Sunday, August 16th, 2009

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.

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

Tidy Conundrum 1

Filed under: culture,fallacies,housekeeping,how to,naïveté,tidy conundrum — alison @ 21:41

(Possibly the first in a series.)

In my previous post I said that being tidy is hard for me because it’s complicated. For most people it’s the opposite. Trying to live and work in an unordered heap is complicated. Wandering through life quietly restoring objects to their rightful places is both obvious and rewarding.

So I thought I’d post about the things that my disorderly little mind struggles with so unsuccessfully. To start off: nail clippings.

I was brought up to clip my nails in such a way that the clippings would fly through the air and fall randomly to the ground. This always seemed a little odd to me. Breadcrumbs and sand are not disposed of by sprinkling them over the floorboards or the bedclothes, but apparently nail clippings are a special exception.

I thought I would be clever and cup my hand over the clipper to catch clippings before they flew off and collect them so they could be tidily thrown out. Well. It turns out that this is Gross and Disgusting. Approximately on the order of pooping on the table. I have been shrieked at for my little piles of clippings, and my first boyfriend almost broke up with me, shaking with rage, when I forgot to throw out my tiny heap and he came home and saw it. This is fairly easy to resolve, of course: only clip nails when utterly alone and with a waste-paper basket within your field of vision. But I was curious. I could imagine that social convention dictates that a piece of nail, once separated from the digit that produced it, becomes so revolting that it may not be looked at or touched. Social convention dictates a lot of things that don’t necessarily make sense. But do all my friends and relatives truly believe that these repugnant objects dissolve into the air or melt into the linoleum?

I asked around, and apparently it’s true. Those horrible nail clippings evaporate if you don’t look at them. And you shouldn’t look at them. They are abhorrent.

Okey-dokey. Nail clipping and disposal in secrecy it is.

It was one of the first things I asked Mark when we met. He has lots of strong ideas about waste disposal and I thought he would be able to resolve the conundrum of simultaneously acknowledging both social convention and object persistence with respect to nail clippings. My confidence was well-founded.

Mark’s answer: clip nails into the bathtub where they will scatter randomly and… provide invisible traction for your feet when you take a shower.

I actually think this solution is a little gross, but I am so relieved to be living with someone who has a rule about nail clippings that makes any sense at all that I don’t quibble.

So. You see why tidying is so complicated for me? Every individual item could get a whole blog post.


messy (evolution of)

I remember when I was about four or five and my father was trying to get me to put my things away, I finally told him that I didn’t care. If he cared, he should put them away. He called me a princess. I was confused because in the books I read, princesses were always virtuous heroines but by his tone of voice my father didn’t seem to be praising me. I tried to get him to explain but he had lost patience by then.

When I was about ten or eleven I was sitting at the dining room table working on a craft and dropped something on the floor. I was about to lean over and pick it up, when I realised that I didn’t have to. I didn’t need it right away and it was perfectly fine sitting on the floor until I did need it. All I had to do was remember where it was. This epiphany was accompanied by a worried suspicion that I was going to regret my insight.

Anyone I have lived with has, with a single exception, complained about my messiness. With that single exception, none has cheerfully accepted my other contributions to the household as adequate compensation for needing to pick up after me.

When living with that single exception, who did not, after all, pick up after me, rather the opposite, the house was so filthy that when a pregnant friend we were chatting with on the sidewalk needed to pee, we lied and said the toilet didn’t work. I think that was when I faced the fact that there was something seriously wrong. We never discussed it.

In Margaret Atwood’s The Robber Bride, there’s a scene where a pathetic, dependent character breaks something and there’s glass on the floor. This is one more contribution to a discouraging sequence of events, not because she attached value to the broken thing but because “now she would have to remember.” As in, it doesn’t occur to her to sweep up the shards; instead she will need to spend the rest of her life trying not to cut her feet by not walking in that spot. I was shocked to discover that I was a type.

For a couple of years one of my annual objectives at work in my performance review was to clean up my desk. I never really got around to doing a complete job. My boss eventually gave up. For the past four years or so my bosses have been elsewhere — Winnipeg or Mississauga or Toronto — and have not seen my desk.

