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Big March Post #1, Part 1: A New Night’s Sleep

Welcome to the first of three big posts for March! This one is very exciting for me because I’m going to talk about… our new mattress! Wait, stay with me, I promise it is more exciting than it sounds.

First, it’s exciting for me because, if you can believe it, I’ve never had a brand-new mattress in my whole life! Crazy right? My parents got my childhood mattress used, and I slept on it from about a year old until I left for college. Then in college I slept on the dorm mattress, gross and certainly not new. When I moved to an apartment I slept on a futon, which was new I guess but not really a mattress so that doesn’t count. And when my husband and I got our first house we were gifted his parents’ guest bedroom mattress, which was practically new but had still hosted a few guests in the few years that they owned it. And we have now slept on that bed for 13 years, so it is well past it’s need-to-replace date. Did you know conventional interspring mattresses need to be replaced after about seven years? (According to Consumer Reports and The Better Sleep Council.) Not only is our mattress old, but Kiddo1’s mattress is too. Although we bought his new from IKEA, the mattress is still about 10 years old and starting to get pretty lumpy. So, new beds for everyone! (Except Baby2 since she’s still rocking her crib mattress as a toddler bed just fine, and doesn’t look like she’ll need a new one for another year or so.)

Our new beds are even more exciting because we got a nice tax refund this year so we decided to invest it in the best mattresses we could buy. We did a ton of research, starting with talking to family who had also recently bought a new mattess. They went with a big-name company (think one of the “three S’s”) and told us lots of things we weren’t exactly happy to hear – the new mattresses have pillow tops attached to them (which I believe it an option not to have, but a lot of them have the toppers attached), which makes flipping the mattress impossible. The mattress can be rotated 180 degrees but not flipped around. Because of this, the newest beds claim to have an even shorter life span – about five years. We really didn’t like the thought of making this investment and then having to do it again in five years. If that were the case we would have to have bought three mattress in the time we’ve only slept on one together! Crazy!

Besides the fast replacement timeframes, conventional mattress also come with a standard cocktail of chemical flame retardants – boric acid (used to kill insects), formaldehyde (which is known to present a cancer risk), and antimony, a substance more toxic than mercury. There are all kinds of studies out there about the absorption rates of these chemicals for adults that sleep on conventional beds, and they state an adult sleeping on a chemically treated mattress “will absorb .8 mg of antimony every night, an amount that is 27 times more than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says is safe”. A child could absorb 63 times the safe limit. (source) That’s insane right?! Add to this the research that looks into the link between chemical flame retardants and fertility, as well as chemicals being found in newborns and breastmilk. Scary stuff. This post isn’t about chemicals, though, so I’ll leave my chemical research at that, but I think it is important to note here. It was certainly one of the main reasons why we chose to avoid purchasing a conventional mattresses!

All this research led us to find an alternative and we discovered natural latex. At first I was really hesitant, I mean don’t people have allergies to latex? But after reading into it more I discovered the allergies are to things like latex gloves, which have a thin, stretchy structure that concentrates the protein that allergic people have a reaction to. Also, sleeprs are protected from the latex itself by a mattress wrapper, typically made of cotton, and there are options for wool toppers, so you’re not sleeping directly on the latex. To cause a reaction latex must come in contact with the skin. Simply breathing around it is not a problem, as it does not “off gas” like the flame-retardant chemicals do (there’s an exception I read about for startch-lined latex gloves though, which can release latex molecules into the air and cause an airborne reaction). We read about latex allergies with regard to latex mattresses from a variety of sources, but this website give a good summary. No one in our family has any known latex allergies, but lately when I know something is a common issue I tend to investigate it a little further just in case!

Of course there are other alternatives to the conventional interspring mattress, like memory foam and Temperpedic mattresses. BUT, those are just made from synthetic chemcials! They also off-gas and they are not sustainable materials (meaning they can’t be replanted like the Hevea tree that provides liquid latex – they’re manufactured in a lab). So while these type of foam mattresses have some of the same benefits of latex, they’re still not quite what we’re going for.

