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Blowin' in the wind Whether they're environmentally conscious, traditional or just plain cheap, clothesline enthusiasts let it all hang out

Priscilla Skrzeczkowski has been airing her laundry for more than 40 years -- first as a newlywed and then as a young mother. There was no clothes dryer back then. Even the babies' diapers went on the line.

Today, with her three daughters grown and her husband, Gerry, retired, Skrzeczkowski still hangs laundry on a clothesline at her home in the Town of Elma.

"I think it's in the genes. My mother did it, and my grandmother did it," Skrzeczkowski said.

She uses the dryer for towels, but that's about it. Even in the winter, she hangs laundry on a clothesline in the garage, which is heated by a wood stove installed professionally.

And, now, one of her three daughters -- a stay-at-home mom living in Michigan, hangs her clothes, too. And a second daughter living in North Boston will hang select items, such as blankets, outdoors.

Why, in the 21st century, do people like Skrzeczkowski rely on solar drying?

"It saves energy, there's no shrinkage and the smell of sheets is just so wonderful when you put them on the bed," she said.

Plus, it's a task she enjoys. It's exercise and a chance to be outdoors, she says.

Until the rain arrives unexpectedly, that is.

Clothesline enthusiasts cite other reasons for letting it all hang out. It can make certain clothes last longer. It brightens whites naturally. It's nostalgic and, to some, the sight of clothes gently blowing in the breeze is visually pleasing.

"I like the way it looks. It creates a strong visual for me and makes me think of the country, my grandparents and the prairies," said Cheryl Lyles, who grew up in Nebraska and now hangs a clothesline at her Buffalo home.

Barring snowstorms, hanging clothes is something Kathleen DeLisi is willing to do 365 days a year. It's simply part of a routine that begins at 5 a.m. when she tosses clothes in the wash while she works out.

Then she hangs them on the clothesline before heading off to a full-time job at a mobile home community where she does landscaping and office work.

She uses her electric dryer just once or twice a year, preferring her clothesline and drying rack.

"I hate dryer sheets; they stink," said DeLisi, who lives in the Town of Wilson.

Now that her children are ages 12 and 9, they help out, too.

"They'll take the clothes off the line -- especially in the summertime when the dark colors fade easily," she said. And they have learned to fold their own laundry.

Like other aficionados DeLisi, too, prefers the smell of fresh air to scented detergents.

"In the wintertime, they smell even better. It's like bringing the outdoors in," she said.

While some have been air-drying clothes for decades, others are new to the task. Often, they are motivated by concern for the environment. Air-drying uses no electricity. To them, it's another way to "go green." Or greener, anyway.

McClatchy Newspapers reports the following:

* Before 1960, less than 20 percent of U.S. households had automatic clothes dryers. Now, 83 percent of Americans say a clothes dryer is a necessity.

* Estimates say dryers account for about 6 percent of the energy consumption in a typical American home.

* Some groups, such as the nonprofit Project Laundry List (www.laundrylist.org), are promoting air-drying clothes as a more environmentally conscious way to do laundry.

Still, some townhouses, condominiums and single-family home developments do not allow them.

This was never the issue for artist Mimo Fried, who lives in a log house in the Town of Concord.

"We're in the sticks; we hang everything," said Fried, who is retired from the Springville Center for the Arts.

And she always has -- for one main reason: "I'm cheap," she said, noting it cuts utility costs.

And she does it year-round -- outdoors in nice weather, in the warm basement during the winter. Anything that feels too stiff gets tossed in the dryer for two minutes after coming off the line, she said.

"Once you get into the habit, it's like composting. If you throw out a piece of food instead of composting, it feels wrong. It feels like a venial sin," Fried said.

It's the same with using a clothesline, especially in nice weather.

"Being cheap gives me extra motivation," Fried added.

When Kathleen Quinn-Leslie was a stay-at-home with two young children, she, too, opted to use a clothesline at her Amherst home, located in an older neighborhood.

It was a choice that worked for her at the time.

"It ties into a whole lifestyle. It's a convenience lifestyle vs. a more conscious lifestyle," Quinn-Leslie said.

She did it for environmental reasons but, she admits, the process took time.

And there were drawbacks -- bird and spider excrement, lack of line space, sudden changes in weather and allergens such as pollens.

These days, Quinn-Leslie is in a different house in Amherst, her children are older and she is working.

Hanging clothes on a line does not work for her anymore.

"As a massage therapist, I wash 15 sets of sheets a week. Laundry has become part of my business," she said.

She does, however, use non-toxic products in her home, such as those by Seventh Generation. And she rarely uses the air conditioner.

"It's about balance," she said.

Those who are committed to clothesline drying say they have developed efficient ways to do so, mastering a system for reducing wrinkles in garments, maintaining shape.

"It comes from experience. I always hang socks from the toes. And when I put T-shirts up on the line, I clip them so they hang straight and reshape them," said Priscilla Skrzeczkowski.

"If you hang them upside down, you don't get those big bumps at the shoulder," she added.

And while Mimo Fried said she has replaced her old clothesline with a new vinyl one that won't get moldy, she still prefers good, old-fashioned wooden clothespins.

The white plastic ones, she says, have no character.

smartin@buffnews.com

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