Odyssey of a New Bed, Part Five (End)

As I have explained in previous posts, I decided to go with an organic cotton shikifuton for my new bed. It cost a little under 300 USD (including taxes), and I spent about another 100 USD (including taxes) to get goza mats. So let’s say my new bed cost about 400 USD. Since I continue to use an old mattress protector, I did not pay any money for that.

There is a store in my neighborhood which specializes in nontoxic mattresses. I’ve talked to people at that store, and they say that some of their customers are cancer survivors who are obsessed with removing as many toxic chemicals as possible from their homes. If you want your jaw to drop, I suggest you browse their website and see how much their mattresses cost. And that’s just the cost of the mattress, not the bed frame, mattress protector, or any other component of a bed. And those prices do not include the sales tax (California has the highest sales tax of any state in the United States). Suffice to say, I think getting the organic cotton shikifuton + goza mats was a much better deal.

However, there are other options for a organic (or at least natural/biodegradable) bed which cost a lot less than 800 USD.

1. NATURAL LATEX SLABS

Many natural/organic/nontoxic mattresses use natural or even organic latex. It is a lot cheaper just to buy the latex slabs and assemble a mattress oneself. For example, this store sells organic latex slabs at a very reasonable price (note: I am not recommending this store specifically, there are other stores which sell similar latex slabs and may have better deals, I’m just using this as an example of what I am talking about). Most people would want two or even three 3-inch slabs of latex for comfort, but that is still cheaper than most ‘ready-made’ mattresses which contain natural latex.

That said, there are additional expenses. First of all, one needs to put a mattress case on the latex slab, otherwise it will degrade very quickly. Second, though it is ~possible~ to put latex slabs directly on the floor and use them as a bed, it has been advised that this may cause the latex slabs to become moldy. It is recommended that latex slabs are used on slatted bed frames. Fortunately, basic metal bed frames can be cheap, and adding slats to basic metal bed frames can also be cheap. The total bed can easily cost less than 1000 USD. It’s not cheap, but it is a heck of a lot cheaper than most of the beds marketed as being nontoxic/natural/organic/etc.

Why didn’t I choose this type of bed: While this type of bed costs less than 800 USD, it costs more than 400 USD (unless one cuts a lot of corners, such as only using a single 3-inch slab of latex). Additionally, though multiple latex slabs would certainly be easier to move around than an all-in-one latex-based mattress, latex is heavier than cotton (and it would be more difficult to roll to discourage mold – in fact, frequent rolling may even damage the latex, I’m not sure). I also do not feel any nostalgia for latex slabs (like I feel nostalgia for the washiku bedrooms I used in Japan). Finally, though I am not currently allergic to natural latex, I would be concerned that I would develop an allergy in the future.

2. BUCKWHEAT HULL MATTRESSES

Buckwheat hulls are obviously a natural material, and can also be organic. Since buckwheat is primarily grown for food, and the hulls are not edible, the hulls would be sent straight to compost if they are not used in crafts.

Based on my experience with using a buckwheat pillow, I expect a mattress made from buckwheat hulls would also be very comfortable (for me individually, not necessarily for everyone).

As far as I know, the only seller of buckwheat mattresses in the United States is Open Your Eyes Bedding which sells a DIY buckwheat hull mattress kit. Here is a review of this buckwheat hull mattress kit. There are also some stores in Europe which sell ready-made buckwheat mattresses. The European buckwheat mattresses are much cheaper (which does not surprise me, since more buckwheat is grown in Europe than all other continents combined). Buckwheat hulls are also heavy, which means that, for people in North America (like me), buying + shipping a buckwheat mattress from Europe would probably not be any cheaper than buying + shipping a buckwheat mattress from North America.

Another interesting feature of the Open Your Eyes Bedding hull mattress is that it is made from pods which can be assembled/dissembled. Thus, if one wants to move the mattress, one could dissemble the pods, carry the pods individually, and then re-assemble them.

