Closing up the cabin
The following article caught my eye in Cottage Life Magazine written by Tom
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When I was young I did not like closing up the cottage, that dirgeful autumn pastime, closing up
meant taking the fun from the waterfront and putting away everything that
Closing up also meant dealing with what seemed to me to be a welter of obscure practicalities,
stuff that was better left undone or even deliberately shunned, and in this process we were the slaves of My
Mother’s List. The List set out the whole process, one chore at a time. There was no getting around it. Among the
many reasons for resisting The List, my strongest objection was that in contradicted the principles of happenstance
and accidental fun that I considered the essence of being at the cottage. I hated My Mother’s List and everything
it stood for.
Closing up the cabin
Now I’m older, I see things in a different light. I know that one summer follows another, and that
before I can successfully put it from my mind, the undone business of one season will be the extra work of the
next. This has given me a new attitude towards The List. Now I really hate it and everything it stands for, but
with that more mature, grateful hatred that adults learn from dealing with dentists and accountants. It may not be
fun, but it is an absolute necessity.
Here is the indoor portion of My Mother’s List, with notes and comments on why my mother is (sigh)
Closing up the kitchen, Part 1.
Pack up the food. (This means pack the stuff that is not going to get eaten for dinner of Day One
or for breakfast and lunch of Day Two.)
Obviously, we take home all bottled goods. (When the contests freeze and expand, the glass can
break.) Some cottagers leave cans behind, but my mother says take them all home, too. She’s right, say the experts.
You can leave many dry goods behind in tightly sealed bugproof containers, including flour, pasta,
rice, and sugar. You can also leave packaged products such as cake mixes and dried soup as long as they too are
sealed away. Glass jars and metal tins make good mouseproof containers; plastic bags and tubs do
Check the “best before” dates on the foodstuffs, however, and take home the ones that will be
stale before next Spring.
Pick up extra clothes and laundry.
This instruction is repeated for every room. Don’t forget any curtains that need to be laundered
in the City.
Sweep and Vacuum the floors, Part 1.
It is only Day One, yet the floors get done – even though on Day Two we sweep and vacuum the same
floors all over again. This appears to be pure idiosyncrasy on my mother’s part, but because she’s right about
everything else, we figure eventually a reason is going to turn up as to why this way is
Pack up the bathroom.
Don’t forget the calamine lotion, antiseptic creams, hand lotions, and shampoos. Almost all of
these are water-based products and should be taken home. Emulsions – mixtures of waters and oils such as
conditioners – do not stay mixed after a freeze and won’t apply as intended. The same goes for many sunscreens.
Some insect repellants are alcohol-based and can withstand much colder temperatures, but the labels on many
products include specific warnings to avoid freezing. In general, if you want to be certain a product will still
work as described on the label, you should take it home with
As for the more serious contents of you medicine cabinet, any liquid medicine such as cough syrup
should not be used after it has frozen. What’s more, never keep a liquid medicine for more that a moth after you
have opened it in any case; perhaps your fall cleanup is a time to throw such things out. As for tables, some might
survive winter freezing, but many are supposed to be kept at room temperature, or in a cool, dark
That means they can neither be left in the sum nor left to freeze all
Close up the screened porch.
Vacuum and roll up porch rung, store porch furniture and pillows inside, and empty, defrost, and
clean porch fridge.
Organize tools, Part 1.
Sort tools and pack those you need to take home that aren’t required for any of the remaining
closing-up chores. Start with the list of “Tools to Bring to the Cottage” that you used in the spring. Make a list
of tools you decide to leave behind so you know what’s
At season’s end, My Mother’s List – like anything in nature that has a life of its own –
reproduces itself into a number of additional lists. There are the tool lists, a hardware shopping list, and a
checklist of the supplies that you are leaving behind at the cottage. You need one of these; otherwise you will get
anxious in the spring and buy extra everything. Yet another list details the chores you don’t want to do when its
time to open up.
Bring in the garden and outdoor stuff.
Don’t forget things like Muskoka chairs, planters, hanging baskets, hummingbird feeders,
wheelbarrow, garden hose, any garden tools, barbecue, and water
Disconnect the propane tank before you bring the barbecue. (The tank should not be stored inside a
living space. My Mother’s List stipulated the pump house, but the outhouse would do.) And while you are thinking
about your barbecue, check that your “Opening the Cottage list” includes a note about cleaning spiders and webs
from the venturi tubes before you light the first fire next
Take the first load to the car.
Make sure the chainsaw goes in that load.
