Are You Too Busy to Make Your Bed?

March 14, 2013

By Amy Hackworth. Image by Justin Hackworth

Housekeeping and I share a tortured past. As a child, I knew I could find anything I needed if I could see it, and that was easy, because my things were scattered all over my floor. As a teenager, both my room and my car were reliably messy, and in college I continued to be oblivious to clutter (sorry, roommates!). I’ve developed considerably tidier habits over the years, but still silently congratulate myself when I put my clothes away at the end of the day, instead of toss them in a heap on the floor.

Tidiness is not one of my natural gifts. (I have other gifts, I reassure myself). So when I’m particularly busy, I find that maintaining my home — something I really have come to value — is one of the first things to go. I stop tidying up here and there, and I dismiss my faithful practice of rinsing the dishes right away, and there’s no way on earth I’ll pull out the vacuum until the project at hand is finished.

Even though I believe in the gifts of order, and I love the feeling of our clean living room, and the smooth sweep of the empty kitchen counter, when I am under pressure, I say goodbye to those gifts and watch clutter pile up while my head is down, focused on my deadline.

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, shares some thought-provoking wisdom: “Outer order contributes to inner calm.” It’s got me wondering if a different approach to my extra-busy days might be helpful. Would life feel less hectic if my kitchen were cleaner? If my home were more ordered on those deadline-driven days, would the subsequent calm increase my productivity?

One of Gretchen’s simplest suggestions for living a happier life is to make your bed, for the very reason that it’s a quick and easy way to create order. Interestingly, of all the advice she offers, people most often mention the difference this one small change has made in their happiness.

I’m eager to hear if  you find outer order does contribute to your inner calm? Do you find tidying up is worth the time even when you feel distracted by other pressures? Are there simple chores like making your bed that make a difference for you when life is especially busy?

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{ 2 trackbacks }

Finally Friday. | Life, Love & Garlic
March 15, 2013 at 3:52 pm
Happy Life Tip 3-Make Your Bed | THINGS CHANGE!
March 20, 2013 at 1:01 pm

{ 61 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Katie O'Keefe March 14, 2013 at 9:06 am

If I can at least have a plan on paper, and clean enough around the house before bed to make for a good morning – I feel calm. I loved Gretchen’s books too!

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2 Lisette Wolter-McKinley March 14, 2013 at 9:15 am

Clutter makes me crazy and feel stressed. I am not the best house keeper, but I am really good at keeping things organized.

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3 ashley March 14, 2013 at 9:15 am

i asked my husband to make our bed everyday (i get up and leave for work before him), and it has made such a huge contribution to my ‘inner calm’! so worth it. i also make sure there is nothing on the kitchen counters and wipe them down every night…there may be a few dishes in the sink, but if the counters are clutter free and somewhat clean, i feel like at least part of my home is under control.

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4 Lauren March 14, 2013 at 9:23 am

Yes, an orderly house is a huge part of my inner calm! Even if I haven’t gotten a chance to make the bed all day, I still make it at 9pm before we get in, because I feel like I don’t sleep as well in a messy bed and then it carries over to the next day.

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5 Heather March 14, 2013 at 9:28 am

Making the beds is the one daily cleaning ritual I INSIST upon. IT is quick and easy and has a huge impact–especially since I work from home and my master bedroom is on the main floor, visible from the front hall and kitchen.

I am trying to have the same vigilance with the kitchen table, which is usually a breeding ground for clutter. No more! And it helps my spirits tremendously.

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6 Amy Hackworth March 14, 2013 at 4:59 pm

So true! Kitchen tables can be such a breeding ground for clutter! My master bedroom is often my office, but not visible from the front hall. Yikes!

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7 Annie W March 14, 2013 at 9:29 am

When I was growing up my Mother always told me that 90% of a clean bedroom is a made bed. I definitely didn’t appreciate that as a kid or a teenager, but now as an adult I know everything feels better if my bed is made. And I definitely agree that having a tidier house helps me feel tidier mentally too. That doesn’t mean I always remember to do it though.

