The Paradox of Choice

Is it always better to have more Choices?

Choices. Choices matter. They do. Don’t they? And the number of choices matters too.

Variety may be the spice of life, but it also appears to encourage consumers to make reasonable—rather than indulgent—choices.

~  University of Pennsylvania

I choose to disagree with this statement.

I would rather agree with Jonah Berger’s concept, the Paradox of Choice.

…as the size of an assortment grows, consumers can become overwhelmed and often choose not to choose.

There was a time in life when we had limited choices and yet we were happy. We had all the time in the world to enjoy because making the choice didn’t take much time.

A 5-year-old me had just a Turbo cycle and a Boeing 747 jet plane to choose between. The Turbo cycle was bought by Amma and Acha for me, their aadhyathe kanmani – their firstborn. This one was later handed down four more children from our family, including the little sister. The Boeing 747 was a gift from Acha’s boss who mistook me for a boy because Acha used to dress me in tees and trousers only. I was born in an era when a son was considered the pride of the family. This plane was always a showpiece. Never to be touched because it was an ‘expensive gift’.

We never saw anything beyond the 6 or 12 shade set of sketch pens or poster colours. I wonder if there was a bigger edition available in the market at that time. I received my 12 shade poster colour set when I was in class 9th. That too was not supposed to be used without permission. Creativity ki toh baat hi na karo…huh!

A little later the choice was between Nataraj or Apsara or Camlin Flora pencil. We hardly ever thought of the quality of lead or wood that the pencil was made of unlike today’s generation and their helicopter parents, that is us. As soon as we stepped into the middle wing, the choice was between Camlin or Chelpark Ink.

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Then there was the board exam preparation which started almost as soon as we turned 11 years of age. Teachers advised us to write with ball pens to avoid the ink from spreading and washing out in case of any accident. I was very fond of Reynold’s those days. If you ask me I still haven’t found a better replacement to those pens. Most of my journals of those days were written with either a green or black Reynold’s Blossoms pens. 3 rupees. I still remember SS Store from where I would pick my lot of three pens with the tenner I borrowed from Amma. And would be happy to have that 1 rupee coin back with which we bought Chatmola or Fatafat that we shared. Nobody made us repeat the golden words like ‘Sorry’, ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’ or phrases or moral lessons like ‘Sharing is Caring’. It was instilled in us through daily life and behaviour of our elders.

On television we hardly had anything other than the DD National or DD Metro channels. The Thursday Regional movie and Sunday blockbuster movies in the evening were when families got together with their chai pakoras. Most houses had black and white television sets and the brand was based on what suited the budget at that point in time. We hardly thought of the screen configuration and other stuff. I guess even Acha wouldn’t have heard of all this when he bought our Weston Black and White television set whose screen was broken by yours truly soon as it was brought home. I was hardly three and I appreciate Acha for not punishing me or shouting at me like Amma did.

I learnt most of my lessons because Acha didn’t punish me. He preferred to let me think and ponder over my mistake all by myself. While Amma loved me immensely, she was also the one who punished me severely. When she yelled at me, I would shiver with fear. My mind used to go blank. I could no longer hear what she was saying.  And guess what? I did the same mistake with my firstborn for a good few years of her childhood. I stopped it when she told me that she is scared of me when I yell. Took me a lot of time but I finally don’t yell at them.

Back to choices….

These days when you walk into an electronics store to buy an idiot box the choices there leave you totally confused. To add to the confusion the salesman gives you so much explanation – an overdose of relevant and irrelevant information. Though the poor guy is only doing his job, I find it very annoying when someone answers before being asked to. Give me a break, man!

Clothes. I came from a decent economic background…double income family you know! And then the phoren waale Papa factor. Errr….phoren mein rehne waale Papa. But thankfully, our parents were so engrossed in helping their respective extended families that they chose to bring us up with the bare minimum required. I hardly had any choice in clothes. Few frocks, two skirts and two shirts are all that constituted my wardrobe. In fact, a small picnic basket was our wardrobe. Mine and my little sister’s. No complaints. Because Acha has had a tough childhood and so he and Amma have tried to provide us with all that was enough for us. Not all that we ever wanted.

