DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!
Apr 15 2016

Small Changes-Big Results

by Dea Anne M

Believe it or not, I haven’t always been someone who makes her bed.

“What difference does it make?” I would ask. “I’m just going to get back into it.” Thus cleverly employing the sophisticated logic used by generation after generation of (lazy/busy/distracted) college students – the only problem being that I was about six years old when I first uttered the words.  After my parents explained to me that – first: daily bed-making was a good discipline that I would someday be grateful to have acquired and second: that people my age who knew what was good for them generally did as they were told – I made my bed.

My paternal grandmother, a gentle and optimistic lady who tried valiantly to walk the tightrope that stretched between her grandchildren’s desires and firm parental rules, assured me that I would sleep more soundly in a nicely made up bed. “Like a baby,” she  promised. “An angel!” Well, I no more wanted to go to sleep at night than I wanted to make a bed during the day so that argument, unfortunately, didn’t carry a lot of weight.

My maternal grandmother, an equally loving woman who, nonetheless, possessed a steelier approach to life, often reminded me that not only was I lucky to sleep in a real bed, but I was also lucky to have it all to myself. The straw with which her childhood mattress was stuffed seemed to grow ever scratchier with each retelling of her story just as the number of sisters and cousins with which she was required to share it grew more numerous. Like a lot of somewhat indulged children, I didn’t much enjoy being reminded of just how good I had it. (I realize that I’m making my younger self sound like a bit of a brat and well…I won’t disabuse you of that opinion. I apologized to my Mom recently, again, for being such a rotten kid and her surprise seemed completely genuine. “You were a joy,” she said. “A wonderful child!” Which just goes to show how a person’s memory can play tricks on her mother.)

So, life went on and I made my bed but not quietly. I’m sorry to report that this task was one which I regularly swore – to anyone who would listen meaning usually just myself –  that I would never perform (ever!) once I was old enough to do as I pleased and that is exactly what happened. Actually, I continued to make my bed during my first year of college – mainly because the young woman with whom I shared a very small dorm room was an extremely tidy person and to not do it  would have been too embarrassing – not to mention the fact that she was from my hometown (also small) and she knew my parents!

After that first year however, I dove right into the pleasures, as well as the responsibilities, of what I considered a fully adult life – a life in which any making of the bed other than on laundry day was out of the question. Funny thing though, this little act of daily rebellion began to lose more and more of its allure as time went by. I can’t even remember when the tide definitely changed for me, but I’ve been a dedicated daily bed-maker for some time now. I think that it has made a difference for me in ways that are subtle but very real. I don’t want to over-romanticize the whole thing but leaving my house with a made up bed each day gives me a little boost – as though the fact that I’ve already accomplished this one thing might mean that I could  accomplish still more. I also feel as though getting into a made up bed at night helps me to sleep better…just like my grandmother said it would!

I bet you thought that I was leading up to yet another post on housekeeping – probably centered around the proper way habitto make a bed. Well I’m not. What I’ve actually been contemplating is habit and its force in our lives. Merriam Webster defines “habit” thus: “a usual way of behaving: something that a person does often enough in a regular and repeated way.” We hear a lot about “bad” habits – where they come from and how to change them but what about “good” habits – or, I suppose, more specifically, positive habits? Sure making my bed every morning leaves me with a tidier bedroom and provides positive feelings of accomplishment at the start of the day and repose at the end of it, but could the value of habit provide even more profound and long lasting effects in my life? According to Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, making your bed every morning is “correlated with better productivity, a greater sense of well-being and stronger skills at sticking with a budget.” No, Duhigg isn’t suggesting that a making the bed will clear up your sinus issues or keep your bank account from dipping into the negative. What he is saying is that some initial effort toward paying regular attention to small things can lead to a habit of paying concentrated attention to larger projectconcerns.

Gretchen Rubin, author of the excellent and very readable books The Happiness Project and Better Than Before, addresses bed making specifically on her website. While acknowledging that happiness for some people (those who grew up in overly rigid households, perhaps) happiness might include not making the bed. She goes on to say that committing to daily bed making, or to any small resolution, can help with life’s more challenging issues. Says Rubin: “…picking one little task and doing it regularly, can help you gain a sense of self-mastery. Making your bed is a good place to start and tackling one easy daily step is a good way to energize yourself for tougher situations.”

How about you? Are you a bed maker or not? By the way, if you do want to know how to make up a bed, let me, yet comfortsagain, recommend Home Comforts by Cheryl Mendelson. Mendelson’s advice on all aspects of home care is thorough – to say the least – but she will never come across as strident (I promise!). You’ll find no insistence on hospital corners here but, of course, if you desire them there is excellent instruction on creating them to perfection. I highly recommend it.




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