As with most organizing projects, my modus operandi is “declutter, organize and style” — in that order. Each project you take from start to finish can be as small or as large as you can manage. In other words, you can take one small category, such as yard games, and go through the entire process of decluttering, organizing and then styling them before moving on to another category.
Alternatively, you can do all of your decluttering first (including many categories at a time) and then organize and style afterward. The former may be less overwhelming and work well if you have only small chunks of time and you already know where you want to place things. However, the latter might be a good approach if you’re not quite sure where things should belong and you want to see what remains after you’ve decluttered.
Get Started by Decluttering
Here are some common backyard categories to consider decluttering:
Outdoor games. A lot can change in a year, especially if you have young children. Lawn games that were popular last year may not hold any interest today.
I recommend reviewing outdoor games annually, as they can take up a lot of space. If it’s something your family won’t enjoy anymore, it may be time to donate those games in good condition to someone who will. Also, look for damaged and broken games and toss the ones that no longer function well.
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Gardening tools and supplies.
You know how hard your gardening tools work. Maintain them well so they can continue to be efficient and accurate for your task. Be sure to keep them dry, clean, sterile, oiled and sharp, as applicable for each tool.
Pare down the excess and ones you don’t use. Dispose of those that are broken or beyond repair, but be sure to dispose of them according to your local guidelines, as some tools may not be acceptable in your regular trash.
The purpose of gardening gloves is to protect your hands from cuts, scrapes, chemicals, blisters and more. If your gloves no longer serve these purposes because of holes or wear, consider replacing them with ones that do.
It’s not uncommon to amass a large collection of empty pots, which take up a lot of space. Even if you like the style of the pots, consider whether you’ll realistically reuse them or whether you have too many. You may be saving some to fill with plants to give as gifts. I’ve saved such pots in the past and never used them. I now know myself better and will swiftly donate ones I know I won’t use, at least in the near future.
Many people store soil, fertilizer, landscaping rocks and mulch left over from their garden projects. If you have bags of excess materials lying around, first review them to see if they’re in good condition. Dispose of any unusable soils and mulch that have foul odors, mold or insect infestations. Then decide if you want to keep the remaining usable materials. You may want to keep potting soil and fertilizer if you use it regularly, but perhaps you don’t need those landscaping rocks from a previous project and can free up some space.
Be sure your barbecue tools and grill are clean and free of rust. According to the USDA, “Rust is not a food-safe material so it should not be ingested.” There are many online solutions for removing rust; if you can’t remove it, you may want to replace your tools and cooking grate.
You may want to consider purchasing individual tools instead of a set. While a set may be offered at a better value, you may actually be paying more per tool if you’re not using all of them.
Take some time to review tableware dedicated to outdoor dining and entertaining
to make sure everything is still relevant. If random items such as takeout utensils, hand-me-downs from the kitchen or catering trays default into your outdoor dining storage, consider parting with the items you don’t use.
From a guilt standpoint, I understand how difficult it can be to get rid of disposable items that are still fully usable. During the pandemic, you may have ordered takeout more frequently, resulting in a large stockpile of plastic utensils that would be wasteful to toss. I don’t believe in waste, but I also don’t believe in keeping unwanted items out of guilt.
You may want to research mutually beneficial options, such as donating to a homeless shelter. Another suggestion would be to check your local community or neighborhood groups to transform your trash into treasure for someone else.
My childhood summers in the New York suburbs were spent running through sprinklers and playing in free-flowing water.
I now live in California, and while I desperately would like to give my daughters the same fun experiences I had, I just can’t justify it with the droughts we experience here. Choosing to discontinue my childhood summer traditions and purge our lawn water slide, oscillating sprinkler and other water toys not only made me feel more responsible and considerate, but it also removed the temptations to misuse our precious water.
If you live in an area where you don’t have to worry about water conservation, make sure your summer inflatables don’t have any leaks or mildew and that you’re not using your space to store defective items.
The elements can be hard on outdoor furniture. Even if your furniture, cushions and rugs have been covered or otherwise protected, check for mildew, dirt and rust and be sure you allow enough time after washing for the items to dry thoroughly.
Consider repairing any cushion tears that may compromise water resistance. Donate any excess pillows and blankets you’ve accrued.
Organize Your Outdoor Spaces for Current and Future Use
Keep your yard tidy by making sure off-season items are put away. Enclosed spaces will keep your items safe from weather and pests and help you avoid visual clutter.
Organizing your spaces will help make putting things away easier and therefore more likely to get done. Some solutions that have worked well for my clients include:
Shed with shelves. An outdoor shed provides a great footprint of space for keeping your belongings dry and organized. Consider installing a shelving unit inside so that all parts of the shed are easily accessible. If you stack boxes and items on top of each other, no matter how organized they are it will still be troublesome to access items in the bottom box.
Weather-resistant storage boxes. There are many styles and options for outdoor benches with storage. Benches typically have less storage space than a shed, but they may be more inconspicuous and may work well in smaller spaces where they can also serve as seating. Storage benches usually work well for keeping pillows and seat cushions dry and clean.
Potting benches. Plant and gardening enthusiasts may want to invest in a potting bench, which can neatly store your supplies and provide you with a workspace. Many potting benches can also be arranged to be a nice focal point in your outdoor space.
I prefer to store items off the ground when it makes sense. It allows me to keep the ground cleaner (indoors and out), allocates a designated space for each item and makes finding specific pieces easier.
For larger tools like rakes, loppers and shovels, simple hooks or a wall system will do the job. Be sure the weight limits for the hooks are suitable for their purpose.
Set the Style and Mood You Want to Create in Your Backyard
A few minor changes can make a big impact.
String lights. There’s something very inviting and cozy about outdoor lights — nothing glams up an outdoor space more than string lights. There are many different types, from fairy lights with tiny bulbs to larger lantern-style lights. Edison bulb string lights are my favorite. These larger bulbs give my backyard a slightly more dramatic, modern vintage feel.
Outdoor rug. Consider getting an outdoor rug to give your yard an indoor-outdoor feel. A rug can serve as a focal point and also pull everything together to create the feel of being in a room.
Art in any medium can bring color and personality to your space. Don’t be afraid to show your personality.
You can even use non-art items to boost the ambiance. For example, resting your surfboard in the corner of the yard and adding a few large planters with tropical plants will lend a beachy feel.
Summer is here, and you may be thinking about spending more time in your backyard. With a little decluttering, organizing and styling, you can turn your outdoor area into a fun and relaxing space for lounging and gathering. Keep reading for a few ideas to help get your outdoor space in tip-top shape.