Do they really die in threes?

Do they really die in threes?

We’re invoking the rule of threes in our household these days.

Not celebrities. Two appliances teetering on the brink of death and a third ready to follow any day.

When we turn on the dishwasher, it tends to ... how can I describe this ... SCREECH. Sometimes, it decides not to use the soap, caking it into a brick that has to be chipped out with an ice pick.

I’m no expert, but I don’t think that’s normal.

Our dryer, which is at least 35 years old, is built like a tank. It still tumbles, but the lint trap’s handle snapped off long ago, so we use a Blog Photohanger to pull it out. One of the door hinges broke, so we have to tuck it inside every time we shut the door. And it no longer seems to actually DRY the clothes.

I don’t think that’s normal, either.

We’ve taken bets on which one will fail first. It’s a tight race.

Meanwhile, our water heater is showing signs of age, with hot water mysteriously disappearing midway through showers.

I picture them all meeting in the basement when we’re asleep, carefully plotting their phased demise:

OK, folks, we’ve lost some members, so let’s take a roll call:

Washer? Here.

Dryer? (wheeeeze) Here.

Refrigerator? Here.

Dishwasher? He-EEEEEEE!!!-re.

Ok-aaa-y... Water heater? .... Water heater?

What? Oh, here....zzzz.

I find it distasteful to spend money on household repairs like sewer lines or gutters, but appliances are a close second. Plus, no new dryer could possibly last as long as our old workhorse.

One member of our family is secretly cheering. My son is fascinated by my siblings’ recent renovation projects, and he’s determined to find us a matched set of stainless steel appliances.

How much does it cost to renovate a kitchen? he asked the other day. Too much by several powers of 10, I replied.

He likes to flip through weekend ads, showing me the fancy refrigerators with the double doors and bottom freezers and ice dispensers on the door for "only" $1,999. I explain that our refrigerator is perfectly fine, and our old appliances have to die before we can buy anything new.

Which brings me back to the dryer/dishwasher conundrum. We could do without either one when it comes right down to it. Apparently lots of Blog Photopeople do, judging by the response I got on Facebook last week (including, a friend tells me, Katharine Hepburn, who used to hang her laundry outside on Long Island Sound; I told her I would, too, if I could do it on Long Island Sound).

My HouseTalkN friend Kerry lived without a dryer after her machine broke, convincing herself it was better to have clothes with that fresh outdoor scent (and save money at the same time).

She caved after 32 days. Apparently she did not have an actual clothesline, so damp garments were strewn all over the backyard — trees, bushes, lawn furniture, A/C condenser unit, even the basketball hoop. It looked, her husband said, like an "Occupy" site.

Another friend went six months without a dryer when she moved to Champaign — during potty-training time, no less — because she couldn’t get her husband to install the right kind of outlet. With snow in the forecast, she finally moved him to action by letting his undies dry on the doorknobs and radiators downstairs.

I love the idea, actually, for practical and environmental reasons. I used to hang most of our laundry on the clothesline in our basement, to keep them from shrinking, preserve the colors and use our dryer less.

Then I had children.

Now the only things I hang up are the jeans that can’t possibly shrink another millimeter unless I give up sitting for Lent and the leggings that I’m praying my daughter can wear another season.

It never bothered me to wash dishes by hand, either, when I lived in an apartment. Of course, I rarely cooked, and there wasn’t anyone to clean up after.

Then I had children.

We priced some new dryers recently. Apparently they have gone high-tech, and so have their prices. Some exceed four digits. We could get one for $550, although it wouldn’t match the energy-conserving front-loading washer we got a couple of years ago. The matching one is closer to $900.

Sooner or later, we will probably make the investment. And my husband has already warned me there is "no way" he will live without a dishwasher, since he more often than not ends up with cleanup duty these days (yes!).

He means business. When our ginormous projection television died a few years back, I figured we’d take a couple of weeks to check out prices, read Consumer Reports, make a careful decision. Before I could say "plasma TV," he had bought a new 42-inch flatscreen. We literally had 36 hours without television, and he already had the shakes. Granted, it was the middle of football season.

Lord knows how long he’d last without a dishwasher.

Do they make one that carries the Big Ten Network?


Julie Wurth writes and blogs about family life and covers the University of Illinois for the News-Gazette. Leave a comment below, or contact her at 351-5226, or

Photos: This is what we need - giant dryers with a TV attached (top). Jonathan Cluts of Microsoft Corp. demonstrates the 2006 Laundry day project at Whirlpool in Atlanta, which hooks up the washer/dryer to a Microsoft programed computer, a Panasonic TV screen and a cellphone so you can keep up with the laundry remotely. AP file photo/Ric Feld

Laundry on the patio (bottom). Courtesy the HouseTalkN website


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DenaS wrote on February 29, 2012 at 9:02 pm

You can get both dishwashers and dryers at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore for under $150, generally speaking. I got a $100 dryer there 6 years ago when I moved into my house, and it's worked perfectly ever since.

I can't testify as to its chances of lasting 35 years, but on the other hand for a sixth of the price you'd be able to buy them more often if need be...

Also, dryers and clotheslines aren't mutually exclusive! The only thing I actually do dry in my dryer is towels and sheets; everything else goes on hanging racks that stay in the basement through the winter and go out into the back patio when the weather permits, both for environmental purposes and for being-nice-to-the-fabric purposes. :D