Why didn’t I choose this type of bed: First of all, it would cost me significantly more than 400 USD (especially including the shipping cost). Second, it requires some labor to assemble (and dissemble, when I move it). Third, though it is possible to use this bed directly on the floor (or rather a rug on the floor, since my bedroom’s hardwood floor is too slick) it is advised that using this type of mattress directly on the floor in a damp/humid climate may lead to mold (and I live in a damp/humid climate). It is not compatible with any of the bed frames we currently have, so I would have to get a bunky board or something like that (or get a totally new bed frame, which would be more expensive than a bunky board).

That said, I find this type of mattress intriguing. If the total cost were lower, I would be tempted.

3. HAMMOCK BED

This is hands down the cheapest type of organic/natural bed I was able to find. Organic hammocks can cost less than 100 USD. I would need to get a hammock frame to hang a hammock bed in my room, but even with the hammock frame, the total cost would be under 300 USD.

Hammock beds are common in Central and South America because they work very well in hot and humid climates. There is obviously a lot of air circulation under the bed (i.e. it resists mold and is not directly connected to the ground). They also contour very well to the body.

Though I have only used hammocks occasionally in my life, and I’ve never slept in one, I generally like them.

Why didn’t I choose this type of bed: Mainly, I’m not nearly as familiar with hammocks as I am with washiku bedding, so it would be more of a leap in the dark for me. I don’t know how easy or hard it is to set up a hammock bed. Furthermore, to use a hammock in colder temperatures, one needs an underquilt for insulation. Can one just use a regular quilt as an underquilt, or does one need a specialized underquilt? I’m not sure because I don’t know much about hammocks.

Maybe if I had spent 3-4 years in Central/South America rather than 3-4 years in East Asia, I would know a lot more about hammock beds, and have nostalgic feelings about hammocks rather than washiku bedding. But that’s not how my life happened. And maybe I’ll try hammock beds in the future. I don’t know whether or not I will ever try to hike the Appalachian Trail, but if I did I would be consider using a camping hammock.

This concludes my series.

I never imagined that I would have so much to say about beds. I guess I am compensating for those decades when I hardly paid any thought to my bed.

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Odyssey of a New Bed, Part 4

When I say that I am worried about flame retardants, I am particularly worried about brominated flame retardants and chlorinated tris. I found this article from 2004 helpful for understanding the chemistry of these flame retardants. I find these types of flame retardants especially scary because a) they bioaccumulate (i.e. once they are in your body they are going to stay in your body for a very long time, possibly the rest of one’s life) and b) they generally are carcinogenic and disrupt the endocrine system. I don’t want cancer, and I already have a vulnerable endocrine system. Specifically, I’m in the grey zone between ‘does not have Hashimoto’s disease’ and ‘has Hashimoto’s disease’ and I want to preserve my thyroid’s ability to make hormones so that I don’t need to take prescription hormones.

Ironically, one of the household products with the highest levels of brominated flame retardants is plastic casings in computers – and hey, I’m using a computer right now. Here is an article about brominated flame retardants in electronics. It makes me glad that it’s been over 15 years since there has been a TV in my room (well, except when I was in Taiwan, but the TV was far from my bed and I almost never touched it), and glad that I insisted on keeping computers out of my room until my mid-teens. And my keyboard, which I am using to type this post, may also contain high levels of brominated flame retardants. Great. I’m going to wash my hands after I finish typing this.

But this is about my bed, not my electronics.

And the answer is, yes, my new futon mattress contains a flame retardant chemical.

BUT the only flame retardant chemical it contains is sodium borate, more commonly known as borax. Borax does not bioaccumulate, is not a carcinogen, and one needs a fairly high dose in order to be poisoned. I don’t plan to eat my mattress, so I’m not worried about exposing myself to a high dose. The borax will make it more complicated to compost my mattress after its no longer useful as a mattress, but it is still biodegradable in some circumstances (I’m almost certain a municipal composting facility could handle it), so it’s not going to poison the world for thousands of years or something. There are some who claim that sodium borate is not ‘green’ or safe to use at home, but upon further research, I did not find those claims convincing (here is an essay about that).

