Like many, I've been swimming against an unfamiliar current since the pandemic set restrictions and lifestyle changes in motion last March. I am choosing to see the winter months as an opportunity to cultivate joy and comfort in my home. I know there won't necessarily be quiet and stillness — I do have two exuberant kids at home, after all — but I hope to reclaim some peace in my heart and mind.
Over the years, I've learned some lessons about how to create a comfortable home. Below, find a few of the ways my family has been able to experience contentment while hunkering down during the winter months, keeping eco-friendly practices and mindfulness front and center.
You may know the Scandinavian term hygge (pronounced HOO-gah), meaning cozy. Lighting a candle, enjoying a cup of tea, wrapping up in a soft blanket and pulling on thick wool socks are a few things that might help you achieve this feeling. While Pinterest often makes it seem like we need to be alone in a picturesque cabin in the woods to find this state of being, it's really about everyday moments.
There are two ways I make it easier on myself to find hygge during this busy season of life. The first is to set up or decorate small corners in my home in a way that gives me a cozy feeling. I might string up twinkle lights or arrange a small collection of art and trinkets in a previously blank corner. When my eyes alight on a scene like this, I experience a moment of delight.
The second is to ignore everything around me, even if it's only for a minute, and focus on the coziness of what's right in front of me. Maybe there's a stack of papers on my kitchen counter that needs to be addressed, but instead I'll turn my attention fully to the feeling of my feet in fuzzy socks or the warmth of my coffee mug. There's no need to buy a special new candle or blanket in order to fulfill your search for hygge
Use (and share!) what you already have
If conversations with friends are any indication, many of us have been trying to buy ourselves and our kids out of the pandemic. If only we had a specific game, this one fluffy pillow, that new rug, it would make all of this uncertainty more bearable. I've certainly let the pendulum swing in that direction, but I'm more than ready to pull it back.
Even in my small home, I often forget about the things I've stored away. Before buying games, art supplies or décor, I try to see if I can pull out an item we already have to fulfill the need for something "new."
If you're comfortable with it, you can also swap games, books and other items with close friends and family. Avoid future awkwardness by being up-front about the terms of the swap. Are you passing on the item indefinitely, or do you expect it to be returned?
If you find yourself with extra games, activities or other items you think others may want but can't find a friend to take them, donate! When I'm looking to give something away, I try to be intentional about where it goes. Search for "Buy Nothing" and "Gifting" groups on Facebook. Many towns and neighborhoods have their own forums, too. I tend to prioritize donating to ReSOURCE, a nonprofit with multiple locations across the state, because I appreciate its mission to ethically support its employees and the communities it serves.
Other places that accept donations in Burlington that you may not have heard of are Possibility Shop and Shalom Shuk. There are also local mutual aid organizations in many areas that can help find a new home for your items.
Trial without fire
If you've been eyeing a low-waste practice but aren't sure it will work with your lifestyle, now might be the time to try it. If you're working from or spending more time at home and aren't seeing people in close proximity, test out a shampoo bar and apple cider vinegar "conditioner" without having to worry that you smell like a salad while your hair gets used to a new technique.
Now might also be the perfect time to start using a menstrual cup or natural deodorant, cook and bake more from scratch, or take on a food-waste challenge. Fight the slow rot of leftovers and half-eaten produce by bringing them to the forefront of your fridge with an "eat me first" label. Use up fruit ends and that last bit of yogurt for smoothies. Make stock from veggie ends you'd typically throw in the compost.
Some of the eco-friendly things in my home that bring me the most comfort are the simplest. I like the aesthetics of a wooden and natural bristle dish brush, but I also like that it's helping me limit my impact on the Earth. And it will last a lot longer than its plastic counterpart.
Bring it with you
Outdoor recreation continues to be one of the only steadfast activities we can engage in. Let's all commit to bringing our reusables along for the ride. You likely have a reusable water bottle and coffee mug (or 10 of them!) at home, but do you remember to bring them with you? Build the habit, and soon you'll remember your water bottle as easily as you do your keys, wallet and face mask.
Supporting small businesses is important now, but it's also not as easy to pop into a café or shop, especially with kids in tow. If you used to spend your Saturday morning going for a walk or bike ride, then stopping into a bakery for special treats, plan ahead and bring some treats with you — or find a place where you can preorder goodies for a socially distanced pickup. Follow the same idea for road trips. Fewer or no stops is the goal these days, so pack what you need in reusable containers before you go.
A lot of these tips come down to trying to see the bounty in our daily life. Because social media and advertising may lead us to compare ourselves to others and want what we don't necessarily need, it definitely takes ongoing practice. But low-waste and eco-friendly lifestyle choices can help us truly appreciate what we have.
Take this example: In the early days of the pandemic, many of us waited in line at the store only to find that basic necessities such as toilet paper were sold out. I'm not a trained therapist, but I know that scarcity triggers fear in many of us, and that is a valid feeling.
Now, think of something you own that can be reused many times. Then picture stacks of the disposable version of that same item. You would have had to buy, store, manage and dispose of all those items. Then they would head to the landfill to sit for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Something that can be reused many times may look like less, but it actually represents abundance.