On Sunday I performed my single most physically strenuous and emotionally taxing feat in ages. I did my laundry.
I don't want you to get the wrong idea. The vast majority of the reader responses to my columns so far have included at least one or two accusations that I'm a spoiled brat, a rich kid who knows nothing and complains about everything, and that I have a sense of entitlement so massive it has its own gravity.
It may come as a surprise to some of you, then, to learn that I do know how to do laundry, and indeed, I've been doing my own laundry for the last four years. OK, so I took advantage of my mother's generosity as a kid, but when I went to college, I did the financially savvy thing and chose to do my own laundry rather than sign up for the university sponsored laundry service, which cost anywhere from $400 to $895 a year, depending on how many pounds of clothing you made them wash each week. The top price was for 60 pounds of clothes a week, and when I was still in school, I thought 60 pounds of laundry was a staggeringly absurd mass of clothing. Now I know better.
Through a curious combination of laziness and arrogant self-justification, I managed to spend 2,800 unnecessary dollars on clothing over the last six weeks. I call this period of time my month of living clotheslessly. Everybody knows laziness when they see it, and it's not much of a conclusion to say that everyday laziness accounts for the greater part of your paycheck that disappears into the abyss every month.
But laziness alone can only do you so much harm. During my month of living clotheslessly, I learned just how easy it was to convince myself that individual acts of laziness were in fact wise and efficient uses of my time and money.
This problem isn't unique to so-called spoiled brats like me -- we may certainly be lazy, but it takes the peculiar arrogance of a real Type-A personality, someone totally convinced that he or she must excel at any cost.
The true financial nemesis of a recent college graduate isn't laziness, it's the kind of laziness that is only possible when you're 100% convinced that whatever needs doing professionally outweighs even the most basic of personal responsibilities. If you're working your butt off at the job, or even if you only believe that's what you're doing, then you've created the best excuse in the world for laziness everywhere else.
In my case, which is admittedly absurd, I lost more than $2,800 because I neglected something as basic as laundry and instead tried to come up with a quick fix. You see, when I washed my clothes on Sunday, it had been at least six weeks since the last time I'd done the slightest bit of laundry. I had more than 87 pounds of clothing spread out in three of those
crummy mesh hampers
that always fall apart.
Most of the clothes I washed Sunday had never seen the inside of a washing machine before. They were brand new because for six weeks straight I had replaced my dirty clothes with new ones instead of washing them. The worst part, the sick part, is that I didn't even want or like most of those clothes, let alone need them.
How It All Started
It began innocuously enough. I was running low on clean socks and boxer shorts so I fell into the
four blocks away from my apartment in order to replenish my supply. I could have done the laundry, but most of my shirts and pants were still clean. And since it's a pain to haul your clothes two blocks to the laundromat, but a pleasure to haul new ones four blocks from a store, I did the easy thing and bought enough socks and boxers to get me through the week.
I had legitimately convinced myself that I really had no time in my life to do laundry. I was spending every waking moment working on Stay Mad For Life with Uncle Jumbo (Jim Cramer) so that we could get it out before Christmas, and somehow that meant I had no time to do laundry but plenty of time to go shopping.
Other than the mild inconvenience of going to the laundromat and either scavenging for quarters or making my bills crisp enough to satisfy the change machines, I have no problem with cleaning my own clothes, sheets, or towels.
But I still avoided it, and told myself I was being efficient. I bought a fresh week's worth of clothes every week for six weeks instead of washing the ones I already owned. I racked up a big bill and an even bigger pile of clothes.
Very few people will ever do anything that silly, but plenty of people will make similar, if smaller mistakes. Your work becomes so important that you stop checking your mail and forget to pay however many bills, mauling your credit score and racking up late fees and penalties. Two of my friends were busy and lazy enough to let that happen, one with a credit card bill another with her cellular phone and cable.
In college one of my best friends became so focused on a competition as the defining moment of his undergraduate life that he failed two classes and had to take a year off from school before being allowed to come back and graduate. A friend who got his first job out of college working for a major contender's presidential campaign has "no time" to take care of his clothing either, but his mother drives over to his apartment to clean and do the laundry. There's no obvious cost to my friend, but it's a huge pain for his mom.
My friend Perry, an investment bank guy, took such bad care of his originally pristine apartment when he began working that he had a cockroach infestation and rodents within two months of moving in. He couldn't spare the time to clean or even hire someone to clean because of an important project at work.
What all of us had in common was an excuse: I'm working on something that's more important than some basic personal responsibility. That excuse is a license to be lazy, and laziness isn't cheap.