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8 Amy Hackworth March 14, 2013 at 5:00 pm

I guess it’s one of those things you have to grow into…? I definitely didn’t appreciate it as a kid or teenager, either, but I certainly love it now.

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9 redpeeptoepumps March 14, 2013 at 9:40 am

It’s such a relief to hear that someone else out there is admittedly messy. I keep thinking I’ll grow out of my natural disorderliness and messiness (like being an adult = being clean and tidy), but it hasn’t happened yet!

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10 Amy Hackworth March 14, 2013 at 5:00 pm

There’s still hope for us! :)

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11 Heather March 14, 2013 at 9:44 am

I MUST make my bed in the morning. I do it as soon as I get up. Now, the other areas of my house… I am a clutter bug. My kitchen island and my office desk are so messy. It makes me crazy but I can never keep them clear/clean! I enjoyed Gretchen Rubin’s books but never applied them. (Sigh)

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12 Ali March 14, 2013 at 9:45 am

In my next life, I’m coming back as a naturally tidy person. Because I’m sure my messiness contributes to my irritability no end. And the time I waste because things are not orderly.

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13 Connie March 14, 2013 at 9:49 am

How funny that you should mention this. In our house, this is the one thing that my husband and I are total polar opposites about. He figures, he’ll be back in there in a couple hours, why make it, unless someone’s coming over? The way I see it, I LOVE unfolding a fresh made bed at night and slipping into the nice cool, organized sheets and pillows. It feels crisp and welcoming. For me, it’s not about the look of an organized room so much as the feel of getting into it later! I will make our bed each day, even if it’s at 5pm after I get home (I leave before my husband does, so he’s still using the bed when I leave.). It’s not a big deal, so I don’t feel a need to ask my husband to make it (although every once in a while he will, as a clear gesture of love to me).

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14 Kathryn March 14, 2013 at 9:51 am

I find I can’t focus if the house is a disaster. Everything starts to feel more stressful. I think my kids react similarly, if it feels like things are out of order it escalates in other areas. It doesn’t have to be super clean, but it does have to be tidy.

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15 Kristin March 14, 2013 at 9:56 am

I love a clean house, but I am a slob. I am also the working mother of a two year old and six months pregnant with our second. I decided a while ago that I would rather spend my time with my daughter than cleaning (easy choice!) That said, I do try to teach her some cleaning discipline that I seem to lack. So most of the “cleaning” we do is sweeping the kitchen floor together, or wiping out the tub with a clean sponge, or “folding laundry” (which involves my daughter rolling clothes into a big pile and throwing them in a basket). Maybe the laundry never does get folded the right way and put away, but being with her is much more fun. I guess it all just goes to show that attitude is everything.

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16 ModFruGal March 14, 2013 at 10:02 am

My desk in our kitchen is my trigger spot. While my bed may remain unmade, if my desk gets too cluttered I feel angst, since it is central command for the family. The to do lists, school reminders, all are centered here and if it isn’t tidy, I get stressed and must drop everything to “get it back”.

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17 Meggan March 14, 2013 at 10:20 am

I definitely appreciate the calm I get from a made bed each day. It also gives me a clear surface for folding laundry on, reading stories with my kids, or organizing other things. That said, I am not a naturally tidy person, and wouldn’t have developed the habit without the aid of flylady.net. That website has been a complete lifesaver for me! I don’t follow it all the time, but when I do, it makes a huge difference, especially shining my sink each night. I absolutely hate going to bed with dirty dishes, because it makes me feel like I am behind when I wake up in the morning. If I load the dishwasher each night, I’m able to unload it in the morning and have a clear place to put dirty dishes as they accumulate throughout the day. I can let other things go, but dishes must get done! It does help my internal calm when my house is clean though. My brain feels as cluttery as my house is, so it’s harder to think of a plan to address it when it’s so messy.

