The link between personal responsibility and an uncluttered life

All while I was reading Chris Guillebeau’s book, a quote from Orison Swett Marden kept running through my mind:

The golden opportunity you are seeking is in yourself. It is not in your environment, it is not in luck or chance, or the help of others; it is in yourself alone.

Or, more directly: “If you want to make a change, you are the only one who can make that change happen.”

At the heart of uncluttering, organizing, productivity, and all the issues we discuss here on Unclutterer is personal responsibility. If you don’t change your behavior, if you don’t take responsibility for your actions, you will continue on the same path you’re dreading. As long as you are of sound mind and body, only YOU can change your life.

  • You can get to work on the project and meet the deadline.
  • You can put your clothes in the hamper at night.
  • You can sort through the clothes in your closet and keep only the items that fit, look good on you, and represent the person you want to be.
  • You can create a meal plan and stick to it.
  • You can organize your linen closet.
  • You can return e-mails within a timely manner.
  • You can sort through your mail immediately when you walk in your house.
  • You can use a calendar and plan your day.
  • You can take a risk.
  • You can be happy right now.
  • You can follow your dreams.

In The Art of Non-Conformity, Chris makes a similar point:

You must take responsibility for what happens in your future, good or bad. Our past may be somewhat responsible for defining who we are at present, but it does not need to define our future. If you had a terrible childhood or someone deeply hurt you at some point in the past, here is your chance to prove them wrong. If you had a nurturing childhood and have never known deep hurt or social disadvantage, you’re better off that the rest of us. Where much is given, much is required, so it’s time to step it up.

Regardless of where you fall in that spectrum, from here on out, win or lose, you must be willing to take responsibility for yourself.

Good luck, and remember that I believe YOU can do it.

24 Comments for “The link between personal responsibility and an uncluttered life”

  1. posted by Jarrod Job on


    Appreciate this post. We need to look where we find our identity. For example, if we get rooted in a perfection(ist) identity (something that I struggle with) we can quickly lose and become demotivated by always coping with failure. Another is if we instill a fear identity, we will always fight or flight with our clutter.

    Why I appreciate this post is taking the responsibility for everything in our lives, and not being defined by our failures.



  2. posted by Mletta on

    Now, if only business (big, small, whatever size) would also take responsibility for THEIR actions, what a world it would be.

    Personal responsibility is key. Always.

    But when individual fail to take responsibility in organizations, we have seen what can happen: theft, bankruptcy, harm to whole populations, products that harm others, etc.

    It takes EVERY person in an organization assuming responsibility for that organization. Unfortunately, that never happens when it’s all about big execs making money, keeping greedy shareholders at bay and doing anything/everything including putting the public at risk for life and limb, to make money and maintain a certain profit margin.

    When companies are structured so that you either have to cave your personal values and ethics to make a living, what’s a person to do? Especially today when jobs are virtually nonexistent.

    Please don’t think I’m absolving myself or anyone else from personal responsibility in those situations. But realistically, the average person cannot literally afford to blow the whistle or even open their mouth to politely voice a concern over product safety, etc.

  3. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Mletta — Doing what you’re told within an institutional setting does NOT absolve you of responsibility for its immoral acts. If asked to do something morally reprehensible, I think most people would choose to quit the job instead of stay in it (or at least work diligently to improve the situation from the inside). I would. In fact, I have left three jobs because I was mortified by the immoral behavior of the leadership at the organization/company/school. In my opinion, it’s better to maintain your integrity instead of letting it go to the highest bidder.

  4. posted by Lain on

    Such wisdom from a midweek blog post — love it! I tell my kids every day that happiness is a choice, and that we have the responsibility to make the choices that bring ourselves — and our world — to a better place.

    If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

    Thank you!

  5. posted by megan on

    Nicely put, Erin.

  6. posted by Eric on

    We can do all of those things to improve out life, just not necessarily all at once. 🙂

    @Mletta. Cleaning up my finances and spending habits have allowed me to see that I’m not a hostage to my paycheck. Not that I’m quitting, far from it, but I’m not beholden to my employer. If you can’t afford to get fired today then you might want to think about building a bigger nest egg, especially in these times. Knowing that nest egg is there is a huge stress relief for someone with a family.

