A perfectly orchestrated backyard party took an ugly turn when the bounce house was emptied and all 15 little friends and twice as many adults gathered around to watch the 5-year old open a mountain of gifts.
That’s when the birthday girl melted into a puddle of tears.
Melissa’s embarrassed parents threatened punishment if she didn’t “stop right now!” which only made things worse. She ran to her room and slammed the door.
I’m sure a child psychologist would have had a field day citing poor parenting skills, hidden anger, deep-seated fear or some form of attention deficit. I saw it as much less complicated. Melissa was the victim of too many choices. I know because I feel the same way when I go to a supermarket or try to determine which cell phone plan is the best.
When I have too many choices my brain goes into overload and then it just stalls out. I cannot make a decision and all I want to do is to run to my room and slam the door!
In his book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, (Ecco, 2016) author Barry Schwartz says that freedom and individual choice have a downside. “As the number of choices grows further, the negatives escalate until we become overloaded,” he writes. “At this point, choice no longer liberates but debilitates. It might even be said to tyrannize.”
Recently, I attempted to count the number of choices in the cookie aisle at the supermarket in my neighborhood. When I hit triple digits I stopped. That makes me crazy! How can I expect to make the right choice when I have so many options? Schwartz says so many choices may be bad for us. Several, not hundreds, of choices, give us the freedom to show our individuality without pushing us into the maddening dilemma of having to make the perfect choice.
Thankfully, I’ve discovered ways to escape the tyranny of too many choices.
1. I stay away from places known for an abundance of choice. I depend on experts to narrow the possibilities to a number I can manage easily.
2. I avoid shopping malls, preferring warehouse clubs. Their buyers narrow my choices from hundreds of choices to just one or two. I can deal with that.
3. A written list narrows my choices. When I create a list based on items that are on sale and the coupons I have for that store, my choices are made for me long before I walk through the door. Researching online in the quiet of my office helps me to narrow my choices even before I leave home.
Recently, I had an immediate need for a heavy-duty, outdoor extension cord. My minimum requirement was that it be 12 gauge and short in length. Home Depot is only a few miles away, so of course, my kneejerk reaction was to jump in the car and go get what I needed. But I caught myself and went to HomeDepot.com instead.
A quick search turned up the exact item I needed—heavy duty, outdoor use, 12-gauge in weight, 15-feet in length. Perfect. As a bonus, the site gave me the option to see if the store nearest me had this item in stock. Yes! I learned my store had three in stock together with the exact Aisle and Bin location for where to find them.
Had I walked into Home Depot to get an extension cord with only a vague idea of where to start looking for an item that might fit my needs, the entire store would have been in my purview—including the Garden Center. And the cleaning supplies aisle; the lamps section and window blinds. Oh, look, Christmas decorations and power tools!
Thankfully, I’d narrowed my choices to just that one thing before I left the house. I’d printed the page telling me the exact location. I was on a mission. I wasn’t distracted, overwhelmed or paralyzed. I knew where to go, had a picture of what to look for; found what I needed and was out of the store in five minutes flat.
If Melissa’s parents had asked me, I would have suggested they move the mountain of gifts indoors, bringing out just one or two gifts at a time. Or better yet, scale the party down to just a few friends to avoid being overwhelmed by too much of a good thing.
Speaking of choices, I’ve been researching my heart out in anticipation of the year’s biggest shopping season. Are you overwhelmed? Don’t know where to start? Oh, do I know that feeling! And so for both of us—and back by popular demand—tomorrow we’ll kick things off with Holiday Season 2017’s Best Inexpensive™ Toys for Kids Ages 1-7.
Question: If you’ve found yourself frustrated by too many choices, what have you done to deal with it? Let’s talk about it in the comments section here and I’ll respond.