The “TROFAST Laundry System” IKEA Hack Is the Laundry Pile Solution We’ve Been Looking For

published Jul 5, 2023
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someone taking a shirt out of a pile of clothes
Credit: Photo: Lucy Schaeffer; Prop Styling: Carla Gonzalez-Hart

Anyone with kids will understand industrial engineer (and mom) Başak Anil’s despair at the sheer volume of laundry they create: “After our second baby, the laundry situation in our home went crazy. There were piles of unsorted laundry everywhere.” 

It just stacks up so quickly — not just dirty clothes waiting to be sorted and washed, but clean laundry waiting to be folded and put away, too. The amount of laundry isn’t necessarily even the biggest problem. It isn’t just an activity that you do, it’s a whole process that has to be managed.

So when I came across Anil’s thread on Twitter applying systems logic to laundry using the IKEA TROFAST system (IKEA”s super popular kids toy storage), I was intrigued. I had to talk to her about the system.

The Problem: Laundry Bottleneck

Anil explained to me that when she and her husband first came up with the TROFAST laundry system they realized that the issue wasn’t a capacity problem: “This was a bottleneck problem. Laundry was piling up at three points: sorting pre-wash, folding post-wash, putting away post-wash.”

These points are problematic because they require you to make a hard decision, and decision-making requires attention, which can be a sparse resource, especially for parents. “A thousand other things require your attention, and you run out of it, so you avoid these tasks for as long as you can, which ends up blocking the flow,” shares Anil. 

No matter how much capacity (that is, laundry basket volume) you allocate, it comes down to three psychological bottlenecks:

  • Sorting pre-wash: What can be washed with what? Should I wash this or that? Should it be washed now or tomorrow?
  • Folding post-wash: I have five minutes for myself, should I fold these or should I cook, clean, or scroll Instagram?
  • Putting away post-wash: Where does each item go? What to do with this particular item? 

The Solution: the IKEA TROFAST Laundry System

The TROFAST laundry system has only two elements: buckets and racks. “This system allows sorting, folding, and putting away to be handled in a single bucket,” explains Anil. In short, your laundry basket turns into a ready-to-wear-from drawer. Each rack holds three buckets vertically and you can have each rack represent a category of laundry: lights, darks, wool, baby, toddler, etc.

The family collects dirty laundry in the bottom buckets of each rack, with the top two buckets containing their clean clothes. Anil calls these buckets “atomic laundry units.” The items in each bucket go from dirty to clean in four steps:

  • Step 1: Collect dirty clothes. Dirty clothes are thrown into the bottom bucket of the corresponding rack as soon as they’re used.
  • Step 2: Wash and dry. When they have enough headspace, Anil or her husband pull a dirty bucket and pour it into the washing machine. There is no decision-making because the items inside a bucket have been sorted, so you know that they can be washed together.
  • Step 3: Fold clean clothes. Dried items are then folded back inside the same bucket. If you’re short on time, you can even put the clean clothes right back in unfolded. Again, no decision-making is needed here, because they’re all going back into the same bucket. 
  • Step 4: Place items back in the rack. Now, combine the two half-full clean buckets on the top so that you have an empty bucket. Insert the buckets of clean clothes (one combined, one newly washed) back into the top two spots, and the now-empty bucket into the bottom spot. Keep collecting your dirty items in your now empty bottom bucket. Now you have clean clothes and no piles around.

How to Implement the IKEA TROFAST Laundry System

Anil and her husband sold all of their dressers to invest in the IKEA TROFAST atomic laundry system. They now have eight of these units with mostly medium (9-inch tall) buckets, handling eight categories of clothes. 

“Whatever can be washed and stored together is a category,” she says. Of course, you don’t have to go all in right away. Anil suggests picking a category that goes into the wash most frequently in your home (for example, toddler clothes or adult T-shirts) to become its own singular system. Anil recommends using the entire column of three baskets as a laundry basket and dresser, instead of sorting clothes and placing them back in actual drawers. 

The 9-inch buckets make up a half load in the family’s washing machine, so they run them in short cycles and then dry the items. They do use some of the smaller 4-inch tall buckets, which can be bought separately, where necessary for easier access to smaller items, but still, they don’t combine trays because it creates the additional step of sorting them post-wash. 

Applying an engineer’s logic to household chores lets you build systems around things that handle the largest traffic, such as laundry, and spare your attention for fun activities with your family. “Laundry shouldn’t be something that steals your precious attention,” says Anil.

This post originally published on Apartment Therapy. Read it there: This Engineer Mom’s Ingenious Way to Sort Laundry Using the IKEA TROFAST