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15 Tips for Staying Comfortable in the Cold

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Heart shaped cactus pad with snow along the top edge
Winter love from the desert

Winter is here and folks need to stay warm whether they’re living in a tent, a van or other vehicle, a motorhome, a travel trailer, or a poorly insulated conventional home. Last week I told you how a hot water bottle tucked under the covers can help keep you warm on a cold winter night. Today I’ll give you fifteen more tips for staying warm and comfy when the temperature drops.

Thanks to Laura-Marie of dangerous compassions blog for asking me to write about staying at a comfortable temperature.

#1 Wear enough clothes.When we were kids, if my sibling or I complained about being cold, our dad would immediately look us over to see how we were dressed. If we were wearing short pants or a short-sleeved t-shirt, he’d send us to put on appropriate clothes before he’d consider turning up the heat. (Dad was also fond of saying, What you gonna do when winter gets here? meaning it wasn’t even cold yet, so we shouldn’t be complaining. As a smartass teenager, I took to answering this question with one word: Freeze.)

Some mornings when The Man gets out of bed before I do, I hear him in the living room complaining about how cold he is. Often when I peer out of the bedroom, I see he’s wearing a sweatshirt (good job!) and shorts. Put some pants on, I mumble from my warm nest under the covers.

In any case, if you’re cold, follow my father’s directive and try putting on adequate clothing. Wearing a sweater or a jacket can really help keep you comfortable when it’s cold. And for goodness sake, if you’re chilly, be sure you’re wearing pants!

#2 Wear warm socks.When I moved to the Midwest from the Deep South, a friend who’d lived in Minneapolis for decades advised me to invest in warm socks. Good advice! Keeping your toes warm will definitely help keep you comfortable during a chilly day or night.

Styrofoam head mannequin wears a bright, handmade hat
My old friend Esmerelda knows wearing a hat will help keep your whole self warm.

#3 Wear a hat too.  You may have heard people say you lose 50% of your body heat through your head and wearing a hat keeps that heat in. The Live Science website reports

At most, according to a 2008 report in BMJ, a person loses 7 percent to 10 percent of their body heat through their head…

but I feel a lot warmer when I’m wearing a hat. Hat hair be damned! I wear a snug hat on cold days and on cold nights as well so I can conserve as much of my body heat as possible.

#4 Keep your ears warm. Cold ears are unhappy ears, as far as I’m concerned. Ears exposed to frigid winter air are also susceptible to frostbite, so I keep my ears covered. I like to keep my ears warm even when I’m sleeping. If my ears get cold while I’m asleep, I tend to bring my shoulders way up, as if I could bring them up high enough to shield my ears from the chilly air. Having my shoulders in this unnatural position at night can lead to a daytime ache between my shoulder blades. I like to wear a hat I can pull down over my ears, but you can achieve the same results by wearing earmuffs, ear pops, or a scarf wrapped around your head.

#5 Dress in layers. I hate hate hate dressing warmly enough for the outside weather only to go inside (a store, the library, the laundromat) and find the heater is turned up too high for my comfort. Dressing in layers is the best way to deal with the difference between the outside and inside temps. Simply putting a t-shirt or tank top under your sweater means you can peel off a layer without exposing a socially unacceptable amount of skin.

#6 Throw a blanket over your lap when you’re sitting around during the day. A lap blanket can help hold in your body heat and keep you cozy whether you’re reading, talking on your phone, or doing crossword puzzles. If you have access to electricity, consider using an electric blanket to keep you toasty warm while sitting still. According to the How Stuff Works article “How Much Does It Cost to Run an Electric Blanket?

An electric blanket might consume 200 watts (depending on the setting). So if you leave it on for 10 hours, it consumes 2 kilowatt-hours. That would cost between 15 and 30 cents, depending on your location.

Dog lying on its back is in the center of photo. On the right side a blanket is wrapped around a person's lower torso. A laptop is on the right side of the photo. The screen says "working on blog posts."
I was working on blog posts one cold day, and the whole family crawled into bed with me so we could share body heat.

#7 Share body heat. Whether it’s day or night, if you have an pet or human companion, consider cuddling to maximize body heat. Invite your cat or dog to sit on your lap or your best friend or sweetheart to sit close and share a blanket with you. Personally, if I’m under a down comforter with The Man and the dog, I usually get too hot and have to throw the covers off so I can cool down.

