I found a helpful article in the paper the other day on how to pull together the perfect bedroom look, and I devoured it, looking for the answer to the biggest mystery: why shams? They didn’t say. What struck me instead was the categorical statement that you should replace your pillows every one or two years. There was some kind of reason. Your pillow molecules will mutiny, assemble a dust-mite cavalry, and take you down in the middle of the night, or something. Immediately this struck me as the sort of science that comes straight from the marketing department. Like “lather, rinse, repeat.” Or the received wisdom that a diamond engagement ring should set you back two months’ pay. Or the latest from Taco Bell: Fourth Meal. (This last legitimizes the enormous fat-and-salt porkathon you scarf down at two in the morning to soak up some of the alcohol, and just in time, too, because people were in danger of starting to worry about diabetes.)
Well, Dave and I haven’t replaced our pillows for as long as we’ve known each other, at least–36 years. And neither one of us wants to replace our pillow, which is absurd, because he totally should.
His pillow is the skinned and flayed remainder of its former self, just a pillow gut pile with the ticking long gone. It is a gray, dingy remnant of folded-over batting whose only dignity is conferred upon it by the pillowcase that holds it together. Mine, on the other hand, still has its entire outer cover, if not all its original innards.
Dave is a man of great courage and loyalty who would stop a bullet with his forehead to save a friend. However, his sense of loyalty is not limited to those with the customary supply of consciousness. He befriends inanimate objects all the time. Pieces of fluff, rocks that look like they have noses, and wind-up Fred Flintstones, every one becomes his “little buddy.” In all likelihood he looks at his disreputable rag of a pillow and sees a congregation of dust bunnies, arms linked, little buddies in formation, and would no more discard it (or them) than he would kick Pootie (#1 Little Buddy) to the curb for being a Lakers fan. Ditching his pillow would not be an act of hygiene: it would be a betrayal.
If my pillow is not my original childhood pillow, it has to be close. It is a thin squashable scrap of ticking half-filled with Archaeopteryx feathers and every night I mold it into a popcorn-shaped sculpture designed to keep my face nearly straight down while allowing a little breathing passageway. I am a stomach sleeper.
I cannot fall asleep on my back. Sometimes that’s where I end up, and I can tell because I’m occasionally in that position when I wake up due to some horrible racket that always quits just when I come to. It is possible for me to fall asleep on my side, but it is too dispiriting to watch my belly set sail for distant shores across the mattress and my boobs pool out like a short stack of pancakes. So most of the time I fall asleep face down. I’ve been doing this since I was wee. Probably my parents put me in the crib that way hoping it might save them college expenses one day. I know for a fact that I wasn’t in their original plan.
But my scrawny little pillow doesn’t make my bed look good. It makes my be look like Brigitte Bardot’s bustier on a six-year-old. What makes a bed look good, according to reliable sources that sell such things, is a mountain of pillows adorned with cases and shams in coordinating colors, textures, and patterns, including stripes, plaids, and florals, but nothing too matchy-matchy. In other words, the look that sends me into despair when I see it in my motel room. I have to evict all but one pillow and then find a corner of it and wheedle it into a little one-inch nose prop while the rest of the pillow floats above my head like a thought balloon.
But the secret that lies inside my laundered pillowcase is a lifetime of skin cells, drool, and other DNA. If I found it on the “free” table in a garage sale, I’d be horrified. But it’s all mine. I’ve got almost sixty years of personal bacteria in there. My little buddies. I can’t abandon them now.
Hmmm…I can understand this logic. But my age-aching joints require-no, they insist upon- a regularly renewed prop-up.
The communal bed has 4 pillows.2 firm-ish, 2 squishy. One of us sleeps on a squishy, the other on a firm-ish. And the one of us who sometimes reads in bed borrows the other's pillows. All are replaced when laundering fails to remove drool stains.(Actually, drool stains may be cat foot prints…)
And the one of us with wonky joints insists.
I think of drool stains as just marking my territory. It definitely keeps the coyotes away.
If you ever see a scanning electron microscopy picture of a dust mite, you will never sleep again. They are horrendous looking little brutes and there are millions if not billions of them all over, especially in old unwashed pillows.
Actually, I think that ignorance is not only bliss, but it's essential to be able to keep getting up in the morning.
It does sound like marketting driven "science". Similarly, I'm always very cynical about how often one should replace running shoes. Apparently they should absorb shock. Then someone else tells me how healthy it is to run barefoot…
Sounds like you might appreciate new pillows though.
I could strap the old ones to my running shoes. Wait! I don't run. Because my shorts aren't on fire.
Once upon a bed people had feather pillows and cleaned them so they could be reused. I know it was fowl but everytime a bird died they saved the feathers for the pillows. It was probably healthier than the foam pillows we use now.
I'm collecting bushtit feathers for my new pillow. It should be ready in another forty years.
