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HARRIET SCHECHTER

Hiding in plain sight

Concealment is the key to outdoor storage

Summerís here and the great outdoors is calling. But what if your own outdoors isnít looking so great? A cluttered backyard, piled-up patio or disorderly deck can make you want to turn around and go back inside even when the weatherís perfect.

Luckily itís now easier than ever to tidy up outside, thanks to storage solutions designed for virtually every aspect of outdoor living. Whether you need to corral kidsí toys, store barbecue supplies, park pool accessories or keep gardening gear handy, you can probably find an outdoor organizer that will fit your style, space and budget.

Suncast Patio Storage Bench

INSTEAD OF A SHED

While sheds are an increasingly popular choice for storing all kinds of stuff, they shouldnít be your first choice ó the size, cost and installation process may outweigh the advantage of acquiring what is essentially an outdoor walk-in container.

A more efficient alternative is the storage cube or deck box, which can be used for stowing gardening and pool supplies, toys and sporting goods, patio furniture covers and cushions and almost anything else youíd like to store outside. They come in a wide range of styles and materials and also do double-duty as seating options,ranging in size from ottomans to chairs to benches. Some even have wheels for easy portability.

Target has a large selection of storage cubes and deck boxes. One of the best values is the Suncast Patio Storage Bench ($90), a high-backed resin unit spacious enough for seating two adults comfortably; the seat flips up to access a roomy, weather-resistant storage section. (The exterior measures 52 3/4 inches wide by 21 inches deep by 34 1/2 inches high, and the interior is 47 3/4 inches wide by 17 1/2 inches deep by 16 1/2 inches high.)

FROM HOES TO HOSE

Gardening tools and supplies sometimes seem to grow right along with the garden. Weeding out excess gadgets and curbing the tendency to over accumulate planting materials can help nip this problem in the bud. But even a gardener with the most streamlined inventory requires storage solutions for keeping yard work basics accessible yet safe from the elements.

Depending on your landscaping needs and the size of your garage, some type of garden shed may be necessary for storing power equipment (lawn mower, hedge trimmer, edger, etc.) and tall tools such as hoes, shovels and rakes. Itís the smaller gardening essentials, however, that have a tendency to get lost and therefore demand special storage consideration: weed poppers, pruners, trowels and other hand tools,potting materials, irrigation parts, kneepads, garden gloves ó the list goes on.

To keep these necessities organized and close at hand, there are portable storage systems designed especially for gardeners. The handiest are rolling carts that, like deck boxes, provide seating along with stowaway space.

The Ames Lawn Buddy Gardening Cart ($38; www.walmart.com) has a seat that flips up to become an adjustable handle for pulling the cart; underneath the seat is a compartment that includes a three-section removable tray.

Constructed of high-impact plastic, the unit also features molded tool clips and drink holders and stores upright to save space (24 3/4 inches long by 15 1/4 inches wide by 13 1/2 inches high).

If your gardening duties require nothing more than a hose, the Retractable Commercial-Grade Hose Reel ($99; www.Frontgate.com; (888) 263-9850)

Retractable Hose Reel

Raft Caddy

can make watering chores even easier. The fully automatic reel (11 inches wide by 23 inches deep by 18 inches high) comes with 100 feet of half-inch-diameter hose and may be wall-mounted (hardware included) or staked in-ground with the included plastic auger. If wall-mounted, the unit is designed to swivel and align with the wall when not in use.

POOL STUFF

Hose storage takes on a whole different meaning when you have a pool. Pool vacuum hoses can be hung on hooks (preferably on a shady wall to minimize sun damage) or stored inside a deck box. But other types of pool stuff, such as inflatable rafts and toys, are more challenging to store due to their unique dimensions and requirements.

The Raft Caddy ($40; www.home focuscatalog.com; (800) 642-2112) solves the deflation dilemma by providing vertical racks sized for fully inflated rafts, floating chaises, water noodles and other pneumatic pool accessories. Two PVC stands (30 inches wide by 24 inches high, with a 5 1 / 2 -inch space between each of the four posts) are designed to sit on your deck and hold inflatables upright, allowing water to drain off and thereby preventing mildew damage.

Pool Pockets ($30-$150; www. pool-pockets.com; (216) 381-1928) are another storage solution for pool toys. Handmade of authentic fishnet and natural hemp rope decorated with shells, the stretchy pockets come in three sizes (4 feet by 4 feet; 4 feet by 8 feet; and 18 inches by 18 inches) and install easily on posts or the top rail of your deck.

Pool Pockets

SERVE AND TOSS

Whether you like to grill or just chill, alfresco dining is one of the delights of summer ó and other San Diego seasons, of course. The Suncast Serving Station Patio Cabinet ($126; www.shedtownusa.com; (877) 647-4337) takes some of the hassle out of preparing and serving food outdoors by providing a mobile counter and two cabinets for storing utensils and supplies. Two drop-leaf extensions double the counter space from 20 inches to 40 inches wide (the unit is 22 inches deep and 34 inches high), and the upper cabinet includes a removable serving tray.

Constructed of weather-resistant cast resin and specifically designed for outdoor use, the cart rolls on 4-inch casters (two locking and two non-locking) so you can easily move it from patio to poolside.

Disposable dishes and other debris also need a place to go when itís time to toss them. The Outdoor Trash Receptacle

($50; www.improvementscatalog.com; (800) 642-2112) is an attractive alternative to the typical garbage pail. Made of cast resin with a faux wainscoting design and measuring 17 inches wide by 17 inches deep by 32 inches high, itís sized to hold a 30- to 33-gallon trash bag. A hinged lid latches closed to keep animals out.C


HARRIET SCHECHTER is founder of The Miracle Worker Organizing Service and author of three books, including ďLet Go of Clutter.Ē Her online advice column is at www.MiracleOrganizing.com