Keeping Your Cool Old School: Ten tips for using the wisdom of the “good old days” to beat the summer heat

By Carla Robertson

Do you ever wonder how people managed to survive the summers before air conditioning? And they were wearing hats, gloves, stockings and all kinds of complicated undergarments! Surely we can find some wisdom by digging up some gems from the past. Here are ten “old school” tips, some tweaked a bit for twentieth century living, for staying cool during the hot months-plus they’re cheap, sustainable, and fun!

1. Porch sitting As the sun goes down and the cicadas start up, light a citronella candle, toss on some insect repellent, and hang out on your front porch. Maybe host a neighborhood porch sitting party!

2. Icy washcloths Keep some damp washcloths in the icebox (now known as a fridge.) Pull one out and wrap it around your neck. When it gets warm and clammy, trade it for a new one. And now we have spray bottles too! Store yours in the refrigerator- scent the water with a little fresh lemon or essential oil and spritz it on your face and neck. Ahhhh…

3. Cool drinks What’s more old-fashioned than a frosty pitcher of lemonade? Enjoy the tinkling sounds of the ice as you pour it into a tall glass. Lay back, close your eyes, and dream of the simplicity of summer.

4. Fans Hand held fans, ceiling fans- maybe even those battery operated personal fans- cool yourself with fans! Using ceiling fans in your house and setting your thermostat a couple of degrees higher can save up to 40 percent on your summer energy bills. Ceiling fans cost only about a penny an hour to run, while air conditioners have a significantly higher cost and drain your energy bill. And don’t forget about attic fans. Keeping your attic cooler and ventilated makes your whole house cooler.

5. Getting used to it, for goodness sake! Expect to sweat a little! When we move from weather in the high 90s outside to indoor rooms and offices cooled to the low 70s (or lower!), that’s almost a thirty degree difference! It confuses our bodies. It doesn’t allow them to acclimate to summer weather, and our biological systems don’t adjust. Try setting your thermostat inside to something higher than you’re used to. Make it a family contest. How high can you go? 78? 79? 80? 82? You may be surprised what begins to feel cool, especially when you use your ceiling fans. And you’ll be happily surprised when your electric bill arrives!

6. Sprinklers and wading pools. Run through the sprinklers. Dip your feet in the wading pool at Audubon Park, a secret in plain sight just outside the Audubon Zoo.

7. Breezes from the river, the lake or nearby creeks and streams In the olden days, people would retreat to the country in the summer. Now that you can get there much faster, you can enjoy a break from the city heat almost any time! Plan a lazy canoe trip. Go tubing on the north shore. Swim. Take the ferry across the Mississippi- it’s free for pedestrians and my favorite way to cool off on a hot day in the Quarter. It’s always a few degrees cooler over the river.

8. Ice cream. Gelato. Sno-balls Let your inner five-year-old pick the flavor. Relish it like you did when you were younger. Repeat as necessary.

9. Shade Spread a blanket under a live oak tree. Bring a pillow and a good book. Participate in the revival of the parasol. Set up a hammock. Wear a big floppy hat. Even better, wait for the best shade of all-nighttime! Live like a vampire, resting during the day (under your ceiling fan instead of a coffin) and emerging after dark. We’re lucky to live in a city where you can find plenty of food, drink and entertainment well into the night and early morning.

10. Slowness The slower you move, the less you sweat. I remember when I first arrived in New Orleans and was walking briskly somewhere in the middle of August. I passed an elderly gentleman who advised me, “Slow down in this heat! You don’t need to get anywhere that fast in the summertime!” And I remember his wisdom every summer. I bike slowly, picking up the lightest breeze. I plan my days so I can stay out of my furnace-like car and run my errands on foot or bike. I stroll. I relax. I stop to sit. I pretend it’s a different era, when we listened to the weather and let summer be lazy.


Carla Robertson is a teacher and life coach who specializes in helping overwhelmed people come back to living their wild and precious lives. She lives in New Orleans where every day feels like vacation, and she loves to help others figure out how they can live lighter and happier. In 2009 she thru-hiked the entire Appalachian Trail, and she revisits the woods whenever she can, taking willing and curious souls with her.For more information about Carla, check out her blog livingwildandprecious.com

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