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Everyday Cheapskate: Paralyzed by Too Many Choices

Mary Hunt on

A perfectly orchestrated backyard party took an ugly turn when the bounce house was emptied, and all 15 little friends and twice as many adults gathered around to watch 5-year-old Melissa open a mountain of gifts. That's when the birthday girl melted into a puddle of tears.

Melissa' s embarrassed parents threatened punishment if she didn't stop right then, which only made things worse. She ran to her room and slammed the door.

I'm sure a child psychologist would have had a field day citing poor parenting skills, hidden anger, deep-seated fear or some form of an attention deficit. I saw it as much less complicated: Melissa was the victim of too many choices. I know, because I feel the same way when I go to a supermarket or try to determine which cellphone plan is the best.

When I have too many choices, my brain goes into overload, and then it just stalls. I cannot make a decision, and all I want to do is to run to my room and slam the door!

In his book "The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less," author Barry Schwartz says that freedom and individual choice have a downside. "As the number of choices grows further, the negatives escalate until we become overloaded," he writes. "At this point, choice no longer liberates, but debilitates. It might even be said to tyrannize."

Recently, I attempted to count the number of choices in the cookie aisle at the supermarket in my neighborhood. When I hit triple digits, I stopped. That makes me crazy! How can I expect to make the right choice when I have so many options? Schwartz says so many choices may be bad for us. Several choices, not hundreds, give us the freedom to show our individuality without pushing us into the maddening dilemma of having to make the perfect choice.

Thankfully, I've discovered ways to escape the tyranny of too many choices.

 

1. I stay away from places known for an abundance of choice. I depend on experts to narrow the possibilities to a number I can easily manage.

2. I avoid shopping malls and prefer warehouse clubs. Their buyers narrow my choices from hundreds to just one or two. I can deal with that.

3. A written list narrows my choices. When I create a list based on items that are on sale and the coupons I have for that store, my choices are made for me long before I walk through the door. Researching online in the quiet of my office helps me to narrow my choices even before I leave home.

If Melissa's parents had asked me, I would have suggested they move the mountain of gifts inside, bringing out just one or two gifts at a time. Or better yet, scale the party down to just a few friends to avoid being overwhelmed by too much of a good thing.

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Mary invites questions, comments and tips at mary@everydaycheapskate.com, or c/o Everyday Cheapskate, 12340 Seal Beach Blvd., Suite B-416, Seal Beach, CA 90740. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of www.DebtProofLiving.com, a personal finance member website and the author of "Debt-Proof Living," released in 2014. To find out more about Mary and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

Copyright 2018 Creators Syndicate Inc.
 

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