Paradoxes: Choices and Simplicity

Efficiency and simplicity are often at odds. So are choices and simplicity. One the one hand, the incredible cornucopia we encounter at any supermarket in the US likely staggers the imagination of people from many parts of the world. On the other, it can make for a fatiguing series of choices to make between brands, flavors, and varieties. We don’t just have apples–we have 25 varieties, some good for eating, some for pies, some for applesauce and more. Even more bewildering is the array of beers, wines and other beverages. And on it goes…

At one time, it seemed everyone knew the trusted brands, and when you had to replace a vacuum cleaner, or an appliance, or a car, you tended to go back to your old standby. Now it seems, you have to engage in a research process before you buy your toothpaste! Picking up Consumer Reports reviews, researching products online, and more seem to be the pre-requisite, unless you want to appear “uninformed”–a cardinal sin these days.  Yet I wonder. The most all this can do is tell me what the new buyer experience is–not irrelevant necessarily. But what I really want to know is, will it last and what will it cost to repair. Not so easy to find out until it actually breaks on you. Then you know!

Paradoxically, I think most of us simplify life by reducing the choices we make. Most of the time we buy the same items every time we need that item in the grocery, despite the attempts of coupon dispensers to get us to switch. Whenever I need a new pair of jeans, I just order the same ones I always do from LL Bean. I wonder if there are some further steps we can take toward simplicity that may mean less choices but greater freedom. A few I can think of:

1. One is simply deciding that some of our wants really aren’t our needs. That alone cuts down on the choices we need to make.

2. Work with retailers and other vendors who get to know us and actually care about customer service.

3. Similarly, when I find someone who provides good quality, I stick with them unless quality slips, even if it costs more.

4. Find another form of recreation than “recreational shopping.” I realize that sometimes it is fun to find a bargain and some really enjoy this and are shrewd in shopping at the best times to get a good price on things they need. That’s not me, though, and shopping does not re-create me!

5. Most of us don’t mind choices when it comes to the hobbies we love. Then we love learning about the varieties of equipment, or vintages, or whatever. Perhaps the most important choice here is simply knowing and staying within your budget.

What have you found helpful in navigating the array of choices we face? How have you negotiated the paradox that the freedom of choice does not always translate into the freedom of simplicity?




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