Winter is coming. And here in the north, that means sub-freezing temperatures, central heating you can't control, very dry air, static shocks, and bad pollution. Whether you live in a freezing hutong apartment or an over-heated top floor high-rise, these tips will see you through all manner of tricky winter situations.
DIY a humidifier
The air in winter in Beijing is very, very dry, and this can wreak havoc on your skin and hair, increase static shocks, and make you itchy and irritable. Electric humidifiers are all well and good, but you can easily keep your home humid without buying an extra appliance: put a pot of water on the stove on a low simmer, or on top of the radiator. Keep it topped up with water, and add lemon peel, essential oils, or cinnamon sticks to keep your house smelling beautiful.
Seal air leaks
Here in Beijing, we have twice the motivation to keep our apartments draught-free in winter: air pollution, and cold air! If you’re not sure where a leak is coming in, light a candle and put it nearby. If the candle flickers, you’ve got a draft. While it might not look very chic, the cheapest, easiest way to seal cracks is with packing tape or duct tape from the store.
Step up your air-quality game
Winter generally ushers in the worst air quality of the year, so now is the time to buy new HEPA filters. Most need replacing at least every six months, or even more frequently in winter. I also recommend investing in a home monitoring device like the Lazer Egg or Air Visual Pro so you have an accurate picture of your air quality at home, which may not be as good as you think. If you're new to town, you can find a range of secondhand purifiers here. And don't be concerned about buying a used model: they work just as well as the new ones. The only thing that matters is the age of the HEPA filter, which you'll be replacing regularly anyway.
Stockpile immune-boosting ingredients
Lemon, ginger, and honey drinks really are an effective way to keep a cold at bay, but I never seem to have these ingredients fresh and on hand when I need them. Make your own starter kits that will last all season by filling up ice-cube trays with chopped ginger, a teaspoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice, a little honey, and filtered water. Pop them in the freezer, and whenever you feel the first hints of a cold, add them to a cup of boiling water for an instant boost.
Wear wool socks and gloves
Ok, so this isn't really an 'apartment' hack, but it's too good not to share. The lanolin that is naturally present in wool (羊毛yángmáo) will help to keep your hands and feet from drying out in the desiccated air. Search 羊毛袜 yángmáo wà for socks, or 羊毛手套 yángmáo shǒutào for gloves online.
Cuddle some rice
Some people swear by a hot-water bottle, but a hot rice pack is my favorite winter accessory. Never heard of it? It's just a fabric bag filled with dried rice, that can be heated up in the microwave. Rice packs retain heat for ages, and there is no risk of spilling boiling water on yourself. Make one yourself using this very simple DIY, or ask your local tailor or seamstress to do it for you. They’re also great for muscle aches, flu-like pains, and period cramps.
DIY double-glaze your windows
Thin, single-glazed windows are the worst. They let sound in and heat out. If upgrading to double-glazed windows isn’t in your budget, DIY it by covering your windows with plastic bubble wrap. The bubbles trap air and are an effective, low-cost insulator. Saran wrap provides a similar effect and looks slightly less post-apocalyptic.
Swap your cotton bed sheets for flannel
Flannel: it's not just for cowboys! The brushed surface of flannel sheets helps them to trap air and body heat, making them much warmer and snuggly, eliminating that chilled feeling you get when first sliding between cotton sheets. Search 绒布 róngbù online for flannel products, or alternatively just go for flannel PJs like the hutong yéyé you really are.
Let the light in
If any of the windows of your apartment face south, open up your curtains during the day to catch any solar heat. Thanks, Sun! It's also important to get plenty of sunshine during the winter months, as a lack of sunlight can lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which is characterized by feelings of depression and anxiety.
Leave the door open
The oven door, that is. If you have a full-sized oven or just a little toaster, use it with impunity (mmm... cookies) and leave the door open after you’re finished to let the heat into your apartment.
Drink hot water
I mean, you should be doing this anyway. But this TCM classic is especially useful in winter for keeping your internal body temperature high, and yourself nice and hydrated during this cold, dry season. You can read more TCM healthy tips to keep you cozy through winter, here.
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