I always get my milk last at the grocery store because I don’t want it to curdle while I try to choose between whole wheat, crushed wheat, honey wheat, honey bran, sunflower, or twelve grain bread.
Shopping for groceries—and everything else—is challenging for the indecisive. I finally choose twelve grain and head to the most difficult grocery aisle of all: Personal Care.
Before me lies toothpaste as far as the eye can see. I prefer gel to paste, but what do I need more? Enamel care, tarter control, cavity protection, extra whitening or breath freshening? Don’t answer that.
Do I want lotion that firms skin, hydrates hands, protects from the sun or provides advanced therapy. I pick the last one because therapy is just what I need after choosing bread and toothpaste.
I’m paralyzed by so many choices. Fortunately, I have some coping mechanisms. Unfortunately none of them help.
1) I put off grocery shopping until all that’s left to eat in our home is flour and ketchup.
2) When I can’t decide between two items, I buy them both. I have two sweaters that look exactly alike, except one is purple and one is blue. And I have another set of duplicate sweaters, one blue and one pink, for the same reason. My closet looks like I share it with an identical twin.
3) I choose the cheapest one, and not because I’m thrifty. No one who buys sweaters two at a time is thrifty. It’s just that when I can’t decide between oxygenated cleansing action, degreasing or gentle-on-hands dish soap, I have to base my decision on something.
4) Faced with too many decisions, I choose nothing. And I’m not alone. In one study of the so-called paradox of choice, two psychologists found that customers presented with six varieties of jam were more likely to buy one than those who were offered 24 varieties. The latter were more likely to run screaming from the store.
I’ve made it to laundry soap. Do I want liquid or powder? Do I need it with bleach, without bleach or with bleach alternative? Do I want it to dissolve fast, deep clean or fight odors? And if I choose deep cleaning, will my clean clothes smell bad?
I’ve been at the grocery store an hour, and with the exception of a loaf of bread, I still don’t have any food.
I pick up my pace. I hurry past the baking aisle; I don’t bake. I skip the dog food; I don’t have a dog. I dash past baby food; I don’t have a baby either.
But then…I round the corner at canned soups. There is a cream-of-something soup for every day of the year and almost that many pasta choices: rotelle, farfalle, fusilli, mostaccioli, penne, rigatoni, ziti. Huh?
And Mother Nature can’t be beat for variety. I want apples, I’m just not sure if I want Gala, McIntosh, Red Delicious or Granny Smith. I need lettuce, but do I want Romaine, Red Leaf, Bibb, or Iceberg. I haven’t been this overwhelmed since toothpaste.
Finally, exhausted and confused, I head to the dairy aisle for milk (skim, 1%, 2%, whole, lactose free, chocolate, or soy), butter (salted, unsalted, low fat or regular) and cheese (too many to name.)
I have just spent more time choosing groceries than I spent buying my car. By the time I get to the checkout line, my defenses are worn down like a dieter’s resistance in a donut shop. The only thing saving me from grabbing a handful of comfort candy bars in the checkout aisle is that I can’t decide which ones I want.
Uh-oh. I forgot one thing. God help me; I need a birthday card.
(Dorothy Rosby is the author of the humor book, I Didn’t Know You Could Make Birthday Cake from Scratch: Parenting Blunders from Cradle to Empty Nest. Contact [email protected])
Surplus of choices paralyzes ability to select