I have to admit to being an indifferent gardener at best. I have this problem, probably because I was raised in a series of apartments and condos, where I mentally categorize everything outside my front door as an undifferentiated mass of "outside." I have to really struggle to see messes and problems, and I guess I'm just lucky that my yard can't be seen from the road!
This is the time of year when yards are most on display, and when they are most likely to fall into disrepair. The truth is that the only thing that belongs out in your yard is:
1) Decorative items
2) You, and other members of your family
Tools of every kind obviously belong in their usual places, and not out in the yard. That five gallon bright orange Home Depot bucket, even though it is really handy to have around, does not belong out in the yard.
The same goes for the lawn mower. I have trouble with this, because my property is large enough to require a riding lawnmower, and yet I do not have a place for the mower to "live" when it's not in use. I compromise by driving it around to the back of the house and sort of tucking it away in a corner.
Putting away your tools and other lawn care implements not only keeps your yard looking tidy, it also lengthens the lifespan of the tools. Metal obviously will last longer if it's kept in a shed or garage, to keep it from rusting. A lot of people don't realize that plastic lasts longer, as well. The more time plastic spends being exposed to direct sunlight, the sooner it develops cracks and other weaknesses.
Plants should be kept reasonably trimmed and maintained, of course. Pruning time has largely passed, but now is the time to deadhead your flowers (i.e. pick off the dead flowers). This not only improves their overall appearance, but it also deters the insects that feed on decomposing plant tissue, and helps to prevent the spread of disease.
Speaking of disease, rust and black spot are a terrible problem out here. This is the time of year when you should pick off any leaves that show black spots. This is a fungal disease in which the spots themselves release spores, so be sure to dispose of the diseased leaves properly. You probably don't want to put them in your compost heap, unless you're confident that your compost heap gets up to the proper temperatures.
From observing the front lawns in my town, I observe that the general rule of thumb for decorative items is three. Any more than three lawn decorations and you're edging towards Tacky Town. Also, certain lawn decorations (like Half Bathtub Virgin Mary and Plywood Bloomers Lady) should be avoided at all costs. Those pseudo-Victorian reflecting balls are also on the wane.
Keeping the front yard tidy is an ongoing effort, but one that shouldn't really take too much time. Just a few extra minutes every week when you're done with the yard work is enough to put back all the tools you just finished using. And believe me, your neighbors will notice!
Creative Commons-licensed image courtesy of Flickr user doortoriver