Fun with Mattresses

Why do beds have to cost so much? This is something I’ve never understood. In other places in the world you’ve got people sleeping in hammocks, on tatami mats, on wooden pallets (I’m sure someone does that somewhere), on the ground, etc. But in North America, someone convinced us that in order to get that perfect night’s sleep, it was a good idea to spend $5,000 on a mattress. A mattress you will probably hate in five years but will not be able to get rid of because nobody wants to take your five-year-old mattress off your hands. Hence all the mattresses you see sitting in the back lanes. Not even the garbage men will take them.

M and I just finished getting a new mattress (new to us, that is). I say “finished getting” because it really was a process, and saying “got” would have made it sound so much easier than it really was. It wasn’t easy because a) being penny pinchers, we simply could not wrap our heads around paying so much money for a damn mattress, and b) getting a used mattress has its own problems, including feeling gross about getting a used mattress. Then there’s that whole bed bug thing to consider. And the stigma. What would our friends and family think if we told them we bought a used mattress?

This is not to say I’ve never slept on used mattresses. It would be more accurate to say I’ve never slept on a new one. I’ve rented a few furnished apartments in my day, and was happy to sleep on whatever was thrown on the bed—once I even got one of those old striped ones, you know, the kind they have in prisons? But the worst was the thing I slept on when I moved to Vancouver. I rented a room in a house and arrived with my suitcase and nothing else. Hoping that the previous tenant had left a mattress (she hadn’t), I went through the house and discovered a big piece of foam lying on the basement floor.

Overjoyed, I dragged it upstairs and it became my bed. It didn’t matter that it was covered in cat hair; I just scraped it off. But when the fleas started biting, I began to get concerned. But not that concerned. I just made sure I shut my door so the cat (who did indeed have fleas) could not get in, and I continued sleeping on that thing till we had to leave the house, which had been condemned. Then I took that piece of foam to the new house. I only stopped using it when I found another piece of foam somewhere that seemed slightly cleaner.

Fast forward a couple years and M and I are sleeping on a mattress we bought in a pinch off Craigslist because we needed something to sleep on immediately. It was a’ight; we just chose to ignore the yellowish stains all over it. I told myself (repeatedly) that they must have been caused by sweating, because did you know that we sweat out one litre of water every night while we sleep? I got this tidbit from an ad for a bedding company, but it really works for me, so I’m not interested in investigating this claim. But I digress. So we were sleeping on this mattress, which had begun to sink in the middle, when suddenly it looked like we’d hit gold: M’s aunt, who had come out here to live a few months previous, decided to go back to Winnipeg, and wanted to sell us her bed—purchased for $2,000 a mere four months earlier—for a mere $200. It was one of those fancy pillow top models and lying on it was akin to sinking into a cloud. Which proved to be its undoing. Soon my back was killing me and I was begging M to agree to sell the mattress and get a new, or at least, different one. (Incidentally, we couldn’t even give our old one away. Two people came to look at it and pronounced it too horrible to contemplate).

We looked on Craigslist. There were lots—as there always are—of mattresses for sale and for free, but we were scared off by all the caveats i.e., “a few stains,” “decent condition” (who wants a mattress in “decent” condition?). Even when the poster said “bug-free” we balked, as the mere mention of the possibility made it seem like an inescapable reality. We considered getting one from the Sally Ann—they sell new queen sets for between $400 and $500. But even that seemed like too much to pay. (M hates buying mattresses even more than I do. Once he found an old king-size mattress sitting at the corner of Venables and Clark and carried it on his back all the way to where he was living, at Fraser and 29th. I’ll do the math for you: it’s about 35 blocks).

We were about to pull the plug on the Sally Ann set—teeth gritted—when we wandered into one of our favourite thrift stores and sitting right there was an extra-firm, very clean looking mattress and box spring for $150—$110, the guy working there told us, if we paid for it that day. We discussed it for about two seconds, paid for it, picked it up a few days later, and immediately went and rented a Rug Doctor. We Rug Doctored the new mattress, we Rug Doctored the old mattress, and thought in order to get our money’s worth, we’d better Rug Doctor the chesterfield, chairs, and carpets, too.

Two days later, we sold our old mattress set for $200, the same price we bought it for. All told, we spent $175 on the new bed: $110 for the mattress and box spring, $30 on a frame we found at a secondhand shop on Main Street, and $35 for the steam cleaner rental. It may not be the absolute cheapest option in the world, but it almost is. And anyway, I am so done with flea-infested slabs of foam and prison-issue mattresses—though I do love the idea of sleeping in a hammock.

Last word: If you’re looking to get rid of your disgusting old mattress and don’t want to heave it into the lane, there is a place in North Van that recycles mattresses and box springs for a small fee and will give you free things in return. Check it out: mattressrecycling.ca.

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2 responses to “Fun with Mattresses

  1. Thanks for the tip on the mattress recycling. I bought a mattress & boxspring off Craigslist… it did seem risky, but I chose wisely, and they even delivered!
    Also: the first career test I ever took said I should be a mattress-stuffer. Looking at the glamorous photo above, I now wonder if I should have chased that dream after all.

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