Tips for staying snug as the temperatures drop.
With all the furore over high energy prices, and a cold winter forecast, I thought I’d write a few words on staying warm this winter. I don’t know if any truly broke people read this blog, but if they do, I hope these tips will be helpful.
The DH and I, and all of our friends, know a thing or two about being cold in winter. It is basically impossible to heat these draughty old piles, even spending 3,000-5,000 euros a year on fuel, and most of us are more than used to coping in the cold. In our house, a normal daytime temperature is about 14 degrees. The kitchen is usually about 9-10 and the bedroom can go as low as 8, though I am hoping to avoid that this winter by moving to a warmer part of the house.
This is as nothing compared with our friends, some of whom endure temperatures as low as 5 degrees in their bedrooms over winter.
Anyway, here are things we’ve found helpful.
Dress when inside as if you were outside. And there are certain parts of your body you really need to keep warm: your head, hands, neck, feet, kidneys and wrists – areas where large veins run through.
Thermals are de rigeur and will pay for themselves many times over – I’ve had some of mine for 20 years. You want themals designed as base layers for outdoor sports, if possible, rather than those designed as mere thermals, which are not as warm. A high neck top with long sleeves and long johns are your best bets – don’t go for v-neck or short-sleeve options, especially if your budget is tight, though a sleeveless vest can be useful for layering. By far the best base layers I’ve found are the ClimateControl SuperMan and SuperWoman sets from Five Seasons, which you can get from outlets such as Skiwear For Less. They are also dead cheap. I am also a big fan of the Zephyr vest and long johns, and the Eddy long-sleeved base layer from Finisterre, in merino, though these are a serious investment (they’re cheaper on Ebay).
For outer layers, you can’t beat polarfleece for a warmth to weight ratio. I favour stretch fleece layers from Lands’ End – all winter I live in their stretch fleece pants, poloneck tops (bought in Tall to get them tunic length) and gilets. My sister has just invested in these too and is finding them a godsend. Wool layers are also good, but the weight quickly adds up and you don’t want to wear anything that discourages you from moving about. Don’t wear a skirt – it’s nowhere near warm enough, but if you absolutely have to, for work, for instance, fleece-lined tights (ordered direct from China on Ebay) are wonderfully warm and cost about £6.
For your feet, you want Uggs or Ugg-style boots, in real sheepskin if possible but if your budget won’t stand it, fake sheepskin will do. And big thick socks – I wear the Explorer from Corrymoor, made from pure mohair. You need socks that won’t make your feet sweat, so wool is the best bet here. In France you can also buy fleece-lined wellie socks that look like booties, which keep your feet as warm as toast. If you can’t stretch to wool socks, get acrylic winter socks, usually in a towelling-type fabric.
All of these clothes do require some investment but about the cost of a month’s heating bill is usually enough per year.
If need be, on top of these clothes, wear a warm coat with a fleece or quilted lining. Alternative options include a wool dressing gown (easily run up from a charity shop blanket if you can’t find an actual dressing gown), a fleece dressing gown (a dark colour will make you feel more dressed) or a wool kimono. I bought a bunch of wool kimonos this summer from Shinei and they cost peanuts – some of them were only $2 or $4 plus shipping. It does rather amuse me in winter that I often remove a layer such as a kimono in order to put on a layer such as a coat in order to go out – I’m not actually wearing fewer clothes indoors than out, just slightly different ones.
Keep your head covered. Indoors in winter, I wear knitted cloche hats or beanies. Even a knitted or stretchy hair band in velvet or velour, 1920s-style, helps keep your forehead warm, but there are reasons you see all women throughout history wearing caps and one of them is to stay warm. If your head gets cold in the night, you can also sleep in a beanie.
For sleepwear, fleece pyjamas are great. I got mine on Amazon. You can also sleep in your thermals if they’re ClimateControl, wool or silk.
If you can find a back warmer, these also help keep you really snug without adding too much bulk. They’re basically just a wide, knitted band that covers your kidneys. If you can’t find one and have a sweater that’s past it, cut it off under the arms and wear it in the same way, pulled down over your hips.
Fingerless gloves or wristwarmers are a big help. My hands get freezing in winter when typing but a little pair of knitted gloves I bought many years ago is still going strong, along with kid leather ones from a charity shop, whose fingertips I cut out. You can also layer your gloves up.
Wear a scarf or snood, especially if you’re not in a poloneck.
Tuck everything into everything else. I wear my thermal top over my longjohns, then my fleece top over my fleece pants and tuck the bottoms into my boots.
If your windows aren’t double-glazed, cover them with plastic sheet, which you can secure with double-sided tape and then tighten with a hairdryer. It obviously means you can’t open those windows all winter.
Stopper up cracks with Feb spray foam or silicone seal if possible, or papier maché made from torn paper and glue or paint.
Run Sellotape or duct tape down the hinge side of doors, and around all window frames. Add foam sealing strips to all doors, if possible.
Make sausage-dogs for the bases of doors. The most effective are stuffed with sand, but anything will do, from shredded newspaper to old sweaters.
Where you sit, cover the furniture with a fleece or wool blanket to retain your body warmth.
An electric blanket for the bed is a cheaper option than heating the room.
You can double-hang curtains, if the rod will stand it, by hanging a lining set from the spare eyes on the header tap. Alternatively, line them with blankets or old duvets – it makes your curtains pretty fat, but they do a better job of retaining the heat.
Keep curtains drawn unless it’s sunny outside and the external temperature is higher than 7 degrees centigrade.
Each morning, have as hot a shower or bath as you can bear, then get dressed immediately – this way, your body retains heat for hours. If you can’t afford to shower every day, bang up the electric blanket to maximum before you get out of bed, get yourself good and toasty and get dressed immediately – you can even pull your clothes into bed with you to warm them up too. When I was a child, we all used to lay out our clothes on the living room furniture overnight, as this was the only room that had a fire.
Eat something every three hours, or at least drink a hot drink. Oxo is worth its weight in gold at this time of year.
If you’re sitting or in bed, use a heated pad in the small of your back (I got mine from Lidl), or fill a hot water bottle as your own personal heater.
Snuggle under a blanket or slanket of an evening.
Move about as much as you can. Star jumps every hour are a good way to get your circulation going, if you’re able.
For cheap recipes, buy my book, Make Do and Cook, or visit Jack Monroe’s blog, A Girl Called Jack. Cheap foods you can keep in at all times include pasta, bread, lentils, chickpeas, baked beans, potatoes and tinned tomatoes. In winter, you can just about manage without a fridge, incidentally, as many of us grew up doing in the 60s. Just stand your milk, etc, in a large bowl of cold water, renewed daily. Back then, we all had large Tupperware bowls for this purpose, which looked like a half-barrel and had a dead-flat bottom. Today, something like a washing-up bowl does the trick.