Our cottage is on an island, and more than one boat trip is required to get everything from
cottage to car. The chainsaw stipulation sounds like more pure idiosyncrasy on my mother’s part, but this time
there’s obvious reasoning behind it: Even out hot little Husqvarna (which we take home to use during the winter) is
always dressed in a layer of lube-soaked sawdust and should be out of the way before the boat carries a load of
Drain the plumbing.
The trick here is to drain absolutely everything and not to forget any of the places where water
is likely to hide: the hot water tank, the water purifier, the washing machine (and the dishwasher, if you have
one), the toilet tank, and the sink and tub traps. First, drain all the lines by opening all the taps and
valves. If your lines jig and jog and you can’t be 100% sure that gravity will drain them, you’ll have to blow the
water out with air. (use a can of compressed air, or a hand-operated diaphragm pump. Put antifreeze – use non-toxic
propylene glycol, also known as RV antifreeze – in anything that can’t be drained, such as the toilet
Close up the bedrooms.
Strip the beds and cover them with newspapers or old sheets to keep dirt and dust and mouse
droppings off the mattresses. Stand mattresses and box springs up against a wall and over them with plastic if you
have any worries at all about leaks in the roof. Pack clean, dry sheets, blankets, and towels in plastic garbage
bags (or in a dry mouse-proof cupboard or trunk if mice are a problem) so they are ready for next
Following My Mother’s List guarantees our linens have no musty odour come spring. The key thing is
to make sure the linens are dry; if the sheets and towels are not completely dry, you will create a miniature
humidity chamber in the bags and provide the perfect conditions for the growth of mould, a,k,a. mildew. And must is
the odour of the mildew fungi.
Clean the kitchen, Part 2.
Empty and clean the refrigerator. (Turn it off the night before if it’s the kind that needs
My mother uses baking soda added to soapy water to clean the fridge, then puts in a fresh box of
baking soda and leaves it there. Baking soda and soapy water – or even baking soda and vinegar instead of soap and
water, if you prefer – effectively removes mould (although they don’t kill it- and take away its odour. Chlorine
bleach is an effective killer of mould, but it can react with organic matter in the septic tank and form compounds
hazardous to the environment.
And remember to prop open the fridge so that dry air can circulate Dryness is the best way to keep
unpleasant growths to a minimum.
Take care of the fireplace and woodstove.
Clean the fireplace, lay a fire, and fill the woodbox (it will be cold when you arrive next
spring. Mom reminds us, and you’ll want to get the fire going right away). Close the chimney damper, clean up all
the spilled ashes and bits of wood and, while you are at it – here it is - sweep and vacuum all the same floors you
As well, check the chimney. If you have 1/8’ of creosote, you’re OK, if there is ¼’, you need to
have it cleaned out. Older stoves, those not built to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards,
produce seven times as much chimney deposit as those that meet EPA standards and need to be watched with greater
Protect the cottage from the elements.
Put plywood on picture windows, tack newspaper over all other windows, and nail ventilation
Bright winter sunlight reflecting off the snow can fade your curtains and upholstery if you do not
hang up something like newspaper to block it out. By keeping out the sunlight, you are limiting temperature swings
in the building. A cottage with lots of window can heat up inside on a sunny winter day and one of the possible
consequences is a rise in humidity, leading to condensation when moist air meets the cold walls. Condensation can
create the dampness that allows mould growth, which leads to musty odours. Shutters over the windows, of course,
would serve the same purpose. (In addition, covering the windows prevents people from seeing something inside that
might inspire them to break and enter.)
We cover the living room picture window with a sheet of plywood, partly to protect the glass from
dangers such a wind-blown debris and falling tree limbs, and partly to keep off-season birds from flying into a
It used to be common to build rope-operated ventilation shutters under the eaves of a cottage so
hot air could escape on summer nights. Each fall we nail ours shut, so a winter wind can’t open them and sift snow
inside. Although you may not have such shutter, secure trap doors, shed doors, and other openings for the same
Organize tools, Part 2.
Pack up remaining tools – the ones you have been using for such things as nailing on shutters.
Remove batteries from smoke alarms and flashlights that are staying behind. Batteries get old and leak
Deal with the odds and ends:
At this point, start backing out the door like someone painting the floor. Empty waste baskets and
drinking water containers, sweep and wash the kitchen floor. Shut off the main hydro switch at the breaker box, and
that pretty well does the inside portion of The List. The key goes in the door, but the door remains open for a few
more minutes. While some people finish loading the boat, others wander around checking everything two or three last
times, looking for things such as vases that still have water in them and sugar bowls with
If all is as it should be, the Lists go into My Mothers’s Purse, and that is
This is great information, especially for waterfront owners. I keep this info handy when we
close up for the winter and use it as a guide.