the door to backyard possibilities
By Harriet Schechter
You're stretched out in a hammock, enjoying the
summer breeze. A frosty drink is at hand, along with whatever else you
need to make your relaxation complete. Birds sing nearby, butterflies
flit around, and all feels right with the world.
Center organizes a patio.
It's the perfect vacation – and best of all,
you never even had to pack a suitcase or catch a flight. Everything you
could ever want is here, in your own back yard.
Of course, if your little piece of paradise is
actually a piled-up patio, cluttered courtyard or debris-strewn deck,
this may sound like a fantasy.
But don't despair. Nowadays there are effective
outdoor organizing options for almost every style and budget. You can
transform your outside living space into an oasis of order by following
a few simple steps – plan, prioritize and purge – and by making
"Our patios, porches and decks are once
again becoming neighborhood gathering places," says Jackie
Hirschhaut, vice president of the American Furniture Manufacturers
It's true that enjoying the company of
neighbors, family and friends is often easier in an outdoor setting. But
entertaining guests is just one of several points to consider when
planning how to organize your outdoor space.
Typical outside area activities include:
Think about how you currently use your outdoor
room versus how you'd prefer to use it.
Let's say your back yard has accumulated a
mishmash of folding chairs, lounges, toys, games and sports clutter; but
you'd really rather have it set up for entertaining as well as
Visualize your ideal outdoor room, and sketch
out a rough but realistic plan. Try to think within the bounds of your
budget, lifestyle and space limitations. Depending on your
circumstances, adding amenities such as an outdoor fireplace or kitchen,
swimming pool, fountain or fish pond may or may not be feasible. But
even if you are limited by a pocket-size patio and/or a slim pocketbook,
by focusing on accommodating just your favorite activities it's possible
to make the most of your available space.
For example, if gardening and cooking are what
you really enjoy doing outdoors, but you don't have room for both a
potting table and a food prep station, consider combining the two.
The Stacks and Stacks HomeWares Catalog,
www.stacksandstacks.com, (800) 761-5222, offers a mobile yet sturdy unit
called the Barbecue/Garden Center ($159) which provides both storage
space and a work surface designed for both types of activities.
Next decide which elements are most essential to
your outdoor room plan. Consider these four key elements that are
necessities for most patios, decks and courtyards:
Unless you only expect to use your backyard
space during the day, it's essential to have at least one good source of
illumination. You'll want to shed light on potentially
accident-attracting areas such as steps, sharp corners, level changes
and other stumble spots.
Lighting options range from wall-mounted
fixtures and free-standing post lanterns to path-illuminating Malibu
lights and solar-powered stepping stones. Home stores, big box retailers
and some garden specialty shops offer a selection of outdoor lighting
products along with helpful information on how to select fixtures
appropriate for your needs.
Especially if you're planning to cook and/or
dine outdoors, you'll want to have at least one trash receptacle that is
easily accessible for humans (but not animals), easy to empty and
decor-friendly. For large-capacity loads (30-to 33-gallon), the molded
resin Outdoor Trash Receptacle provides convenient access and looks like
a stylish storage unit ($69.99; Stacks and Stacks catalog). For smaller
spaces, the Polder Jumbo Step Can has a 7.9-gallon capacity and offers
the convenience of a lift-out inner pail ($50; Polder,
Like indoor rooms, outdoor rooms require storage
solutions for keeping things in order. The trick is to choose containers
that do triple-duty: They should work as both storage units and
furnishings, while also enhancing the decor. For example, there are a
number of seating options that include storage space for seat cushions,
patio furniture covers and supplies.
Target carries a well-designed, compact resin
Storage Seat ($29.99), and Rubbermaid makes a molded plastic Storage
Bench that looks like an outdoor love seat (around $99 at various home
and garden retailers; rubbermaid.com). Both can be used with or without
seat pads (not included).
A plainer but more mobile seating and storage
unit is the roomy Deck Box with Wheels ($149, Stacks and Stacks
catalog), which is designed for easy portability. If you prefer wood to
plastic, Stacks and Stacks also offers a weather-resistant Red Cedar
Storage Bench in two widths (52 or 28 inches; $235 or $165), with a
choice of black or natural cushions. The cushions may be removed for
converting the benches into handy side tables.
A hose is an ever-present part of outdoor
living, but all too often it's a disorderly and even hazardous presence
– hard to put away and easy to trip over. Fortunately there is now a
wide range of products designed to corral unruly garden hoses.
Just watch out for devices that are more clever
than useful. Anything that requires you to manually coil a hose inside a
container, or to unspool the entire hose in order to use it, is probably
more trouble than it's worth.
A better option is a hose reel that allows you
to easily unwind as little or as much hose as you need, and then
smoothly retract it when you've finished using it. The Stacks and Stacks
catalog has several useful versions, including the Wall-Mounted
Sidetracker, which unwinds from the side and holds up to 100 feet of
hose ($39.99); and the Wall-Mounted Hose Reel, which unwinds from the
front, has a 255-foot hose capacity, and includes a top-mounted storage
tray for hose-watering accessories ($49.99).
If wall-mounting is not feasible, you can also
find portable hose reels at many gardening and home-improvement centers.
Buying new stuff is usually much more fun than
getting rid of the old stuff that has become clutter. But if you don't
purge your patio, declutter your deck, or clear off your courtyard
before acquiring more nifty gadgets, you'll just end up making things
Like most dreaded projects, the longer you put
off getting started, the harder it will get. So get going on let going
following these three sure-fire steps:
1. Set a deadline.
Decide on a completion date, and be sure to
block out time in your calendar for your Patio Purge Project (or
whatever you decide to call it). If possible, arrange for some form of
assistance: family, friend or paid helper.
Tip: If you tie your deadline to an event such
as a neighborhood yard sale or – better yet – a party on your patio,
it's more likely that you'll follow through on time.
Assemble any supplies you may need to make the
decluttering process go smoothly, such as trash bags and/or receptacles
(consider renting a Dumpster if you anticipate disposing of mass
quantities of stuff), protective gloves, and storage containers. If
you're lucky, a bulldozer will not be required.
Next, allocate two holding areas for
"Keep" and "Don't Keep" items (be sure to locate a
large trash receptacle there). You may subdivide the "Don't
Keep" section with large boxes labeled "Donate,"
"Sell," or any other relevant subcategories, but try to limit
it to no more than three so it doesn't become too complicated.
3. Dig in.
Your objective is to fill up the "Don't
Keep" section. Choose where to begin, starting from one side of the
space, and proceed systematically in one direction, if possible.
You'll see quicker results if you resist the
urge to "clump jump," moving from one clump of clutter to the
next without completing any decluttering. Resolve to jettison anything
broken that isn't worth repairing and items that have no real place in
your ideal outdoor space. (If they belong somewhere else – say, inside
your home or garage – put them there.)
Force yourself to keep moving forward without
getting sidetracked. Try setting a ticking kitchen timer for small
increments (10 or 15 minutes) to remind you of time passing and help
ward off Sidetracking Syndrome, a potentially fatal condition.
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