Spending a cold, dark season in a cramped apartment has all the makings of a horror movie. Each day your room feels a little smaller, and what’s that clanking noise you hear every night? And then the obvious twist: There’s no poltergeist, psychotic neighbor, or zombie. It’s all in your head.
Except this isn’t Hollywood. It’s the reality of living in a tiny apartment during the winter. If you feel sluggish, irritated, claustrophobic, or edgy, you’re not going crazy, but you are experiencing cabin fever. To combat this normal psychological response and survive winter, you need to optimize the space in your small apartment. These eight tips will help:
1. Move your bed.
Throughout the year, your furniture should be arranged in a way that maximizes your apartment’s natural light, but you can make some exceptions in the winter. Because the days are so short, try to be as close to sunlight as possible, as early as possible. Moving your bed nearer to the window will make the whole day (and winter) feel brighter.
Rearranging your furniture will also stimulate your mind, creating the perception of a new space. This is essential when you spend less time outdoors. Even small adjustments can make you feel less cooped up.
2. Invest in foliage.
The grays and browns of winter trees are bleak. They contribute to the depressiveness of cabin fever. When everything beyond your windows is dead or dormant, you can bring life into your small apartment with houseplants.
Most indoor foliage remains green and vibrant even when it’s snowing outside, and many plants are well suited for a small space. The color and energy of a living plant can invigorate you and your apartment, all the while filtering the air of toxins.
You should also consider buying orchids or flowers, which increase your happiness. Even a single stem in a jar can have a pleasant psychological effect, but be sure to toss them as soon as they begin to wilt.
3. Leave your apartment.
We know. After five weekdays of commuting in the snow or sleet, you don’t want to go anywhere on Saturdays and Sundays. Staying holed up, though, will only exacerbate cabin fever, so try going out when you can.
Visit museums, go to the theater, watch your favorite singers and bands perform live, and run errands while taking a break to warm up in a coffee shop for example.
Not that you need a reminder, but keeping your body healthy also keeps your mind healthy. Exercise regularly to combat the listlessness that comes with winter. Head to a yoga studio to calm your mind, or try kickboxing to vent your “snow rage.”
4. Spring clean before spring.
A cluttered apartment is a cramped apartment, so spend the next big snow day cleaning and organizing your home. It doesn’t matter how small your apartment is. If your apartment is clean and tidy, you’ll enjoy being there more.
5. Combat the drafts.
Your home should be a refuge from the brutal outdoors, not a conduit for them. If you’re living in a prewar apartment with prewar windows, you have drafts. Drafts that you need to combat to keep your home cozy and the cabin fever at bay.
A simple and inexpensive trick to block the cold from breaking into your apartment is placing draft stoppers at the base of your windowsills. You can also apply insulation film to your windows for better protection, but be warned: It creates a shrink-wrapped look and makes an already barren view less pleasant.
6. Learn a practical skill.
We love Netflix binging as much as the next person, but doing too much of it can slow down your metabolism and make you feel sluggish.
Take a page from Julie & Julia and try a new recipe every day. Begin journaling or even attempt a novel. Read through Shakespeare’s plays. Take a painting class. Build a giant ball pit in your spare room. Or try any of Greatist’s home workouts that you can complete in as little as 15 minutes.
Feeling trapped during winter is common, but if you look at the season as an opportunity to develop yourself and your skills, it can be liberating.
7. See other people.
A small apartment in a big city already feels isolating at times. Add two feet of snow to the mix, and you might lose all motivation to socialize with others. Interpersonal relationships, though, are critical to a healthy mind during the cold months, and they give you another excuse to leave your building.
There’s a good chance your friends and coworkers are similarly struggling with cabin fever. So make plans after work. Use an app like Squad to find and hang out with other squads. Also, go on dates. The more you push back against isolation, the less you’ll feel stuck inside.
8. Get out of the city.
Your small apartment isn’t the only contributor to cabin fever in the winter. When you live in a big city like NYC, the high rises and narrow sidewalks piled with snow also restrict physical and mental freedom. The solution? Get out.
Leave New York City a few times every winter, whether it’s to visit family or friends in another city, or hopping on an Amtrak and spending the afternoon in the country. You don’t have to escape to the Caribbean, just move beyond the concrete jungle.
Hike, explore, shop, and breathe in the open air. When you come back, your small apartment will feel more like a cozy cabin and less like a space of confinement.
This article was written by David Michael McFarlane, a writer from Texas and Oregon who lives in New York and loves smart design and organization.