Do The Hygge Hustle

Winter prep should get the same kind of PR spring cleaning does, says Tanya Meeson

Woman&Home SA, May 2021

Sweating in a makeshift Hazmat suit of old clothes and swimming goggles, Doom in one hand, vacuum cleaner in the other, wasn’t what I’d wanted to be doing on a sweltering Saturday morning.

But there I was in basement, surveying the enemy camp: spider webs dangled in dusty balls and hung suspended in wide sheets from the wooden beams overhead, spiderwebs covered the walls. In the far corner, some rat poop.

Nope. Sweating and spiders and rat poop wasn’t what I’d wanted, but it was what I was ready for. There was no other option. Winter was coming and I needed to reclaim the occupied territory for storing firewood.

I pulled my mask over my nose and switched on the vacuum.

Three hours and a black bag of dust and arachnid matter later, I was broken but ready to run around our small lawn howling into the clear, blue sky ‘LET THE RAIN COME DOWN THE COLD NEVER BOTHERED ME ANYWAY!’ like some mad, middle-aged Princess Elsa.

Our new home has turned me into something of wild winter prepper.

Last year, if you’d asked me what this entailed, I’d have said something about hauling out the brushed cotton sheets, updating the UberEats app and buying 20 pairs of tights. The end. We were living in a small apartment in the CBD, so what else was there to do? And, anyway, the real business of winter prepping was only applicable to the snowy North, right? What with rock salt and windshield ice scrapers and snow shovels and all that.

Not so, it turns out. Even here in the sunny South, gutters need to be cleared, chimneys cleaned, broken roof tiles replaced, gardens checked for flooding zones, gas heaters refilled…

After I’d finished with the basement I lay on the grass, baking under the late summer sun, wondering why all of this was news to me. Why was it that, even as an apartment-dweller, I knew all about spring cleaning as an annual event, but nothing about winter prepping?

Why is it that spring cleaning gets all the PR and cultural significance of a new dawn, but winter gets nothing but a groan or a happy nod to carbo-loading? It’s not like we suffer the eternal night the way folks in the north might, so why don’t we celebrate the coming of the cool days as readily as we do the warm ones?

Where’s the razzle dazzle branding? The Autumn Hygge Hustle? The Great Cosy Construction? The New Nesting?

I flicked a speck of grit from my arm and grimaced. The nuclear fusion ball in the sky was forcing me to take cover in the shade of a tree.

That winter gets such a bad rap here in the south feels unfair to the season. Maybe it’s because cold traditionally signals a turning inwards, a slowing down, a retreat from the elements that becomes a retreat from our normal social interactions – a special horror for South Africans since so much of our socialising happens outdoors. But, even so, it’s not like winter here forces everyone indoors or underground for six months of the year. A little rain never stopped a braai as far as I know.

I often wonder if the obsession with the sunny day is a colonial hand-me-down from the Brits, so often starved for sunlight. In 2017, when Cape Town was experiencing a severe drought and a new fire raged every other day, local DJs would still rabbit on about ‘a lekker sunny day’ in the middle of winter. Winter. When it should be raining to bring the water we so desperately needed.

No, I thought, fanning myself uselessly in 32-degree hellfire, there’s a lot to celebrate about winter. Some coolth. Some rain. Some extra dark for snoozing. It deserves some fanfare.

If spring cleaning is a renewal ritual to invigorate our homes and minds, let winter preparations be a gentle centering ritual, bringing ourselves towards ourselves while we honour the spaces we occupy with acts of care and attention, whether it’s fixing the awning over the fire pit or airing out the winter woollies. Whatever we do, let’s mark the winter preparation process with as much enthusiasm as we do spring cleaning. Life’s rhythm deserves that recognition at least.

I tried lying outside a little longer, but there was no use fighting the blaze anymore. I retreated indoors and ordered some firewood.

It’s a month or so on from that day I reclaimed the basement. It’s now stocked with dry wood and red wine. The gutters have been cleared and the chimney cleaned. Just in time, really. There’s some rain forecast for tonight and we’ll be testing out the fireplace.

Sure, winter is still coming. But either way, we’re prepped for it.  

This column was first published in Woman&Home SA.