Making the bed -- authority, parenting, play and work

On the Taking Children Seriously blog, a fantastic parable about making the bed, authority, reactionarism, play and work:
So I started making my bed in the morning. Now I didn't have to do it at night, and as a bonus, it looked nice all day! For a while I had mixed feelings about this, though. I'd mutter in my head, Yeah, yeah, Dad, OK, it's best to make the bed in the morning, you were right, now shut up.

Later I started muttering stuff like: Think you're so smart, Dad? Can you imagine if you'd just waited it out, never mentioning bed-making ever when I was young? I probably would have started making my bed in the morning long before this, with no prompting at all, and you could have come to my first apartment and seen my nicely made bed, and then you'd have seen how well I turned out and how I didn't need all the nagging to get that way. Oh, but then you'd have been unable to pat yourself on the back for having trained me that way, so I guess you wouldn't have like that so well after all.

Later still, I thought something more like, Well, regardless, your issues are your own, Dad, and I guess I can't know. I like making my bed in the morning. Guess that's all there is to it.

Eventually I guess I stopped talking to my dad in my head quite so much around bed-making time. And many years passed.

The Bed-Making Story (Thanks, Rihatsu!)


  1. I’m still trying to figure out where people got the idea that beds need to be “made”. It’s one thing if you’re going to be showing off your bedroom to people, but seriously, there’s more important things you could do with your time and energy.

    Just about anything really.

    1. Yeah, I feel that way about walking alllll the way to the bathroom, spending alllll that time dropping my pants, wasting alllll those precious moments wiping my ass, when I could just do the whole thing in situ and have an extra three minutes to surf the web.

  2. My new place has a pretty tiny bedroom. I have a small desk in it to work at (the girlfriend gets the living room for painting), but my work require numerous books, folders, and notes to be spread around, so I put my desk next to my bed, and my bed becomes a giant table top for books while I’m in “work mode”. This is the sole reason I started making my bed because notes and scrunched up covers do not go together well.

    Now that I do make it, I have to say, I quite like it. The aesthetics of it make me feel more organized which helps me work better. I actually do have an office only a few miles from home, but I’m not terribly fond of it (poorly lit, stuffy, and too far from my pantry full of snacks) and work doesn’t require me to actually be there very often.

  3. I think that, if you like appreciate your bed being made during the day, or if you like turning back the covers at night, you should go ahead and make your bed.

    If you get up in the morning and immediately leave the house, or don’t spend time in your bedroom, and are okay with getting under messed-up covers, then you shouldn’t spend your time and energy on it.

    Making your bed is not a sign of your moral virtue. Not making your bed doesn’t mean you’re a slob. Spend your time on whatever makes you happy.

  4. “Making your bed” is something I’ve never understood. Exactly HOW to make a bed is also something I’ve debated with friends and family.

    There are plenty of people who swear by not tucking anything in at all, and wrestling with the sheets at night. Others still like to just leave the bottom untucked so they can poke out their feet at night. My father and grandmother like sheets tucked in so hard that it cuts the circulation off – known as “hospital grade” tucking in.

    Me? I like to tuck in the bottom and one side extra well, and leave the other side completely free. The free side means I can flip the sheets open to get in and out – making the bed just means pulling the sheets back over again…

  5. Daemon, I totally agree with you… except for those moments of self-doubt late late at night when the feel of crumbled goldfish crackers against my skin makes me think maybe I should have made the effort after all.

    And Antinous, we’re trying so hard to potty train. These comments are not helping.

    1. Maybe everybody else has more complicated beds. It takes me less than ten seconds to pull up the comforter and fluff the pillows.

  6. @antinous: How Do American make their bed, anyway? Over here in Germany, we usually use duvets/feather-beds in the wintertime and lighter comforters in the summer, both in a a covering. Making the bed includes airing the stuff, something I’d also do with Ango-style beds, allowing the water from the sweat to evaporate.

    This takes some time, of course, and more often than not I leave the house before I take the comforter down to place it on the bed again. So what – I won’t see it before bed-time, anyway. :-)

    Do you really get up and tuck in the blankets and stuff right afterwards? This sounds like wearing the same t-shirt on the same day or even the same socks.