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18 Amy Hackworth March 14, 2013 at 5:02 pm

I agree, Flylady is amazing. I’ve never followed faithfully, but a few of her mantras have totally stuck for me. One of my recent realizations is that going to bed with a clean sink is such a gift to myself the next morning!

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19 Mary March 14, 2013 at 10:29 am

Yes! I make my bed every day, and I tidy as I walk around the house throughout the day. It absolutely impacts my mood and outlook.

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20 Marille March 15, 2013 at 5:35 am

Picking up throughout the day is so important. One of the things I try to remember is “Don’t put it down, put it away!” so I’m not stuck doing it later when I’m even less inclined to work.

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21 Maria B March 14, 2013 at 10:38 am

My house is a disaster more than it is not. I’m not naturally organized or particularly neat. Sometimes it makes me a little crazy when I’m running around in the morning because I can’t find a brush or the ponytails for my daughter before school, but for the most part, I’m over it. It’s chaos in here because we make things, color things, paint things and so on. And so often at the end of the day, I just want to sit with my husband on the couch. Yes, I feel SO amazing when the house is totally clean and tidy, but I feel good when it’s crazy too. I had a poster a long time ago with a bunch of sayings on it and one of them was, “Never postpone joy for housework.” Perhaps I’ve taken that one too much to heart!

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22 Franci March 14, 2013 at 10:39 am

Thank goodness someone else struggles with keeping things tidy. I try but… the bedroom is so far from all the other things that need to get done before we walk out in the morning. I might not go back in that room once I wake up. At least a feather comforter with a pretty duvet (and no top sheet) help a little bit. Even if I’m making my bed at 6pm.

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23 Giulia March 14, 2013 at 10:41 am

We are neat and tidy. Our kitchen is always clean and things put away each evening so we can have a restful sleep. The playroom is tidied after play time and laundry is put away. However, I only make my bed because I need to protect my pillow from the cat – if the cat didn’t choose to sleep on my pillow during the day, then I would never make my bed. My kids don’t make their bed and I don’t ask them to, because it’s not important to me.

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24 Amy Hackworth March 14, 2013 at 5:05 pm

This is really interesting, Giulia. You’re broadening my definition of tidy–it can be about picking and choosing. Thanks!

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25 Joy March 14, 2013 at 10:47 am

I make my bed everyday…mostly so I can at least have one accomplishment for the day. I’m terribly messy & my husband is terribly neat. Every room is kept tidy except my office, which looks like fabric and paper threw a drunken party for themselves and never cleaned up.

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26 Amy Hackworth March 14, 2013 at 5:03 pm

But fabric and paper! Sounds like the perfect kind of mess to me!

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27 ginny March 14, 2013 at 10:53 am

Making my bed does make me happier on the days it happens. I bought really pretty decorative pillows that spell LOVE and if i don’t make my bed I would never see them. Once it’s made and looks nice it reminds me off what I want my home to be filled with, love.

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28 Amy Hackworth March 14, 2013 at 5:05 pm

That’s really sweet. What a nice reminder.

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29 Stella March 14, 2013 at 11:07 am

I always feel much better when everything around me is put in it’s proper place. It helps keep me calm and happier. But making the bed is actually one of the things I don’t *have* to do every day. Wash the dishes, put away clothes, wipe the bathroom counter are all daily chores… but making the bed. .. that’s the one thing I don’t always insist on doing!

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30 Amber Marlow, theAmberShow March 14, 2013 at 11:36 am

Making my bed makes me unhappy. Really! I tried making it every day a la Rubin, and it just was not my jam. I like it to be made if people are coming over, though.