Oh, Dave's pillow looks like it KNOWS him. How could you even think about getting rid of such an old buddy? I had a pillow like yours, Murr, years ago, but it finally disintegrated. They do that when the mites take over, I guess. 🙂
Djan, that's where the drool comes in! Drown the little buggers.
Your wisdom is showing again. I foolishly discarded my childhood pillow a decade or so ago, and in each subsequent year I have bought a replacement, hoping to find the same level of comfort, if not impurity. Alas, I regret throwing that first pillow out so much that I can't bear to throw away any of my newer acquisitions just in case they're the "best" I can do. And now the wienerdog has her own pillows, too. I might have to buy a bigger bed soon….
That's escalation. You'll end up with a Newfoundland.
I think you could re-cover the man pillow with new ticking if he wanted, but why? If he's happy with the skinless wad, Good!
I adore your variations-on-the-bear-paw quilt! The last thing you want to do is distract from it with mountains of pillows.
Designers assemble these lovely collages of pillows for set-dressing, but who in hell could sleep with all that? It would take twenty minutes just to put them back in the morning, and even though I'm retired, I don't have that sort of time. I think a "Pulled together" room exists only in magazines and the minds of appearance-obsessed neurotics. How many of us grew up with entire rooms that were unused to keep them "nice."
Your pillows may harbor dust mites, but they're YOUR dust mites, no matter how ugly they look.
I spend most of my time in my bedroom with my glasses off. That's a really good way to save money.
*chuckle* Loyalty like that deserves an award! Your body, your bugs, your choice, right?
(almost spit coffee at "my boobs pool out like a short stack of pancakes") Ha!
It's funny 'cause it's true.
Oh I know that kind of attachment well. None of my pillows are older than 5 years but Frank has one spanning several decades. He gave it up semi-recently. I might have had something to do with that..
I would have replaced Dave's by now but I don't want mine to get in anyone's crosshairs.
I despise pillow shams so my bed never looks good. You and hubby must hold the record on how long you can use a pillow. I enjoyed reading this post.
I still don't have the answer about pillow shams. What the heck are they?
Murr, I believe pillow shams are also known as pillow imposters 😉 and if you don't believe me, you can look it up in your Funk & Wagnall's 🙂
My cricky neck requires a precise thickness of pillow which I have found exists only in the $5 variety, and needs replaced every six months. If I do not follow this plan, all manner of heck breaks out in my neck, back, and shoulders. I have to congratulate you two on your pillow longevity. To heck with the dust mites – if you can't see 'em, they don't exist, you know – unless of course you have allergies, then you might want to try a new face prop.
No allergies. I credit my tremendous army of personal bacteria.
I enjoyed this post, Murr. Nodding in agreement and laughing about attachments to fabric, however, wondering if your pillows ever made it to the washing machine? I'm sure they did! 😉 We throw pillows into the landfill regularly. Yes, every six months or year. We wash and dry them too. Not often enough.
Uh. No. Don't tell my mother?
Can you wash Archaeopteryx feathers? I'm pretty sure they were the kind that had to stand on a rock with their wings out to dry them off. Related to the Cormorantosaurs.
My son David shares your Dave's sense of compassion, for sure.
Fascinating. I think I'd have been a little worried too, as well as charmed. It's been four years, Mom. Have an update?
My pillows would got so flat after about 20 years that I couldn't stand them anymore and had to get new and start over. But this last time I got some kind of memory foam jobs and they'll last forever. I've had them for 6 or 7 years now and they do not flatten at all. Love 'em!! (I'm a side sleeper so I need neck support.) Oh, and I agree–ignorance is bliss when it comes to things too small to see, anyways. 😉
It's the flattenability that I need. It needs to be flat near my mouth and bunchy near my forehead. I am a delicate flower.
Some time back I read about a man who complained that he was single because 'women were not clean enough'. The article went on to say that he replaced his pillows twice a month, his toothbrush weekly and his sheets at least monthly. I had decided that he was single because he was a sanctimonious prat and this post confirms my view. Thanks Murr.
This is not a well man. Not well at all. And I haven't even got my toothbrush broken in until it's at least two years old. We won't get into how often I change my sheets–that's launder, not buy. I have a really great smooth set that isn't quite deep enough for my mattress, and a little rougher set that fits the mattress. If I ever find the right combination, I will buy them out.
Murr, darling……what would you say if I told you that I have pillows that I believe my grandma received as wedding presents from great grandma who plucked the feathers personally from infinite numbers of friday nite chickens.
I doubt if anyone can top me on pillow longevity. Their ticking is still strong and they have never flattened, I am sure they are blessed by some deity or other. I must admit, I keep them for sentimental reasons and do not actually sleep on them anymore, but I used them for over 60 years before retiring them……that should prove that drool and dustmites cannot ever triumph over sentiment.
I would say, as usual, that you are my hero, Lo. Do you change the straw in your mattress ticking once a year, too?
Some time ago my daughter gave me one of those fully looking memory foam things. I love it and will never sleep with anything else again memories, DNA, little buddies be damned!
