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Sunday May 23, 2004


Open the door to backyard possibilities


Stacks and Stacks
The Barbecue/Garden Center organizes a patio.
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.

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 careful choices.



"Our patios, porches and decks are once again becoming neighborhood gathering places," says Jackie Hirschhaut, vice president of the American Furniture Manufacturers Association.

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:

Reading, resting, sunbathing

Cooking, dining, entertaining


Playing and sports


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 recreation.

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,, (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:


Adequate lighting

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.


Waste management

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,, 800-667-8721).


Relevant storage

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; 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.


Hose management

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 worse.

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.

2. Prepare.

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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Storage shed may not be answer to storage problem


May 23, 2004

Should you get a storage shed or should you work on shedding your excess clutter?

In most cases, you're probably better off getting rid of stuff than stuffing it in its own little house.

Sheds are often costlier and more difficult to assemble and install than you may have originally anticipated. (For example, it's usually necessary to create a level foundation, which can involve at least a day's worth of labor.)

However, a shed is an ideal solution for certain situations. If you want easy access to gardening tools and supplies, sports equipment, building materials or other outdoor-related items, you'll probably benefit from having a shed.

But if you just have too much "miscellaneous" clogging up your outdoor room, you need to shed the stuff so you don't stuff the shed.

 Harriet Schechter is an internationally acclaimed organizing expert and the author of three books, including "Let Go of Clutter" (McGraw-Hill). Her online advice column is at

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