    Clan finances also allow my to pursue my interests without having to worry about paying the bills.

  7. posted by Nicola on

    Yep – personal responsibility is key. I have a friend who always says “if you do what you did, you’ll get what you got.” Sometimes we can’t control the places we end up, but we can control whether we stay there or not.

  8. posted by Dorothy on

    Great post, Erin, and I’d love to read the book. Oddly, it’s not available for the Kindle.

  9. posted by Ashley on

    I sorta love this and feel inspired by it. Thanks!

  10. posted by Zora on

    Ill luck comes our way that is NOT our fault. Putting all the responsibility on individuals to take care of themselves is the American credo, and it’s a remarkably heartless one.

    None of the great religions teach that “you can have whatever you want if you work for it, so if you don’t have it, it’s your fault.” None.

  11. posted by April F. on

    Zora, I struggle with this too. I think each of us has to try to find the balance between taking responsibility for our actions and not being too hard on ourselves.

    I think one phrase from Erin’s post is also key – “as long as you are of sound mind and body.” If you suffer from a mental or physical illness, your only responsibility is to do the best you can within the limits of those circumstances.

  12. posted by sophanne on

    I think one of the difficulties surrounding this concept is that once stated, it can be taken so personally. As I read the comments, I feel there is a certain defensiveness. It seems to me that the key words are “you can.” Not “you have to” or “you should” or “why haven’t you,” but simply “you can.”

  13. posted by Laura on

    I agree wit Zora and April F. that we need to remember that while taking responsibility is important, we need to remember not to beat ourselves up when things get us down, because there is always stuff that’s out of our control. Some days your body needs sleep more than the dishwasher needs filled and sometimes, no matter how much you practice there is going to be someone better than you or you’ll an off day. So, try as best you can, but keep it in perspective 🙂

  14. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Zora — All major world religions actually recommend personal responsibility (Christianity, for instance, teaches in Deuteronomy 6:5 and then again in the New Testament to love others as you love yourself) and most have guidelines stating that you are required to use the gifts God gave to you (again in Christianity, check out 1st Peter 4:10).

    Now, no world religion I know states what you wrote … but, then again, I didn’t either. You have greatly distorted the intent of the post. If you re-read what I quoted from Chris’ book, I think you’ll see that he fully acknowledges we are not in control of all of our circumstances. However, if life hands us lemons, only we can make lemonade for ourselves (assuming we are of sound mind and body). No one else is going to make a pitcher of lemonade for us.

  15. posted by [email protected] on

    Actions speak louder than words, and more honestly. Look to actions, in yourselves and others, to change the world.

    I do not follow a religion myself, but I would point out that the teachings of a religion are merely words, and it is up to the followers to make those words live.

    I am very unhappy with New Zealand’s choice of Prime Minister, because although he is very good at sounding like a nice guy, his actions throughout his career prove that his greatest calling is the love of money, and he has happily sacrificed many others along the way in the pursuit of it.

  16. posted by 4 babies grannie on

    Wrong place to ask this I’m sure, but why do you have a picture of a guy vacuming his mouth?

  17. posted by jbeany on

    Removal of cluttering thoughts – plus, she just likes it! I’d post the link to where I read that on here, but I haven’t a clue where it is anymore.

  18. posted by Mario Lodos on

    Congrats… One of the quickest and most effective advices nobody gave in so much time. The change is within ourselves, does not come from the enviroment.
    Thanks a lot!

  19. posted by Frank on

    Great article. However I would add that those of us that worked very hard to get where we are now have a leg up on those that were lucky enough to have it given to them. We truly can appreciate the value of things because we can equate them to the sweat equity it took to get them. I grew up poor and worked since an early age to be able to help support my family. I learned things like ‘work ethic’ back then. I worked hard but was happy in knowing that I contributed. Most people my age pledged to make a better life for our own children and in doing so, sheltered them from knowing the true value of things. I better stop now, since I’m sounding more and more like my father 🙂

  20. posted by Matt on

    Real Good Read

  21. posted by Battra92 on

    Eh, I just want someone else to clean up after me. Unfortunately my fiancee doesn’t seem to want to fill that role. 😛

  22. posted by Cathy on

    I could not agree with this more. I used to look at my papers as an annoyance. But papers represented my responsibilities. How could that be an annoyance? That was my life. My choices.