#8 If you feel cold, eat or drink something hot to warm you up from the inside out. Drinking hot cocoa, coffee, or hot tea should warm you right up. If you are avoiding calories, sugar, or caffeine but still crave flavor, drink herbal tea or add a slice or lemon or lime to hot water. If you make a big batch of your hot beverage of choice, you can store it in an insulated bottle for sipping throughout the day or night.

Do I even have to mention the warming benefits of hot soup? You already know the benefits of hot soup, right? Actually, any hot food should help you feel warmer, but there is something special about hot soup on a cold day.

#9 Get active. If the weather outside is frightful, you might be tempted to sit around indoors all day. If you’re cold even inside, try moving around a bit if possible. Do some stretches. Jog in place or do jumping jacks if you have room. Maybe you can even bundle up and brave the elements for some outdoor activities. When I lived in the Midwest, I sometimes went out walking in 16 degree weather so I could experience a change of scenery and get some exercise. After a brisk walk, my blood was pumping and I was warm, and as an added bonus, the indoors felt toastier when I came in from the cold.

#10 Hang out somewhere warm. If it’s too cold where you live, spend a few hours at a library, coffee shop, movie theater, or even the mall. For a few bucks (or maybe no cost at all), you can take advantage of the warmth already being cranked out by someone else’s heater.

Saguaro cactus with many arms stands in front of jagged mountains
The warmth of the desert beckons you.

If you’re living nomadically and you can swing it, go to a warmer climate. Both the Sonoran and Chijuajuan deserts tend to stay warm in the winter. If you want to be even warmer, stay in Mexico until spring. (For tips on living in the desert, read my post “10 Tips for Surviving and Thriving in the Desert.”)

#12 When you go to bed at night, cover yourself with good blankets. Down blankets are super warm. I haven’t been cold at night since I scored a down comforter at a Goodwill Clearance Center. If you don’t have a down comforter (or don’t believe it’s right to use animal products), consider sleeping inside a sleeping bag. I spent quite possibly the coldest night of my vanlife on public land outside of Mt. Shasta, CA. I’d spread my sleeping bad out like a blanket, and thought I was going to freeze to death. (I didn’t really think I was in danger of death, but dang. I was uncomfortable that night.) The next evening I zipped the bag on all three sides, crawled inside, and spent a warm and comfortable night in the same spot. Sleeping in the cocoon of the sleeping bag keeps you inside a bubble of your own nice, warm body heat. 

Person seen in bed from the waist down wearing leggings and socks.
That’s me wearing leggings and a thermal shirt to bed because nighttime temperatures on the mountain were dropping.

#13 Sleep with clothes on. It’s a persistent myth among some overnight outdoor enthusiasts that sleeping nude within a sleeping bag will keep a person warmer than sleeping in the bag while wearing clothes. However, this myth was busted by several hiking and backpacking websites. The Columbia blog , Section Hiker, Backpacker and Outside all say wearing clothes to bed is a good idea. As the Columbia article “Is Sleeping Naked Really Warmer?” explains,

[t]he more layers of air you can create around your body, the warmer you’ll be. So wearing clothes inside of your sleeping bag will help you stay warm.

#11 Change your clothes before bed. When you’re all snuggly warm in the garments you’ve worn all day, changing clothes may not seem appealing, especially if your living space is cold. However, even if it’s imperceivable to you, the clothes you’ve been wearing are a little damp from your sweat. The dampness of your clothes is going to make you cold while you’re sleeping, so put on clothes that are warm and dry. At the very least, change your socks.

The Section Hiker article “Is It Warmer to Sleep Naked in a Sleeping Bag?” lists some times when wearing clothes in a sleeping bag will not keep a person warmer. One such time is when

[y]ou wear wet clothing which compromises the insulation in your sleeping bag as the heat of your body dries it. The moisture in your clothes doesn’t just disappear: it gets trapped by the sleeping bag’s insulation which degrades its effectiveness…

The best practice is to wear a dry base layer (top, bottom, socks, and hat) in your sleeping bag at night…to keep you warmer in cooler weather. These should be loose-fitting to prevent your hands or feet from getting cold due to loss of circulation and to help trap warmer air near the surface of your skin.

Bear box and evergreen trees are dusted with snow. Ground is covered with snow.

#14 Pee if you have to pee. We all know it’s a pain to leave a warm spot (in bed or on the couch) to go to the restroom, especially if the restroom is cold and we have to remove a significant portion of our clothing to do what has to be done. It’s even worse if we have to move in the dark and/or go outside to get to where we need to go to relieve ourselves.

