Not So Common Sense

Dec 9 , 2023
By Kidist Yidnekachew

While doing laundry over the weekend, I began video chatting with a friend from overseas. Amid our lively conversation, I told him to give me a moment while I loaded the socks and got back to him. He quickly pointed out that I could have thrown them with the batch that was complete instead of loading a new one which could have saved time and resources. He smirked and added a comment that soap was designed to clean everything.

Perplexed, I paused for a moment, asking myself if washing socks and clothes separately was not a common practice. He contemplated that it might be a cultural difference since he is from another country.

I am aware there is a certain way I like to do my house chores, especially when it comes to cleaning. Apart from taking my time to make sure the dishes are shiny or the clothes are properly cleaned, there are orders I follow.

I avoid soaking, assuming the stain would remain. Instead, I take my time giving each corner of the cloth, sleeves and collar a thorough scrub before changing the water and repeating the process a few more times before rinsing. As a result, while some members of my family would complete similar tasks in less than an hour, it sometimes takes me the entire day.

This is precisely why I resented constantly washing my blue jeans and white sneakers. Since I did not have the time to be meticulous, I switched to lace-less shoes and black pants at some point that could be worn for more days. I tried delegating the task to others assuming that everyone follows a similar pattern. Little did I know the art of cleaning chores does not come with a manual.

When I began to use a washing machine, it paved the way for effortless cleaning, especially on heavy loads such as bed linens and drapes. But the order of doing things has not changed much. I still took care of my dark and colourful clothes on the first round while socks and undergarments were dealt with consecutively. After I had kids, a separate round had made its way with their loads of laundry.

But I believed seemingly simple chores like doing laundry had a common understanding. My friend challenged me by comparing the situation to how soap is used to clean every part of the body when taking a shower while I argued that there are different types of soaps for multiple purposes. An antibacterial soap used after a toilet deed does not pass as a face wash, especially for sensitive skin.

Our debate continued and we decided to turn to Google. Apart from protocols that which fabrics determine at which temperature clothes should be washed, the quick search appeared to be on my side for a moment.

It revealed that socks can be a hub for bacteria and fungi with concentrated perspiration and impurities, recommending washing them separately to avoid possible cross-contamination. The same caution is applied to underwear where throwing them with other clothes might be a cause of pathogens in the urinary tract. My victorious lap was momentary. Further digging indicated that everything could be washed together as long as a high-quality detergent was used.

It got me thinking about common sense -a phrase that is used with a confident familiarity- is not that common. It has more to it than meets the eye.

Perspectives are shaped by upbringing, education and social experiences. Meanwhile, a web of personal experiences, ingrained presumptions and cultural influences usually pass for objective reality. The subjectivity of the human experience is one of the factors contributing to this false sense of shared understanding.

Overestimating our limited knowledge as the only right way go beyond the art of doing laundry. It might lead to potentially disastrous decisions based on false presumptions of "common sense."

PUBLISHED ON Dec 09,2023 [ VOL 24 , NO 1232]

Kidist Yidnekachew is interested in art, human nature and behaviour. She has studied psychology, journalism and communications and can be reached at (

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