It’s not that I like being messy. I don’t even like ordinary cheerful clutter; I love a stark, open, spare space. One of the first things I did upon getting a regular job was to hire a cleaning lady. It’s more that it seems too complicated. I like doing laundry, and do it diligently even if it means hauling it to a laundromat, even if it takes all weekend. Laundry is self-limiting. There is not an infinite amount of stuff that could theoretically be put into a washing machine. Once it has been washed, it needs to be folded and put away. Very simple. Not only that, I know where laundered things go. Clothes have drawers and shelves and hangers; sheets and towels have closets; dog blankets go back on dog beds; soft furnishings go back where they came from. If I start to clean a house I never know when to stop: there’s always something I didn’t get to and feel guilty about, always a decision that I don’t know how to make.

Mark determined that part of my problem is that not everything has a place to go. I feel bad when stuff is lying around in heaps, but it’s not as though changing the situation is always a simple matter of putting it in its place. There often is no place for it, so more radical intervention is called for. When he moved in he put a lot more storage in. It helps. 

Still, the other day someone said that if I were an employee, she’d fire me; that if I were a roommate, I would be out on my ass in two days. She doesn’t even know me that well. It’s just that obvious.

My boss is in town for a day. I cleaned off my desk this morning in preparation, which mostly consisted of stashing papers and the binders into which they are some day to be filed, into drawers and bins where they will be invisible to the casual visitor. Still, I feel better.

Mark has been stomping around crossly for the past few weeks, issuing dark warnings that we both need to change if we value the relationship. I’m not sure I can change, exactly. But perhaps I can put “cleaning off the dining room table every Saturday” into the same doable category as “laundry.”

Saturday, September 13th, 2008


Filed under: housekeeping,illness,motivational,travelling — alison @ 06:55

I got a stomach bug on my last trip to Winnipeg. I ended up wasting a day in my hotel room, unable to leave for fear of shitting my pants. I dozed and internetted during most of the day and in the evening I watched television. I ordered a small, light meal from room service, ate it slowly and cautiously and kept it down. Then I rolled over and shit the bed without warning.

Staying in a hotel has its advantages. I stripped the bed and dumped everything in the hallway; washed up in the bathroom and put the soiled towels out in the hallway; called Housekeeping to pick up the soiled linens; and moved into the other bed. Cool. It happened again in the middle of the night, but then I didn’t have a clean bed to move in to. I wrapped myself in a complimentary bathrobe and spread a towel on the bare mattress. That’s when I started feeling sorry for my future self, imagining myself living alone and poor in an HLM with a laundromat in the basement, wondering how long it would take me before I stopped changing the sheets when I was sick. 

Then I realised I hadn’t been paying attention to all the television ads I’d been watching. Of course. When I am that sick, in that situation, I will just wear diapers. 

The next morning I didn’t try to eat right away, but took a taxi to work and set my things up in my usual conference room. Then I walked to a drugstore and bought myself a package of Depends and changed into them before getting breakfast at the company cafeteria. They are surprisingly comfortable, which is good to know. I kept a couple of changes in my purse for the flight back to Montreal that afternoon, but I didn’t need them. The bug seemed to have run its course. And all day I was thinking of the Active Woman in the Depends ads, who can leave her home to lead a Busy Life. And I thought how liberating the availability of a disposable consumer product can be.

Sunday, September 28th, 2003

Re: Married Life

Filed under: consuming,fear,housekeeping,how to — alison @ 21:21

Hmm, this one seems to have hit some sort of sensitive nerve out there. I’ve gotten lots of helpful responses from people who seem to understand the place that properly done laundry has in a satisfying life.

So far:

Too much information/oversharing: three votes (including one cast vigourously by Mark).

While over the past years I have recounted amourous and occasionally unorthodox adventures and admitted dark urges to smash my chihuahua’s head open against a wall, these confessions are apparently a normal part of the public sphere or at least entertaining enough that their trespass into the public sphere was tolerated without comment.

