The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

I never believed in making my bed. It turns out, I was right all along.

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People love that expression “You’ve made your bed, now lie in it.” But you never hear its corollary: “You’ve lain in your bed, now make it.”

If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s sleeping in beds. I was a shoo-in for an Olympic Sleeping medal in 1980, a chance I lost when the United States boycotted the games in Moscow. All that training, all those long, sleepful nights, all for naught.

What I’m not so good at is making a bed. From the moment I left the crib, making a bed struck me as a wasted effort. Why make a bed when you’re only going to have to unmake it that night?

This argument cut no ice with my parents. They were more crushed-ice types anyway. I’d gather them in the living room and present what I thought was a bulletproof argument, only to have them respond, “You know, in the time it took you to set up the dry-erase board and hand out the mimeos, you could have made your bed.”

I had similarly disappointing results with my why-clean-my-room-when-it’s-only-going-to-get-dirty-again campaign.

Those childhood traumas stick with you. Make your bed! Clean your room! Eat your peas! Make your room! Eat your bed! Clean your peas!

This bed-making animus followed me into adulthood. When I lived alone — in college and just after — I could do what I liked. And not do what I didn’t like. The result was, well, I think the technical term is “squalor.” I once went so long without changing my sheets — let alone making my bed — that I created my own Shroud of Turin.

And then I got married. My Lovely Wife turned out to be a bed-maker. “What’s it take?” she’d say. “Thirty seconds?”

“It’s the principle,” I would say. “Making the bed is giving in. It’s what the Man wants you to do.”

“John, you’re 26. You are the Man.”

That was 33 years ago. I’ve been making the bed ever since. I haven’t always done the best job, but I’ve made the effort: Pull the sheet up, pull the blanket up, pull the comforter up, plump the pillows.

But guess what: Experts now say you shouldn’t make your bed. Apparently, microscopic dust mites — the kind that feed on scales of human skin — love the warm, dark embrace of a neatly made bed. Leaving the bed unmade and exposing the sheets to light can cause the mites to dry up and die.

This research, from London’s Kingston University, came out in 2005. But it was only last month that it made its way to the Kelly household, after My Lovely Wife heard something about it on the radio.

So, like Galileo, my once-heretical views have been proven correct. It turns out I was right all along.

I didn’t gloat. I’m a lover, not a gloater. And what I love is not making the bed. So I stopped. So did My Lovely Wife, Ruth.

But it turns out that the way Ruth doesn’t make a bed is different from the way I don’t make a bed. Her unmade bed is neater than mine. She pulls back the comforter, then the blanket, then the sheet, folding them crisply over the foot of the bed.

My unmade bed looks like what you think of when you hear the phrase “It looked like an unmade bed”: a lumpy landscape of rumpled bedclothes. I guess I have to up my not-making-the-bed game.

In the meantime, there’s something else I’m hoping to get better at not doing. Over the summer, we re-landscaped around our house. This involved removing most of the grass in the front and backyards and replacing it with beds — there’s that word again! — of native plants. Raking leaves off grass is easy compared to raking it out of newly-mulched beds that are studded with fresh plants of various sizes.

We asked the landscape designer how best to rake the leaves. Her suggestion: Don’t rake them at all. Leave them where they are and let them break down, providing nutrients to the soil as they decompose.

Once again, laziness is my friend. I may celebrate with a nap.

Helping Hand

I hope you won’t sleep on The Washington Post Helping Hand, our annual fundraising effort. This year, we’re supporting Friendship Place, Miriam’s Kitchen and Bread for the City.

These charities work with people who are hungry in Washington, people who don’t have homes, people who struggle to pay medical bills. Even a modest gift of just a few dollars will help move us toward our goal of $250,000.

To learn more — and to donate — visit posthelpinghand.com.

Twitter: @johnkelly

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/john-kelly.

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