    1. I have a duvet, so I do the same thing. The humidity here is 2%, so skinning it back for five minutes is plenty of time for evaporation. When I was growing up in New England, we made our beds with hospital corners and even had a quarter bounced on the bed in the morning to make sure that they were tight.

    1. I don’t mind. Everything above 23 C is hot, everything above 27 unbearably hot.

      It’s 50º here in summer.

  7. I can’t stand sleeping in a bed with the top cover tucked under the mattress. If I stay in a hotel where they’ve done that, I have to pull it all out before I go to bed.

  8. I just make my bed so that when people come over it looks like I’m someone who makes my bed.

    My god, how sad is that.

    But I tell myself it’s to do one thing every day, like the people who make it to a hundred say.

  9. Others have said the same thing:
    I probably perspire, I guessing, half a liter of perspiration while sleeping. More in the Summer, when it’s humid and hot.

    I keep the covers off so that the mattress can dry and air out.

    And I’m seconding the use of duvets. A fluffy untucked-in duvet draped across the bed makes it much more homey.

  10. Try being raised in the military. I can make a bed that would put Martha Stewart to shame and it only takes about a half hour!

  11. Mom didn’t care, dad made us tuck hospital corners you could bounce a dime off (that’s how he tested us). Now, in my 30s, my bed is a rats nest, but at least I always have clean sheets.

  12. I really don’t get bed-making as a moral issue. If you want to do it, do it. If you don’t want to, don’t. Your sheets are not cleaner either way. Whatever you choose, it does not make you a better or worse person. There are far more important things deserving of our time and judgement.

  13. “I’m still trying to figure out where people got the idea that beds need to be “made””

    making your bed is the cornerstone of discipline. as anyone who has been in the army will tell you making your bed and keeping your locker tidy is the first and most important thing.

    so keeping your stuff tidy is a form of control. in a family it gives children a set of rules of behaviour, in larger groups like the army or old school rigid colleges it keeps a group from degenerating in a mob and respecting authority. at least in theory.

  14. Sorry this comment isn’t about the morality of making a bed but jumping out at me from the post was information that is in the book “How Children Learn.” I wonder if the writer ever read that book or if these observations were arrived at independently.

  15. I don’t think the blog entry was about making beds at all :)

    But anyway–I was raised to ALWAYS, ALWAYS make the bed–with tight corners, tucked on all sides, no wrinkles, etc. I don’t have time in the mornings anymore, but thanks to the near-morality with which it was weighted all through childhood, I feel terrible about it, everytime I come home at night.

    On a different note, how often do you folks in warm climes change your sheets (since we’re talking about letting sweat evaporate and whatnot)?

  16. The last time I made my bed was the last time i changed the sheets. I don’t see the point. When I get in bed it takes two seconds to put the sheet and blanket over me.

  17. In the winter, I wrap myself up like a cocoon in my blankets, not worth the time to straighten them out just to mess them up again.

    Oh, and everything else in my room is pretty neat. I don’t do work on my bed, but the few times I have, I straighten it out then.

  18. I don’t really “make the bed”, but straightening out the sheets and blankets at some point before I get in it is a good idea, because both my husband and I kick and roll enough that they start rotating, and then I end up with no covers at all.

    Covers get pulled up roughly when I get up, because otherwise the cat sleeps in the bed and sheds hair on everything.

    Sweat is not much of an issue because we keep the house 15-16C at night. Sheets are changed weekly-ish.

    The bed is sheets, duvet in a duvet-cover (like a pillowcase, but huge) and for me an extra afgan thrown on top because 15-16C is cold no matter what he says. :P

  19. making your bed is the cornerstone of discipline. as anyone who has been in the army will tell you making your bed and keeping your locker tidy is the first and most important thing. so keeping your stuff tidy is a form of control. in a family it gives children a set of rules of behaviour, in larger groups like the army or old school rigid colleges it keeps a group from degenerating in a mob and respecting authority. at least in theory.

