The Clothes Chute

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"The clothes chute" by Merridith Frediani (CatholicMom.com)

Image credit: Joe Goldberg (2005), Flickr, CC BY SA 2.0

A clothes chute is one of my favorite features in a house. Perhaps it reminds me of the house I grew up in. Perhaps I am, at heart, somewhat lazy. Perhaps because I lived in a house without one and lugging dirty clothes down to the basement is aggravating.

A clothes chute is a luxury. I hope to one day meet the genius who invented this simple yet spectacular home component. It not only gets the smelly items down to the washer, it is highly efficient use of space, nestled within the structure of the house itself. Added to that is the fun factor of dropping stuff down several stories. It is useful for getting non-breakable items to the basement and is an excellent example of form and function. That said, we lived for ten years in a lovely Victorian home with an exceedingly frustrating clothes chute.

While I was grateful for the chute because I had babies and young children, it came with some challenges. Instead of being waist-high on the wall, it was tucked under the bathroom sink just above the floor. I wondered if it was an afterthought during construction of the house in 1907, wedged as it was between two walls and just six inches wide. There were several large nails sticking into the chute that were wonderful for catching and holding onto socks, shirts, and toddler overalls. If something went missing, it was a safe bet it was hanging in the chute.

 

"The clothes chute" by Merridith Frediani (CatholicMom.com)

Copyright 2018 Ben Frediani. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

The solution to this required some mild contortion on my part as the smallest adult in the family. It was my special job to don a headlamp leftover from our camping days, lie on my stomach under the sink, and stick one arm and my head into the chute. If I angled myself just right I was able to take the kids’ alligator toy, squeeze the lever to open the gator’s mouth, reach into the chute, stretch to my fullest, and pluck out the lost item. I would then victoriously yell “I got it!” and become the day’s hero.

We learned that because of the narrow nature of the chute and the offending nails, items needed to be thrown down one at a time to avoid clogs. This was important because there was no access to the chute from the first floor, making the drop to the basement over 15 feet. Despite this, I loved my clothes chute and was thankful for it.

Except. Yes, except. When the children were little and my husband and I were the only ones throwing clothes down, we could be relied upon to keep it to one item at a time and listen for the dull thump of it landing below. As the kids got older, naturally they wanted to throw their clothes down — and who could blame them? It’s fun to launch something down two stories and hear it land. It wasn’t unusual, while sorting clothes, to find toys in the pile. Sadly, being children and somewhat excitable, they would throw down too many pieces at a time. The towel with the shorts wrapped in it was not going to make it all the way down. The bed sheets absolutely had to be stretched out and fed down. Anything bundled or crumpled was destined to get caught on a nail or stuck.

Another feature of this particular chute further supported the built-as-an-afterthought theory. It was wedged into a load-bearing wall so the opening was angled at the bottom. Instead of landing in a contained box, the clothes shot out onto the washer and the ground. A fun consequence of this questionable design was using a hockey stick to grab the clothes that fell to the ground between the wall and washer, out of arm’s reach.

"The clothes chute" by Merridith Frediani (CatholicMom.com)

Copyright 2018 Ben Frediani. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Thus, another spot for potential trouble. The first step in clog abatement was going to the basement and pulling out any stuck items that failed to completely exit the chute. This often resulted in a cascade of stinky soccer jerseys, socks and underwear raining down. The next step was taking the aforementioned hockey stick and poking it past the angled exit and up the chute, trying to dislodge the blockage. Sometimes if we jabbed it enough, the clothing would fall on its own.

The hockey-stick-poking plan worked if the jam was less than nine feet high, as that was the approximate length of my husband’s arm while holding the stick. If it fell in the dead zone that was too high to reach from below and too low to reach from above, we had to get creative.

One afternoon, while my husband napped, I was sorting laundry when I realized it was not possible that there were just three loads that week. There had to be a clog. It was too high for my arm plus the hockey stick to reach, and when I contorted myself on the bathroom floor so I could peer down with my headlamp, I discovered it was too low to grab, even with the alligator claw.

Not to worry. As happens in times of necessity, I had a solution. In the early days of our marriage, my husband and I lived in several different states and I kept the phone books when we moved. They were heavy, and when combined with the pull of gravity, could be deployed to clear up clothes-chute clogs. I would grab the white pages, crawl under the sink again, toss the book down and listen for the satisfying thunk of the clothes breaking free and hitting the washer below.