Some benefits of natural latex:

      • No chemical flame retardants. A wool topper makes a natural fire resistant layer. And the more we thought about it, the more we wondered why our mattress needs to be flame-resistant anyway? We’re not smoking in bed, we don’t use portable heat sources, even our heating air vent is a safe distance away from our bed. So unless some actual sparks start flying in the bedroom (haha), why do we need a mattress that can resist a blowtorch flame?
      • Natural latex is inhospitable to dust mites, which love living in conventional mattresses where they can live off our dead skin cells. Ew! It’s also mildew and mold resistant (but not waterproof, so a water-protective layer like wool is a wise investment for further protection).
      • Natural latex mattress are super durable – they can last at a minimum of 10 years, often 20 or more. This site even claims they can last up to 30 years! And since there’s no build up of dust mites, I don’t mind keeping the same bed for that long.
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The cellular structure of a layer of latex (Image from Sleeponlatex.com)

      • Natural latex is “spongy” because of its cellular structure (ie it has lots of regularly spaced holes) and because of its natural “foamy” properties. Therefore it cradles your body but doesn’t leave impressions in the mattress – it bounces back. This cell structure also makes it breathable. Most latex mattresses do compress about an inch or so after roughly a decade, but without having much impact on the comfort or other benefits of natural latex.
      • Natural latex keeps pretty cool since it is breathable. If a cool mattress doesn’t work for you, though (I get cold when I sleep) then a wool topper helps the mattress not only stay warmer in winter but also cooler in the summer. Wool is also mildew-, mold-, and dust mite-resistant. Wool is a magic material!
      • The natural latex material is sustainable – it is harvested much like maple syrup, with a tap created in a 7-year-old Hevea tree, which can be harvested from for 25 years (source). Plus since you’re only buying one bed every, let’s say, 20 years, instead of two or three, that keeps fewer mattresses from going to the landfill or needing to be broken apart for recycling.
      • There are a TON of latex options out there – options on manufacturing types, firmness, number of layers, how the layers are fixed (or not fixed) together, how the layers are wrapped together, types of mattress toppers available, etc. Just as many options as presented by conventional mattresses, if not more. Of course, all these options can also be confusing, so you’ll see this “pro” come up in the “cons” section as well.
      • Finally, for us, our mattress purchase was kept pretty local. While the latex itself does come from an entirely different continent (since Hevea trees are tropical), our mattress was built right here in town and the organic cotton and wool was all American-made. Plus the store we bought from is women-owned, which gives me, as a woman, some warm fuzzies.
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A Hevea tree tapped to give natural latex material (Image from Encyclopedia Britannica)

 

Sounds wonderful right? It is almost perfect. Of course, there are a couple cons:

      • Price – a natural latex mattress will cost more than a conventional one, often two to three times more (even more if you go for organic natural latex). But they also last at least two to three times as long, and you don’t get the chemicals.
      • Latex mattress are a little less thick than conventional interspring mattresses. That doesn’t make them any less comfortable or less durable, but it will affect the height of your bed, if that’s an issue for you. There are also thicker latex mattresses available (they have more layers). The bed we purchased is 8 inches thick with three layers of latex, about the same thickness as the interspring mattress we got rid of.
      • There’s so much to learn about latex! There are so many varieties and manufacturing types out there. Which brings me to part 2 (this post got really long so I had to split “big announcement post one” into two parts!), which is our latex-specific research.

All of this research is what turned our exciting new mattress purchase from your regular experience at a mattress store to a big education on flame retardants and chemical-free alternatives. While we had become comfortable with the alternative of a natural latex mattress, we still had a lot to learn about the latex choices. Part 2 will cover all the research we did about latex and how we ended up choosing our new bed.

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Living in a Small House

We are a family of four living in less than a thousand square feet (960 square feet, to be exact). We have three bedrooms, one bathroom, a one-car garage and a fifth of an acre lot. It’s been a full year that we’ve been living here so I thought it’s a appropriate time to reflect on how it is working out for us.

