Almost as soon as the leaves start turning brown, my mind turns to thoughts of hearty, warming dinners, festive decor and long walks in the crisp winter air, followed by cosying up on the sofa for an evening of comfort and joy. I love winter so much, but I didn’t always. I used to find the darkness depressing, the coldness irritating – winter slowed things down in ways I couldn’t stand and left me miserable.
But a few years ago I started to realise that hating an entire season is no way to live – if you’re in a temperate climate like I am, it makes up a quarter of your life. It’s easy to underestimate the power of making your home a warm, comforting space in the winter. But even animals do it – hibernation, digging warm burrows and sets, all to keep the raging cold outside, and their family warm inside. Making your home a seasonally-appropriate space helps encourage you to embrace the season you’re in. It’s been shown time and time again that embracing our local seasonal changes is so beneficial to our hearts and minds. That doesn’t mean to be cold all the time – you don’t embrace winter by literally letting winter into your home, don’t worry! Rather, it’s about doing wholesome, gentle things that keep the cold out in ways that feel natural to you – embracing the dark afternoons with candlelight, adorning your space with reminders that beauty exists all year round, coming home to a warm meal with loved ones. That’s what it means to embrace winter. So read on for some of the ideas I’ve collected over the years, on how to make your home a cosy space that will nourish your soul and eliminate the winter dread.
Bring nature inside
Whilst it might be a no-brainer to decorate your home with flowers and foliage in the spring and summer, how do you bring nature into your home when most of it has seemingly died back? Pinecones are one of my favourites – I love hunting for different varieties as there are SO many – from absolutely enormous ones that make audible ‘cracking’ sounds as they dry, to teeny tiny ones that remain attached to wizened fallen branches. Of course you can also buy pinecones from a shop, you don’t need to go skulking round an arboretum for them if you don’t have the time! I scatter them around, use them in garlands, and I also like to display them in bowls – I recently I bought an unglazed ceramic bowl shaped like a leaf which painted it in autumnal shades of brown and gold, and has become the perfect vessel for showing off my collection of pinecones. Other lovely pieces of nature that you can bring into your home in winter include stems of fir or pine trees (or you can just prune some off your Christmas tree if you have a real one) and branches of holly leaves – but handle with care! Another new discovery for me is branches of deciduous trees, such as the bright red of many dogwood species (Cornus sp.), the papery white of some birch species (Betula sp.), or beech branches (Fagus sylvatica) with the crunchy, rich brown leaves still attached. These branches all look absolutely stunning when woven into a wreath, or artfully arranged in a vase. I try to avoid anything with berries – although I have used them in my decorating before – as they do start to rot after a while, and if you have kids or pets obviously you don’t want to be bringing anything potentially poisonous but easily-eaten inside.
Start some cosy (but easy) crafting
Something that has brought me so much joy and satisfaction over the years is finding easy, cute crafts that I can do to keep my hands occupied while I watch festive films or listen to podcasts. Here are just a few that I’ve either already tried, or plan to try soon: Making no-knit decorative mini bobble hats, decorating pre-cut wooden baubles, adding touches of fake snow onto pinecones, painting holly leaves with gold, wrapping gifts in new and elaborate ways, making your own a seasonal wreath, dehydrating oranges for garlands, making your own candles or wax melts, learning new illustration techniques with a fineliner or on a tablet (for minimal cleanup). I have also been known to engage in somewhat larger-scale festive crafting, but that’ll have to wait for another blog post… my point here is that doing something creative, but not too taxing, is a perfect way to spend a cosy winter’s evening.
Move into the (half) light
The short days and long nights of winter sometimes leave me feeling like the sun barely came up at all, massively affecting my energy levels and mood. But something I realised is that trying to replace the daylight with bright overhead light doesn’t work nearly as well as embracing the gloom, and lighting my home with candles, Himalayan salt lamps, fairy lights, and other gentle lighting that bathes the room in a warm, natural glow, rather than harsh artificial light. It’s strange, but as soon as I embraced this gloom and glow style of lighting, my brain seemed more at ease and comfortable in my surroundings, making me more relaxed, less exhausted and moody. The one tall lamp I have has Wiz app-controlled lightbulbs in it so that I can easily control how much light we have in the room – I use the ‘candlelight’ option and turn the brightness down very low, which bathes the room in an unobtrusive, warm light that I can easily turn up if I need to see something. When we’re not watching the TV in the wintertime, we almost always have a fireplace video playing on the screen too – if you haven’t embraced that already, you simply must. It’s so lovely.
