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What an Old Laundry Hamper Taught Me About Living Simply

laundry hamper

Guest post from Abby of Mother on a Mission

When my husband and I got married nearly five years ago, we were gifted nearly everything we needed for our new home together.

One item we didn’t get, however, was a laundry hamper. It wasn’t a necessity because my husband still had his red mesh fold-up hamper left over from college, but it was something I really wanted.

Soon after our wedding, I made a trip to Target (armed with gift cards and a 20% off coupon) to purchase some remaining items from our registry. I began to fill my cart with things we needed: dish towels, shower curtain hooks, a broom, and dust pan.

When I reached the aisle of pretty woven laundry hampers, I was shocked. The cheapest basket on the shelf was $35; some cost upwards of $60. Until then, I’d just assumed I would purchase one. But then I had an ‘a-ha moment’ right there in Target.

Here are 3 things I learned:

I don’t need to impress anyone else.

I didn’t need a new laundry hamper. The one we already had was in adequate condition. I wanted one because they are pretty, and because it seemed to be necessary if I wanted to rid our bedroom of that dorm room feeling.

In reality, no one besides my husband and I would see the hamper, and my husband could care less what sort of device we used to store our dirty clothes.

I don’t always need what I want.

I really wanted a hamper. Maybe, for me, it was a big step in transitioning between childhood and adulthood.

Instead, I took another big step that day: thinking practically. I was a full-time student and full-time preschool teacher, and my husband was making a measly salary as a teacher at a private Christian school.

As much as I wanted to get rid of that old mesh hamper, it just wasn’t practical. Gone were the carefree college days when my spending decisions affected only myself. I had to think as a wife, and that meant putting aside my frivolous want in favor of our needs as a couple.

My frugality paid off with unexpected rewards.

Now, six years into our marriage, we still have that red mesh hamper — and I still plan to replace it one day!

For now, though, it’s still doing its job. My three-year-old son loves to help with the laundry, including returning that red hamper to our room after I’ve emptied it into the washing machine. It’s a simple thing, but I love watching him run down the hall, dragging it behind him — something he couldn’t do with a fancy hamper.

It’s funny to think how vital that new hamper seemed six years ago. Standing in the aisle at Target, I was pained by the decision to go without. But, since then, my life has been pretty unaffected by the absence of a pretty basket.

Now, when I’m debating purchases, I often ask myself if the item I’m about to buy will significantly improve my life, or the life of an immediate family member. If the answer is no, I usually don’t make the purchase.

I’ve learned that I only “need” as much as I think I do.

Abby is a wife, a mother of two, a high school teacher, and a wannabe game show contestant. She blogs at Mother on a Mission about getting crazy in the kitchen, her parenting (mis)adventures, and her baby steps toward creating a frugal, happy household. Abby’s mission is to be the mom — and make this world the kind of place — her children deserve.

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43 Comments

  • Nancy says:

    I felt that way about a trashcan… have you seen the prices of some of them? Almost $200 for stainless steel one at Bed Bath and Beyond. I mean it’s nice looking and all, but it’s for trash so let’s be realistic here.

    The $14 black one I picked up from Kmart looks just fine in the kitchen.

    • I actually had a similar situation. But our most recent trash can broke at the same time we received a Walmart gift card from my husband’s work. All the stainless steel ones with the foot pedal were dented so they discounted one for me so I was able to get it a little cheaper. I waited 7 years to get a “fancy” trashcan.

      $200 is insane for a trash can for sure. It took me 7 years to spend the $50 I just did. And even that was insane and I only splurged because of the gift card. May it not break as fast as our last one did. 🙂

    • For anyone who is in need of a trash can:

      Your local grocery store bakery may have icing buckets, free for the asking (or sometimes they charge .50). They make great trash cans! Plus, the handle makes it easy to empty the trash.

      Our kitchen trash is a taller bucket (a 5 or 6 gallon one). The icing buckets work great under my desk and inside the bathroom cabinet in my bathroom.

  • I love this post! My husband and I both came from families where practicality won over “would be nice” so we were both naturally bent that way. But it makes us sad to see people spending money on things they “need” when it’s not a need at all and they could be doing so much better financially if they could have that aha! moment! Thanks for sharing! I hope it helps many people on their journey to becoming better stewards of their money!