    Just finished a guest post that said exactly this. I think it is the most important thing people have to be conscious of if they really want to let go (of anything) and move forward.

  23. posted by Ramblings of a Woman on

    I like to live by, “if it is to be, it’s up to me!”
    On the other hand, it was mentioned above that some people do have limitations and you have to accept them. Of course that is true, but it doesn’t mean to sit back and whine and complain, it means find what you “can” do, and do it.
    There does have to be some balance in this as I tend to be an all or nothing person, which tends to lead me to burnout. I actually wrote a post a couple of weeks ago about my struggle with wanting to achieve, but also wanting peace and contentment in my life and trying to balance the two. You can read about it here, if you’d like. http://bernicewood.wordpress.c.....od-enough/

    Very thought provoking!

  24. posted by Daisy Mae Clayton on

    To quote a great human being and Jew: “Man must cease attributing his problems to his environment, and learn again to exercise his will – his personal responsibility.” -Albert Schweitzer
    In our culture, we seem to have an unquenchable need to blame someone for everything, and therein lies the problem… Personal responsibility is the polar opposite of pointing the finger of blame. Who is responsible for the fact that you have a negative net worth? The credit card companies? No. While I believe their practices to be a crime, you are the one who signed up for the offer to get a free t-shirt and a license to spend money you didn’t have!

    Granted, in this day and age of rampant corporate bailouts, our leadership continues to set a terrible example of fiscal responsibility for its citizens. Their utter non-chalance when it comes to their use of presumptuous money to fund their wayward behavior. While this is glaringly obvious, I propose that we need to consider things at a more granular level.

    What if our individual track records over the course of the last year were made public for all to see? How would we fare? Most of us would have a few skeletons that would quickly quiet our brash criticism toward others. The point here is simple: before we can expect others to act in a certain way, we need to be sure that we’re behaving appropriately ourselves.

    Don’t like how the government is spending money they don’t have? When is the last time you made a credit card purchase with money you didn’t have? Angry with how your employer is failing to budget enough money for personal raises? How would your family budget hold up under similar scrutiny? Moreover, if you weren’t living paycheck to paycheck, you wouldn’t be so dependent on your employer, and might be more thankful that you still have a job.

    Obviously, I’m painting with broad brushstrokes here. Not everyone in our society lives beyond their means, or mismanages their money. On the whole, however, these things ring true.

    So what’s the answer?: (sorry about another quote but it’s very applicable) “Accept responsibility for your life. Know that it is you who will get you where you want to go, no one else.” -Les Brown

    Yes, our political leaders have shown an immense amount of irresponsibility have fallen victim to fashionable corruption. This does not, however, give us the right to follow their lead, complain about their inadequacy, or wait for them to fix our situation. What it does give us is an ever-increasing need to take responsibility for our actions!

    Here’s a list of suggestions to help us regain personal financial responsibility:

    Accept that you cannot blame others for your position in life. Pointing fingers might feel like the easy way out, but it doesn’t do anyone any good. Instead, take a good look at your own financial state, accept full responsibility for it, and work out your own plan to change it for the better.
    Don’t expect anyone to change anything for you. Don’t wait for handouts. Instead, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and work harder than ever to fulfill your own goals.
    Decide that your past will no longer dictate your future. Commit to putting your old financial habits behind you. Wipe the slate clean and give yourself a fresh start.
    Consider your own actions before you attack the actions of others. Make sure you have your own financial house in order before you start tearing down others who have an obvious problem. On the contrary, if you see they need help, find out if there is anything you can do the assist!
    Don’t file bankruptcy. This may seem impossible, and I’ll probably catch a lot of flak for writing this, but bankruptcy goes against everything I have mentioned previously. It is the ultimate cop out — the complete opposite of personal responsibility.
    Concluding thoughts: All of the above may sound simple and obvious to you. If it does, that’s great — I’m obviously not talking to you. In the end, I thought these ideas deserved mentioning, and that they might be just the sort of thing that some — like my neighbors in the condo association meeting — needed to hear.

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