life in a tiny apartment.

May 20, 2015

life in a tiny apartment: unmake your bed | reading my tea leaves Tip #121: Unmake your bed. No, under make your bed. Makeunder your bed?

I get a lot of questions from readers about how to make a bed. Not the pulling up of sheets and tucking in of corners. But: What should those sheets look like? Should there be a top sheet? A bottom sheet? A down comforter? A duvet? Two duvets? A Blanket? A comforter and a blanket? Throw pillows? No pillows? Buckwheat pillows? It’s complicated business, sleeping.

I’ve gotten notes about husbands that sleep hot. Some men are radiators, apparently, all hot and bothered and sleeping in their own pools of sweat, heaven help us. Then there are stories of people who can’t get warm enough. They have layer upon layer of mismatched comforters and throw blankets and nary a wink of sleep.

James and I have been sharing a bed now for almost nine years. But this post isn’t about who hogs more of our double bed (James). Or whether it’s appropriate to draw a line of demarcation down the middle of white sheets (tempting!). It’s about what the heck to put on a bed in the first place.
life in a tiny apartment: unmake your bed | reading my tea leaves Beds are kind of the ultimate example in matters of personal preference. And I think a lot of that comes down to what you’re used to.

I grew up in a house where we made our beds with hospital corners. During the long New England winters, we layered wool blankets underneath comforters or quilts and over top sheets and tucked them all in neatly, folding crisp triangles of sheets and blankets at the ends of the bed and shoving them under the mattress. We didn’t hop into bed, so much as tuck ourselves in like letters working their way into an envelope. In the summertime, I mostly remember sleeping on top of the quilt—too hot to deal with sliding between the sheets or taking off the quilt and finding a place to stash it.

But on the hottest nights, the sheets were wrested from their tucked-in corners and our parents would come into our rooms and give us wind baths. If you don’t know, a wind bath consists of laying perfectly still in bed, while someone else raises and lowers the top sheet over you, making a glorious breeze. After a few snaps of the sheets, my parents would let go, letting the sheet settle softly over our skinned and mosquito bitten knees. If you ask me, a wind bath is the best arugment for having a top sheet that there is.
life in a tiny apartment: unmake your bed | reading my tea leaves Matters of top sheets and hospital corners aside, coming from a woman who just replaced a couch with a cot, it won’t come as any surprise that I like my bedding to be relatively spare. (Though don’t think for a minute that I’d complain about a more comfortable mattress.) In the pursuit of simple bedding, this is what has worked for us:

life in a tiny apartment: unmake your bed | reading my tea leaves

– Two sets of white sheets.  For us, the classic American combination of top and bottom sheet means that we don’t have to launder a duvet cover, or store a large down blanket in the winter months when it’d be too hot in here to use one. In the summertime without A/C, a white top sheet still looks relatively neat, even without a blanket to complete the ensemble. Having two sets of sheets keeps the bed clothed even after we take our weekly haul to the laundromat. And they’re white because I decided that slight yellowing beats fading.

– A thick cotton blanket for 3/4 of the year. In New York City apartments with steam radiators, our cotton blanket has been thick enough to get us through almost the whole winter, with the exception of a night or two when we’ve added on a throw blanket for a little extra warmth. In the summertime without air conditioning, we go blanketless entirely. It’s just us in our white sheets in our white room and if it wasn’t for our blackberry-colored headboard and the crib at the foot of our bed, we might wake up thinking we were in a cloud.

– A few sets of extra pillowcases (one could develop quite a hobby of finding beautiful vintage varieties, I’ll warn you) means that in a week when we forget to change the sheets, we at least have clean pillowcases.

– A white bed skirt hides our boxspring, and the few things we keep underneath it.

