Cold, dark, stormy winter is the season that makes us glad to live in buildings. This is the time when we want a lot less contact with the world outside our walls—and when the impact of whatever is inside our homes is intensified.
Winter is the season for slowing down, going within, resting, and reflecting; we tend to sleep longer, eat more, be less active, and feel more emotionally sensitive. As we move inward, we aren’t turning our back on the rest of life; we’re doing essentially the same things that the other animals and plants in our hemisphere are doing. When we don’t join them, we deprive ourselves of an important restorative experience.
Satisfy your soul
Winter is a good time to tune in to yourself. There’s no need to keep up the high energy levels of summer. It’s time to curl up on the couch under a lap robe with a mug of herbal tea and reflect on your life. It’s an especially good time to look around and notice whether your home nurtures you, renews you, and provides a safe place where you can hear the still, small voice within.
What do you long to come home to? If you work at a high-pressure job, you may need your home to be soft and peaceful. If your day is spent tending to the needs of others, you may want a corner where you can shut out the world. If much of your day is spent in solo pursuits, you may want your home to be a place for gathering with friends or family. If you have small children, it may seem especially difficult to carve out space and time for yourself—but no one needs it more than parents, and small gestures of self-love can go a long way.
When arranging their interior spaces, people often focus on the more public areas (entry, living room, dining room) and neglect their more private rooms (bedroom, study, bathroom). If your home is to be your place of renewal, your oasis in a crazy world, give to yourself! Think about what elements make you feel most at home: art objects, relaxing colors, sensuous fabrics, warm lighting, good music? Do you have at least one area where you can make the world go away and wrap yourself in love? What really helps you let go of tension? An overstuffed chair by a window where you can read a book and watch the storms rage outside? A steaming aromatherapy bath by candlelight? A homey dining table with warm, intimate lighting where you can share the day’s stories with your family? A sacred place for meditation? Filling the house with the smell of baking bread?
And how is your bedroom? Does it help you drift off to sleep relaxed and content, or is it decked out with piles of laundry, exercise equipment, and unpaid bills? The time you spend clearing up clutter and making your bedroom peaceful will pay you back in serenity and rejuvenating rest. How you wake up is important, too. What are the first things you see when you open your eyes in the morning? Do they help you feel good inside?
Clear the air
Sealing up your cave for the winter also means that airborne toxins, mold, and dust are likely to concentrate. You can enhance your restorative season by lightening the load on your internal detox systems. Your nose can help you identify mold and some toxins; pay attention when you first walk into a room, when your olfactory nerve is most sensitive. If something doesn’t smell right, trust that feeling and look for the source.
Here are some places to root out trouble:
• If your cleaning products have a strong scent, replace them with less toxic alternatives.
• To discourage mold growth, make sure air can circulate in your closets, around your furniture, under your bed, and in your bathrooms.
• Put off painting, refinishing, carpeting, and oven-cleaning projects until it’s warm enough to open windows and get good ventilation.
• If you have a forced-air heating system and you haven’t cleaned the ducts in years, they may harbor dust, animal droppings, and microbial growth; look into getting the ducts cleaned by the least-toxic method. While you’re at it, replace the furnace filters.
• If you have a combustion-based heating system, get it checked by a professional to make sure you’re not breathing gas or combustion products.
• If you use a dehumidifier, clean it regularly (with a low-toxic product) to avoid growing mold and broadcasting it throughout the house.
• Clean your house to minimize dust accumulation, especially in and around your bed; dust mites can irritate your sinuses and make it hard to get the sleep you need. ‰ If you have a serious indoor air-quality problem, consult a professional.
Transcend the fear of selfishness
The point of all this self-nurturing is not to isolate you in a bubble of indulgence. Quite the opposite; the point is to restore and maintain your vitality. Because all of life is interconnected, this is the basis of caring for all life. Furthermore, the better we understand our own organism’s needs, the more deeply we grasp the nature of life itself. The more depleted we are, the harder it is to care for other things—and a lot of us are pretty depleted. If we care about the earth and the life on it, we must include ourselves. It makes no sense to “save the planet” while abusing our own vitality with excessive busyness, sleep deprivation, and overwork. Somehow we bought the idea that it’s selfish to take care of ourselves, and that crazy notion has estranged us from the very pulse of life. Exuberant love of life is the most powerful place to come from, and that state arises naturally when we take good care of the life we have—not in ignorance of the rest of life, but in harmony with it.
Baker-Laporte, Paula and Erica Elliot, and John Banta, Prescriptions for a Healthy House. New Society Publishers, 2001.
Berthold-Bond, Annie, Better Basics for the Home. Three Rivers Press, 1999.
Bower, Lynn Marie, The Healthy Household. The Healthy House Institute, 1995.
CAROL VENOLIA is an architect, author of Healing Environments: Your Guide to Indoor Well-Being (Celestial Arts, 1988) and former publisher of Building with Nature Newsletter.