Make it fragrant
I’m a home fragrance nut. I simply cannot get enough of wax melts, reed diffusers and scented candles. Ever since I first developed this obsession, it’s added a new layer of excitement to the changing of the seasons, because it means I get to change over my wax melts! Two of my all time favourite wintery home fragrance products are the Pink Peppercorn & Jasmine scent from Sandwick Bay Candles*, and the Tinder Box scent from The Botanical Candle Co. Pink Peppercorn & Jasmine is sweet and warm, like a big fluffy blanket with a subtly spiced edge to it, while Tinder Box is equally as sweet and comforting, but with a woody earthiness, a romantic evocation of a crackling log fire. These extraordinarily well balanced, artisan fragrances last for such a long time in the wax melt form, and are the perfect level of intensity, easily filling an average sized living room with beautiful, wintery fragrance. They’re both available in candle and reed diffuser formats too!
Go exploring outdoors
I hinted at this in my introduction, but here’s where I want to talk more about how important it is to get outdoors in winter, and how a cosy home helps us to do that. Being out in nature reduces stress, gives us time to think, stretch the legs, and if the sun is shining, helps to top up vitamin D levels (though we should probably all be taking supplements for that anyway – here’s a link* to the one I use). I’m not one for ‘prescribing’ nature immersion as a treatment for mental illness or severe stress, because I know from experience that nature doesn’t cure depression, and if you’re overwhelmed you aren’t suddenly going to be able to cope after a walk in the outdoors. But it is true that being out in nature improves mood, reduces stress hormones, and I think, helps to give some clarity on life. We need that just as much in the wintertime as we do any other time of year. However, it’s also true that getting the motivation to go out when its bloody freezing is hard. Making home a cosy, comforting space during the winter might seem counter-intuitive because wouldn’t that mean you’d never want to leave the warmth? But actually the opposite is true, at least for me. When my home is lovely and welcoming, I feel more positive and optimistic, less distracted, and more enthusiastic. These are all the right ingredients for going out into the cold – because you know that when you get back from your adventure, your cold hands will be warmed up, your hunger will be satiated, and your tired body will be wrapped up cosily in blankets and soft clothes.
Embrace blanket life
I can’t believe there was ever a time when I sat on sofas without a cosy blanket covering at least part of me. Nowadays I can’t relax without one! My favourite blankets are the IKEA Ingabritta ones, which are perfect because the loose-ish weave means you can control how warm they make you by folding it over, or leaving just a single layer. However, I’ve recently taken a step further in my commitment to blankets and now I wear one. I am the proud owner of one of those gigantic blanket hoodies – I couldn’t find the exact one online but this one looks amazing – it has two layers of fabric, so I think it would be even warmer than mine which is saying a lot, because mine is only one layer and its so warm that when I’m wearing it with a pair of fluffy socks, I literally don’t need to put the heating on. It’s the ultimate in cosy and feels like I’m wrapped up in cotton wool – such a great investment for the winter months (unless you run hot, in which case this is literally the worst purchase you could ever make).
Learn some easy, warming recipes
I have a go-to stew recipe that holds a very precious place in my heart because my dad taught me to make it, and we’d eat it frequently throughout the winters of my childhood. It’s incredibly nourishing, easy to make (with loads of leftovers) and just about the best thing ever after a long day. And now as an adult it’s become my favourite thing to make when I need something comforting. If you don’t have a recipe like that – make this the winter that you find one! I have quite a few more than just dad’s stew of course – braised green lentils with mash, daal and rice, tuscan bean soup, cheesy cauliflower pasta, bean chilli with potato wedges… I could go on but wow I’m getting hungry. Anyway my point is, when it’s been cold and miserable and I want to eat something warming and delicious, I have a repertoire of easy, inexpensive meals which all make use of store-cupboard ingredients, that I can cook with my eyes closed and know will turn out just how I want. I wouldn’t classify myself as a talented cook at all – so if I can create a varied rotation of hearty winter dinners, I’m sure other people can too!
Make your own traditions
One of the wonderful things my parents taught me was that festive traditions don’t have to be done by other people first – you can make your own up, and pick and choose which pre-existing ones to follow, based purely on your personal preferences. One of my favourite examples is that we watch Muppets Treasure Island on Christmas Day, because we like it more than Christmas Carol, and another is that my Grandma and Grandad would spend Christmas Day eating turkey sandwiches on the beach with their dog. Homemade bread for the turkey sandwiches (or roast potato sandwiches if you’re me) is another – my dad started that and now James carries it on. A tradition that James and I started is that rather than decorating the tree together, I do it and then ‘reveal’ it to him – it’s a special treat for both of us and creates a festive atmosphere every year. Traditions are a form of social ritual that can feel comforting, but also sometimes restrictive – I think that making up your own creates the perfect balance. James is planning to learn to make pannetone this week – so I’m keeping my fingers crossed it becomes a tradition too!
I hope you enjoyed my tips and ideas, and that you’re feeling a seasonal, festive, and excited for winter! ❄️