– Throw pillows have been relegated to the “couch,” leaving only the pillows we sleep on, plus one, each for bolstering on the bed. (And yes, I have been trying out a buckwheat pillow lately. Though I admit I’m still in the learning curve stage.)
bed I’m not opposed to a duvet on principle. In fact, I really love the look of a pillowy white duvet cover on a down blanket. And what a thrill to just pull the duvet up and have the bed made in one pass. You might very well see duvet on our bed one day, but for now, we’re all cotton blanket and sheet sets.

What about you guys? Duvet devotees? White sheets? Patterned? Mountain of throw pillows? I’m curious.

In case you’re hungry for more bedtime stories:
More thoughts on making the bed.
More thoughts on white sheets.

In case you’re curious:
These are our favorite sheets.
This is our ticking stripe blanket.
This is the mattress of my dreams (just in case anyone wanted to get me a really nice present).
These are buckwheat pillows.

Tiny apartment survival tips #1 – #120, right here.

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43 Comments

  • Reply CK May 20, 2015 at 11:57 am

    When we were little and stayed at my grandmother's house in South Carolina in the summer, every night before we went to bed, we sat on the edge of her big clawfoot tub and gave ourselves a cool foot bath. She insisted we go to bed with clean feet! And it was very cooling as well. I often soak my feet in hot water before bed in winter as a quick way to warm up before bed (I live in cold New England now).

    • Reply Iris Rankin May 20, 2015 at 4:32 pm

      My mom always insisted I wash my feet before bed as well. They did get pretty filthy running barefoot outside in summer. What a nice ritual…

  • Reply Heidi May 20, 2015 at 12:45 pm

    A wind bath! Yes, my parents did the same for my sister and I in the summer. Your description brings back a very distinct memory. 🙂

  • Reply Sophia May 20, 2015 at 12:45 pm

    About 5 years ago we invested every penny we'd saved into a Savvy Rest mattress (made of natural latex) because we didn't want to sleep on flame retardants anymore. 5 years later, I have to tell you we would are still obsessed with it and would never want a different one. I'd pay double for the kind of comfort this mattress provides. It is absolutely the most comfortable mattress out there (for us, anyway, but there are lots of similar testimonials). Ours is the firm, medium, soft 3-layer combination. I'm a convert for life (though, thankfully, one purchase should be enough for a long time!).

    I love the way you write about summertime bedtime. We used to get ice cold wash cloths for our foreheads:)

  • Reply missris May 20, 2015 at 1:19 pm

    We have two sets of white sheets as well and I'll never do any other color. It makes the whole room look crisp and fresh and makes it so easy to match with our other decor/colors/etc.

  • Reply Second Floor Flat May 20, 2015 at 1:41 pm

    Your bedroom is just gorgeous, Erin. Makes me feel more peaceful just looking at it! 🙂

  • Reply Erin May 20, 2015 at 1:55 pm

    I have a latex mattress from Spindle, a washable wool topper, linen sheets (totally love them), and a buckwheat pillow. It's been the best combo ever.

  • Reply joan May 20, 2015 at 2:05 pm

    I bought a set of white sheets last year. Sounds odd … but it's like they feel different. I love them.
    My sister has used a buckwheat pillow for years. She swore by it, so I tried it, but I just couldn't get used to the sound each time I moved my head.
    No throw pillows. It would drive me crazy to take them off each night and then put them all on again in the morning. 🙂

  • Reply Christine Hart May 20, 2015 at 2:05 pm

    Just yesterday I was trying to figure out where your blanket was from! I figured it out with a little searching, but so nice to have this post confirm it! I'm hoping to give our bedroom a little makeover this summer. Thanks for the simple, refreshing inspiration. (And those vintage pillow cases…. they are dreamy!)