I once read in a guide to winter camping (something like the Backpacker website’s article “15 Cold-Weather Camping Tips to Keep You Warm While You Sleep“) that people tend to feel colder if they try to hold their urine instead of leaving the tent (or bed) in order to pee. It would be a bad deal if the urine in your bladder froze because your body was working to keep the rest of you warm. To avoid such a situation, your body works hard (and burns calories) to keep the urine inside of you warm. Get rid of the urine, and your body can use its resources to keep the rest of your comfortable.

#15 Keep your kidneys warm. A friend once told me about keeping my kidneys warm to keep the rest of me warm when we were camping out. She maintained that if one’s kidneys get cold, all the blood passing through the kidneys gets cold too. When the cold blood flows through the body, it makes the entire body cold. Her solution was to wrap something warm (a blanket or a scarf, perhaps) around the area of her kidneys. (While researching this post, I found out a product–the Haramaki–exists especially for this purpose). My friend also recommended using a sleeping pad under a sleeping bag for added warmth. I think this tip would be especially important for people sleeping on the cold ground or the cold floor of a van.

Roof of green yurt and path to door covered in snow

So there you go—15 tips for staying comfortable when the weather is cold. What do you do to stay warm in the winter? Please leave your tips in the comments section below.

If you’re interested in winter camping, read Danny Smith’s guest post “A Guide to Winter Camping: Stay Warm, Have Fun” first published on February 2019. You can also read my post “Staying Warm” which was written during my first days as a camp host in the mountains.

Please remember that Blaize Sun is not responsible for your safety and well-being. Only you are responsible for your safety and well-being. If you are in a dangerously cold situation, move to a warmer location. Ask for help if you need to. Frostbite and hypothermia are no jokes, friends.

I took the photos in this post.

Buy Nothing Day and Gifts That Don’t Involve Capitalism

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This Friday is not only Black Friday. It’s also Buy Nothing Day. Buy Nothing Day? you may be wondering. What does that mean?

According to the article “The Quirky, Anti-Consumerist History of Buy Nothing Day” by Nina Renata Aron,

Buy Nothing Day is an international day of anti-consumerist protest.

The day — which now also goes by the name Occupy Xmas — was founded by Ted Dave, a Canadian artist in 1992, but it gained traction through the 90s after activist magazine Adbusters…began to promote it.

Buy Nothing Day, on which participants are urged to buy literally nothing…is now observed in over 64 countries.

Photo by Anna Utochkina on Unsplash

Some folks use Buy Nothing Day as a time to reflect on the buying frenzy large portions of Western society participate in during the weeks leading up to Christmas. It’s not a coincidence that Buy Nothing Day coincides with Black Friday, the “official” start of the Christmas shopping season.

(You can read my reflections on Christmas spending in the post I shared last Christmas Eve, “You Gotta Pay Santa Claus.”)

Earlier this year I read a zine by my friend Laura-Marie River Victor Peace. Laura-Marie creates zines (you can find more information about her self-published writing on Facebook) and blogs at dangerous compassions. The zine that I read that made me think of Buy Nothing Day is called Resisting Capitalism for Fun. In the introduction, Laura-Marie writes,

this zine is about some anarchist stuff-resisting capitalism, community, gardens, environmentalism, not buying things.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Why would I want to resist capitalism? you might wonder. Isn’t capitalism better than socialism or (gulp) communism? Isn’t capitalism about freedom of choice?

First of all, it might help to know the definition of “capitalism.” According to Webster’s New World College Dictionary, capitalism is

an economic system in which all or most of the means of production and distribution, as land, factories, communications, and transportation systems, are privately owned and operated in a relatively competitive environment through the investment of capital to produce profits: it has been characterized by a tendency toward the concentration of wealth, the growth of large corporations, etc. that has led to economic inequality, which has been dealt with usually by increased government action and control

As to why we might want to resist capitalism, I read a great summary of the system’s problems in a Teen Vogue article called “What ‘Capitalism’ Is and How It Affects People” by Kim Kelly.

Individual capitalists are typically wealthy people who have a large amount of capital (money or other financial assets) invested in business, and who benefit from the system of capitalism by making increased profits and thereby adding to their wealth.