In short, I love living in this small house. Here’s a list of all the reasons why small is great for us:

  • It’s easier to keep ourselves from owning too much stuff. Clutter becomes apparent quickly so we’ve learned to let go of things a little easier and go through our possessions more often. Clutter simply cannot hide because there’s no where for it to go but right in front of us!
  • You can carry on a conversation with someone and still walk around the house putting things away, fetching things, getting stuff done, etc.
  • No one gets “lost:” Baby2 can wander around between rooms and we never feel like we’ve lost track of her. It’s easy to hear if she’s getting in trouble (or too quiet – also a sign of trouble!). Our “pre-teen” Kiddo1 can’t get himself too isolated, either. Having one main “hang out” space forces us to see each other on a regular basis which is really nice! And if we must spend some time alone, there’s always our bedrooms or the big backyard.
  • If you do keep forgetting things in another room, you don’t have to walk far to keep retrieving them.
  • Low utility bills!
  • Our mortgage is affordable, even on one income, and our taxes are the lowest of anyone we’ve polled.
  • Low remodeling project costs. I want a nice new bathroom floor, preferably hex or penny tile in a fun pattern. That tile work can be expensive, but I only have maybe 30 square feet of floor in my bathroom so we can afford a nicer material than we might normally choose.
  • Cleaning doesn’t suck – only one toilet to scrub, only 12 square feet of counters to wipe down, only one garage stall to organize, etc.
  • Maintenance costs are super low. We recently thought we’d have to replace our plumbing drain pipes (dodged a bullet on that one), but even if we had the main drain pipe is only 30 feet long and it’s mostly one long section (with only one turn into the main sewer line), which makes the plumber’s job easier, which makes it faster, which makes it cheaper.
  • We don’t need to buy a bunch of furniture to fill up the rooms. We don’t need a bunch of decor items either.
  • We spend more time outside than we normally would since the yard functions as a second living room most of the year.
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Our little house

Of course it is not perfect. There are a few “cons” to living in a small house:

  • Not a lot of privacy. The most private room in the house is probably Kiddo1’s bedroom because it is at the end of the hall and only shares walls with the bathroom and the master closet. I like that he has the most privacy – he’s probably the one that needs it most. Teenagers do need to get away from their families sometimes. Adults do too, of course, but I know when I was a teenager a little alone time kept me sane enough to handle family time too.
  • No room to grow in the existing house. If our family ever got bigger (another dog, relatives that wanted to stay with us, perhaps even a third child) we wouldn’t be able to give them a space of their own. Of course we haven’t started room sharing yet and that could be a possibility if we really needed it. And we do have the yard space if we wanted to add another room to the house!

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Here are other ways we “make it work,” although I dislike that term. I don’t think we’re “making” anything work, I think it just works for us!

  • Our yard makes up for a lot of the indoor space we don’t have. Extra room for the occasional party, friends over, space to hang out, all that can happen in the yard most of the year. And we can grow so much food in our yard! Just in one little corner we’ve got 100 square feet of raised beds and more than enough room to double or triple that without cutting into the kids’ play space or our patio. We bought this house because of the yard and we are not regretting that decision!
  • We are considerate of our time in the bathroom. We ask others if they need to use the bathroom before we shower. We don’t “hide” in the bathroom (you know what I mean if you’ve done it!). We don’t all get ready at the same time of day so we don’t have to fight over someone taking too much time. I would love just one more toilet, a half bathroom, but most of the time we really don’t need it. Plus we only have one toilet to clean! Did I mention that yet?
  • We have flexible furniture. We have a dining room table that has a folding table top so it can be a small table when we’re not using it and when it’s dinner time we expand the table top so we have plenty of room for plates and serving dishes. We have an ottoman that also functions as a toy chest so it is both sitting furniture and storage furniture.
  • We only have one car so having a one-car garage is no problem. We love having one car. It saves money on insurance, gas, and maintenance. We had two cars at one point (Mr. Handsome’s parents gave us one) but it truly was more hassle than it was worth. In our 12 years together, Mr. Handsome and I have only had two cars for maybe two of those years. It works out really well for us because I work from home and Kiddo1’s school is just a mile away.

For us, small house living really is the way to go!