Do you make your bed?

A few years ago, millions of people watched and shared the video of Admiral William H. McRaven’s commencement speech. He had lots of good ideas to share from his life and his training, but what people remember most is this: If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.

As we study what catches on and “goes viral,” as they say, we know that simple messages like this tend to stick. You could also change the world by building an impressive military career and making very difficult decisions in the course of your special forces service that turned out to work. But that advice is harder for people to act on. Whereas everyone can make his or her bed. So that’s the message that came out of this speech.

But should you? I woke up in a hotel room this morning, so I probably won’t be making my bed. I’d say my bed at home is a 50-50 proposition. There’s also the question of whose responsibility it is to make the bed. If you share it with someone, do you change the world by making the bed? Or do you change it by not automatically taking this on yourself?

In any case, as I study how people spend their time, and how they work best, I see that for some people, outer order contributes to inner calm. For some people, making a bed might count as a tiny victory, and that might convince them that they can do bigger things.

But for others, that’s probably less true. They don’t mind outer order, but they also don’t want to spend a ton of time pursuing it. If having a few things scattered around the floor, or having an unmade bed somewhere in the house is going to bother you, you could literally spend your entire life cleaning in the vague hopes that “life begins when you put your house in order” (to quote Marie Kondo). Or you could recognize that those things will just come out again tomorrow, but you’ll never get that time back.

I have also seen that organization and tidiness are not the same thing at all. I’m incredibly organized (I have the camp spreadsheet to prove it!) I’m also not that tidy. I stack papers on my desk, and I clean off the desk once every few weeks if that. I have 632 unread messages in my main inbox, which to me means “zero.” Somebody asked why I didn’t go through and delete those 632 unread messages if I’m not going to do anything about them, but they do not bother me at all, so I’m not sure why I’d do that.

Because of my personality, I probably wouldn’t succeed in the military, which tends to attract the tidier sorts. If you sleep in a barracks, lots of people see your bed, so there’s more a question of group norms than in a private house. But I don’t spend my time looking at my bed during the day, and no one else does either, so whether it’s made or not just doesn’t enter into my conception of whether I’m succeeding.

I don’t agree that if we can’t get the little things right, how can we do big things? No one can do everything. We all have to choose some things not to do.

But obviously, people have different takes on this. So let me know: do you make your bed each morning? (Or does your partner? Whose job is it?) Why do you make it or not?

 

36 thoughts on “Do you make your bed?

  1. Before I moved in with my husband, I made my bed every day. Now it’s kind of his job although it doesn’t get done 100% of the time. I get out of bed first and I feel it’s the person who gets up last’s job to make the bed. I can’t really ‘make’ my husband make the bed but I have told him that I prefer to get into a bed that has been made. So what usually happens is that he makes the bed in the evening when I am giving our son a bath or putting him in his pajamas. So it gets done, but at a time that works for him. Our bedroom is upstairs so I don’t really see the unmade bed so it doesn’t bother me if it doesn’t get made until the evening. Before having our son, I had time to run upstairs and make it before leaving for work. Now I don’t as our mornings are super rushed since we all leave the house around 6:50am.

    I agree with the tidy v organized idea. I am also super organized but I’m not always the tidiest person, especially since having a child as it’s just a never-ending battle to keep our house tidy since the 16-month old can create a huge mess of toys in like 15 seconds. One thing I feel strongly about is not leaving dishes in the sink and my husband is on board with this as well. So we always do dishes after eating a meal and I make sure my breakfast dishes are in the dishwasher before I leave for work in the morning.

  2. I’m with you! Also a very organized person about my work, but tidiness is not a priority for me. I really don’t care whether my bed is made or not!

  3. I make my bed (that I share with my husband) every day. Not because it will have an impact on anything else I do that day, productivity-wise, it just feels much nicer to me to get into a made bed at night. And I only straighten out the sheets and pull up the comforter, so it takes no more than 30 seconds.

    Besides the bed thing, I, too, am remarkably organized but not that tidy. So many people think they’re the same, but they’re not!

  4. I am a big bed maker. I have pretty much always made my bed everyday as far back as I can remember. Now my husband mostly makes our bed because he is still in it when I leave for work. The reason for all this bed-making, I REALLY like getting in to a neat bed at night. In fact my favorite day of the week is Tuesday, when my housekeeper comes and makes up my bed with fresh sheets (No, I do not make the bed before she comes). I do not fuss too much about the other beds in the house. My daughter makes her bed because she too likes to get into a tidy bed at the end of the day. She too loves a “Nice, neat Sandra bed” (Sandra is our longtime housekeeper). My boys could care less and rarely if ever make their beds.