The kind of impact that capitalism has on your life depends on whether you’re a worker or a boss. For someone who owns a company and employs other workers, capitalism may make sense: The more profits your company brings in, the more resources you have to share with your workers, which theoretically improves everyone’s standard of living. It’s all based on the principle of supply and demand, and in capitalism, consumption is king. The problem is that many capitalist bosses aren’t great at sharing the wealth, which is why one of the major critiques of capitalism is that it is a huge driver of inequality, both social and economic.

(If you can’t imagine why in the world Teen Vogue is weighing in on the pros and cons of economic systems, read the op-ed piece–“How I Can Critique Capitalism — Even On an iPhone“– Lucy Diavolo wrote for the teen fashion magazine.)

Photo by Leone Venter on Unsplash

Whether you love capitalism or hate it (or feel something in between or even apathetic), you might want to step away from the shopping frenzy at malls and big box stores this holiday season. Maybe you want to save money by making gifts to give to your loved ones. Perhaps you want to keep your religious beliefs or family traditions instead of material objects at the forefront of your holiday celebrations. Your friends and family members might not need more objects to clutter their homes, and you want to give gifts that don’t take up space and never need to be dusted. Perhaps you have chosen to support artists, writers, and craftspeople this year. Whatever your reason for wanting to take a break from capitalism, I’ll share with you where to shop, what to create, and from whom to buy so you can make your holiday season a little less corporate.

Where to Shop

By shopping at thrift stores, you’ll keep items out of the landfill and possibly help support a good cause. Look for stores that benefit domestic violence survivors, animal shelters, and drug rehab programs. In addition to presents, pick up wrapping paper, ribbons, bows, and gift tags.

Shop yard sales, garage sales, and fundraiser rummage sales. It might be too late to use this tip for this holiday season, but in the future, keep your eye out for gifts and other holiday necessities.

Search your local Facebook buy and sell groups as well as good ol’ Craigslist for gently used items that might be perfect for someone in your life. You’ll pay less than retail and help someone in your community finance their own holiday celebration.

Keep an eye on your local FreeCycle group to see if anything people are giving away fit your holiday needs.

Consignment shops tend to sell higher-end items, so check out the merchandise at your local ones when buying for friends and relatives who are perhaps a bit particular.

Do your shopping at community craft fairs, farmers markets, artist co-ops, and other places where you can purchase items directly from the people who create or grow them.

If you’re lucky enough to attend a zine fair, buy zines for the readers on your list. If you can’t attend a zine fair, look online for zine distros like the one Laura-Marie has for her zines. You can also take a look at list of zine distributors from Broken Pencil Magazine.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

You can use your points on BookMooch to get books to give to your readers. If you want to give only books in excellent condition, pay close attention to the condition notes. Alternatively, shop at locally owned used book stores. Consider looking for the childhood favorites of the adults on your list.

If you can’t find the right gift locally, shop at online stores that sell handmade products such as Etsy, Absolute Arts, Artfire, Articents, Hyena Cart, and Shop Handmade. Shopping on these sites will let you buy from creators and small business owners who will certainly appreciate your support.

Shop at museum stores. True, you probably won’t save a lot of money with this tip, but you will get high quality items for giving, and you will support the arts with the dollars you spend.

What to Give

If you can sew, make reusable tote bags. You can find lots of ideas on the All Free Sewing website. If you don’t have sewing skills, buy reusable bags at thrift stores and decorate with iron-on patches.

Sew neck coolers with water-activated beads in them. These items will help folks stay cool in the summer. Instructables offers simple instructions.

Photo by John Doyle on Unsplash

Make Christmas tree ornaments for family and friends who decorate a holiday tree. You can get more than 60 ideas for do-it-yourself ornaments from Good Housekeeping.

Make draft stoppers (also known as draft dodgers, door pillows, draft blockers, etc.) to stop cold air from coming in at the bottom of doors. You can get 20 draft stopper ideas on the Good Stuff website.

Make cards or bookmarks decorated with pressed flowers. (Better Homes & Gardens will tell you how.) Use flowers you grew yourself or those picked on private land. You can also ask a florist for discarded flowers or check the dumpster behind the shop.

Make melt and pour soap for everyone on your shopping list. If you have more time and energy, make soap the old fashioned way. The Spruce Crafts will tell you how.

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

Use yarn purchased at thrift stores and/or garage sales to knit or crochet hats, scarves, mittens, socks, or blankets.

If you have one of those small looms, make potholders for everyone you know.