Besides being a flame retardant, borax is also a bed bug deterrent. I have never had a problem with bed bugs, and I want to keep it that way.

And borax is also antifungal. For reasons I explained in the previous post, I appreciate a little extra help keeping the mold at bay. Borax is not antibacterial, so benign bacteria are welcome to live in my bed (I think our living environments already have too many antibacterial chemicals – antibacterials in my mattress would be overkill).

Of course, I learn that pillows can have flame retardants too. Where aren’t there flame retardants?

I took a closer look at my pillow and found that 1) it is 100% polyester (probably a lot less flame retardants than foam pillows, but possibly still has toxic flame retardants) 2) it was moldy and 3) it was generally gross. The last two things weren’t really a surprise since I have been using this pillow since I returned to San Francisco in 2014, and it was probably an old pillow lying about the house back then (i.e. not new), and I’ve never cleaned it, and I drool in my sleep.

I decided to replace it with a millet hull / buckwheat hull pillow. Since buckwheat pillows are common in Japan, it’s consistent with the washiku aesthetic of the mattress and goza mats. I also liked the idea of being able to combine millet and buckwheat in whatever ratio was most comfortable to me.

I started out with having it be a full buckwheat pillow (not millet). A lot of people report that they need a night or two to get used to using a buckwheat pillow. Not me – I thought it was very comfortable right away. Then again, I also think paperback books are okay pillows, so I’m not the most discerning of pillow connoisseurs. Then I experimented with a few different buckwheat / millet ratios. I think the main thing millet hulls add is that they are quieter than buckwheat hulls. I think the thing where hull pillows really excel (for use/comfort) is that they provide excellent support for the head, which means I move my head less when I’m in bed. I did have a problem for a little while with my ear getting sore after lying on the pillow all night, but I fixed that problem by adjusting the fill.

I also think a queen size pillow is a bigger than I need. Not that having a big pillow is a problem – it’s just more than I need.

While I appreciate the versatility of being able to have various buckwheat/millet ratios in my pillow, I think in retrospect, I would have preferred to spend less money and just buy a smaller pure buckwheat pillow (BUT definitely one with a zipper – it is important to be able to adjust/replace hulls).

I still drool when I sleep. Thus, the hulls may eventually get moldy. In fact, they will probably get moldy even faster than polyester. I suppose if that happens I could just replace the hulls, and use the old hulls as mulch in the backyard.

***

Out of the five mattresses which were in my old bed, the two old futons and the feather mattress are now gone. We arranged a bulk item pickup with the local recycling/trash service, and we got rid of some other bulky items which are no longer usable (we can request ten items be removed per pickup). I assume they will recycle the parts which can be recycled, and send what cannot be recycled to a landfill.

The box spring mattresses – including the one which was poking me in the back – are now in our basement.

Since we easily have ten items for the bulky item pickup, I did not insist on putting the box spring mattresses in the pickup. But I am irritated because I want to have space in the basement for things which are potentially useful, not mattresses which we are never going to use again, and which will become harder to move as my dad loses physical mobility. My mom is the one who insisted on keeping those mattresses, at least for now. Yes, even the mattress that pokes people in the back. She says ‘what if we have overnight guests?’ Hey, we already have a guest mattress, and we would have to rearrange a lot of furniture to make space for a second guest bed. It would be easier to put people in sleeping bags/tents in the backyard than to place TWO guest beds in our home – especially since the mattresses in question have to be moved by two people (what if my dad is no longer in good enough shape to move the mattress at that time?) whereas I can set up tents/sleeping bags by myself. And why would we want to offer guests a mattress which pokes them in the back?

At first, she was even against getting rid of the moldy futons and the useless feather mattress. However, once it sunk it just how useless these mattresses are, she agreed to have them removed.

My mom has trouble letting go of a lot of material goods, not just these mattresses. My guess is that it has to do with her childhood experience of poverty, when getting adequate clothing for everyone in her family was a struggle.