  • Reply Norma May 20, 2015 at 2:55 pm

    Any colored sheets in cotton and flannel, for us. Down comforter with white duvet cover and cotton blanket all Winter. Crocheted coverlet, that I made, to make it look pretty but we don't normally need it but it's enough when we do. I have a thing for pillowcases and I have WAY more then I need and can use but I can't stop myself. Flowers and vintage. They are soooo thick and soft and I love them!! Have some white ones too☺

  • Reply Carol Ann May 20, 2015 at 3:19 pm

    The best sheets I have ever bought were 600 count Fieldcrest sheets from Target. They last forever, get increasingly soft and are comfortable from the get go. My bed is 1. featherbed (arthritis soother) 2. bottom sheet 3. top sheet 4. washable woven wool blanket 5. luscious thick cotton blanket and 6. Occasionally an electric blanket because I keep my house relatively cold and in winter, well, it can get cold! Layers come off as the weather warms up, but I have a bed foot to drape them over.
    And no hospital corners for me! Pillows and no throw anything. Lots of pillowcases for variety

  • Reply Joanna May 20, 2015 at 3:29 pm

    Down comforter devotee over here (I use H&M linen bedding in dark grey which I love), I actually find it hard to sleep without being able to cuddle my comforter. But we are approaching summer (I'm Brooklyn based, as well) so we switched over to the top sheet/blanket combo for now (both target, organic cotton threshold blanket and those cross sheets that everyone has). I find it much easier to make the bed without the comforter. But then, I've never in my life lived in a place where two sides of the bed weren't against walls. *sigh* New York City living!

  • Reply Nikkiana May 20, 2015 at 3:48 pm

    I'll admit it, I'm absolutely horrendous about making my bed.

    I love hospital corners, but haven't the patience to make them. Plus, when three sides of your bed are up against the wall… Not so easy. I'm lucky to get the bottom sheet on half the time.

    Most of the time I don't even bother with the bottom sheet because if it's just loosely on there, it ends up in a wad at the end of the bed because I kick things off in my sleep.

  • Reply nzle May 20, 2015 at 4:36 pm

    I feel like you would have an opinion about this — do you favor the kind of crackly-crips sheets that are a little rougher but stay cool, or the softer kind? And if the former, are you happy with those West Elm sheets?

    • Reply Erin May 20, 2015 at 4:44 pm

      They're definitely on the crisper side, but they're not scratchy! (I once got sheets from Ikea that were so scratchy they *hurt*! I especially love them because they're long enough to tuck in over a modern mattress!

    • Reply admin May 20, 2015 at 4:44 pm

      They're definitely on the crisper side, but they're not scratchy! (I once got sheets from Ikea that were so scratchy they *hurt*! I especially love them because they're long enough to tuck in over a modern mattress!

  • Reply Iris Rankin May 20, 2015 at 4:37 pm

    Wind baths sound glorious. I don't know if I've ever had the pleasure of someone else doing it for me.

    Top sheets make me claustrophobic and I always kick them away, so my bed recipe is simple: gray fitted sheet, king size duvet (on a queen bed – the dog makes a divot in the middle so it scrunches up on the sides) with a white cover, gray pillows. I'm a one pillow gal, but my boyfriend likes two, so we call the extra one his "luxury pillow." Making the bed is one swift movement of resettling the duvet, so easy it ensures I make it every day. The white duvet cover gets disgusting really fast with a dog, but we got it for $20 from a friend, so it stays for now. I really want a dark gray linen one and I love your ticking stripe blanket. Some day…

    • Reply Erin May 20, 2015 at 4:47 pm

      (Your boyfriend needs to up his wind bath game!!) A dark grey linen duvet sounds lovely!

    • Reply admin May 20, 2015 at 4:47 pm

      (Your boyfriend needs to up his wind bath game!!) A dark grey linen duvet sounds lovely!

  • Reply Cathy May 20, 2015 at 5:03 pm

    Have you ever heard of Tuft and Needle mattresses? I am a total convert. I can't even remember how I stumbled across this Phoenix based company (a facebook ad, maybe?) but I am so glad I did. I researched them for ages before finally taking the leap and all the great reviews are true. Their mattresses are so comfy, we never want to get out of bed. I also really like their philosophy regarding employees and their committment to using safe materials. And the price! Our queen size mattress costs $600 (tax and shipping included!) Check them out if you want: https://www.tuftandneedle.com

    Oh, and they have a great return system! 30-night trial period. If you don't like the mattress, they give you instructions on where to donate it and they give you your money back (in full!).

