Do you make your bed in the morning? And if not, do you think you’re a terrible human being?
I myself do not make the bed. Since I don’t enjoy doing chores, I do them only as necessary—and making the bed has always struck me as perhaps the most useless of all the prescribed “daily chores” of human life.
What, exactly, is the point of it? Yes, the bed looks nicer, but if you’re like most people, you’ll leave the bedroom and go to work (or wherever you go in the daytime) as soon as the bed is made, and you probably won’t return to the bedroom for any substantial length of time until you’re ready to go to bed again—at which point, you’ll promptly upset the work you completed that morning. Time spent in the bedroom, typically, is time spent in the bed: for the task of “making the bed” to make sense, there would have to be some additional daily bedroom interlude during which one might bask in the loveliness of a flat bedspread without disturbing it. Yet this does not exist—we illogically insist upon an object’s tidiness of repose even as it is contained within a room whose very purpose is the use of that object.
Making the bed strikes me as the task of a more oppressive era—a deliberately useless task assigned to women in order to force them to demonstrate their allegiance to “good housekeeping,” not merely as a practical matter but as an overarching life-philosophy. Think of hotel rooms, where maids pull taut the comforters and tuck the sheets with a kind of suffocating meticulousness—no one really enjoys getting into a bed so pinched with perfection. The goal is to broadcast the painstaking service of the hotel staff—to make you remember that you’re being taken care of.
Yesterday I sent out a brief survey in which I asked 12 of my friends whether they make their beds every day. I assumed that, as liberated young people, most of them would laugh at the idea of devoting two minutes every day (roughly 12 hours a year) of their on-the-go lives to a purposeless chore. As it turns out, more of my friends are slaves to convention than I thought: only five of the 12 replied that they “never” or “almost never” make their beds.
All five of these respondents were male. One of them added that he does, however, wash his sheets “annually,” while another mentioned that his bed doesn’t even have any sheets on it at all.
Based on my limited data, it seems that women make their beds more often than men do. The two respondents who stated that they make their beds every single morning were both female, and one additional woman stated that she makes her bed every night, just before getting into it, in order to ensure equal comforter distribution between her and her husband.
Other women provided answers such as “50 percent of the time” and “on occasion.” Another said that, though she generally neglects her own bed, she always makes her boyfriend’s bed when she stays over.
I asked some of the people who make their beds why they do it. One responded, surprisingly reasonably, that it’s easier to fold laundry on the bed if the bed is made. Another cited “pride,” while another explained that “it feels gross and ‘dirty’ to me if I don’t [make the bed].” I hadn’t considered this psychology: the act of making the bed, for her, transforms the bed (in a purely ceremonial fashion) from a “used, dirty” object into a “clean” object. Of course, making the bed doesn’t actually make it clean; it just gives it the appearance of cleanliness—which, much of the time, is what “cleanliness” really is, I guess.
There is no shortage of web articles suggesting that making the bed is the one simple trick that will help you gain control over your life. Most of their reasons are pretty vague, but one that all the blogs lean pretty heavily upon is the notion that making your bed is a “gateway chore”—by starting your day off with this small “achievement,” you’ll enter a responsible, industrious state of mind that will propel you through the more difficult and meaningful chores of the day. As a former Navy SEAL put it, “It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed.”
Are you the sort of person for whom life consists of one task after another after another? Are you so convinced that this is so (and that inhabiting the world as anything but a constant doer of tasks is dangerous) that you have to invent useless chores such as pre-rinsing the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher, dividing your laundry into whites and colors, and making your bed, just so that you’ll never have a moment of idleness in which you might have to wonder whether there isn’t more to life (or less) than “progress” and “accomplishment”? If so, good luck with all that.
My grandfather had a different theory about the importance of making the bed: he felt that, to some degree, it could ward off depression. When you’re having a really, really bad day, your first instinct is to crawl back into bed as soon as possible—an act of resignation, which won’t help you dig your way out of whatever pit of despair you’re occupying. If the bed is unmade, it’s too easy to indulge yourself. On the other hand, if the bedspread is neatly arranged, it forms a psychological barrier, reminding you that the mattress is off limits until nighttime, and in the meanwhile you need to keep moving.
He was probably right about this; even so, in the same situation, I’d rather get back into bed.