong. Falls Cleaners welcomes dogs for certain; cats, though, I’m sure would also be fine.

Falls Cleaners even welcomes dogs (but keep them leashed and safe, please)

The laundromat is arguably the most welcoming place on Earth. Where no one is turned away, we’re together for a common purpose and sharing a space amongst neighbors. If we’re looking for a standard of how to operate in the outside world, laundromat etiquette would be the system.

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