Saturday, August 18, 2012

Lying in them

Earlier this summer, I suddenly started making beds.

Not obsessively. But regularly. And for the first time in my adult life.

If I were seeing a therapist, we would probably already have had several long chats about this abrupt change in my behavior. Since I stopped living at home full time at age 18, right up until now, I have never voluntarily made a bed unless guests were coming over and a house tour was likely. I never saw the point. You wrestle the sheets and blankets into place, and then a few hours later you mess them up again. Just leave 'em messed up. All muss, no fuss. As long as nobody but you is going to see it, who cares?

And then, sometime in June, I woke up, got out of bed, got dressed, and decided for some reason to straighten the bottom sheets and smooth out the beautiful king-size quilt that Noel's mom made for us and that covers our bed. Or doesn't, because I never make the bed. Usually the quilt is flipped and skewed and tangled with the sheets. If I had to peg one reason I decided to make the bed that day, it would be because I wanted the quilt to look nice, the way it does after the cleaners have just been to the house and the beds have all been changed.

I didn't go whole hog. Didn't make sure everything was neatly tucked all the way around; just left the sheets hanging off the sides. No hospital corners. As I've just now realized writing this, I still have no dust ruffles on any of our beds to hide the bare box springs (another conventional homemaking practice I've never seen the point of), so the "made bed" is probably still a mess by most civilized standards. But the quilt was centered, and smooth. The pillows were stacked neatly if not decoratively at the head. It was a bed that looked different than one that had just been slept in. It was a bed that looked like it was waiting to be slept in later, instead of one that had just disgorged its occupants.

Then I did the same to the kids' beds. And the next day I did it again. And I didn't stop. Even when we went on vacation, staying in two places that didn't have daily maid service, I made the beds.

I liked it. Not the making of the beds, but the made beds that greeted me when I went in and out of the room throughout the day. And at least in the desultory way I went about it, the process took very little time or energy. I think I experienced a shift in perspective. Before, I saw making beds as something you did to finish a night's sleep, and I found it pointless because I was ready to move on. Now, I see making beds as something you do to start the day. So you can have a room that's ready to live in.

Cady Gray took to thanking me for her made bed shortly after I changed my habits. We talked about how nice it was to have that big piece of furniture neatened up, how welcoming that smooth coverlet is for lounging with a book as she loves to do. And I realized that making the kids' beds is an important broken windows strategy to help them keep their rooms neat and floors clear, as their dad likes them to do.  And if they are able to do that, then all of us are far less stressed as we pass through our home without seeing messes that demand to be cleaned up or (worse) are too massive to tackle ad hoc.

My mother is probably laughing her head off right now as my dad reads her this account of my sudden change of behavior. It's not her fault I spent thirty years as a bed rebel. She did her best to get all of us into the habit. Like most people, I went my own way during college, and then I just took a lot longer to find my way back than others. A lot of folks revert to the basic civilized conventions quickly when they get a chance to control their environments. Others walk the walk, but feel guilty that they don't derive the right level of satisfaction from these domestic niceties, or that no matter how they try they won't measure up. I made my dissent into a habit and (mostly) refused to feel inadequate about it, except when it was exposed to others and I couldn't help resenting the judgment I imagined them passing.

And now I've joined the ranks of barely-minimum adequacy in the bed-making department, not nearly enough for Martha Stewart I'm sure, but a huge leap for me. It's not the result of some determined effort of self-improvement or long-procrastinated adulthood. Just a whim that's persisted so far, under summer conditions when there's little pressure to leave home in the morning in an all-fired hurry. We'll see if it survives once school starts next week. And we'll see if it's part of a pattern -- if it means anything more than my conscious mind grasps right now.


Pilgrim said...

Better watch it girl, next thing you know you'll be voting Republican.

Mark Pfeiffer said...

Should I now feel bad that I don't make my bed except in similar circumstances? If I know I'll have guests or maintenance in my apartment, I'll do it. (That I'll do it for the latter must indicate a deep-seated need not to be judged by people I won't see.)

J Michael said...

When I was in my early twenties and an appendicitis devastated me financially, I moved in with my grandparents. I found that if I didn't make my bed, my 78 year old grandmother would totter into my room and make it for me. I was so shamed that I began making my bed unbidden for the first time in my life; one of the few good habits that has stuck with me.

Here's what's great about making a bed, sort of like your broken windows statement; as the dominant piece of furniture in the bedroom, it makes the whole room look clean. Imagine the opposite; clean floor/desk/shelves and an unmade bed? Still a mess.

Ali W. said...

I started doing this years ago and Dave is still amazed I'd do such a thing. Very grown-up thing to do, really. And I do it as part of allowing my hair to dry a bit before I blow-dry it, so it's part of a system, really. :) Cheers to you, fellow grown-up. ;)