First off, please note that title of this post is not “How to love winter in Minnesota.” It’s not “How to thrive in winter in Minnesota” or “How to triumph over winter in Minnesota.” It’s “How to survive winter in Minnesota.”
I’m in the midst of my fourth Minnesota winter. So far I have yet to do much of anything more than make it through to the other side of this harsh and enduring season alive. Many people are, of course, stronger and more well-adjusted than I. Plenty of Minnesotans love winter and look forward to this region’s defining season. They embrace it. I am not one of those people. Someday I hope and plan to figure out how to enjoy and flourish in Minnesota during the winter. When I do, I will tell you all about it. I promise.
But for now, here are some tips for staying alive in the North Star State during the 6 months of the year it is covered in snow.
First and most importantly, one must properly bundle up. Before moving to Minnesota I assumed that Hunter Boots or Uggs passed as winter footwear and that a cute pea coat could get me through the winter. It’s not that I had never lived through winter. I’ve known blustery Nebraska blizzards, endured damp-to-the-bone Chicago winters, and have experienced my fair share of New Jersey nor’easters. Winter in Minnesota is just on a whole other level.
When it comes to boots, you want something warm, waterproof, and sturdy. Sorel seems to be the Minnesotan’s brand of choice. I’ve had these since in 2012. I wear them every time I leave the house in the winter and they have not let me down.
For a coat, I recommend something down-filled that comes to at least down to your knees. A fur-trimmed hood isn’t just a fun accent – it keeps out snow and blocks the wind. It’s essential. All the cool kids in MSP seem to be wearing one of these. But for those of us who don’t feel like spending an entire month’s worth of rent on a jacket, something like this will do just fine.
In addition to boots and a coat, you’ll obviously need a warm hat (try one from here, if you want to be a hip, true Minnesotan), a scarf, gloves, maybe some long underwear, and wool socks. You’ll learn very quickly that bundling up and staying warm is important. Looking cute and being fashionable are secondary to function – i.e. not freezing your ass off.
I’m not very good at slowing down and doing nothing, and I suspect this one of the primary reasons winter in Minnesota has proved so persistently difficult for me.
In the 2015 World Happiness Report (yup, that’s a thing), the top eight countries ranked “most happy” are all in generally cold, nordic climates.
Ok. Ok. So “cold” does not necessarily equal “sad”. But why?
Many point to these countries’ cultural attitudes toward winter. In these places – like Norway, Switzerland and Denmark – winter is not something to be endured, it’s something to be enjoyed. And winter is enjoyed because it’s viewed as a time to slow down and cozy up.
The Norwegians have koselig. The Danes have hygge. However you translate it, it has to do with not fighting the cold – and accepting that life’s routines and expectations must be altered because of it.
For me, this idea of koselig or hygge means being OK with being lazy. It means Netflix bingeing and going down senseless internet rabbit holes. (Remind me to tell you about the time I got really into reading Mormon mommy blogs.) It means accepting that I’m not going to get as much done. And it means being OK that some days (like yesterday), I’m going to be in a shitty mood and will put off taking a shower after my run for most of the day.
Sometimes, during the earth’s coldest, darkest points in the year, your mind and body follow suit. Do something mindless and wait it out.
On a related note, I think we live in a amazing time for cold weather living. The sharing/streaming/on-demand economy is a perfect facilitator of coziness. Order dinner out, get your groceries delivered, take an Uber instead of walking, utilize Amazon Prime Now to its fullest extent. And don’t feel guilty about it.
Cozy up. Stay in. Chill out.
I married a Minnesotan who loves winter. He is a really wonderful person but a terrible source of empathy when I’m at my winter-hating/despairing worst. He struggles to understand why I don’t always think Minnesota and it’s beloved winter are THE BEST THINGS EVER. And I find that he is not alone.
Many Minnesota natives don’t seem to offer me space and the affirmation to express my frustrations about how much winter can suck here. Typical responses from Minnesotans to my negative comments about the weather include:
“I remember the Halloween Blizzard of 1991. The roads were coated with two inches of ice and we got 30 inches of snow and I went to work the next day!”
“Winters were so much worse when I was kid. This is nothing compared to how it used to be.”
And while those statements very well may be true, they don’t negate the fact that this winter, right now, is hard and cold and miserable.
And so, I suggest befriending non-native Minnesotans. Find someone who didn’t grow up here – someone who is just as miserable as you are – and have a bitch-fest. Name the suck. Sure, your complaining won’t do anything to change the weather, but it’s cathartic to say it out loud to someone who is just as miserable as you.
Suggested topics for complaint:
- The winter is too long. As I experienced during my first year here, winter can start in October and go into May.
- It’s really cold. Case in point: last year, Minneapolis Public Schools changed its outdoor recess policy. They increased the minimum temperature required to have indoor recess from -15° to -10°. That’s not improvement. That’s craziness. Lord, please be with those poor children.
- Winter is so persistently harsh. On average, the Twin Cities experiences 21 days per winter with below zero temperatures. During my second winter here, we had 52. I’m still recovering.
Now that I’ve addressed the virtues of doing nothing and being angry, I must admit that surviving winter in Minnesota also requires some constructive, proactive work. You can’t abandon all your routines – especially the ones that make you happy and help you feel like a normal, healthy human being. I’ve learned from experience that spending the whole winter as a lazy, cooped-up, unhealthy blob exacerbates winter’s crazy-making effects.
As hard as it can be, you have to workout and you should probably eat your vegetables every day. Feeling (at least halfway) good about yourself is a big step toward getting through the coldest months.
Get off the couch and make plans to meet up with friends. Have something to look forward to – a trip, a concert, dinner out. It doesn’t matter how big or small or cheap or expensive. The idea is that you are doing things simply for the sake of doing them. Which is sometimes all you can really ask of yourself in the depths of winter. And just maybe, in the act of doing things, you’ll discover that there is joy to be had in all this cold and darkness.
Do things that remind you, even if only at a subconscious or basic, physical level, that you are still human. You are alive. Even though everything outside is dead and covered in ice, you still have the choice to be and experience and do things well. And that matters.
Finally, be kind to yourself. Winter in Minnesota is hard. It feels at times like the whole frozen universe is conspiring to make everything in your life more miserable and complicated and cold. Everything – and I mean everything – takes more time, attention and work during the winter. Do yourself a favor and don’t make things worse by hating yourself.
I have lots of experience being my own biggest critic, harshest judge and cruelest messenger. And I can say, without a doubt, that self-hatred is a dead end.
You are OK. You are better than you realize. It’s alright if you don’t do it all and can’t be everything everyone wants you to be.
Start by speaking kindly to yourself. Tell yourself it’s OK. It’s OK that you feel shitty and that winter is hard.
It IS hard.
Tell yourself that it won’t last forever and that you’re doing a good job. Repeat.
Do little, simple things that make you feel good about yourself. Paint your fingernails. Go out to lunch. Dance. Watch 30 Rock.
Feeling good about yourself is important. Liking yourself is crucial. Do whatever it takes to be your own best friend.
Oh, winter. Ugh.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Everything changes. We’ve got this.
What are your best strategies for getting through a long, harsh winter? Tell me in the comments below.