Fall always catches me by surprise. These last few weeks were warm, then hot, then rainy, then very chilly, then crazy, stormy windy. And then warm again. Once again, we go herky-jerky into autumn. It’s a tricky time of year to prepare for, but the thought of dark, cozy nights, lots of rain and the chance to maybe decorate or have fun creating a costume are the treats of the season.

Most of us probably wait too long to put away our summer furniture, cushions and other items that don’t do well in wet, windy weather. Every single year I don’t get things put away before the first windstorm and I chase at least one patio umbrella across the yard. Now and then a lightweight chaise or pillow will blow into the pool. It’s normal to be a bit in denial that summer is indeed behind us and our stuff suffers. For example, the umbrella canvas rips or its ribs break and these can be expensive to replace.

The best way to be sure you can bring in your outdoor furniture quickly and easily is to save storage space for the items in the garage or a shed to be sure that it is clear for when you need to drag everything in. I give my furniture a final wipe down before stacking it safely away. The furniture that I don’t have room for in the garage gets covered with wonderful, breathable covers from Treasure Garden (available online). They are waterproof and tie to the furniture so that they won’t blow away.

Make sure cushions are clean and dry before storing. Large plastic zip bags work well (you can get huge ones in the grocery department at Target), but I store my pillows in plastic bins because they are stackable. Puffy pillows in plastic bags can slip off shelves, but work well for some people and take up less space than bins.

I love the buttoned-up, back-to-school feeling of being ready for inclement weather. Outside, the gutters are cleared, roof leaks handled and exposed exterior wood either painted or oiled. Inside, the bedding has been switched from summer weight to winter the mattress has been flipped, and the fireplace has been serviced.

With the chores done, we can enjoy preparing for the first of the fall-winter festivities: Halloween. Again, the huge plastic zip bags are fantastic for organizing costumes. As you plow through your costume bins, package costumes with their accessories, squeeze the air out of the bag, and label with the costume name, name of the child or person that last wore it and the year worn. It’s a great way to later donate the costume too (without the personal information though).

Most Halloween/Day of the Dead enthusiasts get very excited about decorating and have every cobweb, sugar skull and jack-o-lantern in place by mid-month. Bulky plastic skeletons and other decorations are tough to store, but try to get as much as possible into clear plastic bins so that when it’s time to decorate, everything is dust-free and ready to go. After all, we don’t want real spiders messing with our fake spiders. Only keep as much as you can realistically store.

The longer evenings provide time to work on fun seasonal crafts, so it’s a good time to organize any crafting cupboards and supplies. Carve a pumpkin, then toast and salt the seeds for a healthy non-sugar snack. Get the hot glue gun out and play with creating a costume. Buy some inexpensive molds and make sugar skulls to decorate.

A big plus of the season will be finally—we hope—getting some wear from our cold weather clothing after a few years of very mild winters. If you switch out your clothing seasonally, this weekend is just teeny a bit late to do so. My philosophy is that if you live in California, you shouldn’t need hard-core cold weather clothing and if you have to switch out your clothes for the seasons, you probably have too much clothing. Still, it’s very likely you haven’t examined your wool coats, umbrellas and leather boots for a while, so give your wardrobe a once-over and make sure you have what you need before you need it.

Also, don’t forget to keep an umbrella in the car—you’ll be happy you have it.