If the Sheet Fits

Finding marital bliss in unexpected places

I’m a sheet-stealer, and so is my husband. It’s one of those things that you learn about a person when you live together, factors you weigh when you decide if your love outweighs the sum of little annoyances between you. Which perhaps is why my mother always stressed that you need to live with the person before you get married: to find out if you’re really compatible, Catholic upbringing be damned. But I recently found an accidental solution for this particular nightly tug of war in our tiny New York City bedroom: sheets that are one size too large for the bed.

Trust me on this. It’s going to look a little silly when the flat sheet is hanging off the sides of the bed, but you can tuck the extra fitted sheet under the mattress — and if the flat sheet really bothers you when the bed is made, you can always do hospital corners. Unless your husband thinks that’s absolutely insane, as mine does. In fact he thinks the whole prospect of making the bed is silly; we’re just going to get back into it tonight, aren’t we? Well yes, and I don’t enjoy those extra 30 seconds any more than he does. But the sight of a made up bed in the morning makes me feel a little bit more prepared to take on the day, and he’s a wonderful guy who likes me to be happy, so we struck a deal: whoever gets up last has to make the bed.

The patterns do look nice together — note the lacquer tissue box and the hastily made bed.

But I digress: how did we wind up with king-size sheets in the first place? It has to do with my shopping habits. When we first moved to New York ten years ago we were struggling to make ends meet, working odd jobs and and living in a horrible apartment in downtown Brooklyn. (Don’t get too excited about the B-word — it was on a street clogged with bus exhaust, in a building infested with so many mice and roaches that we once came home to a bloated mouse rotting in our stove after a weekend away.)

That’s when I discovered sample sales, and the thrill of buying something at 90% off retail. (!!!) For the uninitiated, sample sales are ostensibly a way for designers and retailers to offload the seasonal samples that were created before production began on a line. (I say ostensibly so you won’t be fooled by those jokers in Soho who fill a shop with cheap crap and then put a big Sample Sale sign in the window.) The clothes are typically marked in some way to indicate that they weren’t sold in stores, but only the wearer will see the little sharpie mark across the inside label. It’s like having a little secret that you can shout out whenever someone compliments your outfit. “Oh thank you, I got it at the ____ sample sale for 20 bucks!” is still one of my favorite things to say. It’s a badge of honor proving your savvy and skills, even for those of us who don’t shop the big designer sales where women are undressing to try things on next to one another and elbowing each other in the ribs to get into the racks and find the right piece. (I’ve been to a few, and let’s just say it was shocking how quickly social norms go out the window in a room full of deeply discounted clothes.)

Then one season everything changed: I found the Jonathan Adler warehouse sale, a close cousin of the sample sale that’s held in a warehouse in the Bronx. I love his style, which fits perfectly with my preppy but not prissy home decor. Last spring during the sale I was on my second loop of the space with my arms full of housewares, when they began to announce deeper discounts on a few items that weren’t moving. I’d been looking at the beautiful 400 thread count sheet sets but didn’t see any that fit our queen-size bed, debating about whether the duvet cover in my hand would go with the sheets we already owned. When suddenly the sale manager shouted over the dwindling crowd: “Sheet sets are now 5 dollars!” and the mood of the room shifted dramatically. Relatively calm women rushed toward the table and began scooping up packages of sheets, loading their arms with as many as they could carry. I did the same with a few beautiful patterns, debating whether it was worth $20 to gamble on the wrong size sheets and listening to an exhausted clerk tell another shopper that he was sure king would work on a queen size bed.

I came home that day with three paper bags of loot, thrilled that I’d scored such a bounty from a warehouse sale. Did we really need a lacquer box to cover our kleenex? No, but wasn’t it so much nicer than looking at the ugly floral pattern of store brand tissues every day? Then I unloaded the merchandise onto our kitchen counter overlooking the apartment and began to worry: “This looks like a lot. He’s going to freak out.” Even though I hadn’t spent that much cash, it was more than I’d planned. But then you never really plan for sample sales, do you? They just pop into your life unexpectedly, and you go into a fog and come out blinking in the daylight with a bag of loot stapled shut, wondering what happened in there and hoping you didn’t buy something stupid just because everyone else was and it was so, so cheap. So I began to unpack things and put them away — leaving out a select few pieces like the beautiful necktie that was only a dollar, and stacking most of the sheets in a dark corner of the closet. I realized at that point that maybe things had gotten out of hand: what the hell were we going to do with three sets of the wrong size sheets? And more importantly in a tiny NYC apartment: do we have room for that?

We don’t truly “need” most of the things we own, as evidenced by the recent KonMari craze that recently swept the world and our collective ability to purge half of what we have squirreled away in closets. But the shopping and hiding behavior was nagging at me, so this summer one day I came clean: “I bought the wrong size sheets,” I told my husband as I stacked them once again on the kitchen counter. “Like, a lot of them.” I explained that the duvet cover was the right size and beautiful, and many times more expensive than worth the $5 I had paid for it. Then I sheepishly picked up the three sets of king-size sheets and suggested that we try them, and that perhaps I could hem them to fit the bed. He didn’t think it would work but didn’t seem to care much either, so I washed them and hemmed the pillowcases — which were crazy long! Who on earth buys king size pillows?!

And then something wonderful happened. When we put them on the bed and slid into them, my husband looked at me and said:

“These are really nice. Like, really nice.”

“Wow I know, right? They’re way better than our old sheets,” I replied.

“This is what 400 thread count feels like?”’

“Well, this is much better quality cotton and yes, a higher thread count,” I explained as I scissored my legs around in the sheets so nice we felt like we were in a hotel.

“What kind of garbage were we sleeping on before then?”

“I don’t know, like Target 300 thread count?”

“Let’s never go back. These are awesome, the old ones feel like sandpaper in comparison.”

But that wasn’t even the best part. The best part was the next morning, when I realized that we’d both slept better than we had in months, and that no one had woken up too cold in the middle of the night because the other person had stolen all the sheets and wrapped themselves in a cocoon. I mentioned it over coffee: “Do you think it’s because the sheets are so big, that there’s more than enough for both of us?”

We looked at each other, smiled, and knew: marital bliss can be found in putting too-big sheets on the bed. It’s those little tweaks and optimizations that you find along the way, figuring out how to make each other happy and enjoy life together, that make it all worth it.