How to close up the cottage in 2 days

One cottager share his Mother's list, an essential step-by-step guide to closing up

By Tom CarpenterTom Carpenter



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 floats.

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 it 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.

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) always right.

Day one

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 contents 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. (Of course.)

You can leave many dry goods behind in tightly sealed bug-proof 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 mouse-proof containers; plastic bags and tubs do not.

Check the “best before” dates on the foodstuffs, however, and take home the ones that will be stale before next spring. For a comprehensive list of foods of their shelf lives, contact the OMAFRA. Read the Food Handlers Storage Guide.

Pack 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 best.

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 repellents 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 you.

As for the more serious contents of your 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 than a month after you have opened it in any case; perhaps your fall cleanup is a time to throw such things out. As for tablets, some might survive winter freezing, but many are supposed to be kept at room temperature, or in a cool, dark place. That means they can neither be left in the sun nor left to freeze all winter.

Close up the screened porch.

Vacuum and roll up porch rug, store porch furniture and pillows inside, and empty, defrost, and clean porch fridge. (More on this below.)

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 where.

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, wheelbarrow, garden hose, any garden tools, barbecue, and water toys.

Disconnect the propane tank before you bring in 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 spring.

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 our 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 people.

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Oct. 19, 2011

2:08 am

I recently closed up our family cottage too. Having a list is a great way to ensure you don't have problems in the spring! Just like Mick, I always linger in the cottage to say a goodbye to the most special place I know. Aren't we fortunate to be able to own a cottage, there's nothing like it!!! See you in the spring cottage!!! Deb.xo


Oct. 18, 2011

2:20 pm

I just closed the cottage this weekend, and I could have used the list of what to take and what to leave. Decisions, decisions! Well, I made all the decisions and it was time to move on; had a hard time leaving. As I started down the road I thought, did I lock the door; I'd better go back and check. Yes it was locked as I knew it was, but I had to have that one last look around; It's like leaving a great friend that provides so much. I'll miss that place until next spring. It truely is special. Winter well until next time. Mick

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