And that is why my bed was piled up with all of these bad mattresses in first place. Those five mattresses were not there because they were each contributing to my sleep. I would have slept just as well with the bottom box mattress as will the five mattresses – better, because I would not have been poked in the back. Heck, I was probably exposed to even more toxins/mold with those five mattresses than I would have been if there had only been a single box mattress. All those mattresses were there because it was a place to store them, not to serve my benefit.

I do not think my parents really thought through all of the costs and benefits of keeping those mattresses in my room. I do not blame them, because until these past few months, I had not thought through the costs and benefits of all of those mattresses myself.

If we put in another request for bulky item removal, I am going to try to persuade her to agree to get rid of these mattresses. I really would prefer to have more space in the basement.

In the next part and final part, I will talk about three alternative types of natural/simple beds which cost less than 1000 USD (i.e. are not as outrageously expensive as most natural/organic beds sold in the USA), and why I decided not to try them.

Odyssey of a New Bed, Part 3

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.)

Odyssey of a New Bed, Part 2

The simplest of all beds is the ground. But what is ‘the ground’? That depends on where you are. ‘The ground’ could be soil covered with dry grass, a sandy beach, a slab of flat rock, etc.

While there is no doubt that ‘the ground’ is the cheapest, simplest, and lowest tech bed of them all, there are three main problems. The first problem is cleanliness, though that is going to depend on what ‘ground’ we are talking about, as well as how much one cares about ‘cleanliness’. The second problem is that the ground may be hard and apply a lot of pressure to certain points of the body, which can especially be a problem for side sleepers (and even ground which is initially soft may compact over time). The third problem – and this is the doozy – is that the ‘ground’ is a heat sink. In warm temperatures, that’s not a problem. In cooler temperatures, it’s very uncomfortable, and in cold temperatures, lying directly on the ground can cause hypothermia and death.

This is a photo of the corner of the bedroom where I roll out my goza mats and mattress right before I cleaned the walls (the walls look whiter now than they do in this picture)

The floor of my bedroom is not exactly the ground. It is made of hardwood, is above a basement room full of (unheated) air, which is on top of the foundation, which is on the ground. However, even though it’s removed from the ground, the floor of my bedroom is still enough of a heat sink that sleeping directly on it in cool/cold weather is not going to happen.

Unless one lives in a climate where it is always warm at night, one has to sleep on a surface which is not a heat sink. There are basically only two ways to do this: heating, and insulation.

There are of course multiple ways to heat a sleeping surface. One could heat the air around the sleeping surface. However, it is generally most efficient just to directly heat the sleeping surface, such as in the traditional kang bed-stoves of Northern China and Manchuria (which are typically made of brick or clay) or traditional ondol floors in Korea. When the sleeping surface is heated, one wants a surface which can retain heat for an entire night, hence the preference for brick/clay/stone/etc.

Yang Guo lies on the cold jade bed, and Xiaolongnü prepares to sleep on a rope.

In a novel I sometimes mention in this blog, there is a ‘cold jade bed’ which, though very uncomfortable, will develop one’s nèigōng (inner power). I’m no expert of traditional Chinese medicine or martial arts, but my guess is that the body is learning to resist the heat sink effect of sleeping on a cold stone bed and thus building nèigōng. This is, of course, fiction; in real life this is a recipe for hypothermia.

Jade beds are real. I’ve lain on a jade bed in Dragon Hill Spa in Seoul, though that was in a heated bathhouse. There are also heated kang beds made of jade (which I am sure are extremely expensive).

So that’s heated surfaces. What about insulation instead of (or complemented with) heating?

I know that some people who camp in forests create ‘beds’ out of duff (fallen leaves, pine needles, cones, etc.) which is a very low-tech type of insulation. A higher-tech type of insulation commonly used in camping are portable sleeping pads, which may be made of foam, or inflatable air pockets (essential a small air mattress), or polyester, or any other lightweight insulating material which will insulate even under the weight of human being. If one does not need great portability, and has a wider choice of materials than forest duff, then there are a lot more possibilities for insulating material.