That day called for phone books. I grabbed the Phoenix book, a mighty tome from our sojourn in Arizona. My father’s wisdom came to mind: never send a boy to do a man’s job. I opened the chute door and dropped it down, expecting to hear it land. It didn’t. Hmm. I retrieved the St. Louis phone book to chase it, thinking maybe more weight was needed. Drop. Nothing. After that came the Evansville phone book and finally Milwaukee. Still nothing. Determined to fix this on my own and let my husband rest, I went to the driveway where I knew there was a brick. A nice thing about old houses is that bricks sort of appear in odd places. Ones buried years earlier work their way back to the surface. I considered them little gifts and kept them stashed for future use. Surely a brick would be heavy enough to push the clog out in addition to the phone books now wedged in with the clothes.

It’s safe to say that when I woke my darling husband to inform him that the clothes chute was clogged again with four phone books and a brick, it wasn’t a high point in our life together. Plus I was getting giddy and inexplicably found his frustration at what I came to realize was an ill-advised solution very amusing. I got the giggles. He got the hockey stick.

It came to pass that what was needed was a two-pronged approach. The love of my life somehow wedged the hockey stick up high enough to loosen things while I lay on my stomach in the bathroom yelling down to him if I saw the bundle moving. He poked. I chuckled. The kids wondered what we were up to, and at last, the blockade released. My husband was able to jump out of the way fast enough to avoid being knocked on the head by a phone book or worse. Sadly the washing machine sustained a brick-sized dent. My husband nicely asked me to never do that again. That was fair.

"The clothes chute" by Merridith Frediani (CatholicMom.com)

Copyright 2018 Ben Frediani. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

We are blessed now to live in a house with a clothes chute large enough to toss a small child or pet down. There are no clogs. Occasionally something may get caught on the modem wire running the length of the chute but it is easily fixed by reaching up and grabbing the offending item. A day doesn’t go by when I am not appreciative of this marvel.

As I reflect on the clothes-chute adventures, I realize that our connection to God gets clogged sometimes as well. We are careless and fill our time with too much other stuff so there is no room for us to get to Him.

We need a large, open chute. If it’s not, it gets jammed. We need to invest in making it big enough that it won’t get too full.  The clothes-chute pipeline to God can’t be an afterthought like the first chute. It needs to be intentional like the second so that it can handle everything. If we work to keep it free-flowing, we enjoy a healthy up-and-down relationship with God. We can hear what He is sending down. We can receive all the gifts He wants to give us. He will send down as much as He can fit in the chute, so we need to work on keeping it open and as big as we can. That way, instead of it getting gummed up with our mess, it will be full of God’s love.

This is easier said than done. There are days packed full of stuff that just has to get done. We fear that if we don’t attend to all of it, something bad could happen. We convince ourselves that it’s all so very important.

The thing is though, it’s not. It really, really isn’t. Our world isn’t going to end if we fail to get Junior to his soccer practice this one time or don’t get a decent dinner on the table or vacuum the dog hair that has collected in every corner. We forget that we only have one deliverable in this life. Just one, and we have the creator of the universe desiring to help us accomplish it.

The one and only thing we need to do is get ourselves and our families to heaven. Most of the stuff we fill our days with isn’t helping us get there. It’s preventing us. We keep shoving more activities in until it’s so stuffed we don’t talk to God or listen to Him talking to us. All the stuff is blocking the communication and we fear that if we take time to pray or attend Mass, all the stuff will fall down around us in a calamity. We are so afraid of what will happen if we just … slow … down.

But that’s exactly what we should do. Think about each day as it comes and intentionally put God first. Start small. Ask for his help. Prioritize our Lord and give Him ten minutes a day. With His grace, the time will gradually get longer as we learn to rest in His love and we realize that all the other stuff is still getting done. God can do anything He wants and He can stretch time.

If we give Hm our time, the first fruits of our day, He will help us with the rest. We will re-order the priorities of the day and we will find we are less harried, less frenetic and more peaceful. And who doesn’t want that?

This is the challenge. Make the God of the Universe who created you and gave you this life the most important part of your day. Without Him, you wouldn’t have the rest. Give Him His due, unclog the chute, and enjoy what He does with your life. It will be the same but so much better.  Trust Him. He wants to do this for you.


Copyright 2018 Merridith Frediani

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About Author

Merridith Frediani’s perfect day includes prayer, writing, unrushed morning coffee, tending to dahlias and playing Sheepshead with her husband and three teenagers. Her favorite part of the day is family dinner which sometimes doesn’t happen until 8:30 pm. She enjoys hanging out on the front porch and laughing with family and friends. Good Italian wine is a must.

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