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 recent 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 Gatherers, No 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 …

WebMD: Is Guilt Getting the Best of You?

Psychology Today: What Does Guilt Do?

Huffington Post: Billionaire 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.