3 Lessons for Gracious Living in a Stuff-Filled Season

Last year, YES! publisher Fran Korten shared her efforts to move more stuff out of her house than into it. With the season of “stuff” upon us again, here’s what she’s learned about unstuffing her life.
Christmas Card photo by Lauren Manning

Photo by Lauren Manning.

A year ago I wrote for YES! about my project to clean my home of all my unwanted stuff. I had come to feel claustrophobic in my own house, burdened by the clutter in every closet, drawer, and cupboard.

So I pledged that each week I would take more stuff out than I brought in. I looked for ways each thing could be best used and found lots of opportunities. When the wildlife shelter put out a call for bedding, I unloaded a box of old sheets and towels. When a friend ran a benefit garage sale, I donated paintings, a candleholder, and an armchair.

Gradually, the mess has melted away, and with it my sense of overwhelm. Here are three things I learned about how to feel at ease in my home and avoid the small frustrations of not being able to find things—in short, how to live graciously.

1. Know each thing that you have.

In my case, I had five boxes from the move my family had made years ago that we had never even opened. I realized that if I don’t know what I have, it can’t possibly meet my needs. I opened the boxes, got rid of what I didn’t want, and now can find what is useful. In the process, I cleared space on my shelf for other things I actually use.

2. Keep only what you want.

There are lots of reasons for keeping things, including for their sentimental value. But one really bad reason is this: “Even though I haven’t used this meat grinder in the last five years, I just may need it someday.” Unlikely. The space is probably worth more to your sanity than the item ever will be. One trick I find helpful is a “limbo” spot in a closet. That’s my place for that dress or set of placemats that I’m not quite ready to let go of. After several months, or even a year, if I haven’t used them I’m generally ready to give them away with confidence.

3. Be able to find things without having to shove anything else out of the way.

This is hard. It not only demands cleaning out the clutter, but also keeping what’s left in order. But I find it is truly the key to gracious living. How many times have you had to dig through a closet to find that green shirt you thought you had? Or paw through a drawer to find that pink eraser? Think of the pleasure of opening the closet, drawer, or cupboard and seeing at a glance exactly what it contains.

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I’ve been adhering pretty well to these three rules. I find them self-reinforcing as every day I get joy from the sense of spaciousness and ease I experience in my home.

My loved ones now know my gift preferences: I want only items that are experiences (a restaurant certificate or massage), small (earrings or a DVD … well, an iPhone5 can qualify), or consumable (wine, soap, or candles). I want nothing that adds to accumulated stuff.

So here’s to your holiday season. Let it be filled with joy—not stuff—and a brave new year of gracious living.


  • I longed for simpler surroundings. So I made a resolution: Each week I would move more stuff out of the house than came in.

  • Our guide to gifts that are thoughtful, fun, creative, and sustainable: Including tips, how-tos, books, and more for earth-friendly celebrating this year and beyond.

  • Studies show that gratitude has an inverse correlation with depression—the more grateful you are, the happier you are. Eleven thinkers, throughout the ages, on why being thankful matters.