Bearded man looking guilty as he eats cake

Americans love to feel guilty.

Unfortunately, it’s often for the wrong reasons.

Michael Pollan wrote in In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto“He showed the words “chocolate cake” to a group of Americans and recorded their word associations. “Guilt” was the top response. If that strikes you as unexceptional, consider the response of French eaters to the same prompt: “celebration.”  

I’m all for an appropriate amount of remorse for the horrors of slavery, the massacre of the native population, and other crimes motivated by greed and selfishness, regardless of scale.

But guilt over chocolate cake … or stuff? Really?

In a survey done by Wakefield Research for SpareFoot, 22% of Americans nationwide expressed a feeling of guilt involving an object with the overwhelming majority of them expressing guilt over a gift they received that they do not like or want.

Nothing freely given is ever meant to be a burden.

The giver, unless s/he deliberately gave you something to shame or abuse you, actually selected their gift hoping it would increase your happiness.

At the least the gift was intended to inspire warm thoughts of the giver.

If you are holding onto something that does not bring you happiness when you see it or use it, if you are wasting valuable space storing something you will never wear, read, use or display, let it go.

Life is too short to torment yourself and hold yourself hostage by feeling crummy about a thing. Especially when the thing IS a thing.

As a professional organizer who has helped countless people break the chains of needless guilt and let go of things that do not serve them and in fact, cause them pain and grief, it is tremendously satisfying to witness someone setting themselves free.

There was something terribly wrong and offensive when Marie Antoinette uttered those famous words, “Let them eat cake,” in response to widespread poverty and hunger in France.

In America today, the vast majority of us can in fact have our cake and eat it, too—without guilt.

If you are lucky enough to enjoy a full belly of food, cake or otherwise, a much better way to spend your time might be to help feed those Americans who ARE still hungry instead of feeling needlessly guilty about a Christmas card you received 15 years ago.

To find a volunteer opportunity or donate to end hunger in America, visit Food GatherersNo Kid Hungry and FRAC: Food Resource and Action Center.

To read up on the debilitating effects of unnecessary guilt, check out these articles:

Forbes6 Signs You Are Suffering From Guilt …

WebMDIs Guilt Getting the Best of You?

Psychology TodayWhat Does Guilt Do?

Huffington PostBillionaire Guilt?

By all means, feel guilty when it’s appropriate, like when you’ve lied to someone or done something you knew was wrong, but it’s time to stop feeling guilty about objects that couldn’t care less.

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About The Author

Andrew Mellen's picture

Andrew Mellen is an organizational expert, public speaker, and the #1 best-selling author of Unstuff Your Life!

Andrew has helped tens of thousands of people worldwide to declutter and simplify their lives while regaining time for the things that matter.

A sought-after authority on organizing and productivity, Andrew's addressed audiences from The Great British Business Show to TEDx. 

Corporate clients include American Express, Genentech, NetApp, Time, Inc., and the US Depts. of Education and Homeland Security.

The media has dubbed Andrew “The Most Organized Man in America.” He writes a featured column called “Ask The Organizer” in Real Simple. In addition, he has written for and/or appeared in: The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Oprah Magazine, America Now, The Lisa Oz Show, The Nate Berkus Show, Oprah & Friends, Martha Stewart Living Today, ABC, NBC, CBS, CW11, HGTV, DIY Network, LiveWell Network, KnowMoreTV, Better Homes & Gardens, Ladies' Home Journal, Woman's Day, Family Circle, USA Today, GQ, InStyle, All You, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Healthy UK, American Way, numerous trade and travel publications, and NPR.

He leads workshops and speaks internationally while maintaining a private practice working with clients ranging from Fortune 100 companies, trade associations, and non-profits to CEOs, award-winning filmmakers, and authors, as well as overwhelmed parents everywhere. 

In 2013, Andrew founded Unstuff U®, the world's first completely virtual personal organization training center, offering classes, workshops, and other online resources for businesses and individuals. 

Andrew is a member of the Experts Collective and serves on the faculty of the New York Open Center in New York City. He speaks frequently on the intersection of spirituality and organization at places including Omega Institute, San Francisco Zen Center, Tassajara, All Saints Church, JCC Manhattan, and the Center for Spiritual Enlightenment, among others.

Previously, Andrew was an award-winning playwright, actor, producer, and director and the former Artistic Director of Alice B. Theater (Seattle), DC Arts Center (Washington, DC), and Shuttle Theater Company (New York). He is a contributing author to Yes Is the Answer: (And Other Prog-Rock Tales).

Andrew lives by his motto: More Love, Less Stuff!® 

Find him on the web at

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