"Where do you think you're going with those holes in your jeans?"
"You're not really going to wear that shirt to school, are you?"
But the biggest battle, dress-code violations aside, always began with this question:
"Did you make your bed?"
As a particularly jaded fifteen years old, the last thing on my mind would be the state of disarray in which I invariably left my bed sheets.
What did it matter? I was just going to mess them up again anyway.
The Case for Bed-Making
Out on my own, there were several blissful years during which I could count the number of times I made my bed on one hand. A number almost equal to the times my folks came to visit. One less than that, actually. I remember because the next week I received a book I never ordered. The title? Make Your Bed.
“If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.”
These, the words of Admiral William McRaven, Navy SEAL: delivered to eight thousand University of Texas graduates and many thousands more who bought (or were left) a copy of the Admiral’s book, myself included.
“By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you’ll never be able to do the big things right.”
The admiral made a good point. Not being nearly as stubborn as I was at fifteen, I tried it out. Every morning: hospital corners, pillow centered under the headboard, blanket folded neatly at the bottom. I won’t say I changed the world, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me feel a lot better about my living space. I developed a small but important sense of pride for my attention to detail that really consoled me on days I came home ready to crash face-first into a well-made bed.
This was my mother’s point as well as McRaven’s. Beginning each day with a small task—even a mundane one—completed to perfection can give one the sense of accomplishment that might encourage us to go out and do more. To be more. Whether you’re a Navy Admiral, a single mom, or a college graduate—committing to making your bed every day can become a threshold to excellence.
In Defense of Laziness
After a few months of bed-making, I had almost entirely changed my tune. I had read the book and seen the light; I was singin’ the song, dancing the dance, and making my bed while I did so. I was feeling pretty good.
At first it was just in the morning, then it continued all through the night. After a week with almost no sleep, I went to my doctor fearing lice.
“No, no lice,” said the doc. “It’s something else.”
Then he asked me something I never expected from anyone but my mother or, possibly, a SEAL drill sergeant:
“Did you make your bed this morning?”
If you search "why shouldn't you make the bed" you will quickly turn your face in horror, confronted by a dozen high-res close-ups of these cuddly creatures:
Dust mites: gross little spiders that feed on dead skin and breed by the millions in the one place you really don’t want them—your bed. According to BBC News, scientists at the Kingston University ran a household study of dust-mite survival. Among their conclusions, this gem:
"Something as simple as leaving a bed unmade during the day can remove moisture from the sheets and mattress so the mites will dehydrate and eventually die."
You read that right. NOT making your bed, while it may look messy, is actually hygienic.
Diving deeper into the case for neglecting a chore I had long hated, I discovered another reason to leave it out of my day entirely. Medical doctors Robert Patterson and Christopher Stewart-Patterson published an article for the Canadian Medical Journal declaiming the practice:
"Not only is this recently evolved practice unhygienic, the mechanics of straightening the corners and fluffing the pillows is physically injurious."
The doctors Patterson argue that, because most beds are low to the ground, making the bed puts undue strain on your back. The more time you spend making the bed, therefore, the worse your back problems may be in the long run.
Dr. Jeff Winterheimer of the Illinois Back Institute backs up this claim. In a blog post, he warns: “Making your bed can require you to do a lot of bending, twisting and turning. These different moves can easily trigger your back pain.” Dr. Jeff goes on to explain how to avoid making your bed in such a way that may cause you harm. There is a right way to do it.
The middle path
I found myself at a crossroads. Despite my life-long hatred of the chore, I had changed— I actually liked coming home to a made bed. And yet, with this same act, I was courting dust mites and possibly lumbago.
To make the bed or not to make the bed?
The primary thing
Around the time I was shopping around for new sheets to replace my mite-ridden ones (I know, I know, it makes me squirm just thinking about it). My mother, never far from a conversation about bedding, sent me a link to this Business Insider article, introducing a new company that’s revolutionizing the way to make a bed.
“The fix is straightforward,” I read, “Primary Goods' top sheet and duvet cover snap together so both always stay attached and move with you as you shift in bed.”
While the design is meant to prevent the top sheet from being rumpled in a heap at your feet, the benefit is that making the bed is done in a fraction of the time, which means less potential risk of back issues. I got them in the mail within a week, eager to try them out, but I still had one concern:
“But what about the mites?” I asked my mom.
“Oh—” she said, “Just let it air out for half an hour. I only make the bed once I’m on my way out the door.”
“Someone should tell the Navy,” I replied.
General Lee A. Bedmaker
P.S. Whether you’re a fan of this controversial morning ritual or loathe it to your core, you can snatch a primary set of Primary Goods snap-on linens for as low as $349. Make it—or leave it. Primary Goods makes it easy either way.
D.C., Jeff Winternheimer. “Avoid Back Pain While Making Your Bed.” Illinois Back Institute, 2 July 2013, 2:44PM, info.illinoisbackpain.com/blog/bid/302156/Avoid-Back-Pain-While-Making-Your-Bed.
Chen, Connie. “This Online Bedding Startup Developed a Clever Solution for Keeping Your Top Sheet from Ever Bunching up - Here's How It Works.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 27 Sept. 2018, www.businessinsider.com/primary-goods-linen-sheet-and-duvet-review-2018-9.
“Health | Untidy Beds May Keep Us Healthy.” BBC News, BBC, 18 Jan. 2005, news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/4181629.stm.
“If You Want to Change the World, Start Off by Making Your Bed - William McRaven, US Navy Admiral.” Performance by William H. McRaven, Goalcast, 17 Aug. 2017, youtube.com/watch?v=3sK3wJAxGfs.
McRaven, William H. Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life ... and Maybe the World. Grand Central Publishing, 2017.
Patterson, R, and C Stewart-Patterson. “The well-made bed: an unappreciated public health risk.” CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l'Association medicale canadienne vol. 165,12 (2001): 1591-2.