The feelings of desolation that follow domestic disagreements with a legally bonded mate apparently enjoy no such license. Either they are too personal and not to be displayed because they are too boring (like nose-picking, tooth-brushing and breast-feeding); too personal and not to be displayed because they are too important (like how much money one makes); or occasion too much uncomfortable echo in the reader; or are simply not funny.

Whatever, I have been advised that by discussing laundry in public I went too far.

Separating laundry is an important aspect of clothing care: five votes.

Five friends seized upon the occasion to share their personal approaches to laundry, happy to share hard-won expertise with someone needing their help.

All are strongly in favour of separating, though the importance they attribute to different categories differs. Some separate icky from sweet; others, lint-generating from lint-collecting; sturdy from fragile; light from dark; large from small.

This probably doesn’t have much to do with laundry at all: three votes.

Laundry is not important enough to get that worked up about: two votes.

The bourgeois lifestyle is inherently violent: one intriguing vote.

Actual quote: “The bourgeois life is a violent life, it restructures all of everything into the space of consumerism & then isolates it. I think this re-channeling of desires from open-ended to the very concrete, with its limits but reassurances, is what you are going through. It’s the politics of capitalism in everyday life, not easy for any of us, and always in flux.”

When pressed for clarification, “bourgeois” was defined as middle-class with a separation of public and private spheres. “Yes, absolutely, it is much more convenient to do your laundry in your own machine in your own home. No question! But then you don’t leave the house.”

What I’ve settled with:

1) Domestic disputes are much scarier when you’re living together and legally married. Especially as Mark and I took the old-fashioned route of courting first, then marrying, then moving in together. Highly stressful.

2) Front-loaders do in fact require a different approach to laundry than top-loaders. You have to do a full load every time or else the machine gets unbalanced during the spin cycle. For our machine this isn’t fatal: it stops spinning, shakes the clothes around a bit, then tries again. But if the load is too small it will just keep trying forever and never really spin right. So it takes a bit of teeth-gritting to put things together that you wouldn’t have combined in a top-loader. Repeating to oneself that front-loaders are much gentler on clothes than top-loaders helps, as does viewing the washing process through the porthole and watching the machine toss your garments tenderly like an organic baby lettuce salad with raspberry-mustard dressing.

3) I’m still not combining mops and underwear.
Hugs again to all!

[originally transmitted by e-mail September 28, 2003]

Friday, September 26th, 2003

Married Life

Filed under: consuming,fear,housekeeping,how to — alison @ 08:01

Ok, I haven’t been writing my usual e-mails lately and people have been sending somewhat worried queries as to the sympathy of married life.

Hard to say. We were married July 1st and Mark left for the Netherlands July 11th. Then he arrived 15 days ago as a landed immigrant, entitled to live, work, breathe, travel but not vote. Yippee!

So that makes a total of 25 days of connubial bliss to report on. As someone with scientific training I can tell you that’s a very small n. But we have visited family in Ottawa, Mark has taken the dogs to the vet, everything seems kind of normal and couple-like. Except that we’re both terrified and are acting kind of stiff and awkward. (Though Mark stole my heart all over again when he introduced himself to someone as my friend last weekend. Yes!)

Tuesday was particularly stressful as Mark slated three major appliances (washer, dryer, refrigerator) for the St Vincent de Paul society and replaced them with shiny new energy-efficient ones that *work.* Yuppie!

Apparently too stressful for our meagre resources. We had our first married fight last night over the washing machine. It turns out that he’s not going to let me use it unless I wash clothes his way: everything together in one load, no separating, and the hottest water possible. He thinks he’s educating me on the use of superior front-loading machines and raising my consciousness about energy use. I think he’s being weird (I think I should be allowed to wash t-shirts and underpants separately from floor mops, and in cold water).

I am having nasty flashbacks to my ex, who wouldn’t let me use the radio or play music. I suppose I should be delighted to find myself married to someone who won’t let me do laundry, but I don’t take well to being forbidden. And I *like* doing laundry.

Hmm… I am thinking something about suffering and privation being good for creative expression. I think there must be something to that.

Hugs all, and if you don’t hear from me soon, that just means we kissed and made up!

[originally transmitted by e-mail September 26, 2003]

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