Lessons from My Mother: Fall Cleaning

Whenever the leaves start changing colors, and the temperature drops just slightly, I am reminded of my mother. This may well be because her birthday is in September. It could also be my vivid memories of waking up early to go with her to the International Balloon Fiesta every October. Perhaps it’s because of our autumn hikes up the La Luz trail to Sandia Peak amongst a thick sea of bright yellow aspen leaves. It could be her infamous pumpkin bread, or her annual Pumpkin Parties (which I plan to bring to Brooklyn this year). For me, fall is synonymous with Mom and all of the wonderful lessons I have learned from her. It is because of this that I have chosen to honor my mother with a series of blog posts where I impart some of her wisdom.

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Fall Cleaning

Most have heard of Spring Cleaning, the age-old tradition of cleaning your home and reorganizing your life at the end of the winter months. It’s aligned with what many cultures and religious practices believe to be the new year. Many Persians practice something called “khooneh-tekouni” which means “shaking the house” where they thoroughly clean their entire homes top to bottom at the beginning of their new year. An ancient Jewish practice involves cleaning the home in anticipation of Passover and so on and so forth (source). Spring Cleaning is deeply rooted in our culture and lexicon regardless of whether you or your family practiced this at all. While my mother prefers to keep her home spic and span regardless of the time of year, our annual deep clean always happened in the fall.

Before writing this, I gave my mom a call (hey everyone- call your mothers!) to ask her if there was any significance to why our family always did our Spring Cleaning months after the fact. She… well she had no recollection of ever calling it “Fall Cleaning” but the fact remains that it is something that I remember as if it were yesterday. Clearly this annual family cleaning party had more significance to me than to her (as previously mentioned, my mother takes a lot of pride in her home and it essentially always looks ready to be featured in a design magazine) she did have some theories as to why we chose autumn to reorganize and dust off the baseboards.

Pay no mind to the cat my mother adopted to replace me when I moved to New York- this image demonstrates the immaculate condition of the guest bedroom. 

Pay no mind to the cat my mother adopted to replace me when I moved to New York- this image demonstrates the immaculate condition of the guest bedroom. 

The patio of my mother's home in the mountains to the East of Albuquerque, NM. 

The patio of my mother's home in the mountains to the East of Albuquerque, NM. 

It “Feels” like the New Year

My mother has two children, my older sister and me. Which means that regardless of the calendar year, the school-year eventually winds up dictating the structure of your life. Growing children require you to buy new clothes every season, because last year’s sweaters are now short in the arms, and their rainboots no longer fit their feet. An entire year has passed since we got that one toy, and we haven’t played with it in months. Fall seems like the perfect time to do a complete and total overhaul of your closets and toy chests.

Fall Cleaning for us would always start in our bedrooms. I’d go through all of my clothes and toys. The clothes that don’t fit, or that I know I will never wear again, along with my forgotten toys, all went to a donation bin so that other children could use them. Whatever I kept would be organized, and all the new space that I made would be vacuumed, dusted and put away neatly. As an adult, I’ve maintained this practice. Every fall, when I take down the bin of fall/winter clothes, I go through them and make sure they meet two criteria. First, do they still fit? I may not be growing anymore, but my weight does fluctuate. Sure, sometimes it’s good to keep a “goal” dress, but a whole closet full of them? No, thank you. I’ll wind up in stretchy pants all winter. Second, do I still like them? It’s been a whole year and some fads just don’t last. Everything that passes the test gets to stay in my closet, the rest get donated.

This is a good time to go through your spring/summer clothes as well before packing them away for the colder months. How did that $10 sun dress hold up? If it looks a little wrecked now, it won’t look any better next year. Bye!

If you have kids, fall cleaning is a good habit to get into because it can teach them to declutter, the value of minimizing, and how great it feels to help others. There are plenty of kids and families that need your hand-me-downs way more than you need to hold onto them for the sentimental value.

One way that you can use this model in your everyday life, and to make fall/spring cleaning less daunting, try this tip: When you bring home something new, donate something old. (This is especially helpful if you are someone who enjoys shopping.) My boyfriend and I did this recently when he came home with three new pairs of jeans. His pants drawer was bursting, so we went through all of his jeans and were able to toss five pairs in the donation pile.

Image borrowed from northphoenixfamily.com

Image borrowed from northphoenixfamily.com

The Value of a Clean Home

When I was a kid, I thought my mom was nuts. I’d come home from school and as soon as I walked in the door I had kicked my shoes off, dropped my coat and backpack on the floor, and usually ran to the kitchen to fix myself a snack. All of this left behind a tornado of mess. When my mother came home from work, I always had to get up from the couch and clean it up before I could go back to my homework or Nickelodeon. I thought she was being unnecessarily hard on me. Like, come on Mom! I was in school ALL DAY and now you want me to CLEAN? Can’t a girl catch a break? But the truth is that there is science behind this.

Studies have shown that clutter and materialism leads to stress and anxiety (source). The more stuff we have, the more anxious, depressed, and joyless we feel. It’s highly likely that my mother’s reaction to my whirlwind after-school routine was a reflection of this. I’ve personally found, in my adult life, that I feel more at ease when my home is clean. If I walk into my kitchen and it looks a mess, I make it a point to tidy whether the mess was mine or not. I don’t think ill of my three roommates, I personally find satisfaction from taking care of the mess.

The positive mental impacts of a clean home far outweigh the benefits of sitting around in a pile of junk. One University of California study showed a significant uptick in the stress hormone cortisol in women who described their homes as messy (source).  Not to mention that just 10 minutes of light aerobic exercise (like cleaning) can trigger the release of endocannabinoids, your body’s own naturally synthesized version of THC. Endocannabinoids literally make you feel calmer. Deep cleaning your home for hours - or even just 10 minutes- can trigger this response in your body, much the same as going for a walk or jog. (source).

Clearly, my mother is onto something. She taught me to pick up after myself, clean as I go, and take time to reorganize and minimize at least once a year. All practices linked to strong mental health. And now that the new school year is in full swing, if you haven’t already done so- why not take a cue from my momma and give your house a full shake down? You’ll feel great.

Jenni Walkowiak is one of Brooklyn Creative League's community managers (1).png