Re: tearing up the lawn and planting shrubs etc.
There are companies that provide free utility locating and marking, call your local building department for one in your area. These companies are paid for by the utility and municipalities to prevent damage to infrastructure, equipment, and death. If they have marked your property and you still hit something, THEY pay for the damages. If you do not use a locating company and hit something YOU pay the damages, and you don't even want to go there!
As far as what to do with your yard, I would suggest you sit down with your wife first to determine how hands on you are going to be with both the relandscaping project as well as the maintenance of it after the fact. If neither of you have an interest in maintaining the yard, then you will have to factor in hiring someone to do that. Typical mow and blow work it pretty cheap, constant pruning and maintenance of bushes gets expensive quickly.
Once you know your amount of involvement, then you can do a couple of different things. Diagram your yard with the approximate measurements and slopes and take it to a local nursery for advice on native plants and designs that will work in your environment. Or, you can hire a landscape designer/architect to do it all for you. Your decisions, of course, will determine the overall cost of the project and future maintenance.
I suffer from CDO ... Its like OCD, but in alphabetical order, LIKE IT SHOULD BE!!!