Recycle old candles bought at thrift stores and garage sales or collected from FreeCycle into gift-worthy items. Get the candle holders for free or cheap too. Add flowers, seashells, stones or other small decorative items to the candles.

Use hemp to macrame necklaces, key rings, and bracelets. The Spruce Crafts will teach you the seven basic knots you’ll need to know. Buy supplies from a local small business or from an independently owned company like Hemp Beadery.

Compile recipes (especially favorite family recipes) in cute notebooks or on recipe cards.

Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash

Homemade treats are usually a hit and less expensive than buying mass-produced yummies, especially if you shop sales. In addition to baking cookies, try puppy chow (aka muddy buddies) snack mix, Christmas crack, buckeyes, Chex mix, popcorn balls, Rice Krispies® treats, fudge, chocolate covered pretzels, haystacks, no-bake cookies, and rosemary thyme spiced nuts. You can also give homemade pickles, preserves, jams, jellies, and canned fruits and veggies. If you don’t like to cook, buy yummy gifts directly from the makers or give friends and family honey bought directly from a local beekeeper.

If you’re a gardener, grow loofahs or gourds that can be turned into birdhouses. If you grow houseplants, propagate new plants from cuttings. Repot the new plants in pots and jars you get from thrift shops or FreeCycle and give them as gifts.

For the kids in your life, make sculpting dough, sidewalk chalk, bubble solution, rainbow crayons, moon sand, wooden blocks, and/or bean bags.

Most grandparents love photos of their grandkids. Assemble photo albums with pictures of the kiddos and some of their artwork as well. Use goofy candid shots as well as serious, posed scenes. This gift could also work for great-grandparents, godparents, doting aunts and uncles, and a parent who is often away from home for work.

Photo by Lesly Juarez on Unsplash

If you’re a visual artist, give your art as gifts. Turn artwork into notecards, postcards, or bookmarks or give original pieces.

If you have nice handwriting, write inspirational words on cardstock or pretty paper.

Give a membership or passes for a special excursion to a museum, science center, animal park, or botanical garden. A season pass for a family of four may be less expensive than four individual gifts, the family can enjoy good times all year, and there’s no stuff to clutter the house.

Give an annual America the Beautiful Pass to an individual or family that likes to visit federal recreation areas (national parks, forest, monuments, etc.). A lifetime Senior Pass is also available.

Write letters to everyone on your gift list. Tell the recipients everything you admire about them or recount a fun or special experience you shared.

Create handmade books from scavenged or leftover materials.

Writers and students can always use notebooks. Buy spiral notebooks or composition books at thrift stores or during back-to-school sales. Update the covers using contact paper, stickers, chalkboard paint or chalkboard contact paper, or heavy craft paper and spray adhesive. Sometimes you can find brand new blank journals at thrift stores too.

Make coupon books redeemable for your services (such as a night of babysitting, doing the dishes, washing the car, giving a foot or back rub, scrubbing the bathroom, mowing the lawn, cooking dinner, taking down the Christmas tree, vacuuming the living room, raking leaves, doing the laundry, etc.). The Spruce Crafts collected 15 sets of free printable love coupons to help with the project.

Give certificates promising to teach a skill (such as how to bake a cake or bread, how to change the oil in a car, how to sew on a button, how to build a fence, etc.).

Of course, even do-it-yourself projects require materials. It you’re trying to avoid capitalism this holiday season, don’t rush out to buy new supplies. Do an inventory of what you have on hand. Perhaps old supplies can be used for new projects. If you must buy materials, shop at thrift stores first. You might be able to get what you need via FreeCycle or you could trade supplies with a crafty friend. If you must purchase new materials, try to buy local, from small businesses.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Hopefully you’ll be able to use the ideas in this post to remove at least some of the capitalism from your holiday season. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Las Posadas, Solstice, Hanukkah, Festivus, or Kwanzaa, you’ll be able to give meaningful gifts that won’t line the pockets of the already rich.

I realize the first part of this post focuses mostly on Christmas. I understand that other holidays are also celebrated during the winter season. However, Hanukkah, Las Posadas, Solstice, Festivus, and Kwanzaa are not known for their contributions to rampant consumerism. Also, the gifts mentioned in this post (with the exception of Christmas tree ornaments) are suitable for all gift-giving occasions.

I have not tried any of the projects to which I have linked in this post, so I cannot vouch for instructions given. The links are simply starting points for your own research. I hope they help. Also, I have not and will not receive any compensation for linking to other websites in this post.