5 Mistakes People Make That Lead to a Cluttered Backyard — And How to Avoid It

Help your backyard reach its full potential this summer by following these expert approved decluttering tips

A backyard with tactically placed shrubs and plants
(Image credit: Ty Cole/OTTO (interiors: 2Michaels Design; architecture: Matthew Baird Architects; landscaping: RKLA Studio))

A backyard can be so many things: your chosen sanctuary for quiet reading while indulging in the scent of luxurious flowers, the hub of social activity from parties to patio dinners, or where kids excitedly run to when it's time to play. But one thing it doesn't have to be is a source of stress and cluttered mess.

With warmer, brighter days approaching, there’s no better time to address your yard and its sense of order. Decluttering and organizing, after all, aren't exclusive to a person's indoor living space — the backyard is just as important to address and as much a part of your home as the living room or kitchen!

Whether the eyesores in your yard are obvious or you’re scratching your head as to where to start, we’ve got you covered. We talked to professional organizers to uncover what common mistakes people make that lead to a cluttered feeling yard. You’ll be saying goodbye to trip hazards in no time as you learn about what backyard items to declutter and remove from your space, just in time for sunnier days.

1. Items that don’t belong

Many objects work their way to your outdoor living area without you keeping track: surplus toys, cutlery, dog treats scattered across the grass. Beginning your yard clean up by tackling out of place items is a great way to gain momentum and quickly reduce visual clutter.

As noted by Melissa Gugni, Owner of Melissa Gugni Organizing: ‘When I’m decluttering a backyard, the first step is the same first step as I would do indoors – put everything that doesn’t belong back. That means collecting any glassware, putting empty bottles in the recycling bin, putting the lawn mower away and tossing that broken jump rope.’

Once your backyard only contains what is supposed to be there you’ll be able to better assess how cohesive the space looks, minus the addition of day-to-day clutter accumulation. Think of it as removing the surface level layer to get closer to the root of the clutter problem.

2. Items that don’t have a home

Gardening tools for watering and pruning

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Similarly to how items that don’t belong can cause clutter to amount, items with no home become almost the same thing. They belong in your backyard in the sense that they are a yard-related item — a table umbrella, spades, grass seed — but without a home, they will just end up being placed temporarily anywhere and everywhere.

‘Garden tools, lawn mowers, etcetera should go inside the garage or tool shed,’ says Beth Dumesco, a Professional Organizer and Content Writer at Cheryl’s Organizing Concepts. ‘Seasonal items like patio umbrellas, heaters and outdoor grills can also be stored away during months they aren’t in use.’

The same idea can be applied to children’s outdoor toys: ‘If outdoor toys and games are taking over, it can be great to designate a big bin outside or in the garage where items are stored and returned to at the end of the day,’ says Melissa.

3. Mismatched plant pots

Beautiful, summer planted Terracotta pots with soft pink and white daisies and scented Lavender

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Want to know the golden rules for outdoor potted plant arrangements? Well first off, don't have too many plants in one spot if you have a small yard — as this will cause the space to look crammed, less thought out and confused. Add in the addition of mismatched plants pots in every shape and size, and the harmony you seek to cultivate outdoors will struggle.

‘Keeping plants and plant pots simple or in groups can help your yard look orderly,’ says Beth. ‘Unused pots will be best stored neatly stacked together or somewhere out of sight such as in a shed or greenhouse.’

Of course, if you’re aiming for a colorful, mismatched look on purpose, this is a different story. Collect every color possible, or stick to a certain vibrancy level (pastels, neons, etc) if you still wish to create a theme. And likewise, if colorful lawn gnomes and pool flamingos make your yard stand out in a way that brings you joy, follow your heart.

4. The overuse of landscape accessories

Flowers in the garden as the sun begins to set

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Overusing landscape accessories is just one of the small backyard mistakes to avoid in backyards. As tempting as it may be to add more into your space, it can end up looking cluttered and messy. So, try to keep things simple and chic.

Cate Singleton, Landscaper and Director at online landscape design firm Tilly’s, says: 'Groupings of seasonal containers can certainly provide color, texture and depth to an outdoor space. However, if these get too large, they may impede on pathways and circulation patterns through your garden. This will inherently make the space feel cluttered and small'.

5. Lingering maintenance work

Striped Mowed Lawn and Green Leafy Trees in a Garden

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Is your lawn care slacking a bit and has the grass grown a little too tall? Is the water butt prone to leaking? Were the tiles on the shed roof always so moss covered or precariously close to falling off? Well, the general upkeep of your yard’s maintenance contributes more than you may think to the overall image of your backyard. So don't forget to take care of it!

‘Things that are broken or in bad condition show a yard is poorly kept,’ says Beth. ‘So thinking about your yard item’s ease of maintenance and regular care before purchase can be useful long term.’

Backyard maintenance also means keeping all your tools in check and in the right place. The best way to do this is by investing an outdoor tool box like this Dewalt Tstak Tool Box from Amazon, priced at just $31.31. If you want something a little more discrete and stylish, we particularly like this Boxy Waxed Canvas Garden Tote from Target listed below.

Learning how to declutter a space takes time and patience — so try to enjoy and embrace every moment as you learn more about your backyard and expand on your ideas to make it better.

Livingetc's Advice and Gardens Editor Faiza Saqib says: 'Decluttering is not an easy step to take, I learnt the hard way. But once you do take that step, you'll be able to focus on the often forgotten areas of your backyard. You'll be able to tend to your beloved plants, decorate in a way which grants cohesion in your space and relax in your newly formed and decluttered backyard'.

Ciéra Cree
Contributing Writer

Ciéra is a writer and regional laureate with particular passions for art, design, philosophy and poetry. As well as contributing to Livingetc, she's an Editorial Assistant for Design Anthology UK and a Contributing Editor for Homes & Gardens. When not writing about interiors Ciéra can likely be found getting lost in a book, charity shop "treasure hunting", or getting excited about Christmas regardless of what month it is. Previous commendations of hers include being Highly Commended by The Royal Society of Literature and receiving a prestigious MA Magazine Journalism scholarship.