A Time to Declutter and De-Stress
By: Dr. Linda Karges-Bone

There is something powerful and motivating about the Autumn Equinox. It has been celebrated for millennia and for good reason. As the seasons shift and families move closer together in anticipation of winter’s chill and seasonal celebrations, there is joy to be found in preparing home and heart for a new season. In fact, I was always affirmed during many years of presenting radio messages about parenting and family, that so many listeners requested more information about studies suggesting that cleaning and organizing resulted in higher grades among kids and less stress overall in the family.

Why? Home-making is more than cleanliness.

It is the creation of a setting for living, learning, playing, and thinking. During this time of year, the Autumn Equinox and subsequent time change offer a natural ‘pause button” in the rhythm of family life and can be an ideal time to take care of details and duties that can easily be overlooked. These twelve tasks can help you to “fall into a more organized home life”.

1: Do an Autumnal meal prep. A cooler kitchen beckons one to whip up batches of chili, lasagna, and soup. These freeze nicely. But this year, consider a fresh approach. Resist the urge to “carb load” as temperatures drop. We are not bears. We will not hibernate. So, tray a veggie lasagna made with zucchini “noodles” instead of pasta, or a turkey chili instead of beef, or a substantial root vegetable soup.

2: Take time to purge closets of sweaters, coats, and shoes. Why these particular items? As the autumn temperatures plunge, homeless and less fortunate friends in the community require warm clothing, and may not be able to afford what they need. How many navy blazers or red ski jackets does one need? Drop by Goodwill, the Salvation Army, or a church outreach closet and exchange these treasures for a tax deductible receipt.

3: The Autumn Equinox happens to intersect with the first grading period in k-12 schools and the dreaded “mid-term” reports in college. Parents can make a good assessment of their students’ progress at this benchmark in the academic year. Is it time for a tutor? Is your child placed in the appropriately challenging set of courses? Are there too many distracting activities or friends that may be interfering with progress? This year especially, in the wake of Covid-induced “learning loss”, it is critical to pay attention to gaps in students’ learning.

4: Clean out the attic. It is finally cool enough to brave the eaves and closets upstairs. In the same spirit as task two, look for items that might be useful to those in need and go ahead and pull holiday decorating boxes to the front. You will want them handy in about a month.

5: At the time change in fall and spring, run white vinegar through coffee and tea makers. Vinegar is a natural cleanser and you will be surprised at how much better your beverages taste when brewed in a fresh pot. Be sure to run 3-4 cycles of distilled water through the pot afterward to flush the vinegar.

6: Check out your fireplace, furnace, and filters. The three F’s of fending off winter chills are best attended to before the bitter winds blow. While filter-changing can be done by most sensible adults, a good inspection of fireplace, chimney, and furnace is the domain of an expert.

7: Plant bulbs now for beauty later. The first chill of autumn is a signal to begin scouring the aisles of the nursery and home improvement store for the best bulbs. One of the most meaningful experiences in the outdoor memories of my children came when they chose and planted daffodil and tulip bulbs in the autumn and then observed in sheer amazement when the flowers popped up in March.

8: Take down curtains and blinds if you can and give them a good cleaning. Air conditioning is marvelous, but it keeps the house closed up and dust finds a natural nesting place in fabrics and crevices. With so many children suffering from allergies, this kind of home maintenance is almost a prescription.

9: Clean out magazines and paperbacks that have piled up through the year. Ask the local hospital, assisted living home or library if they would like your literary treasures. Many libraries hold a tag sale around this time of year and will gladly glean the paperback books for resale.

10: Make a family calendar for holiday activities. Believe it or not, the winter holidays are just six to eight weeks away. If you want good seats for a special ballet or show or a babysitter for the night of your festive office party, now is the time to make reservations and phone calls. Take it a step further and plan for unique autumn dates with those whom you cherish. What about a hike with your partner? An apple picking junket with the BFF? An early holiday cookie baking with an elder? As the days grow shorter, our opportunities to connect with valuable social capital become more vital.

11: Add light. The fading natural light of the season can trigger depression. I like to light things up with artfully placed LED candles set on a timer. Grouping them on a mantle, in the entranceway, and on the dining table create a warm distraction for the eye and spirit.

12: Spice things up. Now is the time to introduce spicy autumnal scents to provide a balm for the shorter, colder days. Essential oils are popular, but sometimes pricey. Try an old fashioned ceramic plug in scent pot with sticks of cinnamon, cloves, and lemon peel. For an afternoon treat, mix up a jar of my special spiced tea. Use decaffeinated, diet lemon iced tea mix; sugar free orange drink mix (Tang or Crystal Light); cinnamon, and cloves. I recommend ¾ tea mix to ¼ orange drink mix and several teaspoons of the spices. Play with it to your taste.

With the exception of tasks three and ten, these little duties are hardly the stuff of life changing magnitude. Why do they matter? As I go about them, they give me a chance to pause and enjoy my home and to both declutter and de-stress, as I engage in tasks that release what is no longer necessary and focus on what matters. As I noted earlier, there is research suggesting that homes that are clean and organized offer children a respite from the clutter and messiness of the world. Will it produce a higher SAT score or an honor roll report card? Maybe. Maybe not. But at least your coffee will taste better when you get up on those brisk autumn mornings.

Dr. Linda Karges-Bone is a professor, author, and media influencer who has written 34 books and hundreds of articles and stories for educational and family media. You can reach her at educationinsite.com