  5. I make my bed every morning. To one of your points, for me it is most definitely the “outer order contributes to inner calm”. The days that I don’t make my bed, my day feels more out of control – whether it is reality or not.

  6. Last person up makes the bed. But I have very simple linens so it’s easy and takes all of 45 seconds. Also, I am “that person” that makes the hotel bed if I am going to be in the room for any length of time before housekeeping comes. Messy beds ruin my mojo.

  7. I don’t make my bed because I’m never in my bedroom during the day. But I do clean up the dishes after every meal and put away toys when my son goes to bed. Partly this is because I find neat spaces easier to relax in, and partly it’s sort of a ritual to help me transition to the next part of the day.

  8. Our bed gets made every day. Rule is that whoever gets out last has to make it, and 99% of the time that’s me lol since Hubs goes to work earlier than I do.

    As OP stated, I LOVE the day the house cleaner comes. There is nothing better than clean sheets!

    We have three sons, ages 23, 20 and 20. They are hit or miss about making their beds. One of the 20 yo’s went through a phase in high school where he slept on top of the covers with a blanket over him.

    And I will admit, I have been known to make an unmade bed right before I get into it at night just because I can’t stand to get INTO an unmade bed.

  9. Totally on board with the organized but not tidy description! Don’t care if my bed is made or not – though ‘making’ it for me is actually just means pulling up a sheet (I sleep very warm and just don’t need much on there). Sometimes it gets done just to keep cat fur off the fitted sheet.

  10. I do make my bed first thing in the morning, mostly because my mother insisted and it was an ingrained habit by the time I left home. But I also prefer “outer order,” and too much clutter and mess are distracting.

  11. I’ve been inconsistent over the years about making my bed. In college, I always did, and when I lived in Japan my bedding was a traditional futon on the floor so I had to roll it up with the sheets and blankets and stash it in the built-in cupboards in the living room, otherwise it would all take up my entire living room. When I was a single career gal, though, it kind of depended on the day.

    Early in our marriage we never made the bed, but over the last decade or so we got into the habit of making the bed, especially after we adopted dogs. As they had a tendency to jump on the bed during the day and snooze, we made sure to make the bed so that they wouldn’t get the sheets or pillows dirty. As to who makes the bed, it’s random: sometimes it’s me, sometimes it’s my husband. It just depends on who gets out of bed last. It takes literally 1-2 minutes so it’s basically muscle memory at this point! It’s certainly not up to military standards (I’m reminded of that scene from “Private Benjamin” where Judy flips a quarter off her bed and it bounces off.) but it still looks neat and tidy, and definitely contributes to an overall feeling of calm and order whenever I walk through the room.

    Having said that, I’m like you in many ways! I’m definitely very organized but my desk is a different story. I periodically will clean it out, but usually it has stacks of papers and folders and an array of pens and Post-It pads (two of my weaknesses). I have two filing cabinets with highly organized files, but I don’t get around to filing things except every 2-3 weeks. I adore those photos from Real Simple that showcase beautifully lit, minimalist home office interiors in various shades of white and cream, but in reality I probably work best when my office is a little full, a little busy.

  12. My mind is highly organized. My physical space, not so much. I have never made my bed, never plan to. Currently I have to strip the bed every morning and lay pads down on it to keep the dog from leaking urine on my nice comforter, but a) This is only because I don’t want to lie in pee, and b) I will stop as soon as I no longer have to. I guess prefer things to be globally tidy… but if I’m honest with myself I don’t really see dirt. My husband does, which is why he hired a house cleaner. Work is a little different. As an anesthesiologist I have to be able to respond quickly to emergencies, therefore my workspace in the OR is pretty tidy (I’m sure some would disagree). But that again is related to function moreso than any psychological intolerance to messes.

  13. I always make ours, but that’s only because I’m the one who dislikes getting into an unmade bed at night. Since my kids don’t care, I never make their beds (they are 6, 4 and 1) unless the sheets need to be changed.

  14. I guess it depends on the definition of a “made bed”. My idea of making the bed is simply adjusting the blanket to lie straight across and cover the mattress and pillows. I know some people also have duvets, throw pillows and all sorts of things. I have none of that, but I do like having my version of a made bed.
    For me outer order absolutely contributes to inner calm. While I wouldn’t consider myself a neat freak, and I have no love for complicated pillow arrangements, too much home chaos increases my anxiety.

