Each time I enter a store, even for the most simple purchases, it invariably leads to an inner struggle. I might just need some dish soap. That’s all. Yet, somehow time invested in the experience always exceeds the time I’d allotted once I’m in the aisle getting down to business. I attribute this, not just to a degree of neuroticism, but to option infiltration. When is the last time you saw only one, or two versions of a product in a store that wasn’t a gas station express mini-mart, or a hospital gift shop? And even those places seem to be getting fancy.
Like many people, I enjoy my options. They seem so empowering. I suppose it brings out the democratic, liberty lovin’, part of me. The issue is, much like other confections of democracy, it’s been frosted to excess. And I’m frozen in the aisle of a grocery store. I want to get on with my life. Despite my awareness of option overload, putting haste into practice in the face of thirty dish soaps is easier said than done.
Instead, my thought process might go something like this:
The spendthrifty, overly-analytical side of me takes complete control of the situation- hijacking my mind and body. I find myself crouching and straining my neck in the strangest and most unthinkable positions, shocked by this new found flexibility. My eyes scan every label and price tag. I might even go out of my way to flag down an associate, only to verify the price of a lone ranger, non-designated bottle. “What if THAT’S the cheapest one?, I’ll tell myself. Price isn’t the only consideration, though. Cheapest one doesn’t mean shit if I’m going to be dousing my dishes with diluted toxins later on. Is there an organic option? It’s mine. Now I’m wondering what organic actually means in terms of safety. *Consults iPhone* Fighting a barrage of distracting characters, numbers and symbols on the screen; now my math brain comes alive. Suddenly I’m converting fluid ounces to ounces. I can do math? The clock on my screen makes its way into my periphery. I glance back at the aisle. Lemon is probably the least offensive scent. What does “Original” smell like? I know I enjoy feeling that way. Abruptly a Dawn oil spill commercial flashes into my mind and I’m sympathizing with their eco friendliness despite the .74 cent upcharge. Don’t you dare act in self interest. But, but.. “Softer feeling hands in 3 uses? …OLAY!” I decide to go with it. After all, it’s still made by Dawn. I proceed to the check out, contented by my utilitarianism. This way I’m killing two birds with one stone…
Oh, but that doesn’t sound good.
Scholarly Stuff : Psychologists are researching how choice can affect our well-being. Check out Barry Schwartz’s book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, to further probe this connection.