After a summer of play, fall is our chance to prepare a house for the cold months ahead. There’s weatherstripping to check, patio furniture to store, gutters to clean. And yet there are always those smaller things that we forget until it’s the middle of a cold snap and we’re the grasshopper, wishing we had worked like ants when we could. Jill Nystul, who blogs about creative uses for everyday items at One Good Thing by Jillee, has been there. “I always ask myself, ‘I knew this was coming. . . . Why didn’t I prepare?’ ” she says.
Check out her wish-I-had-dones, with plenty of DIYs to save you money and time.
Prep a mudroom. Create a zone for dropping off wet boots and outerwear using boot trays, hooks and cubes. “The best way to keep your house clean is to keep the dirt out in the first place,” Nystul says. “Having a place for those shoes and boots to land will save you so much grief.”
Clean your oven. Your oven can stink up the house while it’s running a self-clean, so do it when you can leave the windows open.
Paint anything you want to paint. For the same reason as the oven cleaning, paint rooms now. “I really wanted to paint my front door last fall, but it was just a little too late,” says Nystul, who lives in Utah. “It was too cold to leave the door open.”
Put down extra rugs. “Designers will tell you to change everything, but it’s not really practical,” Nystul says. “But there are little things you can do, like put an extra rug on top of another rug.” For extra warmth and a change of style, “put down a different texture, or a complementary floral with stripes,” she says.
Add another layer of drapes. If you have cased windows, Nystul says, hang a tension rod and a second layer of drapes to help keep the warmth in. They don’t have to be expensive — she likes ones from Ikea. Plus, “it’s fun to add a little bit of texture and color during the winter months,” she says.
Freshen up the bedding. Air out down comforters in the fresh air and sunshine, especially if they’ve been zipped up in plastic casings and smell musty. And while your bed is bare, try one of Nystul’s formulas for cleaning a mattress. Mix a couple of drops of essential oils with one cup of baking soda, shake it up, sift it onto the mattress, let it sit for an hour or more so that it draws out dirt and moisture, and then vacuum it up. When you want to freshen up again midwinter, try making and using your own lavender linen spray.
Rotate your garage. Just as you switch out your wardrobe, switch out your garage tools and toys. Move the lawn mower and weeder to the back, and bring out the things you need, such as the snow shovel, snowblower and sleds. And put de-icers front and center. “You’ll thank yourself the first time the ice hits if you set out the salt or gravel now,” Nystul says.
Stock your car. Put your shovel or brush into your car, along with whatever emergency supplies you like to keep.
Ward off pests. “When the weather starts getting cold, the little critters start trying to come in,” Nystul says. “It doesn’t matter if you have a new home or an older home; it just happens.” Spray the perimeter of your house for bugs and spiders. Set out mousetraps.
Batten down the hatches. Store outdoor heaters and patio furniture — or protect them with covers if you can’t move them inside. Clean the grill. Clean out the kids’ sand table. “Make sure everything is covered and weighted down,” she says.
Tend to the plant pots. “One thing I always forget about is my clay pots,” Nystul says. “I’ll take the dead flowers out, but then I’ll just leave the pots out there. If you don’t completely empty them, they’ll crack.” If you live in a warmer climate, you might be able to clean them out, turn them upside down and stack them outside. Otherwise, take them inside to prevent cracking.
Plant for spring. “I’m always so mad in the spring that I didn’t plant any perennial bulbs,” she says. “I see everyone’s tulips or daffodils coming out, and wish I had done it.” This is also the time to plant trees and other hardy plants before the ground freezes, and to feed the lawn with a fertilizer formulated for fall application.
Prep your windows. If you have storm windows, swap out your screens. “Taking down your screens will let a lot more light in in the winter,” she says. “You don’t need them, and you might as well have that nice view, that light.” While you’re at it, clean the exteriors of the windows. If you wash them now, they will most likely stay clean until the first spring storm.
Lay out draft snakes. Nystul has a good DIY for making your own draft snakes to lay across leaky doors or windows. She takes a tube sock and stuffs it full of batting. (Tip: Start saving batting from any pillows you’re about to toss.) She adds corn kernels or dried beans or peas, then ties or sews the sock closed at the open end. Put two or three socks together if needed.
Stock up on nonperishables. Look up recipes on Pinterest that you can make with pantry staples and make sure you have enough on hand for days when you are sick or it’s too cold to go to the store. Five-can chili is perfect for this purpose.
Make your own hot-chocolate mix. Don’t forget to prepare for the blessings of winter, too — what the Danish call “hygge,” or the spirit of being cozy with your loved ones. Nystul likes to make her own hot-chocolate mix with 4 cups of powdered milk, a 21.8-ounce box of Nestle Nesquik, 16 ounces of powdered coffee creamer and 1 cup of powdered sugar. When you’re itching for warmth, heat a mug of water or milk in the microwave and then add 3 to 5 tablespoons of the mix.