The Choices That Bind


Excessive choice has once again trapped me under its devious spell.

This time, paralysis took hold as I was browsing refrigerators at a local appliance superstore (check out my other recent paralyzing experience: “Panic in the Toothpaste Aisle”).

I embarked on my current retail engagement in response to the near-demise of my current fridge (the not-so-subtle clues of its impending death include a failing motor and a small puddle of water slowly emerging beneath its body).

Given the strong possibility that this minor incontinence will eventually lead to a full-blown river in the middle of my kitchen, I decided to begin the replacement process.

And not surprisingly, the market is chock full of choices. Beyond the familiar freezer-on-top and side-by-side model options, stylish alternatives include French refrigerator doors, a freezer door (or drawer) at the bottom, and sophisticated door-mounted water and ice dispensers – not to mention various options in both color and finish.

Of course, most of these choices are offered by numerous brands that include Whirlpool (which apparently now owns Maytag, KitchenAid, Amana and Jenn-Air), General Electric, Kenmore, LG, Samsung, Electrolux, Viking, etc., etc.

Stop, I want to get off.

I know it seems counterintuitive, but I continue to believe that the availability of so many choices actually leads to LESS personal satisfaction. Instead, it creates confusion, compounds stress, and dramatically increases the likelihood of some degree of buyer’s remorse.

Reinforcing those beliefs is Barry Schwartz, a sociology professor at Swarthmore College and author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less. During his 2005 TED presentation, he explained how and why the abundance of choice in modern society is actually making us quite miserable:

And here’s a Newsweek article on the topic as well.

While you ponder this concept further, I need to go change the towels beneath my fridge.


Panic in the Toothpaste Aisle


OK, I’ll admit it. Decisions have never come easy to me. The concept of keeping all my options open always strikes me as the best option of all (which may just have some obscure connection to my perpetual singleness…but I digress).

It was during a seemingly innocent trip to the neighborhood grocery store that my decision-phobia came face-to-face with its greatest nemesis: the toothpaste aisle.

Stretching as far as the eyes could see were tubes, bottles and canisters of every shape, size and variety. Pastes. Gels. Powders. More than 20 varieties of Crest alone. Sheer lunacy.

As I surveyed the bewildering landscape, I wondered how ANYONE might be able to thoughtfully hone in on the ideal choice for his teeth and gums. How could any choice NOT lead to some level of buyer’s remorse (“I think I should’ve gone with the 6 oz. tartar control striped gel pump…DAMN!”)

I also considered if having dozens of toothpaste choices might just stoke a sick demand for even more choices. A bottomless pit that no dental aid could ever satisfy.

Realizing I was getting needlessly worked up, I cooled off by taking a quick stroll down the adjacent aisle and then high-tailing it home. As I left the store – marshmallows in tow – I understood why shopping for toothpaste would always rank right up there with having a root canal. Or perhaps an extraction. Or maybe just a good old-fashioned scaling.