I'd get a memory foam mattress if I had it to do over. Especially good if you're a stomach sleeper with sticky-outy bits.
Damn, my mother used to burn my teenage bedding every few days; she never said why. And you're saying I should still be using it? =O
Your mother was worried about you abusing it, not using it.
Now you can take the pillow to a dry cleaner who has the pillow machine and they will clean the feathers in it and add more to help fluff it back up a bit. Just have to find the dry cleaners with the machine. Long ago my husband ran a dry cleaners and he had one of those machines.
I also replaced my pillow several years ago with one of the good memory foam pillows and it was the best thing I ever did! It is the most comfortable pillow I've ever had!
They can get more Archaeopteryx feathers?
I'll keep my old pillow and ignore the mites. So far, they've done no harm as far as I know.
You and me both, sister.
Another side sleeper with a memory foam pillow, so the wrecked neck can get the support it needs. As for shams, they are for folks just like you and Dave to put on top of your bed with an unused show pillow inside (matching the quilt is optional) so no one will know you have those sad little mite filled bits of kapok lurking underneath. They keep your happy pillows safe from the House & Home police who do random house checks, carting offenders away to be incinerated.
Offending pillows, or pillow-owners?
And kudos! You made me look up "kapok!"
I am feeling really really good about my pillows. Your blog continues to be a public service.
That's really all I'm here for. Making people one with their pillows.
For fear of Tiffin's House & Home police, and also because my four-year-old threw up on them, I replaced my aged pillows with new ones. Puke pillows went into shams (I'm trying for a "grown up bed" kind of look) and new pillows went into cases. A few months later I stealthily switched them all around. The puke is just too comfortable, I guess. I figure it really bulked up the mite population thus giving my trusty pillow the perfect soft-yet-crunchy consistency.
I just burned my pillows!
Very nice quilt, Murr. Have you tried a buckwheat hull pillow? Very malleable. Try one, you'll see. You can make one – order the hulls
http://manymoonsalternatives.com/category.php?cat_id=8 or order a pillow.
Have bought hulls from this company several times. I recommend also making a slightly smaller one for travel.
Hey, aren't those the ones you can put in the microwave on cold winter nights, too? Or does it make your pillow explode?
I do replace my pillows regularly, except for the temperpedic ones. They cost too much to replace. They will rot under my head first.
I think it's weird how many things a person finds out late in life. Like that I should have been replacing my pillow. Hell, I was over twenty when I found out I'd been wiping my butt wrong all those years.
Ah, such wonderful pillow talk, Murr. I can sleep on my sides, and my back, but not my front. Cannot stomach that notion, or position.
Having your pillow filled with Archaeopteryx feathers makes it unique in the land of pillowdom. It would be worth a small mint if you were to sell it. And you most certainly would NOT use it in a pillow fight — lest the whole chicken-sized Archaeopteryx emerge, and terrify the neighbourhood.
Happy Canada Day from Canada, today, eh? And I hope you have a grand Independence Day celebration on Wednesday, complete with your pillow.
Oooo! Canada Day! Somebuddy better be bringing me some maple sugar.
Oh, this one made me throw up a little. I'm not sure I cold sleep next to that nakid pillow!
My pillows are all feather (I need 4. two bolsters for snuggling and sleeping on, one regular for bunching up at the top of my head and one regular in case I have a sleepover. My bed tends to remain perfectly made on one side at all times…) They are a bit stained because I like to go to bed with a wet head, but get changed out every few years. I still have my childhood pillow though. Can't bear to give it up even though all the feathers rotted away leaving weird orange foam.
The toothbrush gets changed every three months and the sheets washed once a week unless I get too busy or lazy.
You would REALLY hate me as a wife! I am, I assume, utterly full of cooties. Healthy as a horse, though.
LOL. Good thing you are happily married! I'm pretty darn full of cooties too, but get a little funny about toothbrushy things. And when the sheets get gritty, well…
Just put a few drops of eucalyptus oil in your laundry, each load. Kills dust mites. The smell is gone by the end of the cycle.
But–if I've never noticed that they give me any problem, why should I start pissing them off?
Promoting and propagating bacteria is an admirable goal, Murr.
Just call me Typhoid Murr. I've got a nice blog post about bacteria in the kennel waiting to be published, in which, like all my favorite posts, I confirm what I already hoped to be true.
Okay, who ever would have thought that the subject of pillows would be such an interesting post which would garner such passionate comments? I had no idea that folks were so attached (sometimes physically attached?) to their pillows. Those shams are to protect your favorite pillow from the threats of the world…they guard your beloved pillow from things like dogs, cats, and the miscellaneous water or plaster which could possibly drop down from the ceiling. You never know.
If my ceiling is coming down, I'm not worried about my pillows. But thanks for explaining it. I thought they were just to promote a feeling of inadequacy in the shamless.
I am fairly convinced that our pillows are devoid of Dust Mites, I don't think their little ears can tolerate the sound of my wife's snoring. Poor creatures; they don't make tiny ear plugs that small!