Summers turn on us. Over twenty years of raising children, the waning days of summer have come to create in me an irritating state of mind, a free-floating anxiety and guilt. That back-to-school, so-much-to-do, what-am-I-forgetting switch flips on in August. It was about this time every summer when my daughters were in grade school that I started feeling nervous about what was coming up, but also guilty about wasting the summer … about not making my children cook more or do their own laundry.

At the end of the summer before my firstborn daughter’s senior year of high school, it struck me especially hard, knowing that she would soon be leaving for college. I fretted on a grander scale. Clearly, she wasn’t ready. I had not prepared her. I had forgotten things. Big things and little things — like how to save the world with kindness … and how to check her pockets before shoving things in the washer.

I know now that this was my pre-empty-nest grief talking; but it was motivating. With only a few months left of having her home, I resolved to collect the things my 18-year-old needed to know, and to find teachable moments to deliver the messages.

I started with the laundry:

  1. Do your laundry or you’ll die alone. Yes, we’re starting here. Do your laundry regularly. Try every week. Do it before you run out of clean underwear and before you need your favorite jeans. Because when you want your favorite jeans, and only your favorite jeans will do, you will want them clean. You will not want to have the dilemma of choosing between dirty, stinky favorite jeans and jeans that make your butt look (choose one: wide, low, flat, etc.) Either of these less-than-perfect options will undermine your self-confidence, and you will not have the courage to talk to that cute guy. And then you may never get another chance, and … then comes the dying alone part.

I covered some critical, basic etiquette.

  1. Pocket your cell phone during meals. If you’re eating alone, it’s your call. But if you are dining with others, your call is a slap in their face. Even looking at your phone is rude. Turn it off. Don’t answer, if it rings. Put it away.
  2. Put your napkin in your lap. And don’t blow your nose with it. And don’t hide your phone there. No one is falling for it.
  3. Look people in the eye. (You’ll discover this is hard to do while looking at your phone.)
  4. Offer your seat to anyone older or less healthy than you. And occasionally to someone who made an inappropriate shoe choice.

I debunked some myths that the world is serving up …

  1. Profanity doesn’t make you sound more dramatic or serious. It just makes you sound #!%*ing profane.
  2. The Tooth Fairy may still come. Even though you think you have a lot of things figured out, don’t give up on magic. If you lose a tooth late in life, for whatever reason, put it under your pillow.
  3. Multi-tasking doesn’t always save you time.

I was not afraid to talk about the scary things:

  1. Never put anything on the Internet that you would not want to discuss
    • in a job interview
    • on a first date
    • with your mother
  2. A friend who is mad at you for taking her car keys is better than a dead friend.
  3. Birth control doesn’t work 100 percent of the time.

On the way to teaching my daughters what to fear, I also tried to assure them that it’s all really okay.

  1. Everyone feels like a fake. Except the real fakes.
  2. Don’t worry about mastering parallel parking. They are designing cars that will do it for you.
  3. It’s OK to outgrow your dreams. The dream house of your childhood would not hold your wardrobe today. And the dream job of today may come to feel like a prison sentence tomorrow. What you hope and work for will change as you do, so don’t hold too tight to resolutions you may have outgrown. The true longings of your heart — to flourish, to love, to explore, to create — will always be part of you. Grip them loosely, and they will float along beside you, just far enough out of reach to keep you interested.
    Tess cartwheel

I covered some sorting and settings and such. Because growing up is all about knowing the difference.

  1. Know who your friends are.
  2. Know who your friends AREN’T.
  3. Know the difference between collecting and hoarding.
  4. Honor your fear. It may be trying to tell you something.
  5. Don’t be paranoid.
  6. If you’re flirting with everyone, you’re flirting with no one. And you’re probably embarrassing yourself.
  7. Don’t joke in the security line at the airport.
  8. But try to find humor everywhere else.

Because the things that go without saying … well, they really don’t.

  1. Don’t wad up your clothes. Some morning, today’s dirty shirt or sweater will be your cleanest option, and you’ll want to tell yourself that you can wear it and no one will be the wiser. You might get away with it, if it has not been smashed under a wet towel for two days.
  2. Lint is never in style.
  3. Even sloppy people like neat roommates. Sad, but true. Pick up your stuff.

These lessons were the beginning of a list in my journal that became an an obsession, and then an off-to-college goodbye letter, which then became a book, Do Your Laundry or You’ll Die Alone: Advice Your Mom Would Give If She Thought You Were Listening.

I chose laundry as the starting place because it is an easy metaphor.

The laundry never ends, but summer does.

 do your laundry or you'll die alone book on fall leaves at college campus

Portions of this article are excerpted from Do Your Laundry or You’ll Die Alone: Advice Your Mom Would Give if She Thought You Were Listening, written and illustrated by Becky Blades.

Follow Becky Blades on Twitter and Facebook.


  1. Julia August 14, 2015 at 4:15 pm - Reply

    LOVE THIS! I wish I knew these things as a teen.

  2. Marcia @ Menopausal Mother August 14, 2015 at 10:41 pm - Reply

    Awwww….I love this list—it’s perfect. I especially liked #7. It really is important to remember the magic.

  3. Candace Allan August 2, 2017 at 9:34 am - Reply

    Wonderful list – did I cover all that? Oh no I have to cover all that! Got that Aug feeling!

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do your laundry or die alone author becky blades

Becky Blades, Author of Do Your Laundry or You’ll Die Alone, and contributor to Huffington Post,, Scary Mommy, and Grown & Flown.