This is the only place I’ve ever done ‘cowboy camping’ (so far). ‘Cowboy camping’ is sleeping outside without a shelter. The white thing in the center-left is my groundsheet, and the silver-yellow thing in the center of the picture is my foam sleeping pad. The sleeping pad was the main insulation I had from the ground this night.

Another thing one can do is to lift the bed up so that there is air between the sleeping surface and the floor. Air is an insulator, so this helps, but if the air flows it’s also going carry heat away as it flows. Thus one either needs to trap the air (this is what an air mattress does, and foam with air pockets does this too) or use an insulator which is not going to flow away.

My new mattress is an excellent insulator. It provides all of the insulation I need to avoid losing my body heat to the floor of my bedroom, and it also does not flow away and take my body heat with it.

That leaves the problems of hardness and cleanliness. And a bed needs to provide something else – support. Most types of ground provide excellent support, but if one is not sleeping directly on the ground, then support may become an issue. While the rope which Xiaolongnü in the picture up there sleeps on is an extremely simple bed, it does not provide nearly enough support, unless one has superhuman qīnggōng like Xiaolongnü (wuxia fiction is not known for having realistic depictions of sleeping technology, okay? Pity, I’d be curious to try out the addictively comfortable bed in Happy Heroes, though it’s probably a good thing that best does not exist since I might never want to leave.)

Generally, firmer surfaces provide better support, and softer surfaces provide worse support. Furthermore, a surface which contours to the body provides more even (and thus better) support, and a surface which does not contour to the body provides less even (and thus worse) support. Ideally, one would sleep on a firm surface which contours to the body.

My new mattress provides a lot of support (which ultimately comes from my bedroom floor) while contouring to my body better than the floor would. However, while I think it strikes a good balance, it’s not perfect.

And as I mentioned in the previous post, because it’s easy to roll up and only about 30 lb (14 kg), it is a very portable mattress.

Why is portability an important feature to me? What disgusting discoveries did I make when I removed the five mattresses which formed my old ‘bed’? What will I do to keep my new mattress usable for years? The answers to these questions will be in Part 3.

Odyssey of a New Bed, Part 1

I wrote this post about my tent having toxic flame retardants. As I was writing the post, I was dimly aware that a lot of furniture in my home probably has toxic flame retardants too, and that objectively, the flame retardants in my home were probably harming much more than flame retardants in my tent. However, I had a mental block. Why? Because I’m not used to choosing furniture in my home.

Until now, I’ve basically never exercised any choice about furniture in my home (except maybe something on the scale of moving a chair). I currently live in my childhood home, which means that pretty much all of the furniture was chosen by my parents, not me. I’m used to having them make decisions about adding or removing furniture, not me. In Taiwan, I only lived in furnished apartments, which meant that my landlord chose the furniture in my home (which I liked because it saved me the bother and expense of having to buy and move furniture).

By contrast, I’ve generally picked out my own camping gear, so I am used to taking responsibility for whether the camping gear suits my needs and preferences.

Until very recently, my bed was literally five different mattresses piled one on top of the other, all on top of a metal bed frame. I did not even know how many mattresses there were until I removed them one by one. Those mattresses have been there ever since I returned to the United States in late 2014. Were they there before I left the United States? I don’t remember. I didn’t pay attention to what my parents did to my bed when I was absent.

When I returned home after my big trip this summer (2017), I noticed that the top mattress has springs which were poking through the fabric and thus poking me. This made it difficult to sleep. So I did the rational thing and … piled some extra sheets on top of the mattress to cushion it, and then pulled out my lightest sleeping bag to sleep inside it on top of the sheet pile. It was a decent kludge for when I wanted to go to sleep and didn’t have time/energy to do anything about the mattress. However, instead of trying to change the mattress, I just kept on using the kludge for more than two months.

I took this photo while I was in the process of paring down my old bed. The mattress which was poking me in the back is leaning against the wall on the left side. Inside that mattress protector in the back of the picture was the bad feather mattress. The red thing in the foreground is a quilt which I am still using now.

