Earlier today, I was at Super Target in Durham. Like any female, I’m pre-programmed to absolutely love Target. I love smelling all the candles, going through the clearance, and marveling over all of the various kinds of crackers.
But I have grown to detest the one closest to my house.
It’s too big, there’s too many people, and I always feel like years have been taken off my life upon exiting the store.
For 10 minutes today, I was in the body wash aisle, trying to decide which one to get. I scanned through the labels – every type posed a question.
Do I have sensitive skin, or not? What’s the difference between a $3 bottle of body wash and $7? And what do micro beads do, anyway?
It was kind of overwhelming. Even if you figure all of that out, you still need to pick from 20 different scents. Do I want mountain sparkle tree? Lavender vanilla delight? EXOTIC FRUIT SALAD?!
Which one REALLY captures the essence of Melissa?
(Admittedly, I made all of those scents up, but they probably exist.)
Besides me, a mother was helping her teenage son pick out deodorant. She read through the various scents, prompting him to choose one. His face was expressionless.
It was frustrating to hear. This kid couldn’t care less about deodorant, and probably would have been happy with anything. But his Mom wanted him to choose between 10 different manly scents.
I was tempted to sweep all of the bottles of body wash off the shelf, grab him by the collar and exclaim,
“WHAT’S IT GOING TO BE, CHRIS?! DO YOU WANT YOUR ARMPITS TO SMELL LIKE AUSTRALIA OR NOT?”
Although it would have been undeserved and ridiculous, I also wanted to tell his mother that she was the reason men can’t make up their minds about anything.
But I digress.
I was already frustrated. It took me almost twenty minutes to get coffee because the girl in front of me had to ask the barista a million questions about the different specialty drinks.
I had to search through racks and racks of over-dazzled, plaid, and patterned shirts just to find a simple white t-shirt.
At checkout, I had to pick from 10 different payment options, opt out of getting cash, and got furiously beeped at because my debit card has a chip, not a swipe.
It’s not Target, though. It’s over-choice. And it exists everywhere.
As I get older, I really start to feel that there’s something burdening about having so many choices. It may sound strange coming from me, the queen of “you can do whatever you want!”, but our society is so accustomed to choices, we feel we are entitled to them.
At any given retailer, people can choose from any combination of granola, chocolate chips, sugar, and unicorn magic in cereal, breakfast bar, or trail mix form. It causes people to lose all self-awareness and get fooled into thinking they need a Keurig, along with 20 varieties of k-cups.
It’s ironic, because statistically, you’re more likely to make a poor choice when you have too many. A Psychology Today article, “The Burden of Choice”, sums this up very well. It discusses the danger of over-choice, citing Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice.
Schwartz claims that inevitably, the more options there are, the decreased chance that you will make a good one. Plus once a choice is made, “we are told that better choices exist”, and we become unhappy with what we have.
Or as Schwartz put it, ”we will make a non-optimal choice, and this prospect undermines whatever pleasure one may get from one’s actual choice.”
I mean, I know that doesn’t really relate to choosing a type of body wash. I know the mothers of the world who are letting their sons choose their deodorant scent aren’t responsible for wishy-washy, full grown adults.
But there’s STILL something to that. Our society is not good at making commitments – hence the millennial tendency to switch jobs frequently, go through various long-term relationships before marriage, and why when you ask your girlfriend where she wants to eat tonight, she says:
“Oh, I don’t know. Anywhere but any place that you’re about to suggest.”
We love the ease of options, but we hate the difficulty of decisions and commitment. We’re addicted and hindered by choices.
The phenomenon of over-choice, the same Psychology Today article pointed out, was actually predicted, nearly 40 years ago, by a man named Alvin Toffler. Toffler didn’t just predict that we would have too many choices, he wrote in his book Future Shock, that the unlimited choices would make us unhappy.
That they would essentially “paralyze” us.
I can personally attest to that. When I was growing up, I had tons of choices. It fed into me being a bit insatiable, and eventually, burned me out. The cost of having so many choices, was the eventual inability to fully commit to things.
I could do anything I wanted, and never really had to commit, because opportunity was my safety net.
It’s a habit that I’ve desperately tried to break.
It’s not fair. It diminished everything I’ve had with the shadow of what I could have.
Hence my current minimalistic, near nomadic lifestyle. I don’t need to keep searching or waiting. I know what I want, and I understand that thing won’t always be easy to obtain or keep.
The alternative is just avoiding tough choices and potentially valuable, character building experiences and relationships. That does not appeal to me. I don’t want to be burdened by over-choice, to live in such a way where nothing, or no one, is good enough because it’s not easy or perfect.
Honestly, I think people are tired of choices. I don’t think anyone else wants to spend two hours in a Target, trying to push past other people who are equally as confused about what kind of fabric softener they should buy.
I think we all are moving towards reserving variety and choice for when and where it matters. We don’t need unlimited options of everything, just a few really good things, that work really well. I think we’d all be happier that way.
But who knows. I’m not an expert. I haven’t done extensive research on the subject, and as always, just speaking from personal experience.
I’d honestly love to hear from people of all ages, about how they feel about the topic of “over-choice”. If you have thoughts, please email me, and I’d love to discuss this further (melissas100list [at] gmail [dot] com).
If you think I’m being preachy, or took offensive to any of this – again, I’m not an expert. I’m just speaking from the perspective of an individual who doesn’t understand why there are literally thousands of shades of lipstick. Call me idealistic or mis-informed, but the next time you can’t decide where to get takeout from, I promise you will think of me.