  • Becky says:

    We actually need very little. Our wants are huge. Most people confuse their needs and wants. Great post 🙂

  • Christina says:

    This made me smile because we had the EXACT same experience when we got married eight years ago – standing in the aisle of Target, armed with gift cards and a cart full of necessities, giving each other blank stares of amazement at the price of hampers. Like you, we decided my (purple) mesh hamper would suffice for a time, which it did. We did eventually “upgrade” to the cheapest plastic models, but how funny we had the same surprise! 🙂

    And, yes, we have the most precious pictures of our little one (also three) playing in/with our laundry baskets – which I wouldn’t trade for the world.

    Thanks for the flashback today! 🙂

  • I JUST got rid of my red mesh hamper from college because it completely ripped! (I’ve been married for 4 years.) I had the same mental debate often but you’re right, the red hamper did the trick. 🙂

  • Lauren says:

    I love this! We splurged on fancy rattan hampers and my cat promptly scratched them into hideous shredded abominations. They now hide in the closet and actually I never use them because they are inconvenient, to boot! We have slowly made our life over into a more practical and frugal one. At the time I am sure we just charged those hampers on a credit card without a second thought!

    • A says:

      You might be so glad for that closet space if you just decide to call this “a learning opportunity” & bid the abominations good-bye!

  • Linda says:

    I love this. For the longest time I wanted to have a bedroom like the ones in the magazine pictures. Problem is that I’m a piler and any flat surface always ended up with stuff on it, so nothing looked as nice as I wished it did.

    I’ve been working hard to cut down on clutter and stop the unnecessary purchases – this progress is ongoing. I’ve also realized that even the cheap stuff looks nice when it’s clean and clutter free. It’s taken me hundreds of credit card payments (still ongoing) to realize that I don’t need to impress anyone with “stuff.”

    • Corey says:

      Oh my goodness. You’re a kindred spirit. I used to have a baby grand piano and had to keep it up or I’d pile stuff on it and I had a bar in our kitchen that I removed and replaced with a pantry because of the flat surface. I try hard to not pile but I don’t think I’m winning the battle.

  • Denice says:

    I totally agree with this post. I had been drooling over getting a new hamper, but the prices! I don’t even have a “fancy”mesh hamper – mine is a plastic laundry basket with tape on the broken handles. Guess what – no one sees it and it does the job!

  • This reminds me of my son’s school activity on “needs” and “wants” in First Grade. It is an activity that seems so simple, but I found the activity quite a conversation starter and stimulating. One of the items he had to cut out was “milk”. Well, he said that was a “want” and not a “need” because technically we can live without milk. It is quite fun to talk about.

    Most of what we want or think we need – much like our happiness – is (almost) all in our head. Many of us are lucky enough to have sort through priorities though. Some of my friends spend $80 easily on their hair at the hairdresser. I spend $6. But, I will spend $10 on a special fiori extract that I can only get at King Arthur Flour that makes my cakes and cookies smell amazing. It’s a priority. My hair isn’t. But, for others it is the opposite. And that’s okay.

  • Jen says:

    I have a maroon striped bed cover. Pillowcases are blue, purple, pink, white, green. Sometimes it used to really bother me, but hey, does it really matter? Nah. One day I’ll get stuff that all matches.

  • Bethany Bergen says:

    This was a great post- I have had the same feelings towards our big white plastic hampers and have wanted to replace them, but also know they aren’t a necessity and that $$ right now is better spent on other things! Made me smile I’m not the only one who has these ‘internal’ battles 🙂

  • Nicole says:

    Love the reminder: “I’ve learned that I only “need” as much as I think I do.” Great post!

  • Jane says:

    We had sticker shock when shopping for hampers several years ago, so we decided to go without for a while. And all these years later, we are still just carrying our dirty laundry to the laundry area. I have a couple of plastic bins ready to sort, so everyone in the house has been “trained” that the dirty clothes just go down the hall. Now I would never consider getting a hamper again. One less thing for me to gather. It is funny how things just evolve. I thought I “needed” a hamper, and now if you gave me one, I would just give it back. Great perspective in this post!

  • Love this!! Those darn hampers are insanely expensive! I found myself wanting to buy a new hamper for our oldest son when he was born because I had given him my old one from high school (which is a mesh one). When I saw the prices I just couldn’t justify it. Now, almost three years later that hamper has been put through the ringer by that little boy. I would have totally lost my cool if I paid $60 for the hamper to find Conner using it to scale the wall in his room.

