Who but another postpartum mom could believe that I had a meltdown over doing laundry? I literally fell into a weeping puddle of self-pity, certain that I’d never get caught up. Nursing a newborn day and night, tending a toddler and a preschooler, homeschooling the older two, cooking, cleaning, laundry, church ministry, not to mention being a wife to my husband, Kieth—it was just too much.

Our boys were 9, 7, 4, 2, and 3 months. I was 38½ years old, going on 80. We had made it through Christmas and were trying to get back into the routine of homeschooling, but I just couldn’t seem to manage. I went to bed tired. I got up tired. Clearly, I needed more help than my vitamin bottle offered. I wasn’t bouncing back as I had from my other pregnancies. Something had to change.

In our marriage we have an expression: “I’m crying tired.” We don’t use it often, but when one of us says it, the other understands that it’s time to step up and do whatever it takes to help out, or at least to give the person some space or sympathy or support—or all three.

Kieth, bless him, heard me out and hugged me—exactly what I needed. Since I don’t cry often, I’m sure he wondered what had come over his wife. I wondered the same thing. I had always been a reasonably competent sort of person, and here I was lamenting over the laundry. All I could think of was how to escape. Sobbing, I offered Kieth two options: hiring a housekeeper or letting me run away from home. To his credit, he didn’t laugh at me. But we both knew that the first wasn’t in the budget, and the second obviously wasn’t an option either.

We talked it over after I settled down a bit, and he helped me identify precisely which straw was about to break this mom’s back—the laundry. I decided that if I had help with the laundry, I might stay home and raise his children after all. At his suggestion, I offered the task of doing the family laundry as a paying job to one of our sons.

Our second son, Nathanael, was eager for some extra pocket change. I had my doubts about whether this ambitious 7½-year-old could really handle the mountain of laundry our family of seven generated. After all, the weekly pile covered an area the size of two bathtubs and came up to his waist. This didn’t include the towels or sheets. When you add lots of boys to lots of livestock chores, the sum is lots of grimy clothes. I suspect we far exceeded the national average of 50 pounds of laundry per week, as reported by the Soap & Detergent Association.

But after a bit of training, he cheerfully gathered, sorted, treated, washed, dried, and folded the laundry for the princely sum of $5 each week. He was thrilled to get the money to build up his football card collection, and I was relieved to be freed up for other tasks. And Kieth rejoiced that he didn’t have to face a weepy wife each night after work.

Nathanael continued doing the family laundry (all except my personal items) for three months until I was back on my feet emotionally and physically. It was the best $60 we ever spent. And I eventually did get a handle on the laundry. Here are some ideas that worked for us.

Start Fresh

We all know that each load of clothes has to be sorted twice—once by fabric and color when it goes into the washer, and again when it comes out of the dryer to determine ownership. The toughest items to sort are underwear and socks, especially if you have several children of the same gender who are close in age.

To save time when sorting clean laundry, I bought each boy a different brand of underwear—a two-week supply to give me a little margin if the laundry didn’t get done every week. It was easy to sort when all the size 10s were Hanes, the size 8s were Fruit of the Looms, the size 6s were Penney’s, and the size 4s were Mickey Mouse: All I had to check was the color of the waistband to know whose pile they went in. As a boy grew into the next size, he inherited a new brand. Even though the size tags had long since vanished, the waistband colors remained. So whether I did the sorting or called the boys in to claim their own undies, it was an easy task.