How do you get cozy? As we move into wintertime and the nights get colder, I begin to crave coziness, that feeling of body, mind, and spirit enveloped in warmth and comfort. Hunkered down, snug, safe, secure. Here are some new ideas for finding comfort—from connecting with others to warming up a living space.
Reflecting on the idea of coziness, I see people creating it in different, though interconnected, spheres of daily life.
How to Connect With Others
Connecting with loved ones, friends, and others contributes to a sense of security, comfort, and joy for most of us. It helps to conquer the dark-season blues (aka seasonal affective disorder).
Yes, COVID has made it challenging for some us to have face-to-face human connection—and also exposed the sometimes-rough edges of family “closeness” during in-home quarantine! Chatting in person outdoors at a 10- to 12-foot distance for “driveway dining,” exercising outside, or while our dogs romp in the local dog park becomes less feasible during the colder months.
However, virtual get-togethers through a video-conferencing platform have offered many of us a lifeline for connecting with loved ones, meeting with healthcare professionals, managing our work lives, and enabling millions of children to attend virtual school. Book clubs, quilting guilds, and "knit-alongs" have continued meeting and socializing virtually.
Some friends have a weekly dinner via Zoom, enjoying food and drinks with each other. It may seem awkward at first but you soon forget about the screen and enjoy some of the same conversations and laughter that you did in person. Other families hold a weekly church service, chatting afterwards over coffee just as they would in person. Try something like this!
Encourage family and friends to share videos and photos by sharing your own. I've purchased a camera and discovering the joy of photography. I’ve loved seeing videos/photos of people’s first attempts at cooking from scratch, baking bread, home barbering, dog grooming, home repairs gone awry, and more.
Despite its flaws, I love Twitter, and have valued it especially during the pandemic. I follow folks who have perspectives both similar to and different from mine, as well as many people with deep expertise in a variety of specialties: nature photography, gardening, politics, and medicine. They answer my questions or point me to sources who can, and link me to interesting articles, scientific studies, and other interesting people.
I enjoy the way social media generates spontaneous discussions and friendships. It also links to live debates and workshops. Last summer, I participated in a Twitter short course on backyard fruit-growing, a weekly series of videos showing a Cooperative Extension fruit specialist talking about various fruits growing around his Mississippi home. So much fun! And I could follow up with questions to the specialist.
Adopt a Cat?
The flat screens on our computers, television and TVs reduce our loved ones, friends and co-workers to two-dimensional images. Many of us miss the hug-and-snuggle features pre-pandemic life. Enter doggies and kitties.To help cope with loneliness and quell their anxiety, Americans have increasingly turned to companion animals.
Before the pandemic, around half of all American households included at least one pet. Depending on which organization conducted the survey, American homes held 77 to 90 million dogs, and 58 to 94 million cats. That number will surely explode during the next survey, as news reports say Americans have emptied out animal shelters across the nation, adopting dogs, cats, and sometimes more exotic pets. Some shelters have long waiting lists, though cats are often looking for homes!
Children, missing their friends and familiar activities, can cuddle up with their animals for comfort. Young readers can read aloud to their adoring non-judgemental dogs. Single adults working at home alone have shared and often photographed how they snuggle up to and even converse with their animal companions.
Walking the dog becomes an important form of outdoor activity. Visits to the dog park while dogs romp free of a leash, allows masked and physically distanced owners to say hello and chat with the humans. Neighbors who walk dogs are meeting each other for the first time, forming a neighborhood "text" group to meet up for outdoor walks.
Long a beloved fixture on social media, cat and dog videos starring household pet have become a central focus on social media since early on in the pandemic quarantine. People have spent countless hours catching the family pets on camera (or watching other people’s animals) being naughty, performing amazing feats, cuddling up on the couch, crowding their human companions out of the bed. Each animal video can generate dozens of responses, with others comparing their own pet’s looks or behaviors to the original. The animals have become one important link to increase our human connections with friends, loved ones, and complete strangers.
Like me, maybe you love the cold, snowy, and spare aesthetic of the outdoors in winter, but dread the short days and the low arc of the winter sun.
The number one trick to beating back the darkness: light! Full-spectrum bulbs and lamps mimic natural daylight (but without dangerous ultraviolet rays). Some people use special photo-therapy lamps ("light boxes") to help fight seasonal affective disorder (winter depression) by basking directly in their light for a few minutes each day. In my experience, people don’t only feel better and see better in areas lit by full-spectrum lighting, we also look better.
Outline one or more windows or door frames with strings of small Christmas-tree lights to create a soft, intimate lighting effect that helps a room feel cozy.