    As to who makes makes the bed, it really varies. My husband’s work schedule changes almost daily so sometimes he’s still in bed when I leave for work. If we’re both up, it’s who gets to it first. The advantage of having a very simple version of a made bed is that it takes roughly 1 minute to accomplish so it’s hardly a chore worth fighting over.

    1. Just wanted to add, from a hygiene perspective, you shouldn’t make the bed first thing. If you pull blankets and covers over right after you get up, you trap heat and moisture and that’s a breeding ground for all sorts of things. I typically make the bed shortly before I leave for work, not just as I get up.

    2. I am with you on the ‘simple’ bed. To make our bed means to straighten the sheets and blanket, then pull the comforter up and over the bed and two pillows. No extra decorative pillows or the like.

      One minute max to complete.

  15. Thanks for the organized but not tidy description. I think that fits me too. I honestly don’t care about a bit of clutter (though I have a threshold) but I’m quite good at this point at being organized (actually doesn’t come naturally, but I’ve found that it’s useful). So I’m quite good at planning for work, making watertight travel plans, meal planning etc., but my husband is usually the one who picks up our kid’s toys at night. Being both more naturally organized and tidier than me, he also makes the bed. Growing up we had household help who made the beds. When I was living with roommates I slept in unmade beds a lot. I do like them made, but probably not enough to make them.

  16. My husband and I share a king-size bed and we each have our own comforters because we have different temperature comfort levels. So his size is never made, and if I have a chance I make mine just before leaving for work in the way that others have mentioned–just pulling up the sheet and comforter so it looks generally tidy, to prevent my dog from getting the fitted sheet dirty and because it is more visually appealing to me. No throw pillows or anything.

    I like the distinction between tidiness and organization. I consider myself pretty organized, but I wish I were tidier. I enjoy tidying, and I love the way things look when they are tidy, but sometimes I would rather spend my time in other ways.

  17. I think having my bed made is ideal, but it doesn’t always happen. It’s a “nice to have” item akin to a splurge purchase in the family budget–maybe I’ll do it as a treat to myself, but maybe I won’t. A busy week or a challenging day almost guarantees it won’t happen because it’s not a priority.

    But, if I decide to take the time to make the bed, it’s a nice bonus. Weekends and vacation days make this more likely. I actually think it helps me recover from a busy day or week to go through the house and restore a “clean” condition. To be honest, clean is highly subjective and having a new baby and a small business means there’s only so much clean I’ll do.

  18. Last up makes the bed in our house, and that’s usually me. If it’s not made by bedtime, I’ll make it just before hopping in because I hate sleeping with messed-up sheets. We don’t make our kids make their beds, though we’ve taught them how. They have too many stuffed animals, and the upper bunk is still challenging, and honestly, I don’t care!

    I like Brian Eno’s advice, “When in doubt, tidy up.” (via Austin Kleon — https://austinkleon.com/2017/11/28/tidying-up/ ) It’s useful if I’m stuck, or need an entry point into a project, and I enjoy a calm space for relaxing, so we do a “Take Ten” in the late afternoon (everyone take ten things and put them away). Calm to me means the pillows are on the sofa, not the floor, I can’t see any toys, and there are no stray socks lying around. Stacks of books and the occasional empty mug are totally fine. I live in an old house in the US south, so dishes must be done after each meal to keep bugs at bay.

    A note on barracks (though I know it’s not the point of the piece) — according to my partner, they’re mostly dorm-style these days, so at most soldiers have a roommate. I’m sure there are older ones out there, but dorm-room-style I’ve ever been aware of. Basic training, which is usually what you see in the movies, might be different.

  19. I DO make my bed every morning. I just pull up the covers and plump the pillows. It doesn’t take any time, and when I walk back into the room, I don’t have to look at the mixed up mess. It just makes the whole room seem more in control, which is a good thing, because the rest of the room is definitely NOT in control! I figured that 90 seconds gives me a little more peace. I am not that tidy at all, so that little island of calm makes me feel better about my bedroom and the whole house.

    1. @Sarah – this is when the house was staged! It looked like this for a bit, but we recently got new linens and some new art for the walls in the master bedroom. A cherry blossom theme. Still blue and cream though.

  20. Count me among those who (a) mostly make the bed (or DH does, he usually gets up later than I); (b) consider this to involve just straightening the sheet/comforter; and (c) are (often…) organized but rarely if ever neat.