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31 kalanicut March 14, 2013 at 11:36 am

Yes, I am a committed bed maker. I always feel pulled together when I walk into a tidy bedroom. My mind feels clearer, I feel like I can relax more and enjoy my special private space. Keeping things as tidy as I like them throughout the house has been a major challenge since taking on a husband and stepdaughter. Sigh… :)

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32 Jeanne March 14, 2013 at 11:45 am

I will add my thanks for your honesty. I am probably not one to listen to, but I find if I make myself do things before I allow myself to be creative then it kind of backfires sometimes because it never goes as quickly as I need it to. I have a hard time allowing myself to be creative in the first place because I stink at keeping house, so it’s been my goal to allow myself some creative whims because then I am happier and get more accomplished sometimes. But I do like the times when I am successful at just doing a couple of things before I start something. It’s usually to allow myself some extra time because I’ve done something that will help my family while I want to be busy, so they will bug me less :)

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33 Amy Hackworth March 14, 2013 at 5:07 pm

I have definitely been there, Jeanne. It’s a tricky balancing act. And very wise to placate your family before you start something!

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34 Jaime March 14, 2013 at 12:09 pm

I love when my house is clean, but I am not naturally neat and organized either. Part of my problem is that I also have this obstinate side of me (also rooted a bit in petulance) that really chafes against the idea of doing housework everyday. Choosing to read or watch a TV show or do something I WANT to do at night after a long day of working and mothering, instead of doing the dishes or putting away every little shoe and toy, feels like a small rebellion against the impossible magazine-perfect housekeeping standards that society holds women to, and mothers especially.

I go through phases where I vacillate, but when I do get in the mindset that I need to get everything in my house *just so* before I sit down and relax, I inevitably use up all my relaxation time cleaning, and then I feel cheated out of my “me time.” I am working on getting my daughter to be better about picking up her own toys, but I don’t follow her around every minute, and if there is stuff left out after she’s gone to bed…I am content to just ignore it.

(I also think that, growing up in a house with five siblings, my ability to ignore chaos may be a bit overdeveloped!)

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35 Joanna @ Create Your World March 14, 2013 at 1:19 pm

I’m really bad at housework and making the bed, but I had heard that this tip is in The Happiness Project. I keep meaning to make our bed, especially since I read that studies show that people who make their bed are also better with their money and also healthier, I think. Something about that morning good habit makes people act differently all day.

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36 Amy Hackworth March 14, 2013 at 5:07 pm

Wow, really interesting, Joanna. Even more motivation!

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37 Design Mom March 14, 2013 at 2:15 pm

Since we moved here, I’ve developed a habit of going bedroom to bedroom in the mornings, as soon as the kids are off to school, and making everyone’s beds. I really like it! It helps me assess the state of the house, and reminds me of little things I need to do — like Olive has outgrown her boots, or Oscar needs new pajamas, or we have pillowcase that should be repaired.

Oddly, on lots of days I end up making everyone’s bed but mine. Which is a shame, because I LOVE climbing into a made bed at night. The only thing better, is climbing into a bed made with freshly ironed sheets. : )

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38 Amy Hackworth March 14, 2013 at 5:08 pm

…like a bed at a nice hotel? :)

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39 Lacey March 14, 2013 at 2:45 pm

When I was in college, my roommate and I shared a tiiiiny bedroom. It was nicknamed the shoebox. It always felt so messy until we each started making our beds. That instantly made the room look more liveable. Glad I got into that habit. My day never goes well when I haven’t made my bed!

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40 Jane March 14, 2013 at 3:02 pm

How I laughed when you said you ‘silently congratulate myself when I put my clothes away at the end of the day, instead of toss them in a heap on the floor.’ It’s always a relief in this part of the blogosphere to find that other women’s homes, families, jobs and lives aren’t always picture perfect. Also putting clothes away at night is one of the things I have got as a regular habit. But making the bed, yes I silently congratulate myself when i do that! As well as the other good reasons mentioned, for me I have a small bedroom and house, and a lot of things get used in my room and piled on the bed in the course of a day – books, computers, notebooks, clothes – paint swatches are next to me as I write this in bed! When that all gets piled on an unmade bed, getting to bed at night when I’m exhausted is sometimes such a trial I could cry!

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41 Shannon { A Mom's Year } March 14, 2013 at 3:21 pm

I learned something new about my husband, thanks to your question. After I read this, I asked Tim why he makes the bed every day. He said it’s because when he came home from the hospital (spinal cord injury, long stay) it’s the only thing he was able to do to help around the house for the longest time.

That was 2-1/2 years ago but it’s still a habit even though he can move all his limbs now. :)

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42 Amy Hackworth March 14, 2013 at 5:10 pm

Shannon, this is really sweet. What a touching beginning for a good habit. And happy to have facilitated husband-discovery!

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43 Alicia March 14, 2013 at 3:45 pm

I totally agree with the making of the bed. A messy house makes me chaotic inside but busyness makes my house chaotic. I’ll do good keeping up with it for a time and then busyness hits and my house “falls apart.” I just recently started making my bed every day and I find that it helps, not really sure how but it does! :)

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44 bec March 14, 2013 at 3:52 pm

I think I am the same way as you are! If things get busy, the housework is the first to go. But, I do love the feeling of a made bed.

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45 hairyshoefairy March 14, 2013 at 5:51 pm

I love the feeling of getting into a made bed and, like you, I totally congratulate myself when it’s done. It isn’t something I do daily, though. I make it every time I change the sheets and maybe once between. I know a lot of people say it’s so quick and only takes a minute but then I think they must have cooperative spouses. Haha! My husband yanks any tucked sheets out when he goes to bed because he feels like it’s too confining so by morning everything is a tangled mess. I’d be basically starting from scratch every single morning and I just don’t have time for that, especially when I have to get 3 kids dressed and out the door for school. If it were just me, yes, I’d probably have that habit. In fact, I did have that habit in college. Marrying a bed destroyer changed my mind, though.

I do find a cleaner house clears my brain. Clutter drives me crazy but I everything falls by the wayside when I’ve got a project (or 6) going. Interestingly, when I’m getting ready for a trip I almost always deep clean my house before I go. I’m not sure why I feel this OCD urge to do it when I’m leaving it but I do, even if it’s just me going and I know it will be completely destroyed by my kids by the time I get home. I get this little bee in my bonnet that won’t let me rest until it’s clean, otherwise I don’t feel like I can go.

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46 Justin March 14, 2013 at 5:57 pm

“Housekeeping and I share a tortured past” What a great opening line. The whole article is well written. Loved it!

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47 Jen March 14, 2013 at 6:01 pm

Amy, you are a woman after my own heart! Thank you for writing this. My husband is the tidy one out of the two of us. And I have *ahem* grown to appreciate a bit of order because of him. Honestly though, I’m actually more comfortable with a bit of clutter or mess like an unmade bed. I start to feel a bit stressed if things are too neat. That’s probably weird though, isn’t it? Ha!

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48 Maike March 15, 2013 at 2:50 am

Amy, I am just like you! I am naturally messy but my whole life takes a happier turn when I am able to keep our place tidy. It is really hard work for me though and the busier I am, the more I let it slip. Which makes stressful times feel even worse.
I am 35 now and I feel it took me that amount of time to figure out the dynamic I just described. For the first time now our place is more tidy than messy and I am more productive, happier and content than ever. I wish I knew all of that earlier.

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49 Migs March 15, 2013 at 8:54 am

I guess I am too lazy to make my bed. I change the sheets every other week, that’s the only time that I get to make my bed. Yaay!

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50 Carina March 15, 2013 at 9:31 am

Love this post, Amy! My epiphany came sometime last year when Kacy mentioned that making the bed is one thing you can do because you’re a grownup now. For some reason that resonated with me. I truly try to make my bed every day.

