Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Too Many Choices

I've been thinking for a long time that too many choices just complicate life instead of making it easier/better (part of my spring cleaning motivation). Neil Postman addresses this a bit in his Amusing Ourselves to Death with regard to information in general: is more always better? Do people in Juneau, Alaska really need to know the daily news of, say, Plano, Texas?

The other day, I heard a fascinating segment on Fresh Air (an NPR news show that comes on during lunchtime). The person being interviewed was Jonah Lehrer, author of the blog The Frontal Cortex. He was discussing his latest book about decision-making (spurred by his experience of spending 30 minutes in the cereal aisle trying to ascertain exactly which box of Cheerios should end up in his cart). To very briefly sum up, Lehrer was pointing out that we can only hold about 7 pieces of information in our brains (our decision-making parts) at any one time. More information and our decision making ability is compromised. Interesting, eh? Completely confirmed my conclusion that I had too many options in life.

What am I doing about this for myself and my family? Removing some options that are definitely sub-par. For instance, when I look at the approximately 50 books in my daughter's room (this does not count the entire bookcase full of children's books in the hallway or the two shelves downstairs of children's books or the ones in my sons' room or the ones available in the local library...), I immediately see some sub-par books (inferior illustrations, questionable "teaching" or "message," boring, etc.). Why are they still there, clogging the decision on what to read, when there are so many worthwhile options next to them on the shelves? So, I got rid of them (gasp! I got rid of some books!).

Another example: my cookbooks.... Until a few weeks ago, I owned at least 40. I haven't counted up yet, but I've gotten rid of several and more are up in the attic. There's no reason I need to look at 500 recipes for cooking green beans when a comparison of perhaps 5 would serve my needs just fine (or even just one from a trustworthy source).

Another example: to which activities do I need to take my children? All these supposed "enrichment opportunities" can only enhance their lives, right? Wrong. We go to one Bible study (that has classes for the kids) and that's it. Our only scheduled weekly activity. What else do we do? Go to the gym (for Mommy!), hang out with friends, play outside, etc. We never run out of things to do. But these are not hard and fast commitments. We don't need tons of options!

What about clothes? Do you have more clothes than you need or even want? I do--there are lots of items that I hardly ever wear because I prefer other things. Same for my children. So, I'm getting rid of some of those unused, unwanted items. My closet is a bit more spare, but I like everything in it, and there are only a few options for any given occasion. Much simpler.

If you are overwhelmed by decisions in your life, how can you reduce that stress? If you are overwhelmed, there's a good chance your children are, too, and perhaps your spouse. Are the "options" worth the stress they might be causing?

1 comment:

Julie Sanders said...

I'm with you on that! I stopped going to the mall to shop just for this reason. I like to go to a place where I can just go to one place to see all the ... whatever in one spot. :) Great reminder for choosing well how to spend our time and energy.