It eventually sunk in that, if I were concerned about exposing myself to toxic flame retardants, I could do a lot more to reduce my exposure by changing my bedroom than changing my tent. And it sunk in that changing mattresses would probably lead to better sleeping than just keeping the sheets piled on pokey bedsprings. So I finally decided to get rid of ALL of those mattresses I had been sleeping on and buy a brand new mattress.

Fortunately, I made this decision just in time for Black Friday. Thus, I was able to get a traditional Japanese futon mattress (also known as ‘shiki futon’) that was made purely from organic cotton grown in Texas for less than 300 USD (including taxes). If you have any idea how expensive organic cotton is, then you appreciate what a bargain this is. Specifically, I bought this futon (Twin XL size, 3 inch, organic cotton case).

Why organic cotton as opposed to ‘conventional’ cotton. This explains the difference in environmental impact. In addition to the general environmental reasons, if I’m trying to avoid toxins, it makes sense to avoid the toxins used in processing ‘conventional’ cotton. I’ve also noticed, when I compared organic cotton fabric to equivalent conventional cotton fabric, that the organic cotton fabric is higher quality and lasts longer. I think it’s worth paying triple the price to get organic cotton (I have seen a new conventional cotton shiki futon for sale for about 100 USD).

I was surprised to learn that this futon is made in San Francisco. I was even more surprised to find myself visiting their factory and showroom in order to buy the futon. I have since learned that there are several businesses with mattress factories which operate in San Francisco, not just this one. Like much of the United States, San Francisco, which once had a lot of manufacturing, has been deindustrialized. Though this was not the deciding factor, I think it’s cool that I now sleep on a mattress which was made in the very same city where I’m using it, which is also the city where I’ve spent most of my life.

The factory, of course, is in southeast San Francisco. I consider southeast San Francisco to be part of the rust belt. First of all, there is literally lots of rust – people who love rusty abandoned industrial buildings can have a great time in southeast San Francisco. Deindustralization has hit southeast San Francisco hard. When I hear or read about cities such as Detroit, Youngstown, Buffalo, etc., I imagine them as being like southeast San Francisco but with more land area, cheaper housing, less gentrification, and worse infrastructure. My mother expressed concern about me going to the factory/showroom – especially since it’s just a block away from Potrero Terrace, one of San Francisco’s ‘most distressed’ public housing projects – but I wasn’t worried, especially since I’ve never had a problem when I’ve walked through Potrero Terrace before (you can see what Potrero Terrace looks like in this video). Like the rest of the rust belt, southeast San Francisco has a reputation for being full of poverty and crime.

Anyway, back to my new organic cotton shiki futon. Why that and not some other non-toxic mattress?

First of all, it was the second cheapest new non-toxic/organic mattress I was able to find (I will discuss the cheapest, and why I decided against it, in a future post in this series).

Second, it’s consistent with washitsu style. During my extensive travels in Japan, I slept in washitsu-style rooms many times and became rather fond of them. I don’t intend to converting my entire bedroom into an authentic washitsu room, but for years I’ve thought it would be nice to incorporate some of that aesthetic. And now I have.

This washitsu room is actually in Rueisui, Taiwan, not in Japan. However, this inn was built when Japan ruled Taiwan to serve Japanese guests, and the innkeepers have maintained its original Japanese style. I remember that I had to pull out a futon and blankets from the closet and lay them on the tatami floor myself.

Third, it did not have wool. A lot of the nontoxic mattresses use wool because it is naturally fire-resistant and a way to comply with federal fire safety laws without using toxic chemicals. However, I do not want wool because a) I do not want to exploit sheep that way and b) I don’t want a repeat of the moth infestation I experienced in my bedroom as a child.

Fourth, it does not contain latex. I am only allergic to synthetic latex (or more accurately, the chemicals which are sometimes mixed with synthetic latex), not natural latex, but I still feel more secure avoiding natural latex.

Fifth, I like the idea of having a portable bed. My new shiki futon only weighs about 30 pounds (14 kg) so I can easily move it without assistance. I’m going to discuss why portability is important to me in the third post in this series.

The next post? I’m going to talk about what the purpose of a bed actually is.