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Published: 11/29/2009

Blowing in the wind

FOR many people of a certain age, freshly laundered clothing swaying in a gentle breeze in the backyard is one of their fondest memories.

Unfortunately, what appears in other peoples' imaginations are clotheslines strung between tenements or outside homes in trailer parks, and therein is the basis for the latest front in the ongoing battle to protect American freedoms - in this case, the freedom to leave one's drawers blowing in the wind.

Reuters reports that a growing number of people across the United States are opting to use sun and breeze to dry their clothes instead of gas or electric dryers. Their undeniable argument is that drying clothes the old-fashioned way saves money and reduces their carbon footprint. They even have their own advocacy group - Project Laundry List - which says that clothes dryers account for 10 to 15 percent of all the energy used in the nation's homes.

But people who love the fresh scent of clothes dried in the open air have run afoul of housing associations and irate neighbors who object to seeing other people's sheets and shorts flapping in the breeze.

In Perkasie, Pa., even town officials got involved, calling local resident Carin Froehlich to suggest she not dry her clothes outside. According to the Reuters story, Ms. Froehlich says she's received letters (unsigned naturally) suggesting her property looks like "trailer trash" - a delightful term - and complaining that they don't want to look at her "unmentionables."

Certainly, the automatic dryer ranks high among 20th-century inventions that eased the burden of housework borne, for the most part, by women. Coupled with permanent press fabrics, the dryer freed women from hours of sometimes heavy and always tedious work.

But in the bargain, clothes lost a fresh scent that no one had noticed until it was gone. That scent proved so important that manufacturers have spent untold millions developing chemical-impregnated sheets to pop into the dryer that add artificial freshness (an oxymoron?) to clothes.

Ms. Froehlich equates the right to hang her laundry outside with the Second Amendment right to bear arms. While it's going too far to suggest - as Project Laundry List does - a constitutional right to dry, we believe people in general should be able to air-dry clothes as long as it is done with some decorum. Six states, but not Ohio, have recognized this fact by passing laws to protect outdoor clotheslines.

If Americans in the 18th and 19th centuries, when there really were "unmentionables," could routinely hang their clothes outside to dry without offending the sensibilities of their neighbors, certainly their liberated, 21st-century descendants ought to be able to do the same.



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