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Anna G. Larson, Published May 26 2013

Lists, organization ease traveling between home, lake cabin

MOORHEAD – The Bender family is happy with just their fishing poles at their cabin on Crystal Lake, but modern life calls for other necessities.

“Going to the lakes” is part of local culture, and Brad and Amber Bender are used to traveling between two homes, fishing poles and all. They split their time between the cabin and their home here.

Brad’s philosophy is to keep their cabin simple, stocked and organized.

“Growing up, I was taught by my grandmother that if you bring your junk out to the lake cabin, then the cabin will always be the junkyard,” he says.

They don’t have cable TV at the lake but subscribe to Netflix so their two children, 6-year-old Anthony and 4-year-old Krysten, have entertainment on rainy days. The cabin also has Internet access since Brad and Amber both work from home.

Essentials are stocked in the cabin by April, and the family brings clothing and phone chargers from their Moorhead home, although they inevitably forget things from time to time, Brad says.

Besides remembering what to bring, he says that maintaining the two residences is demanding. For instance, the cabin’s plumbing and electrical systems are different from a typical home, so the couple is constantly learning how the systems function. Closing up the cabin for winter is particularly challenging, he says.

“Come spring, we find the tasks we have forgotten. It has been a lot or work to maintain both,” he says.

Professional organizer Colleen Stevens says lists can help solve that problem. She often makes lists after holidays so she knows what to buy or do differently the next year. The same method can be applied to lake season.

A master list that can be updated during the summer helps make next summer smoother, Stevens says. Starter lists can be found on websites like RealSimple.com, and people can add to them and tweak them to fit their needs.

Stevens recommends beginning by stocking a cabin with basics like sunscreen, a first-aid kit, phone chargers, new water toys, etc. Next, stock items that stay at the cabin all summer, Stevens says.

Cabin-goers should also make sure they have room in their cars to transport items between the two homes that might be susceptible to rodents, Bender says.

He’s found that soft plastic children’s toys are especially tasty to rodents. Keeping linens and toys in plastic containers with tight lids protects the items, he says.

“Many cabin owners who don’t live in their cabin year round encounter problems with rodents,” he says. “We have had mice chew on anything they felt was soft enough.”

Stevens suggests keeping a supply of tightly sealed non-perishable food at the lake, as well as cooking utensils and dishes. She prefers using real dishes instead of disposable paper or Styrofoam because it’s more environmentally friendly.

“You can go to the thrift store and get really cool great stuff for so cheap and stock it and keep it there rather than throw everything in the trash,” she says. “Call it your lake set.”

Inexpensive bedding can be kept at the lake, with extra on hand for unexpected guests. Warm clothing should also be brought to the cabin for cool nights and rainy days, Stevens says.

Remembering what to bring to the cabin can be difficult, she says, but developing a routine can make packing a cinch. For instance, Stevens would bring her lake bed sheets home weekly and wash them right away and pack them again in the same bag so they wouldn’t be forgotten. The same can be applied to “lake only” clothes if the cabin doesn’t have a washer and dryer.

Parents going to a cabin with children can create a packing list for each child, Stevens says. She makes one every year for her family’s car trip to her home state of New York. The laminated lists include simple items children can pack like a toothbrush, pajamas and clean clothing.

“They can pack themselves, and they get a kick out of doing that,” Stevens says.

Going to the cabin prepared with activities for children is important too, she says. She recommends puzzles and yard games, and preparing a scavenger hunt in case the weather is cool or rainy.

Above all else, Stevens says it’s important to remember that going to the lakes is all about having fun.

“If it’s your cottage or cabin, do it your way,” she says.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Anna G. Larson at (701) 241-5525