Underwear, Outside

August 26th, 2008 by Kathy McManus

The debate over outdoor clotheslines.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

You have the right to bear arms.

But do you have the right to bare underwear—or sheets, shirts, socks, and the rest of your laundry--on an outdoor clothesline on your private property?

Perhaps not, if you’re one of tens of millions of Americans who live in houses and condos governed by local homeowners associations, many of which ban outdoor clotheslines for aesthetic reasons.

There’s more on the line than laundry, which the associations contend is responsible for lower property values.

“When realtors show a home, as a buyer do you want to see clothes hanging in the backyard of the neighboring home?” asks a supporter of the ban. “Or if clotheslines are allowed, what if a homeowner chooses to leave the same clothes hanging for weeks on end?”

But where some see an eyesore flapping in the breeze, others see an answer blowing in the wind. According to the Right to Dry movement, clothes dryers account for five to ten per cent of residential electricity use, second only to refrigerators. Line drying allows environmentally responsible consumers to reduce their energy use and save money.

“Everybody has to do their laundry,” says a proponent of the movement. “The clothesline is beautiful, gorgeous, sentimental and nostalgic for many.”

And the clothesline has become the focus of protective legislation. Florida, Utah, and Colorado have enacted laws upholding their citizens’ right to dry. Seven other states are considering similar safeguards.

That the clothesline would be hung out to dry as an unsightly endangered species has left many people scratching their heads and putting their thoughts on the line. “We see clothes, including underwear, in stores all the time, and no one I heard was offended,” said one. “What’s the worst that can happen hanging laundry?” asked another. “Heaven forbid you might actually have to talk to a neighbor hanging theirs.” And this: “I believe that we all have to take some responsibility in ‘cutting back’ and ‘going green.’ It just seems that a ban on clotheslines is a step backward and shows irresponsibility on the part of the homeowner’s associations.”

Tell us what you think: Should outdoor clotheslines be banned as irresponsible, view-ruining relics of the past? Should you show greater responsibility to a homeowner’s association or to what you think is best for your family and the environment? Where do we draw the line—if clotheslines can be banned for aesthetic reasons, what about pink flamingos, holiday decorations, and other personal public displays?