So, as I mentioned in Part 1, I now have a new mattress.
Why is portability one of the features I most want in a bed?
One reason is that I relied on a portable bed this summer, and I grew to like it. I’ve gone on backpacking trips before, but never for an entire month before, so I settled more into that way of sleeping. My ‘sleep system’ (sleeping bag + sleeping pad + tent + “pillow”) needed to be portable because I was literally carrying it with me for hundreds of miles (my pillow, by the way, was whatever I had on hand which I could put in a stuff sack under my head. Usually, it was my rain gear. I used to use paperback books, and in the future, I think I’ll go back to paperback pillows).
When my sleeping bag is in the compression sack (shown on the left in this picture), it is slightly smaller than a basketball. The sleeping bag weighs about 2 pounds (less than 1 kg), though the compression sack itself adds a few ounces. The compression sack means the sleeping bag only takes a modest amount of space in my pack, leaving more space for other stuff. The silver/yellow thing the middle of the picture is my sleeping pad, which weighs 10 ounces (about 280 grams). Since the pad takes a lot of space, it rides outside of the pack, not inside. This sleeping bag + sleeping pad is a very portable ‘bed’.
Between July 24 and August 29, I only slept in beds for three nights.
My bed at home, as I described in the first post, turned out to be even less comfortable than my sleeping bag. So why was I sleeping in the bed rather than my sleeping bag?
In a broader sense, both my travels in Japan and my backpacking trips have given me a taste for simplicity in my beds. Bed frames? Not necessary, and a hassle.
The other reason I care so much about portability is that, sooner or later, all beds have to be moved. I had to move out all five of the mattresses and the bed frame, and except for the lightest of the five mattresses, I needed help. And my dad is the one who helped me. He is currently transitioning from able-bodied to disabled. He was capable of helping me this time, and I’m grateful for that, but I cannot depend on him in the future. I could also ask neighbors to help, but I would prefer not to depend on them either. Thus, it made sense to get rid of this bed now, while my dad is physically capable of helping me, and to replace it with a bed I can move all by myself.
By the way, my dad has been talking for at least half a year about replacing his own bed, and portability is also one of his top concerns.
I didn’t remove all of the mattresses in one day. I peeled them off, like layers. One of the reasons they did not go in one day is that they have to be stored in the front room or the basement, and it took time to find space for all of them.
Two of the mattresses were western-style futons. And both of them had evidence of mold. Yep, I had been sleeping on moldy mattresses. One of those futons is older than I am – my dad says he had it before he even know my mother. Futons, even with good maintenance, generally will not last more than twenty years, and my dad admits that he did not maintain them properly.
Another mattress was a feather mattress which is just about as old as I am – my dad bought it when I was born. Like the futon mattresses, it had not been properly maintained, which was why it was all clumpy and generally not very useful as a mattress anymore. It is possible to restore feather mattresses, but it also has a tear which leaks feathers, which would have needed to be repaired before restoration. Plus, it probably has some flame retardants in it, albeit a lot less than foam mattresses (my dad said the reason he chose a feather mattress was that he thought it would probably be the less toxic than other types of mattresses, and sadly, in the 1980s, he was probably right). Ultimately, it was in such bad shape that it was not worth saving.
I was a bit concerned about what gross things I would find *under* my bed after I removed the mattresses and bed frame. I was relieved that it turned out to be more interesting than disgusting. I found old pieces of homework from when I was in high school.
Anyway, back to futons, mold, and maintenance.
One of the things I learned from camping is that live humans are humidifiers. If you put a live human in a small enclosed space, unless it already has an extremely high humidity, the human is going to dramatically increase the humidity. This is why condensation is such a common problem in tents.
If you put a live human on top of a futon (or any mattress, but I’m talking about futons now) then you have basically put a humidifier on top of the futon. The futon is going to suck body moisture from the human. This is why it’s generally recommended that (western-style) futons are places on slatted bed frames, or frames designed for futons. With a proper frame, the air below the mattress will allow the moisture to escape. But if you put the futon on a hard surface – like a floor – then the moisture will be trapped. And trapped moisture invites mold.
Back in the day, my dad didn’t think it was important to put the futon on a frame, so he just put it on the floor. He says that he remembers being surprised by how moist it was.
And my new shiki futon is made almost entire of cotton – and cotton tends to absorb and retain moisture even better than most textiles (which is why many long-distance hikers consider cotton to be the fabric of death, not ‘the fabric of our lives’).
Oh, and I am not using a bed frame.
On top of all that, I live in a building built in 1908 in San Francisco.
I am going to deal with this the Japanese way. Traditionally, futons are rolled up or folded during the day so there is more living space. Ideally, one would air-hang the futon every day, but few people do that. Even the process of rolling/folding the futon when it’s not in use helps it dry out. Rolling also stretches the cotton batting which helps it retain its shape. I plan to periodically flip the mattress, and once in a while (as in, maybe twice a year) drying the mattress outside in the sun.
It takes me about 10 seconds to roll the mattress, and 5 seconds to unroll it. That’s a quarter of a minute of labor per day.
There is my new mattress, rolled up, next to the goza mats (note: my mattress is inside an old mattress protector my family purchased in the 1990s – since the old mattress protector is still good, I saw no need to replace it. Besides, the Chinese characters fit the washiku aesthetic. The new mattress is the color of undyed natural cotton).
Another step I’ve taken is that I am not putting the mattress directly on the floor. I’ve gotten some igusa goza mats. Igusa is a type of rush grass which has been used in Japan for centuries. Though it can trigger allergies for some people, it’s nontoxic and biodegradable. It has a distinct smell (which I like) and it pulls moisture. Thus, it will take some of the moisture out of the mattress, and when the mattress is rolled and removed, the igusa can release the moisture back into the air.
I was originally thinking of using tatami mats instead of goza mats. But tatami mats have a few problems:
1) Nowadays, most tatami mats contain particle board, and most types of particle board release toxic fumes. I’m not always against particle board, but I don’t want it where I sleep.
2) The traditional tatami mats which are filled with rice straw instead of particle board are very heavy, and thus not so portable.
3) Tatami mats, especially high quality tatami mats, are very expensive.
4) Tatami mats, like futons, require good maintenance, otherwise they will also get moldy. I remember once staying at a place in Japan with nasty tatami mats. They were so nasty that I was allowed to walk on them with my shoes on (this is almost never permitted in Japan). I did not mind because I got a private space with a permanent roof over my head for just 800 yen per night (that is about 8 USD per night). It helped me appreciate what happens when tatami mats are not maintained.
Goza mats are much cheaper, are primarily made of igusa (rather than being igusa filled with particle board or rice straw), are lightweight, and are easy to air out. Yes, I had to spend about a hundred USD to get the goza mats, but if they help keep the mattress in good condition, it’s worth it. And I like having some barrier between the mattress and the floor.
And the goza mats I bought were made in Taiwan, the only place I’ve ‘lived’ outside of the San Francisco Bay Area. I think that complements my made-in-San-Francisco mattress very well.
(Update: after less than two months of using the goza mats, I discovered one of them had some mold. That was fast. I cleaned it with vinegar. Meanwhile, my mattress shows no signs of moistness or mold. Maybe the goza mats are doing their job and sucking the moisture out of the mattress?)
Does my new mattress contain any flame retardants? What’s happening to my old mattresses? What about my pillow? These questions will be answered in Part 4.
(Spoiler: my new mattress does contain a flame retardant, and I’m actually okay with that.)