  • Reply Lisa-Marie May 20, 2015 at 5:09 pm

    We have three sets of white sheet + 4 white pillowslips (2 sets are cotton, one is brushed cottom), three sets of pale neutral bedding (duvet cover and 1 set of pillowslips). A cream set, an oatmeal set, and my favourite, a grey satin stripe. White top layers are out for us as the dog sleeps on our bed. And we have a vey light duvet and a medium level one which can be combined if it is really cold.
    And i have a winter blanket and a summer one.

  • Reply Lauren MIrow Blankenship May 20, 2015 at 5:11 pm

    A couple years ago I bought a buckwheat pillow seat for meditation. I don't know why I then started to use it as a pillow, but it felt really nice on my neck and kept me cool in the summer. It seems like they wouldn't be too complicated to make yourself – as long as it was securely sewn.

  • Reply Anonymous May 20, 2015 at 6:02 pm

    hello, I have been following your blog regularly for a few months now. It is very interesting to see how you live simply. About our bed making habits and preferences: I am Indian by descent and the whole concept of comforters and duvets was new to me when I arrived here because growing up in India, we used woolen blankets in the winter and just had a flat sheet tucked under the mattress (cotton filled) with hospital corners and one pillow and for the summer me used a cotton woven blanket. Living in the US and in colder climates, we have adapted by using a cotton quilt and a cotton colorful woven blanket over when it is cold and only a fitted sheet and 1 pillow each. In the summer, I pull off the woven blanket with just the quilt. I also have 2 euro shams that I regularly change covers which have bold prints to add some color and pattern. This works well for us throughout the year.

  • Reply Lanen Costner May 20, 2015 at 9:06 pm

    In winter, soft white flannel sheets, a down comforter with white linen duvet cover, and a black MacAusland wool blanket (sometimes two). In summer, white linen sheets, white linen duvet … I love the cozy winter bed, but the cool, puffy cloud of our summer bed is sooo inviting. Linen is my favorite.

  • Reply AdicaRoy May 21, 2015 at 3:25 am

    How do we keep the sheets white and un-yellowed? I've had no luck so far, with either natural methods or chemical bleach treatments.

    • Reply Carol Ann May 21, 2015 at 1:40 pm

      Drying them outdoors in the sun helps but they do yellow to ivory after a while

    • Reply AdicaRoy May 22, 2015 at 12:18 pm

      For those with no drying line access?

    • Reply Erin May 22, 2015 at 12:29 pm

      Ugh, so hard. Sunshine would be amazing, would that it were accessible to those of us without a backyard! We use an oxygen booster (like oxy-clean, but ours is an eco brand…can't think of the name right now!) and mostly pretend that it works! Honestly, our sheets have just yellowed a little bit. Win some, lose some?

    • Reply admin May 22, 2015 at 12:29 pm

      Ugh, so hard. Sunshine would be amazing, would that it were accessible to those of us without a backyard! We use an oxygen booster (like oxy-clean, but ours is an eco brand…can't think of the name right now!) and mostly pretend that it works! Honestly, our sheets have just yellowed a little bit. Win some, lose some?

    • Reply Cussot May 23, 2015 at 4:16 pm

      I agree, Erin – I just make new pillowcases out of old sheets all the time, use an oxygen bleach, pray to the sun gods (they only help a little bit) and hug my partner with gratitude, even though he's like a human yellow highlighter.

    • Reply Jessica Brown May 18, 2017 at 9:00 pm

      I know you posted this comment awhile ago but maybe you’ll get a update email? If you haven’t tried using “Liquid Blueing” it’s a MIRACLE worker for keeping white’s white (and can even dye your blue jeans dark when they fade). & It’s all natural (can be eaten, fed to animals, used to tone gray hair, etc). My grandma is the queen at laundry so she showed me her ways and this is a “Holy Grail” item at her house. A few drops go a long ways so an 8oz bottle from amazon for less than $6 will last you forever! Oxyclean is also great for keeping them white during the normal washes.