    Structure and discipline!” You people are nuts, along with the religious and social conservatives.

    Bed making is petty vanity, pure and simple.

    No one is looking at your bed during the day.

    No one who sleeps in my bed cares whether it’s “made” or not, since the covers come off in two seconds anyway.

    Hell, for a long time I didn’t even have the luxury of a bed.

    (c.f. she hates my futon)

  20. My parents had the policy that we did what we liked in our own rooms so they never asked us to make our beds but we did have to wash the bedding every week so that pretty much meant we at least made the bed once a week :)

    I have always had doonas – never with a top sheet – summer weight and winter weight so making the bed really just means folding it down in summer or just pulling it straight after you get out of bed in winter.

    Warmer climes – I’m in Australia and I wash the bedding every week. I change the sheets every 3 days in summer and every week in winter. We have insane temperatures here. A few weeks back it went from 40 degrees c down to 7 degrees c in one day.

  21. I like using only a fitted sheet, and a duvet with a cover. Making the bed is as easy as shaking out the duvet and stretching it out. No need to untangle knots of the flat sheet.

    Not that I always bother doing even that. But when I make my bed American style, with fitted sheet, flat sheet, and comforter/bedspread, it’s such a huge pain that I never do it. Then I get in bed and the flat sheet is all twisted around from tossing and turning all night, or kicked down to the bottom of the bed, and it annoys me.

    I was never good at hospital corners anyway. My mom tried so hard to teach me. I guess I’m naturally too impatient and careless for hospital corners, and I never found that I slept any better or worse with them than without them.

    I wash/change the sheets and duvet cover about once a week.

    Here’s a question: When I was a kid I read in Hardy Boys books about “shortsheeting” a bed as a practical joke. I’ve never seen it done, and still have no idea how you would actually do it. Can anyone enlighten me?

  22. Reminds of when Calvin decided to make a robot to make his bed for him.

    Hobbes points out that building a robot would be more work than simply making the bed.

    Calvin replies that it’s only work if you have to do it.

  23. @Zuzu

    i never said that i find making your bed an important value. i was just replying to those who were asking where the notion of making the bed is important comes from. and it comes from environments that have discipline in mind.

    i think that making or not your fkin bed is neither a sign of virtue nor a symbol of opression and does not say much about character. i never make mine for example but my gf is obsessed with leaving the bedroom in order before leaving the house. who cares?

    said that i never let guests see my bedroom if not in order and i would never invite a date with the bed in a mess.

    BTW futons suck.

  24. When I was younger, I used to sleep on top of my fully-made bed, with comforter, duvet and all. I had an extra blanket that covered me, but after tossing it to the side, my bed was already made. Sleeping on top of the comforter made for a much softer bed.

    P.S. If you need to air out your comforter because it’s got too much sweat, you’re doing it wrong. Either turn up the AC or use lighter blankets. It’s scientifically proven that you sleep better when you’re not hot.

  25. ZuZu, did you get out of wrong side of your un-made bed this morning? Ha…seriously, the thought of not making a bed makes me dizzy. The thought of getting into an unmade bed isn’t good either. Besides, the Zen aspect of making a bed is good for you. It’s exercise.

  26. I like how people say 16-17C is cold…

    Right now it’s 13C or (56F for us in America)…

    And we use an electric blanket…

    Heavy cover, electric blanket, sheet. Which gets straightened some when we get up, or go to bed. I don’t care about “making” the bed, but I do like to have my covers at least in a symmetrical fashion (so the wife won’t steal all of mine).

  27. to shortsheet a bed you take off the top sheet and fold it in half horizontally, then tuck it back in. The sheet now forms a pocket that ends 1/2 way down the bed, so the person getting in has no room for their legs.
    The fun came when a) the victim couldn’t get into bed and b) when they had to remake their bed before they could go to sleep.
    Ah, the innocent joys of yesteryear!

  28. @antinous #8:
    It’s probably not the bed that’s more complicated, but the sleeping. I can make my bed by sliding out from under the blanket instead of sitting up, and it’s still in the same shape it was the night before. That’s because I barely move in my sleep. Freaks my wife out.