    As other commenters’ replies point out, what the more hygienic approach is and under what circumstances (dogs, etc.) varies. More generally I think we often forget or fail to examine/reconsider how norms like bed making may have developed under one set of circumstances and then carried forward into others … my mother talks about how she and her siblings used have some sort of schedule to turn the sheets of the beds over (to get a new clean side) in an era when (a) her home was heated by a coal-fired furnace (so, air in the home grubbier than today’s) and (b) doing laundry was a lot more work — I think a washing machine of some sort was involved, but a wringer, no drier. And of course, very different/less user-friendly (though more natural) fabrics. Certainly sheets weren’t washed & changed weekly! And the air quality meant that keeping things closed off/covered, was important to keeping them clean. In that context, I think bed making made sense for health/hygiene reasons, today (at least where I live), not so much.

  21. I don’t make the bed – but now that it is winter in the southern hemisphere I do pull the covers over roughly so that the electric blanket is effective in the evening!

    I agree that organisation is different from tidiness.

    But I also think your need for tidiness depends on how much time you spend in the room. When we were a couple with no kids, and my husband travelled constantly, it used to really annoy me how untidy he left (particularly) the kitchen. But once he became the stay at home dad, he is much tidier than me, and gets annoyed (but much more nicely than me!) when I don’t clean up in the kitchen after I’ve used it, or tidy things away in the rest of the house.

  22. I didn’t make my bed for years, and it never really crossed my mind as something I needed to do to be productive, or calm. However, my husband and I started making our bed daily about a year ago. We have kids, 6 and 2, and our bedroom is the only room in the house not overtaken by kid things on the regular. Having the bed made gives us one thing in the house every day that is cleaned up, and free of clutter. I’m working on weeding out clutter from the rest of the house. Having this one thing done every day does really seem to help. If it doesn’t get done, it’s not the end of the world, but I do feel better when it is.
    Same could be said for the kitchen sink, but that doesn’t happen as frequently as our bed being made.

  23. Yes to all you said about being organized but not exceptionally tidy – same! I don’t make the bed. My mother and my husband absolutely need outer order to have inner calm and are extremely tidy, so my whole life I have been lucky to benefit from their tidiness. Yay!

  24. Catching up 🙂 I probably make the bed 50% of the time, and josh 25%, and our nanny the other 25% save for the every two weeks our cleaner comes. I am an “outer order inner calm” person though not to an extreme. I’m okay letting things pile up a little in my office or email BUT I must clean it out every so often (and I like having a time each week to tackle the pile up!). I also would never leave dishes in the sink at night and I will admit I get annoyed when josh sometimes does!

    My argument with the email is how can you easily scan what is active/still pending when all those emails are still there? Love love love getting (periodically!) to inbox zero 🙂

  25. We live in a condo where I can see our bed from the kitchen and I do think it contributes to a little less of an overwhelming feeling come when it’s made. There are always breakfast dishes out, toys on the living room floor, but seeing one clean room I think helps! If I don’t make it early I do straighten it right before bed so sheets and comforter are all straight 😂

  26. I can’t sleep without some kind of cover over me, even if it’s so hot it’s just a sheet, which means I sleep much better in a bed that’s been made, as the covers are much less likely to come off in the night if they’ve been straightened and tucked in daily than if they’ve been left to become progressively further untucked and tangled for days on end, so for me the minute or two it takes out of my day to make the bed is well worth it in terms of better quality of sleep for a third of my life. Since the only time I don’t make my bed is when I’m too ill to get up out of bed for long enough to do so, I associate the sight of an unmade bed with illness and discomfort–not the best frame of mind for getting a good night’s sleep. Probably the extent to which one is able to put the chaos of an unmade bed out of mind correlates at least in part to the extent to which the size of one’s living space enables one to keep it out of sight (or not).

    1. @Gwyneth – distance from the bed could have something to do with it. Though for about 7 years in NYC my office was in my bedroom…and I still didn’t make my bed all the time. Sometimes but not all the time!

  27. I appreciate outer order and it brings me inner calm, however there is some kind of imaginary scale in my head that weighs out how important the tidying task is, how long it will last, and the amount of time and effort to do it, and then determines whether it’s worth it. With that being said, I do not make the bed. My husband does, and I love looking at the neatly made bed, but if left to my own devises I would not and do not bother (and it doesn’t bother me!)

    1. I should also note my husband wants to teach the kids to do this as a daily habit (they are 4 and 2). I have mixed feelings. I think there are more important things I’d rather encourage them to do daily (pray? Read? Exercise?)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *