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Making my bed was the one chore I hated the most, but I’ve learned that it’s one of the best tools to tackle my depression.
Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to leave the house until I made my bed. My mother would inevitably catch me at the front door, one shoe on, and ask whether or not my bed was made. When I mumbled out a reluctant “no,” she would march me back to my unkempt bedroom and wait at in the doorway until I haphazardly tossed the comforter and pillows in place. I was perpetually late to study groups, slumber parties, and even the train because I always had to make my bed last minute.
As my mother reasoned, I wouldn’t be running late if I simply made it presentable when I first woke up.
I scoffed at the idea — what 15-year-old has the foresight for that? (Admittedly, we had the same conversation the last time I visited home after graduating from college, too.) After all, I was content coming home to a disorganized space; to me, it wasn’t messy, it was lived in. The tangled nest of blankets and throw pillows was what made my bed so comfortable.
But the longer I’ve lived away from home, the more I realize that my mother had a point: Having an organized living space makes all the difference. I’ve been forcing myself to make my bed when I first get out of it every morning, and this small act of being a functioning human has made the rest of my life feel infinitely more put together.
In a viral commencement speech, Admiral William McRaven told the University of Texas at Austin’s class of 2014 that the simplicity of straightening the covers and rearranging the pillows gives you a “sense of accomplishment.”
“The idea of making the bed is it’s the same sense of discipline,” he says. “It’s the same sense that you’re going to get up and do something, but it’s an easy task to undertake … It’s about making your bed right and walking away and going … ‘I’m proud of this little task I did.’ And that is really what I think sets the tone for the rest of the day.”
He has a point — it’s significantly more difficult to fall back under the covers and procrastinate on your phone if your bed is already made. Once the sheets are smoothed down and pillows are fluffed up, you might as well start getting ready for the day.
Although there hasn’t been peer-reviewed research into this, making your bed may be correlated with general happiness. Hunch.com surveyed 68,000 people and found that 59 percent of its subject did not make their beds, 27 percent do, and 12 percent pay someone to do it for them. Of that group, 71 percent of bed-makers agreed that they were happy, but 62 percent of messy sheeted people considered themselves unhappy. It boils down to the fact that discipline correlates with minimized stress.
A 2009 study found a direct link between clutter and stress: married women who considered their living spaces as “cluttered” also had higher cortisol levels than married women who described their homes as “restful” and “restorative.” The women who found their homes to be more “restorative” also described decreased depression, while the women who reported cluttered spaces also reported feeling depressed throughout the day.
My depression tends to manifest in a complete unwillingness to leave the comfort of my rumpled bed — I can spend hours doing nothing, and thinking about nothing. But making my bed as soon as I wake up makes that more difficult. How am I supposed to wallow on a neatly straightened bedspread? Accomplishing this tiny feat has prompted me to stop getting ready so last minute, and forces me to better manage my time. It obviously isn’t a cure, and shouldn’t take the place of medication and professional help, but like Admiral McRaven says, a seemingly inconsequential act can drastically improve your quality of life.
As Charles Duhigg points out in his book, The Power of Habit and How to Hack It, certain “keystone” habits can trigger other positive behaviors. If you can change a step in your unhealthy habits, you can probably gear your life to building healthier patterns. Making your bed doesn’t necessarily cause better productivity, but it can lead to a healthier overall mindset.
Who knew that my mom was right all along? (Hint: My mom did.)
My next habit to break: eating hot Cheetos for breakfast. It’s a work in progress.
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