      The Mr leaves body oil yellow staining on our white linen sheets and bleaching that fiber is a big no-no so I make sure to use the blueing when I wash them but if I’m lazy and they don’t get changed one week so the staining is particularly bad the other option to remove any yellow body oil stains is to use baking soda+vinegar. If you have a front loading: Pour about 1/4 cup into the drum of the washing machine, add a cup of vinegar to the bleaching dispenser, and do your load like normal. For top loading: Add baking soda to the drum, start the water, and after it’s about half full add a few cups of vinegar, then add the sheets. It works amazingly well and is also what we use to get our pillows white again during their 1x year wash but I also scrub them down with a mix of dawn blue & baking soda prior to throwing them in the wash…they look as new as the day we got them.

  • Reply Heather Hall May 21, 2015 at 3:31 am

    I've been thinking about trying linen sheets myself. I think I would like the crispness in the summer. Plus, I think they're more breathable than cotton. (My husband is a heater!) Right now I use white cotton, nice but 300 thread count or less (for breathability) in warm months and plush white flannel in cold. White blanket if needed with camel-colored bedspread (not comforter) over top. And an old family quilt folded at the bottom. My feet get really cold, so the quilt at the bottom is essential except when it's really hot. I've never been a fan of down comforters. I have trouble sleeping at hotels that have them. Sometimes I think I want a throw pillow, so I take one from the couch to dress up the bed. It usually goes back to the couch after just a few days of taking it on and off.

  • Reply Little Miss Know-it-all May 21, 2015 at 8:53 am

    Well…something of a revelation!! My English grandmother has always used sheets/blankets in the traditional way, while my German relatives always had big fat featherbeds. Growing up, Ikea entered our lives and we got the practical Scandinavian-type duvets that are used all over Europe, now. Fast forward to a few months ago, when my mom and gran in England were amused to discover that my grown-up daughters did not have a clue how to make a sheets/blanket bed…resulting in a kind of apple-pie version ;o lol
    And after 30 years with my husband, I am tired of struggling with a 2×2 m (6ft6") duvet that is still too short for him – I'm only 5'2" – and was considering reverting to two single duvets instead. However, after a stay with my granny last week and a couple of summers where I would just use a simple sheet against the mosquitoes in the heat, and now reading your post, I have come to the conclusion that it would be simpler to keep my fitted cotton jersey bottom sheets and just use a sheet/blanket combination on top, since I have nowhere to store the duvet in summer anyway (small house!), the machine is too small for me to wash it as I do the pillows, and always have a blanket hanging over the end of the bed in any case: let's simplify!! 🙂
    Thankyou for crystallising this for me!!

  • Reply Anonymous May 21, 2015 at 11:41 am

    My curious from others where I can find a really nice top layer for a bed/sofa which is twin size. I use my bed as a sofa as well since my apartment is super small.

  • Reply taylorcait May 21, 2015 at 11:53 am

    I grew up making hospital corners, too, and still do. Our sheets are a tan and white herringbone, because sweet husband yellows white faster than I don't know what. But we have an h&m white linen duvet cover (no insert) on top so all you see is white. Here in the south, it's been up to 90 already, and we keep our house pretty warm. So cotton and linen has been nice. In the winter we add a quilt made by one of my great grandmothers. I love the coziness of handmade in the winter, and the lightness of what appears to be all white in the summer. No throw pillows for us either, just two pillows each, all with linen cases. Though I'm tempted to begin a vintage collection of white pillowcases…