    People who thrash around a lot in their sleep, now they got some work ahead of them.

  29. I don’t really need to make my bed, as I use fitted bottom sheets with elastics and a duvet, so all I need is to shake and stretch the duvet, untucked. It looks cozy and nice, but not in a tidy-militar way, and this is actually a lot better for me.

  30. A close friend whose native language was French often mixed up the translations of “faire”. It would come out as “Do the bed” and “Make the dishes”.

  31. ZuZu, did you get out of wrong side of your un-made bed this morning?

    i never said that i find making your bed an important value. i was just replying to those who were asking where the notion of making the bed is important comes from. and it comes from environments that have discipline in mind.

    Sorry, that came out grumpier than I intended; the phrase “you people” can be ballistic that way.

    But I have great difficulty thinking where to even begin with people who consider “making the bed” a cornerstone of instilling “structure and discipline” in people, and indoctrinating them into submission to, rather than constructively challenging, authority.

    Just as I have great difficulty with people who genuinely believe in “heaven and hell” and actually worry about “sin”.

    (“There is a policeman inside your head: He must be destroyed!”)

    If you want to talk about “Zen exercise”; it still seems as nutty to me as “going to church every Sunday”.

    Or, like the aforementioned Calvin’s bed-making robot… I’d sooner invent that once so that it solves that particular problem for me forever, than have to do any regular maintenance myself. (I still quietly resent the daily maintenance of my current mammalian organic frame: showers, toothbrushing, haircuts, antiperspirant, nail clipping, eating, sleeping, etc. Bring on the total cyborgization from Megatech Body, already!)

    BTW futons suck.

    Does a featherbed on a hardwood floor even qualify as a “futon”?

    At least I’m not as bad as Chuck Klosterman’s “sleeping machine”. (Though I completely relate to his Sim-Chuck vs. Real-Chuck juxtaposition of furniture requirements.)

  32. ZuZu, just do it and you’ll feel that much less like a slacker! And then go to church! Because you know, every time you make your bed, and angel gets its wings.

  33. Lovely! After the John Holt discovery I wondered how long it would take you to find TCS! And how funny that most readers think this is about bed making … wait til they learn more and start tearing their heads off in confusion. Congratulations on a life changing discovery!

    Autonomy … it’s not just for grown-ups anymore.

  34. I actually use fitted sheets but I always hated making the bed as the bending part of the exercise (see also: putting on socks) is actually rather painful for me and has been for as long as I remember.

    Since I was a child, I’ve been told that the pain goes away if I stretched and bent more often, and it never has. I try to get as far as I can nowadays without having to do that.

  35. Item #1 of the care instructions for my fancy mattress is: “Unmake your bed each morning” for the reason many have already noted (airing out). It’s nice to have an excuse (hyperlinkable, no less!) for what I likely would have done out of laziness anyway.

  36. My mother hates the sight of an unmade bed so it became an imperative for us to make our beds … when we didn’t have household help that did it for us. So when it came time to live on my own I realized I never really got in the habit of making the bed. So I didn’t. Unless my mother was visiting.

    Now I don’t even do it when she’s visiting. I just close the door to my bedroom and tell her not to go in there (or my bathroom, our idea of “clean” is very different). She takes my word for it and life goes on.

    If I had married a military man, or a net freak, oh, life would be different. But no, we are both averse to housekeeping.

    We clean when we will have guests. That is all. No idea what/how I will teach my son about cleanliness o_O

  37. This sure is a great story Cory, forcing just backfires, TCS is a parenting philosophy that brings challenge and joy to family life, so great to imagine it might become mainstream soon.
    I heard you give some ideas on what we should be teaching our kids on Saturday evening when you spoke in London, Didn’t take it all in would love you to elaborate when you get some time. It was about IT use and how to teach kids to keep private on the net etc

  38. #45 reading v. discussing – what people get out of reading the post and what they then end up discussing need not correspond directly. I don’t think that discussing a particular topic means that people think that that is what the post is about. By the time you post a comment you have moved beyond just being a reader.

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