Mirrors placed to reflect lamplight can help brighten the evening. (Please don’t rely on live flames—candles and kerosene lanterns for brightening. You don’t need a house fire to further complicate your life.)
Cozy up your space by adding brightly colored accents: pillows, throws, area rugs. Professional designers suggest adding depth and texture for extra coziness: a plush, fluffy throw, two or three layers of pillows, a shaggy area rug.
Consider an indoor tent! When my daughter was young, I remember making all manner of tented play spaces by draping sheets over furniture and large-appliance boxes begged from the hardware store. You can still fashion them yourself, but nowadays, online merchants offer hundreds of styles of indoor tents and “privacy canopies,” some designed as floorless models to enclose, provide privacy, and even insulate their occupants from drafts.
Suffuse your living space with comforting fragrances. Any kind of baked good in the oven—banana bread, apple/pumpkin pie, chocolate-chip cookies—will do the trick. But you don’t need to cook to fill your home with a warm, inviting scent. Boil water containing cinnamon sticks with other favorite spices, or a few drops of an essential oil, and set the container on a counter or shelf. Light a stick of balsam or pine incense.
If you already have one or two plants that do well, you can try expanding your collection by propagating some new ones from cuttings.
Don’t have the money or patience for houseplants? Buy or forage in the wild for some evergreen boughs. Trim them to size, and place them as table settings, or on mantelpieces, bookcases, and dressers. Keep the water fresh, and they’ll stay green for weeks. Bonus: Balsam or pine cuttings will send evergreen scents wafting through the air.
Feeling cozy means feeling a comforting sense of warmth. Before the advent of central heating, our ancestors used ways of heating themselves and the space immediately around them, rather than the air throughout the entire room.They invented hooded chairs to capture and retain radiant heat sitting in front of a stove or fireplace, folding screens to reduce drafts, insulating canopies and curtains around beds. My mother recalled her days growing up in a big Vermont farmhouse; her mother heated stones in the kitchen woodstove, and used tongs to place them in a long-handled brass bedwarmer that she slid back and forth between layers of goose-down comforters before tucking her nine children in for the night, two or three to a bed.
Maybe you’re turning down the thermostat to save money on winter heating costs. Here are some ways to stay cozy:
Hot baths. Nothing beats a hot bath on a winter evening. Adding a few drops of lavender essential oil to the bathwater may deepen your relaxation.
Seed- or bead-filled “beanbags” to heat in the microwave. Over the years, I’ve acquired a big collection of them, mostly as gifts. I have bean bags that drape around my neck, over my shoulders and down the back. I have some long, narrow ones I can spread across top of or along the sides of my thighs. I have beanbag mittens that soothe sore fingers and wrists, and beanbag booties to take care of cold feet.
Slide a couple of heated beanbags under the covers for a few minutes before you turn in for the night to create an intense coziness that helps you slip quickly into a restful sleep.
My go-to plan for evening coziness: I heat a couple of my beanbags, apply them to a stressed area, and sit in my recliner under a thick plush blanket sipping a cup of ginger tea, to read a book or the newspaper, do a word puzzle, watch tv, or chat online. Pure joy, especially after that hot bath.
Image: E. Kondratova/Shutterstock
Warm Up With Food and Drink
Nothing creates a deeper sense of comfort and joy than the right food and drink. Winter coziness depends on having a good supply of them on hand. Of course, the favorites and the recipes vary from culture to culture and household to household.
My winter comfort foods include any kind of homemade soup, stew, and chowder—and chili! The possibilities are endless, depending on the ingredients I have on hand. It’s easy to cook up a huge stockpot of dry beans, then make a big soup that lasts for three or four days, then turn the rest into a chili with onions, garlic, roasted peppers from my freezer. A big part of these comfort foods for me involves the versatility and ease of preparation. Add a cheese sandwich to the soup, a green salad to the chili, and you’re set.
For cozy winter drinks, I think of strong, dark-roast coffee, cocoa, herb teas (especially peppermint and ginger), mulled cider, and the various recipes that come under the general heading of wassail. You can make a non-alcoholic wassail by simmering any kind of fruit juice with a handful of spices such as cinnamon, clove, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice. Some people (raising my hand) even take comfort in a cup of boiling water spiked with plenty of lemon juice, with or without sweetener.
Buoyed by the promise of a COVID-19 vaccine and better therapeutic drugs, experts warn we still have a long, dark winter ahead, during which we’ll need to wear our masks and other protective equipment outside our homes, maintain a generous physical distance from others, stay out of indoor spaces other than our own homes as much as possible, and wash our hands often.
All the more reason to adopt a few new ideas for staying cozy. What are your favorites?