I’m naturally messy and disorganized (I aspire to tidy and organized!) so it’s an uphill battle for me everyday. I can’t think in a disgusting house, but I struggle with it since I work from home. I will sometimes sacrifice prime work time to tidy and clean, which means I stay up too late at night trying to get the other stuff done. My sleep suffers because I want a cleaner house. I just keep telling myself that it will be better as the kids get older and can help more, plus giving in to quarterly housekeeping visits.

Now that I usually make my bed, it’s time to get my kids to start making theirs!

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51 Michelle March 15, 2013 at 11:29 am

Ha ha. I remember a day in third grade that my mom came and got me at school and took me home to make my bed. So embarrassing!

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52 Carly March 15, 2013 at 1:12 pm

I’m not known for my tidy habits, much to my live-in boyfriend’s dismay. I’m reading The Happiness Project now, and one of the tips that really resonated with me what the “one minute or less” rule. So many little things (like hanging my coat in the closet versus tossing it on the chair) can be done in less than a minute, and they make such a difference at the end of the day. Also, I’ve been trying to make my bed more often. Because it’s true, it makes my whole room feel more ordered!

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53 Aymara March 15, 2013 at 8:18 pm

Making the bed ABSOLUTELY helps! It provides a good place to sort out anything strewn around the room. When the bed is made, I feel like I can go on. It’s that first step that’s always the hardest when everything is a mess, and that goes for one’s personal life, not just the housekeeping! Having the sink clear of dishes is usually my second step :-)

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54 Erika March 16, 2013 at 8:16 am

Making the bed is quick and pretty painless, so I TRY to do it on the week days…not so much on the weekends. I also LOVE having a clean and organized house but with a toddler in the house, it’s really not that easy to keep it clean. I dream of the days to have a housekeeper!

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55 Emily March 16, 2013 at 7:15 pm

I try to ALWAYS make my bed, unless I intend to come home that afternoon and climb right in it for a lovely nap!

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56 Faigie March 16, 2013 at 10:02 pm

I have learned to make my bed as soon as I leave it, that way its done and I dont have to think about it. I also see that when I get neat and organized in my house, it means that I am feeling calm and centered. If I am feeling scattered and anxious my house shows it.

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57 Sarah March 18, 2013 at 9:18 pm

I definitely feel better when things are in order… but that doesn’t mean I keep on top of it all. Sometimes I make my bed, sometimes I don’t. But for me, having a clean bathroom, uncluttered kitchen, and a cleared bedside table make a big difference.

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58 Karrie Kaneda March 21, 2013 at 4:44 pm

Absolutely, I get this and agree, but do I do it? No…. I should though!

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59 Ariel April 1, 2013 at 10:48 pm

i made a new year’s resolution a couple of years ago to make my bed every day. That was one of the very few resolutions I’ve kept, because it really has contributed to my inner calm and sense of order. I’m a little OCD about it now! My kids can mess the house up all day long, but if they mess with my neatly made bed, it drives me crazy!

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60 Tasha April 8, 2013 at 3:57 pm

This is funny, because I just had an experience with this yesterday. Finals are just around the corner, and I had been rationalizing our messy house with, “But I have to write this paper, I have to read this article.” Finally, yesterday, I put everything down and decided to have a cleaning rampage. I feel SO much better! My attitude was instantly lighter, and I was almost excited to get going with my other responsibilities afterwards.

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61 ann December 5, 2013 at 5:20 pm

I make the bed as soon as I get out of it and before I take a step out of the bedroom. It is not perfect, but it is spreadup and I don’t have to think about it at all again. In our house the last person out of bed has to make it, before they go to breakfast. Our kids also make their beds everyday. We also did this in my family’s home growing up. I was surprised when I had a room mate when I was a young professional, who did not make her bed. I also like the one minute rule. Do something for one minute as hard/fast as you can and then that is it. When all four of us do that, it is amazing what we get done and how satisfied we feel.

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