#1: Making the bed

I made it! I know a couple of people who are awfully fond of mentioning the fact that they make their beds every single morning. Every. Single. Morning. I know, right? According to these people, the idea is that if they go on to get absolutely nothing else accomplished all day, at least their bed is made. That seems like a pretty low bar for productivity, even by my lax standards. I suspect that what they’re really doing is bragging about their superior housekeeping skills. Their discipline. Their inexplicable sense of pride revolving around a mundane task.

As evidenced by the fact that I consider this all highly suspect, I’ve never been much of a bed maker. I just don’t really see the point. You make a bed, you go about your business, you get back in it. A friend of mine recently commented that making the bed after you get up is a lot like tying your shoes after you take them off. (To be honest, I’m not sure it’s the world’s most solid analogy, but since I don’t like making my bed, I’ll take it.)

I am a woman who loves hotels almost entirely because while you’re out, magical fairies come in and make the bed for you. They make it wrong, to be sure, tucking things in too tightly, posing weird tubular pillows that match no human body part. Still, the bed making falls to someone else. This is, in my opinion, as it should be. If you have to do it yourself, the end result simply doesn't seem worth it.

Yet, a couple of weeks ago, I was soaking in the tub and reading a New York magazine article entitled “50 Steps to Happiness. It included just the sort of worthwhile gems you’d expect, such as eating Greek yogurt or offering to help “a stroller person” up the stairs. (I must confess this sent my brain a-spinning, trying to figure out what the hell a “stroller person” is. Part human, part stroller? Are they a problem in New York?)

The second item on the list, courtesy of The Happiness Project author Gretchen Rubin, was this:

Make your bed. Go figure, but outer order contributes to inner calm. Especially if you’re living in a small space—but even if you’re living in a gigantic loft. Start each day with a concrete, albeit tiny (and therefore manageable!), accomplishment.”

It was a simple enough (manageable!) suggestion, practically daring me to try it. I should be clear that I didn’t really entertain the notion that making my bed would be the key to happiness. But I’ve been wrong before. Once or twice. And I am terribly fond of the shorter, easier path to, well, anything. Perhaps I shouldn’t rule out the possibility entirely. What if it really was that simple? What if a little tug and tuck here and there and happiness was mine?

Or what if, at the very least, it was the key to … something? A sense of satisfaction? A kernel of discipline? A tiny demonstration of willingness? I was looking for a small change to kick off this blog and I figured I’d be hard pressed to find a smaller one that still actually qualified as change. Thus began seven days of bed making. In a row.

That first morning, I fairly leapt out of bed and promptly got to work which, in all fairness, seems a bit of a misnomer for what this really was.  Our bed is a low-key affair. We don’t like the sheets tucked in, use a big duvet rather than layers of blankets, and there isn’t a mess of pointless throw pillows to be arranged. In fact, there wasn’t a whole lot of difference between our bed, made and our bed, unmade.

To say it was a bit of a letdown would be an understatement. What did I know? I’m new to this change business. Maybe the reward wasn’t in the making of the bed itself. Maybe it was in the changes, subtle but many, that would creep into my life now that I had started it off with this little exercise in willingness. I sallied forth with my day. Nothing the least bit unusual happened.

The next day, however, something did. After I made my bed that morning, I tackled the pile of clothes that had been accumulating for days over the bottom bed rail. It didn’t really seem like a conscious decision; it’s just that they were interfering with the overall aesthetic effect and I was on a bit of a roll. Perhaps even more significantly, in that pile I came across some gym clothes. Which I put on. And wore. To the gym. What would a scientist make of the connection between these three events? I have no idea. I paid zero attention in science.

By day three, I’ll confess that the novelty was waning. I actually lingered in bed for a while just to avoid having to get up and make it. Which led me to wonder if I couldn’t build a better mouse trap. What if I made the bed without getting up? What if I made the bed from the inside? And so I did. I moved myself over to the middle of the bed and began a complicated set of motions, waving my arms and legs – picture a jumping jack, lying down – and things were acceptably in place. In fact, from my vantage point it looked better than I would have guessed. Then came the tricky part – getting out. I pretended to be as flat and light as a slip of paper and fairly slid right out. I surveyed the bed, with its wrinkles, the bottom corners not quite even, the pull to the right where I had slid out. It wasn’t a perfect system by any means. But it wasn’t terrible.

For those first three or four days, I didn’t really pay attention to just how nice it was to come to a made bed at the end of the day, peel back the covers and crawl inside. It seemed more relaxing. Civilized, even. Maybe Ms. Rubin was onto something in re: outer calm bringing inner calm. I could see that much. I just wasn’t sure it was a habit I’d stick with.

I’m sorry to report that by week’s end, I had abandoned my method of making the bed from the inside. Genius as it was, it was also exhausting. Going back to the traditional method left me a little more energy for the additional straightening I seemed to be doing throughout the day. I’d have to say, very begrudgingly, that there seemed to be a good deal of spillover effect, vis a vis seeking an outer sense of order. It turns out the towels can be picked up off the bathroom floor. Not always, but sometimes. The kitchen counters can be uncluttered on a more regular basis.  I even found myself folding the couch blankies and putting them back in their basket at day’s end. I can really see how that sort of order could be very appealing to a more industrious person.

In the lag between day seven of bed-making and sitting down to hammer out these riveting thoughts, it occurred to me that I haven’t devised any real system of assessing the impact of each change. Was the goal in this first outing to find happiness through housework? If so, my conclusion is that that’s a real stretch. Should I gauge the change’s value based on whether it “stuck” after the week was up?  If so, then the fact that yesterday I absent-mindedly pulled the duvet cover into a pseudo-made position after rising would certainly suggest that I’m off to a swimming start.