How to change the sheets and make the bed.
The second instalment of my “keeping tidy” series.
The traditional way:
- Strip the bed. Put the bottom sheet and used pillow cases aside to be laundered.
- Flip and shake the mattress and put back any mattress pads.
- Take the top sheet, which is only lightly soiled, and tuck it over the mattress to be the new bottom sheet.
- Put the pillow or pillows in clean cases and place at the head of the bed.
- Take a clean sheet and lay it over the bed as the new top sheet.
- Layer on cotton and wool blankets and quilts as dictated by the season, fold down the top sheet and tuck everything neatly under the mattress.
- Lay a quilt over the whole bed, if needed.
- If you haven’t used a large, decorative quilt then lay a bedspread or coverlet over everything to keep the dust off.
Keeps laundry to a minimum (one flat sheet and one or two pillowcases per week/month/season/year) which preserves sheets from wear and tear and reduces labour (especially important when washing by hand). Allows use of inexpensive linens (no contoured sheets; threadbare blankets can continue to be used, just layered on top of one another). Layers can be fine-tuned weekly as the weather and seasons change. Use of a bedspread or coverlet keeps off dust and means blankets don’t need to be washed – yearly at most, but perhaps not ever. Home-made mattresses are turned routinely to avoid lumps.
May cause problems for people with allergies. Animals must not sleep on – certainly not in – the bed. (Well, if you’re change-the-sheets-yearly type folks, you probably don’t have access to much liquid water in the winter. You might as well sleep with your animals to keep warm, because animals or not those sheets are not going to be pristine at the end of the year.) Flat sheets on the mattress tend to pull out in the night.
The modern way:
- Strip the bed, leaving the mattress pads in place.
- Put the sheets and the pillow cases aside to be laundered.
- Place a clean contoured sheet over the mattress; replace the pillows in clean pillow cases at the head of the bed, and lay a clean flat sheet over everything.
- Further layers as above.
Contoured sheet stays in place throughout the night. Commercial sprung mattress doesn’t need to be shaken and turned weekly (or daily). Use of a washing machine means that the extra sheet can be washed — weekly even! — without excessive burden. Layers can be fine-tuned weekly as the weather and seasons change. Use of a bedspread or coverlet keeps off dust and means blankets don’t need to be washed – yearly at most, but perhaps not ever.
Contoured sheets are more expensive than flat ones and they wear out more quickly because they are always on the bottom. Commercial mattresses are much more expensive than home-made. More wear and tear as both sheets are washed weekly. May cause problems for people with allergies. Animals must not sleep on – certainly not in – the bed.
The way of the Ikea generation:
- Strip the bed, leaving the mattress pads in place.
- Put the sheet, pillow cases and duvet covers aside to be laundered.
- Place a clean contoured sheet over the mattress.
- Replace the duvet in a clean cover and lay over the bed.
- Replace the pillows in clean pillowcases and place at the head of the bed.
Contoured sheet stays in place throughout the night. Commercial sprung mattress doesn’t need to be shaken and turned weekly (or daily). All the sheets are washed weekly and duvets can be washed seasonally or as required, so no dust or musty smell. Duvets can be purchased in varying weights so you can get the weight you need for a given season. Duvet covers mean that duvets can continue to be used even when they get old and you start having to patch them. In-home front-loading washing machine means that washing the equivalent of three sheets per bed per week is not an undue burden, and you can even just throw a duvet in when you need to. Animals are welcome to sleep in the bed because the hair and dander gets washed out weekly.
Requires storage space for all those seasonally-perfect duvets. If you don’t have a seasonally-perfect duvet you will be too hot or too cold. All that washing causes wear and tear. Threadbare linens have nowhere to be layered discreetly: if you patch them they will show, and you will probably just throw them out.
My mother and I argue about these approaches. She combines the Traditional and Modern Methods for the advantages of both, using suspender-strap thingies to connect a flat sheet under the corner of the mattress so that it will stay in place like a contour sheet. Very smart and practical. (My mother is very smart and practical in general.)
Her dust distresses me. I, the profligate modern daughter, am of the Ikea generation. I live with one other adult in an apartment designed for a family of at least four, in a time when sheets manufactured elsewhere can be bought cheaply here. Storage is not an issue. I do not worry about caring for my things: they are disposable. I do laundry liberally. I sleep with my dog. My lack of understanding of economy shocks my mother as not only a failing in self-care and housekeeping, but as a failing at a moral level, of stewardship.
She’s appalled at the idea of washing duvets. “You mean they have to be washed?” she shrieked when I mentioned it. I tried to explain that this was a feature, not a bug: they don’t have to be washed, they can be. She’s cannier than that. She knows that once something becomes possible, it becomes the new standard.
While I understand and respect the traditional bedmaking approach, I do have allergies. If I were to adopt traditional bedmaking I’d have to become a much better housekeeper – actually cleaning the house myself, instead of waiting for the dust to float (or be tracked) into my bedding so that the washing machine can get rid of it for me.