  • Reply Lexie May 22, 2015 at 6:38 am

    I own my Moms antique 1600's 6 foot tall Walnut hand carved antique bed set with footboard so I invested in the best mattress , a Heirloom pillow top firm. I never slept so good in my life. Due to arthritis I have a feather bed on top of the mattress, 800 thread beautiful floral sheets that always match the comforter and shams, a year around down comforter under my beautiful floral comforter with matching shams that look amazing next to the dark Walnut of the large headboard. The blue floral pattern sets off the gorgeous wood and my silk pillowcases finish it for a perfect bed experience, I only sleep on silk pillowcases to prevent wrinkles and prevent hair breakage. . A trick I learned from Mom. You wake up with amazing hair and no wrinkles! Its a joy to see the beautiful blue floral against the wood and float away every night on my heavenly bed. I am feminine and like color so I would never be comfortable with just plain bedding. My bed makes a statement and it deserves only the best statement bedding.

  • Reply Bethany May 22, 2015 at 2:30 pm

    This is the post I didn't know I was waiting for! I've always loved a well-made bed, I think stemming from my own grandmother's beautifully made beds and from an experience with an Italian host mother who always carefully folded sheets down over really nice coverlets and added a huge quilt in the winter. My partner calls me a serious nester. Two quick questions – any recommendations for a bedskirt? I've been shopping around for a white one, but it's hard to tell about quality and what would look nice and simple when purchasing online, sight-unseen. And for those West Elm sheets, did you go with the frayed edge? It seems to be the only choice that makes sense when looking at their sheet sets, and do they still have a clean look?

    As for my own bed making habits, living in northeastern Maine in a rather chilly house, I use flannel sheets and usually a wool blanket in winter, plus a feather quilt with a duvet (patterned for now until I find something more neutral that I like) and sometimes an extra blanket on top of that in the deep cold. In non-winter, because nights can still be cool, white cotton sheets with a light quilt, though I'd love to eventually upgrade to nicer white sheets and a more neutral blanket. Thanks for a great post!

  • Reply Leah S May 28, 2015 at 11:55 pm

    I'm jealous of your landlord! When I lived in a tiny NYC apartment (I moved last year to a slightly larger Oregon apartment) my landlord would regularly ignore the law and not turn on the heat until you could practically see your breath. Needless to say, I thought it was economical to invest in a heavy comforter rather than a space heater.

    I use sheets from Brooklinen (they're SO lovely), and switched from all white bedding to a navy-blue linen duvet cover, which feels so luxurious. In terms of bed making, it's a constant struggle between myself and my boyfriend: I like the bed made (preferably with hospital corners), while he prefers all the bedding scrunched up in a pile (preferably twisted). Sadly, since I get up significantly earlier, he's winning. He's also the reason we got a larger bed; his 6'7" did not fit on my double, and still doesn't really fit on our queen.

  • Reply Erin Thornton March 30, 2016 at 7:50 pm

    What are people’s opinions on bamboo pillows? I’m from Australia and I hadn’t heard of buckwheat before, I had a look at the website link and they seem similar but different as well.. Similar in how they conform to your head shape, like memory foam. Just curious if you had heard of them.

  • Reply Melissa Brinkley August 20, 2016 at 11:45 am

    so glad to see your post! Your method of bedmaking appeals to my sensibility. As I am stripping the bed for laundry this a.m. I am again struggling with my woven heirloom bedspread knowing that in a few hours I will be struggling with it again. Our rule has always been that the last one out makes the bed. That has worked well until recently when my husband has just quit making the bed and I am in there at 3 pm making the bed wondering why. I am much the minimalist and I am seriously thinking of acquiring another bedskirt and just using my sheets and cotton blankets. We sleep under cotton blankets year round and I love them. So……your post has just given me permission!

  • Reply Tara Charlotte August 25, 2018 at 11:23 pm

    Hi Erin! Can you send the link/type of sheets that you use? The current link goes straight to the west elm website – would love to know the specific ones that you have found to be best for warmer and cooler weather! Thanks!

  • Reply prince March 28, 2019 at 8:17 am

    I was looking for a sofa and bed sheets I am so glad to see your article thanks for sharing

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