How to make the most of being cooped up this winter
Mainers are pros at finding ways to beat the winter slump. We’re willing to go outside in just about any weather conditions to feel the sun and breathe the air. But even the heartiest among us can only last so long in sub-zero temperatures, ice storms and muddy mid-winter thaws. For those days when going outside truly feels like a matter of life and death—or at least misery and comfort—here are two house tasks perfectly suited for the coldest winter months.
Before I spoke to Joe Walsh, owner of Green Clean Maine, I was gearing up to run a self-cleaning oven cycle. That would warm up the kitchen, right? Not so fast, Walsh says. “When the oven operates at that high of a temperature, the burning actually emits some pretty nasty chemicals.” They’re just a byproduct of the caked-on stuff in the oven, Walsh explains, but still not something you want to be breathing in.
Instead Walsh recommends a thorough scrubbing of the refrigerator and freezer. “It should take about an hour total,” Walsh says. “It’s also a great time to sort and toss food.” Like that those shriveled up dill fronds that lived and died in the back of the veggie drawer. Guilty.
FRIDGE DEEP CLEAN
> CLEAR space on your counter for the contents of the fridge.
> SET the fridge temperature to the warmest setting or the off position, depending on your fridge model. Don’t unplug (that wastes electricity).
> EMPTY, working from top to bottom, setting items on the counter in the order you take them out.
> REMOVE all baskets, bins and shelving, but carefully because these parts can be expensive to replace. “If you don’t remove everything, you’re not going to get a deep clean,” Walsh explains.
> PRE-TREAT by spaying surfaces with all-purpose cleaner and let it soak for a few minutes. Soaking is critical for loosening up the gunked-on stuff. The folks at Green Clean make their own spray, just a bottle filled with water and a few drops of liquid dish detergent. “That’s all it takes,” Walsh says.
> USE a light duty scrubbing pad to clean the inside.
Pro tip from Walsh: do not use the rough green side of the ubiquitous yellow sponge, which will scratch the interior. “Many people aren’t aware that these [sponge] colors have meaning,” Walsh says. “White is the lightest duty, blue is medium and green is heavy duty.” White can be hard to find, but blue is commonly available and works fine here.
> FOLLOW with a microfiber or cotton cloth to wipe everything out. For nooks and crannies like hinges and gasket, use an old toothbrush.
> THEN SCRUB shelves, bins and drawers in the sink. For stubborn, sticky spots like old maple syrup, sprinkle baking soda on the area while it’s wet to make a paste and let it sit. It will come off with the light scrubber. Then rinse, dry with a cloth and reinstall in the fridge.
> FOR THE FREEZER, you have to let things warm up a bit so your cleaning liquid doesn’t freeze on contact. Fifteen minutes with the door open and the cooling element turned off or up is enough. February is a great time to utilize your massive natural freezer, aka the outdoors, to keep food from thawing.
> RE-ADJUST temperatures and restock the shelves.
Now that your fridge is sparkling and your condiments are alphabetized, it’s time to keep the organization train rolling along and tackle another great winter project: photo sorting. Emilie Sommer of emilie inc. is a wedding and lifestyle photographer and a committed photo organizer. Her method (detailed at emilieinc.com/organize) is not intended as a Weekend Warrior undertaking. “Starting a photo system at the beginning of the year and tackling one step per month sets you up to stick with it all year long,” Sommer says.
> FIND YOUR PHOTOS. Easy, right? Probably not. Sommer’s is talking about old printed photographs, memory cards from digital cameras, USB drives, CDs and DVDs. Locate and collect physical photos and files in a box.
> SORT THEM INTO THREE PILES.
- Display, ie, what you want to frame.
- Archive, what’s either headed for album or archival box.
- Recycle, which means you’re either sending that great photo of Aunt Marge to her or tossing that picture of you with double chins. Keep going until you’ve got just two piles left.
> INTAKE. Transfer all external digital images to your computer, creating folders on your desktop labeled by year and move photos into place while renaming them sequentially. For example 2015_001, 2015_002, etc. Apps like Photo Mechanic will do this or you can do it manually. Delete any images you don’t want. No disc drive? Check stores like Staples, which can download and send you a file.
> MAKE SURE YOU’RE NOT MISSING ANYTHING. Survey social media. Cute pictures out there on Instagram or Facebook? Both platforms allow you to download copies of your images to your computer. In Facebook, look for Your Facebook Information in Settings, then click Download Your Information. In Instagram click the settings gear icon, select d Security, scroll down to Data Download. Follow the prompts to receive an email with all your images, ready to be sorted into your existing desktop folders.
> BACK IT UP. Back files up on an external hard drive dedicated to your photos (a LaCie drive starts around $120) or on a virtual cloud (Apple, Google, Dropbox, etc.)
> LIVE WITH THE IMAGES YOU’RE THINKING YOU WANT TO DISPLAY. Print out favorites and tape them up. Don’t worry about quality, just print as many as you want. Give in a month to notice which images you want to keep looking at.
> NOW ORDER PRINTS FOR PERMANENT DISPLAY. There are plenty of online options to do this, but look locally for a shop that will talk directly about image resolution and retouching. You might think about ordering personalized photo books or calendars or coffee mugs with images on them. Spread the imagery around your home. Now that you’ve established your system, keep it up by sorting new images into the appropriate folders.
This project could easily take you all the way to summer. “I purposely let all my indoor projects pile up for winter so I don’t feel like I’m missing the summer in Maine that we wait all year for!” Sommer says.
Sarah Holman is a writer living in Portland. She is enthusiastic about cheese plates, thrift shop treasures and old houses in need of saving. Find her online at storiesandsidebars.com.