Psychologist Barry Schwartz has written a book, The Paradox of choice: Why more is less, describing a serious side effect of our culture that offers us so much freedom through infinite choices without limits. We are given so many options, so many choices, that they paralyze us and we become preoccupied with selecting the right option, making the best choice. Sometimes this stress results in not making any choice at all. When we do make a decision, we wind up less satisfied than if we had chosen from a smaller selection of options.
When people are presented with infinite (or seemingly infinite) options, they expect one of those options to be perfect. The bar is so high that any flaw in the desired perfection seems devastating, and we have a huge capacity for regretting our decision because what we chose was “wrong.” If we only have a few options, we are more likely to be satisfied, because we’re so limited in which choices we can make. How can you go wrong when you can only choose from a few things?
Though we cannot really combat the fact that clothing stores have a hundred different styles of top or bottom for us to try on, grocery stores have a ridiculous selection of food and personal items, or twenty restaurants are located within a few blocks of each other in our cities… we can do a lot to limit this paralysis in our own lives.
Limiting the contents of our wardrobe, cupboards, and shelves can do a lot for our true freedom from choices. I’ve felt more free as a minimalist — with arguably less choice about what I can wear or eat or put on my hair on any given day — than I ever did with a stuffed closet or a pantry full of nonperishables I had stocked up on.
To get dressed, I have three options: pants, shorts, dress. I have three pairs of jeans, two pairs of shorts, and four dresses. I have a pretty small selection of tops, all of which are flattering and comfortable. There is no going wrong when I get dressed, because I know I have narrowed down my wardrobe to a few choices that all work. Bam. Dressed. Looks good, feels good, has to be good because I don’t have other options. And that is so freeing.
My kitchen may look sparse, but I only buy what I will eat in the foreseeable future. I used to keep a pantry stocked with boxes and boxes of pasta and jars of sauce. Pasta was always a backup if I didn’t feel like cooking something more demanding of me — like the fresh foods going bad in my fridge and getting wasted. Now I plan out meals and only buy the minimum I need to get through a week in groceries so nothing gets wasted and I don’t have an excuse to cop out and make something easy, because I don’t keep as many convenience foods on hand!
Click here to see a YouTube clip of Barry Schwartz discussing the paradox of choice.
Do you feel more free with less choice?