20161025_autumn-treeWe don’t really have four seasons here in the Valley of the Sun. We have two: nice weather and summer (which most people don’t consider “nice”, LOL!). It’s late October and our afternoons are still in the mid-90s although overnight lows are in the upper 60s to low 70s – nice and cool in the mornings! I spent the bulk of my life in the Midwest so I feel like I should be wearing jeans, sweaters, and boots this late in the year but I’m still wearing shorts and sandals during the days. I loved autumn in the Midwest and miss those crisp, fall days. What to do?

To start with, I follow my long-time fall routine, just maybe a month or so later than I used to. That means – heavy duty cleaning. True, the house was mostly closed up all summer with AC on so not much dust got in. It just seems the air must be stale, so I open the windows and clean! Once upon a time I was really ‘scrubby Dutch’ but that time is past and I really have to have a reason for this now. Like, company coming from out of town to stay a few days – that gets me moving! They will be here in two weeks so I better get rolling.

Heavy duty cleaning means I move a lot of things around to clean in, under, and closer, and that means I find things that really, we don’t need. “Why did we keep this?” I wonder. There’s not a lot of storage room in our condo so space for needless things just doesn’t exist, and have I ever mentioned that I don’t like clutter? Someday I will get up a lot of motivation and clear out the garage, but that day is not here yet! Still, I’ll end up with a bag or box or two to donate, and probably a fair amount to toss. So I find this a good time to de-clutter.

While I’m taking a break from all that cleaning I might browse a new magazine or the web and come across recipes for soups and stews and chilies that sound delicious and warm and cozy and cold-weather satisfying. But it’s still too hot for those dishes, I tell myself! That doesn’t stop me from saving the recipe for ‘later’ although by now I have dozens of these recipes saved and few of them actually tried. Still, a few will get tested, a few will get tossed without trying (why did I save this one??), and a few more will morph together into one brand-new recipe. I do make some soups in the summer but they tend to be lightweight, like a cool gazpacho or a nice, light cauliflower soup that is good hot or cold. My cool weather soups are heartier, with heavier flavors, bigger chunks of veggies, and more beans and/or grains. I also do more baking in our cooler season, for obvious reasons!

Another habit that came with me from my roots is stocking up the pantry as the weather changes to winter. Who wants to go out when it’s cold, windy, snowy, or icy? Not me! So I’d make sure I had plenty of ingredients on hand for the days I didn’t feel like getting out. Not that we encounter many of those days here in the valley; it’s just habit. And now that habit seems to last all year, because who wants to have to run to the store when it’s 114? I try to always have staples on hand – onions and garlic, dried and canned beans, plant-based milk, frozen veggies, canned tomatoes, spices, dried pasta, and nuts and seeds. Summer meals usually mean lots of fresh salad veggies and ingredients for dressings. Winter meals also have lots of fresh vegetables but I make fewer salads.

My last transition activity is shifting clothes. Like I mentioned, not a lot of storage here so sweaters, heavier pants, long sleeved items get packed in boxes in spring and brought out in fall; shorts and sleeveless tops and summery skirts go into the boxes. This year I need to take a really critical look at my wardrobe because really, I have too many clothes. Since I gave up corporate work, I don’t need all the clothes I did before but it’s been hard to get rid of perfectly good items. Now I think I’m ready to let some go to a better home. Still not time to pull out the heavier sweaters and switch to wearing boots, but it will be soon!

Living here has simplified my seasonal transitions for two reasons. One, I only have to switch twice, from hot to cool, and cool to hot. I used to have to adjust to four seasons. Two, no daylight savings time – that change always hit me hard and I love not messing with adjusting my internal clock to arbitrary clock changes.

What are your seasonal transitions like?

20160524_clutterwarsI am what some might call a “neat-freak”. I’m not as obsessive as I once was; a busy life and getting older changes one’s perspective on many things. But I do have limited space in the condo in which I live, so neatness still matters. People who visit will say “your house is so clean!” as if they are surprised about that for some reason, but what they really mean is that it is so neat. Yeah, it’s pretty clean too, but not as “scubby Dutch” clean as I once would have kept it. (The term “scubby Dutch” refers to southside St. Louis Germans who called Germany Deutschland and spoke Deutsch, or German. The housewives were very clean and neat, and scrubbed everything. The word ‘Deutsch’ became ‘Dutch’ when non-German speakers said the word. Yes, those women were my ancestors! In the past I tore my whole house apart twice a year and cleaned everything – every light fixture, vent, piece of furniture, drape, every square inch. On top of regular cleaning.)

