Leaving the World a Little Better


“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” – Anne Frank

Fresh out of school at the University of Nebraska with degrees in Banking and Finance, I went to work as an intern at a large church in Omaha, NE. It was a fantastic experience. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity that I was given early in my development.

At one point, during a meeting with over 20 pastors, the Senior Pastor made a statement I remember almost 15 years later. In fact, I can still remember the room, where I was sitting, and where he was standing. He said quite simply, “I try to leave every room I enter a little bit better than how I found it.”

Not necessarily brand-new information about personal responsibility, but there was something in his sincerity that made the message stick. He continued on to list specific examples from his life about putting this into action: rooms in his house, rooms in the church, even public restrooms.

“My goal is to leave the room just a little bit nicer for the next person.”

Interestingly enough, when he was finished, he led each of the 20+ pastors outside to the parking lot where we picked up every piece of trash laying in the parking lot. Lesson learned and apparently, never forgotten.

I try to live by this principle. Granted, I don’t always succeed. But when I am mindful of my surroundings, I find it is not too difficult to complete. It takes far less energy than most people think to pick up a piece of trash, straighten some chairs, clear some clutter, or wipe down the counter in a restroom (private or public). And the benefits of this habit for others, for ourselves, and for society in general are highly significant. Every walk in the park, ride on a trail, or hike up a mountain is an opportunity to leave a place better than we found it.

But recently, I’ve been trying to be mindful of this practice not just in physical places but in each of life’s spaces as well.

Its application is possible (and beneficial) in nearly every interaction we encounter. Every relationship is an opportunity to leave others better than we found them. Every conversation at the market, library, or street corner is an opportunity to brighten somebody’s day. Every meeting or assigned project at work is an opportunity to move progress forward. Even every posting on Facebook or social media carries the same potential.

Ultimately, in the end, may our families be better because we were a part of them. May our neighborhoods and schools be better because of our involvement. And may our world be left in a better condition for future generations because we were a part of this one.

Image: jessleecuizon

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. says

    Very interesting quote and way of thinking. We all strive to do something like that, but putting it in words so masterfully makes it easy to remember and self-motivate. Thanks for sharing this with us, Joshua! I’m going to be repeating this to myself for a long time.

  2. Rhi says

    This is so inspiring! I’m the opposite to you in this. For a long time now I’ve been making an effortan effort to “improve” the emotional and spiritual space around me, but haven’t thought to transfer this idea to physical space. From now on I’ll be picking up trash and wiping down basins as well as smiling at strangers.
    I’ve left my Facebook space a little better this morning…I shared a great article about leaving the room a little better than you found it.

  3. Noelani says

    This is truly inspiring! Going forth, I will definitely have the mindset “…to leave the room just a little bit nicer for the next person.”

  4. says

    Great post! I always think of leaving the world a little better by my energy and the interaction I have with people, but I love taking care of the physical surroundings as well. I’ll definitely take this and see how I can leave each room a little better than when I entered it.

  5. Elizabeth says

    This is wonderful. I have never been able to match words to what I do. I am out and about with a small group of children everyday on the green space, paths, playground, and short walks in the neighbourhood. We are always picking up trash. I tell the 3 and 4 year olds that trash isn’t beautiful and it isn’t part of nature, and it is not pretty to look at so we’ll put it in its place. The playground always has strewn gravel onto the concrete sidewalk, and once in awhile I bring the push broom with us and sweep it all back in (safety for everyone and helping the city workers too). I often find myself doing the same in public washrooms to wipe down the counter, and always chatting with people in line at the bank or the grocery store. Thank you in that I can now put those words out to others for my actions and inspire them to do the same!

    • Annie says

      I wish more people in my beloved NYC were like you. It always breaks my heart to see people toss their trash on the subway/bus floor or the ground outside. What’s worse is that they do it in front of their children who learn the same bad habit and disregard for others. My parents taught me to clean up after myself. To this day I will carry my trash as far as I have to in order to dispose of it properly.

  6. abby says

    My mom used to say to my siblings and I growing up, “Always leave a room better or the same, never worse.” I’m so glad that she said it so often. I still think about it today. I never thought about applying that to people’s life spaces as well but I love it! I hope it becomes something that sticks in my mind as well. I love this site by the way. I’m really enjoying simplifying my life and sharing your journey and mine with others :)

  7. says

    Everything I do everyday, I wonder if I’m doing the right thing. The right thing by which I can be proud of myself on my deathbed, the right thing by which I will not have any regrets on my deathbed, the right thing by which I will be loved by everyone in my life when I leave.
    It’s really hard though. The easy path, the path with not much glory is so tempting. It is easy to do nothing, follow the crowds, be a sheep. It’s harder to live your dream.

  8. Molly says

    Hi Joshua! This really struck a chord with me. I am so grateful for this message. Sometimes we underestimate the power of small gestures.

  9. says

    Well hello Joshua, often the simplest statements have the most power. As I read that simple principle it seemed to be warmly accepted by my inner conscious as one of those things that I knew but had put aside for far too long. All too often we do nothing because our aim is for the grand which we cannot accomplish rather than the miniscule unnoticed activity that benefits many but goes uncredited by all except our own inner self worth.

    As BrownVagabonder said, on our deathbed the one thing we all need to know is did we make a difference, regardless of how big.

  10. Tracey says

    My counter wiping in the restroom at work has been validated and isn’t just some OCD quirk. Beautiful story.

  11. Katy says

    Thank you for this post. It was encouraging and challenging to me as a person and as a mom raising two young children. I will definitely begin to use this phrase with them. I love how we can make a difference in the world even if its a small act. Very inspiring.

  12. says

    Beautiful and true. Each day, I try to be mindful about “what am I putting out there?” It’s important to keep in mind what our motivations are before acting. Will it result in something positive, negative, or neutral? We have so many choices throughout our days. It’s an ongoing practice to choose the “right” path for ourselves.

    As for the litter, yes, it’s so much easier to just pick it up ourselves. Many people think, “That’s gross and I didn’t put it there, so it’s not my responsibility!” Truth is, it’s our collective responsibility, and goodness builds upon goodness.

  13. says

    My mom taught me this when we used to camp. We would always leave the site and the bathroom nice for the next person. It has carried over into other parts of my life.

  14. says

    If only everybody lived this way…frustrating when it feels like you’re the only person living in that manner. If I’m going to leave it cleaner for the next person, why shouldn’t I expect the person before me to have done their part as well?

  15. Janice Franklin says

    As I read this article, I have a few grade 7 students who have come into the classroom early because of the extreme cold. Without being asked, they are setting up all the chairs at the desks of their classmates. They are starting their day by making the room better than they found it and doing a little something to help make others’ days start more smoothly.

  16. Natasha Young says

    Thanks for this. It was my philosophy when my children were small and I felt totally overwhelmed by their needs, to make sure every interaction with me left things in some way better for them, either physically, emotionally or intellectually. It was a way of making it manageable when I knew I couldn’t fix everything. I am now inspired to apply it more broadly!

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