Today’s column is a plea on behalf of neighbors who are tired of looking at porches and patios cluttered with rusty tricycles, dilapidated dog houses, step ladders, last year’s Christmas lights and every faded tchotchke that didn’t quite make it to the garbage bin but should have.
A few weeks ago, a fed-up reader wrote in to say, “How about an article on how to undecorate your porch? Honestly, it has gotten out of hand. In my neighborhood, porches are ‘decorated’ with signs, chairs, tables, lamps, stools, end tables, pillows, plants, wreaths, string lights, mini refrigerators, lawn statues, fake trees, wicker deer and more, sometimes all on one porch! Can you please tell your readers to throw away half of what they have on their porches, then throw away half of what is still left? Thanks. Marlene”
We talk a lot in this column about decluttering the inside of our homes, but we shouldn’t ignore the rooms outside. In fact, decluttering and thoughtfully furnishing our porches and patios may be more important because so many more people see them. If your indoors are a cluttered mess, at least you can pull the blinds.
“The way you treat your backyard should be no different from how you treat your living room,” said Tony Evans, an Orlando-based landscape designer. “Don’t junk it up.”
Editing is essential when creating an outdoor space that not only looks good to others, but also makes you want to be there, he added. Ideally, your outdoor space should look like an extension of your interior.
New York architect Jimmy Crisp, author of “On the Porch” (Taunton Press), echoes that sentiment: “A look around many neighborhoods across America suggests that people should be a little more conscientious about what they put on their porches. Many miss the opportunity to use their porches to connect with friends and talk to neighbors because these areas are so uninviting.”
In other words, if people aren’t stopping by, it might be because you have a kiddie toilet and a plastic garden gnome on your porch.
Here’s how Evans and Crisp suggest you cut porch and patio pollution.
1. Don’t use it as storage. Resist the urge to use your porch or patio as a substitute for your garage, shed or basement.
2. Start with good basics. Hit pause before you buy four flimsy chairs. Because outdoor furniture has to withstand the elements, which is almost as hard on furniture as toddlers and teens, make it bombproof. “Splurge on your porch furniture the same way you would on furniture for your favorite room in the house,” Crisp said. “When I bought my outdoor furniture, I was shocked by the cost, but I invested and it has lasted 20 years. As a result, we spend a huge amount of time outdoors.”
3. Put comfort first. No one wants to kick back and relax in a hard plastic chair. Choose comfortable soft seating that makes you want to stay a while. Add a coffee or dining table, and maybe an end table or two to set a beverage and a book on. If you have the room add a rocker or a swinging bench. Don’t over furnish. Let space be your guide.
4. Apply indoor decluttering advice outdoors, too. Edit, edit, edit. We all tend to add but not subtract. Constantly critique your outdoor space. Try to see it as others do. If it looks too busy or over furnished, pare it back.
5. Keep your politics inside. If Crisp had his way, he would ban political yard signs. “They are a real peeve of mine,” he said. “You see opposing views right next door to each other. It’s like an argument that never ends.”
6. Make cleaning easy. Dirt is a constant outside. The less you have on your porch the easier it is to clean. Because the trees in Crisp’s yard drop leaves, seeds, pollen and debris on his porch all year, he keeps a hose and a battery-powered leaf blower handy to clean off the decking and seat cushions. “Having a lot of small trinkets around would make that more difficult.”
7. Accessorize with purpose. Reduce the clutter on your porch or patio by embellishing it only with items you will use. Beyond live plants, which do belong, accessorize only with functional items. On my outdoor sitting area, I keep a pair of glass lanterns on the table, which hold candles that I light every time we dine outside. Other useful décor may include a stack of firewood, a bench with built-in storage for throws, a heat lamp or a mister. But think twice before you set out that fake tree or wicker deer.
Marni Jameson has written seven lifestyle books including the forthcoming “Rightsize Today to Create Your Best Life Tomorrow,” due out Jan. 2. Reach her at www.marnijameson.com.