For decades, we were all told to cut down our perennials at this time of year. That advice now comes with an asterisk. Leave up those perennials that have flower stalks with seed heads for the birds. Migrating birds appreciate the food. And a ready supply of seeds is vital for those species that over-winter in New England. Further, many native bees are solitary (no hive) and winter over in the hollow stems of flowers. You should still clean up any plant with disease, trim back flowering shrubs, cut back rambunctious vines, and cut down perennials that do not have seed heads (hosta is a prime example). But having less work to do while doing good is a great feeling.
Leaves are gold, even if they are red. Save yourself work, improve the soil under your lawn and make the local town dump (or ‘transfer station’) happy. Don’t rake your leaves; mow them into your lawn. All the nutrients to grow those leaves came out of the soil under your lawn and around your property. If you mow over them, you will cut the lawn and chop up the leaves. You may still see them on the ground in the fall. But before spring arrives they will have broken down and become part of the soil—with all the nutrients that the lawn and trees need. Collect leaves when clearing off patios and driveways. Chop them up as well and put them around shrubs or over flower beds to add food to their soil too. If you run out of uses, put chopped leaves into a compost pile as a resource for next spring. Leaves are too valuable to throw away.
Compost, but not everything. The plants you are cutting back, the weeds you are pulling may or may not be right for the compost. Keep seeds out of home compost or you will find them everywhere next year. Similarly, diseased or bug-riddled plant need to be bagged for the trash. Only large, professionally managed compost piles get hot enough to kill unwanted pests.