  • I think it honestly depends on the person. You hear so many articles about not spending and sacrifice. I personally look at things differently. In my family, we always had nice things. We were taught that you had to work and budget for them, but if you worked hard you could have your wants and needs, God willing. I still follow this philosophy. I make lists of things I want, then I see if I can buy them out of season, match sales with cyclical savings, or perhaps earn gift cards for surveys, swagbucks, etc. to pay for them. I feel that I save at least two hundred of dollars a month on groceries and staples alone, I stockpile, upcycle, freezer cook, discount shop, and with the money I have saved my family, we can have nicer things, I just have to go about getting them a little differently!

    • Misty, I agree that it’s fun to buy nice things, and I find them especially enjoyable when I’ve worked hard to save, sacrifice, or bargain hunt to get them. I wrote this, though, because the epiphany I had about the red hamper opened my eyes to the way I view a want versus a need. I often want nice things, and my husband and I work hard to purchase the nice things we own, but I still feel like those purchases aren’t necessities, they’re extras.

    • Aleah says:

      I think making the list makes the difference! You write it down and leave it for a while until you can afford it. And sometimes, when you come back to the list, you realize you don’t really want or need that thing any more!

    • liz says:

      I completely agree with you. I, like you, make lists and look over them every few months and have them for years. Like Aleah says it helps to see what you truly want. To be honest we don’t need more than shelter, health, and food. So nearly everything is a want.

      I think distinguishing between a real want and an impulse want is important. It wouldn’t just be a trash can or laundry hamper to me. It would make me happy every time i looked at it.

      • I think my point is being lost here. I make lists not to reevaluate them at a later time, but to list not only what I would like to have for myself and my family, but also to reference on how I will be allocating funds to get the items; this is also how I budget for holiday spending, birthday shopping, etc. I believe that If you really want something, you can find a way to have it. I work hard, and I believe that the items I purchase for myself, most always paid with cash or earned gift cards, are investments in myself for the betterment of my life, and a tangible record for the work that I render daily; not as a means of self-denial. Everyday of my life is precious, and my time is valuable, so rewarding myself is my way of make the fruits of my labors worthwhile; I believe I should be rewarded for my labors, as I exchanged a day of life for it!

        I refer back to the advice given to my husband by my mother-in-law when he received his first paycheck as a teenager, that from every paycheck you earn, one should set funds aside funds to not only to invest in a savings account, but also in yourself. That by doing so, you not only reward yourself, but also reward the idea of maintaining a strong worth ethic. Ultimately, I believe that unnecessary self-denial can lead to resentment.

        • liz says:

          Wasn’t lost on me. I understand 🙂

          I didn’t mean i reevaluate my list to see if i really need the things on there as i know i don’t need anything on there. I meant i look over them to see if i still want them as much as i did before; tastes change. Kinda like window shopping lol. Life is short and we should buy nice things if we want and can. I too agree they are investments for a better life (as i said above it would make me happy to see a nice hamper or trash can). For me it would also be that i have been poor my whole life and never had nice things; so a nice home would be like a “I finally made it!” for me. I think people think having nice things is super expensive and i disagree.

  • lol, my family just uses the big round tubs you can get for $5 each at a “dollar” store. we have about 5 and all in different colors, so everyone know which one the throw the whites, darks, ect. in. and of course there is always that one that keeps the folded clothes that we are too busy to put away at the time.

  • I have learned this lesson so many times since entering into “life on a budget.” It’s both fascinating and freeing. Thanks for the insight. 🙂

  • Amy R. says:

    Love this! Thanks for the very real illustration of want vs. need! Love love love this!

  • MK says:

    Ha! I *just* upgraded my was-from-college laundry basket yesterday. We just moved across the country and budgeted for some updates…the laundry basket was actually an impulse buy and between it and my other purchases I just about had a heart attack at the register.

    But you know what? This was planned, we have the money for it…and seeing the money fly out the door like that made me happy with my new things–but oh-so-eager to get back to my frugal ways!

  • Kari says:

    I have a old Rubbermaid laundry hamper that I got my Sophmore year of college. That hamper will be turning 24 this fall. It is in rough shape and my husband wants to throw it out. I will be sad when it no longer holds clothes!