Now, I was not like this as a teenager, no way. My room was as messy as it could be. Fortunately, the obsessive-neat gene bypassed my mom and she just ignored my mess, as long as it was in my room and didn’t draw bugs! She knew I’d get tired of it sooner or later and clean up, and periodically I did. Then I got married and our first apartment was small, with minimal storage space. Plus we had a baby, with all the stuff that comes with one. Keeping things picked up was essential if we didn’t want to trip over things in the dark when the baby awoke! Even as we moved to larger homes, I realized the more stuff we had on shelves, tables, and floor, the more work I’d have cleaning, not to mention packing and moving it all. So even though I had knick-knacks and decorative items, I tried to keep those minimal.

Time goes by, and I become more conscious of the environmental impacts we humans cause. Think of the trash, wasted resources, and energy usage and pollution from shipping long distances the ‘stuff’ we buy. Stuff to decorate, or to try that nifty new appliance that only gets used a couple of times, or to keep up with fashion trends. Stuff that replaces other stuff, except the other stuff is still perfectly fine so we don’t get rid of it. Or it holds sentimental value. And pretty soon, the stuff overflows the closet, the garage, the basement, the cabinets. And you have clutter! And I hate it. It makes me nervous. I have to reorganize it until it seems uncluttered, and if that won’t work – time to purge.

However, some people celebrate clutter! We call them ‘pack-rats’ or sometimes, ‘hoarders’. I think it depends on the depth of their clutter collections. Everyone’s tolerance for clutter is different. Not to say all clutter is BAD – research has found that some people need a bit of a mess in their surroundings to feel inspired. If you are in this category, the next section may be painful to read! Because I’m going to point out why you should de-clutter and give some tips on clearing the clutter.

Why de-clutter? When your surroundings are cluttered, it’s hard to de-stress and decompress from the clutter in your mind. It’s more difficult to find things. You lose track of what you already have, like discovering you own three of the same kind of shovel. It allows for more dust and dirt to hide, adding to allergy symptoms. Clutter fosters procrastination; if it’s hard to find a starting place, it’s easy to give up the task or project. Clutter can stop you from moving forward and getting passed the past. Clutter competes for your attention and overloads your senses, resulting in increased stress and impairing your ability to think creatively. Maybe multi-tasking is not the problem! And of course, clutter can be a safety hazard, like tripping over one of the three shovels on your way through the garage!

So how does one go about clearing this up? Well, there are those who insist organization first is key, and others who promote a ‘just do it’ method. The latter feel that organizing 1) takes too much time for the truly cluttered and is daunting; and 2) promotes keeping things, albeit neatly, that should really be tossed out. Yet without some organization or at least a systematic approach, time will be wasted and interest lost when tackling the big projects. One suggestion is to have a bag or box for five groups – things for the trash, things that already have a place but aren’t in it, things that have no place but should, things that you will donate or sell, and things that you don’t use, can’t wear, or haven’t looked at in years yet are reluctant to get rid of. This latter group should be labeled with a date, say a year or six months from the time you pack it, and if you do not need to retrieve anything from it in that time, out it goes. Take these five bags or boxes to each area to be de-cluttered and begin. Once you have finished that area, take care of the five bags/boxes as soon as you can. Carry the stuff to the trash. Arrange to go by the charity drop off point or plan a date for the yard sale. Take the things with a place back to it, and find a place for those that have none. Store the box with the date out of the way. You may want to limit your first forays to 15 or 30 minutes, to reduce the stress of getting started. But once you see that now clear area, it will be so inspiring you will want to tackle the next area and work longer at it! Another suggestion is to start with a really cluttered area that is in your face daily – like the place where everything coming in the door stops and jumbles up: keys, shoes, mail, dog leash, etc.

Once you clear the clutter, or at least the bulk of it in your main living areas, it is important to keep things neat. If you let it all pile up again, you will be frustrated about the time you had spent cleaning it and feel way less motivated to tackle it again. No need to become a drill sergeant, but try to make a habit of putting things away. Maybe make a rule that if a new XYZ comes through the door, an old XYZ has to go. Or no buying new XYZs unless it is really needed and has a place to be kept out of the way. And, you must engage the others in the household to stick with the new habits and rules.

Most of all, freeing yourself of clutter simplifies your life and that’s what I’m all about, right?!