  • Laura says:

    Isn’t funny how many people have that same epiphany?! I mean really, I had it too! I wanted a new hamper and after many times almost picking one up I went and purchased a cute one that is tall, slim, and is in the closet where no one but our family ever sees! Best of all, it was $10 and I’ll have it for years to come and actually think it looks better than the expensive rattan ones! Yay me:)

  • Katrina says:

    I too love nice things, but I have a great system in place called garage sales! I make a list in winter of items I wish to find. Despite being crazy busy, I treat going to sales as a fun job that I must do for a few hours a weekend for several months. The sales in my town are chock full of new items at reasonable prices and I am a very frugal buyer. I have used this system for 20 years with great success. My list is normally 20-50 items and rarely have a year when I don’t complete it. The trick is to treat it like a job and to resist impulse buys, it really works

  • Margery H. says:

    Should I confess that I have been married 22 years, have three kids (two of which are teens) and we still use only my college laundry hamper? Well, we did buy a plastic one for the downstairs laundry room, but even though my husband makes a comfortable salary, we don’t have a pretty woven laundry hamper!

  • I totally still have my mesh hamper from college. It has holes and everything buy still works just fine! I bought it in 2002.

    Its my favorite hamper to lug down to the basement because of the handles and flexibility.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Rebecca M says:

      My husband’s hamper looks the same and it’s been with us for 12 years of marriage! This post really made me smile. Thanks!

  • Courtney says:

    Love this wonderful reminder! I most often ask myself, “Am I buying or doing this to impress others or do I honestly need/want this for myself?” Most of the time if I’m spending that amount of money, it’s to simply impress others and that’s not how I want to live my life. Learning to retrain your brain and habits in a society that revolves around getting the approval of others is tough. Great article!

  • Ashley P says:

    lol. Up until recently, we didn’t even HAVE a hamper. In our 1 bedroom apartment, the washer and dryer were IN the bedroom. We’d just pile it in front of the washer and do the laundry once a week. It’s not like we had to haul it anywhere.

    When we moved into our house last year, the washer and dryer were in a sectioned off area of the garage. Whenever we got undressed, we just plopped it into the washer and started it when it got full.

    My mom apparently decided that wasn’t the way to do things. She got us a 3 bag rolling laundry hamper for Christmas, and a smaller hamper for the baby’s clothes. I love getting stuff for my home as Christmas gifts. I’d rather have that than jewelry or a new purse any day!

  • Nicole says:

    We use the Ikea bags for laundry. I love them…I especially love the ones that zip completely close because I can zip them and throw them into the basement where our washer and dryer are. Little bit safer then trying to lug them down the stairs 🙂

  • Yes, no one needs a fancy laundry hamper. On the other hand, if there’s something you’re going to look at and use every day (which can start to be the case with a growing family and laundry) sometimes it’s nice to be able to look upon something nice and well-designed with pleasure.

    • That’s a great point, and something I’ve learned in the last several years. We can get by with very little, but it is fun to have nice things that we enjoy looking at or using. We just know that we have to be pickier about the nice things we buy, and we end up appreciating them more.

  • Tabitha says:

    I’m so glad that you post articles like this that encourage contentment. We are bombarded by ‘wants’ a lot and it’s posts like this that remind me of being content with what I have today and spending money on things that are really necessary. 🙂

  • Libby says:

    We use mostly laundry baskets instead of hampers at my house. My three children sort their dirty clothes into three baskets kept in their upstairs bathroom. When they are full they are brought down to the laundry room. I wash the laundry sorting each child’s clothes into a basket as I go. They are responsible for putting the clean clothes in their basket away and placing the empty basket back in the bathroom so the process can start all over again (and again, and again…)
    Several times I’ve purchased a want or a need only to come by one free afterwards! Bought a bigger outside trash can with hinged lid – was given a used one a week or two later. Bought several storage boxes over time for the garage and NOW I’ve got a free set of wooden mailbox-like shelves AND have been offered an old set of metal lockers which I can use for storage in the garage thus eliminating the need for the storage boxes. I’m learning to WAIT.

    • This is so true for us! I often find that if I wait to purchase something I really want, or sometimes need, it’s given to us, or I find an insanely good deal, or I realize that something we already have is a perfect substitute.

  • Betsy says:

    When we got married, my husband actually still had the same plastic hamper his parents used in his room as a newborn. I use a laundry basket my mom bought me after college as my hamper. I thought about getting rid of his, but then I realized we could use it to sort lights and darks. So, it’s likely this little hamper will literally last him a lifetime.

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