We had the option of playing indoor games like Ghar Ghar, Teacher-Student or Doctor-Patient or go out and play with the other children from the colony. If we got bored, we would either pick up a pen or pencil and jot down our thoughts in a notebook or journal, or else pick up a book and travel into the story. Life was way simpler and satisfying.

Fast forward to today…my girls have an entire wardrobe to themselves. And they find it difficult to manage within it. They find it difficult to find a matching pair of dress from the mess that is in there. I used to do the decluttering regularly till about two years ago. I have finally given up. It just doesn’t seem to be a productive task to me. I have left it entirely on them to clean up and mess up. Poor things try their best yet fail. All this when we hardly buy them any dresses. Their grandparents, maasis, buas and chachus get them so much that we don’t add to their confusion. Instead we invest in books and colours for them.

The point I am trying to make is that we ourselves have complicated our lives with more than what we can consume. Be it stationery items that they receive as return gifts or the small decorative pieces that I am so fond of. We just manage to hoard everything and then find it difficult to choose from and manage.

The number of choices we have these days, be it television channels, variety of gadgets, apps, dresses, games or anything else, is annoyingly crazy. It’s all so overwhelming that at times it gets to me in a horrifying manner. We need to learn to prioritize and pick our choices fast. Rather than spending an entire life in just trying to make the right choices.

Choosing from larger number of choices tends to increase choice difficulty. From jeans to life partners and TV channels to schools, we think the more choices we have the better. But too many options create anxiety and leave us less satisfied. I am an old school girl. I prefer lesser choices to pick from. I like to keep it simple and sweet.

Do you feel the same? Or do you enjoy the more the number of choices you get to choose from? Would love to hear your version.

4 thoughts on “The Paradox of Choice

  1. Belonging to the same generation, your thoughts resonate to mine. We had so little of everything, life was very simple.. Though we yearned for more. Now, many a times.. This multiple choices have left me confused. I can pick stuff in small stores like Biba, soch, w.. Independent stores.. But if you take me to Lifestyle or a big bazaar, I am lost and confused.. Glad to see you back.. Keep writing..

    1. The Big Bazaars, Pantaloons and other big chains confuse you and make you engage in impulsive buying. That’s exactly why I don’t prefer to shop in malls. My favourite places are still the local shops. And before going for shopping I have in mind what I want and I buy exactly that and nothing else. Malls scare me. In fact I prefer online grocery outlets like Grofers to physical stores. Make your list of items needed, add them to cart and just pay on delivery. Works absolutely fine with me. And saves time too.

  2. Enjoyed reading this one and could relate to several of your experiences. Life is indeed more complicated today than it was for us as children. I have long since kicked inflation in the butt and have never ever tried to emulate my peers. I am lucky my husband is a simple guy too, so it doesn’t take much convincing to adopt a simple and fulfilling lifestyle. I buy only that which is absolutely necessary and all that is excess is donated or gifted regularly. Growing up in this environment, my son has from childhood understood the value of living with less and the value of money. He doesn’t waste and uses everything with care and I am in a way happy to have brought him up to appreciate all the little things in life and to take nothing for granted. The clothes, books and toys he receives as gifts are regularly sorted and he keeps the ones he needs and likes and gives the rest away to those who need them. We have a practice at home, everyone writes down what they need before we go shopping. Only the items in the list are bought, however attractive many of the other things in the mall might be. Unless we live sensibly, we will be swept off into a delusional world of consumerism. It will not be a satisfying life anyway living like that. I think the focus must shift from ‘things’ to ‘people’, it is relationships we need to invest more than in material goods and possessions

    1. You must be my soul sister. I am a list person and I always have my list of items needed ready. There’s a small notepad in the kitchen in which I mention items that need to be bought. It’s easy, saves time and helps me from forgetting important items. Too much stuff just feels like an overdose of everything. Less is better.

      But there’s a catch here. Like the conditions apply written in microscopic font. The man here is an impulsive buyer. ‘Buy 1 Get 1 Free’ and ‘Free worth…’ are phrases he falls for. That’s exactly why I have stopped shopping for grocery from Big Bazaar. I prefer shopping alone because he has no control over his pocket. He is a big time hoarder too. He saves his beer cans and water bottles too for me to plant Pothos and philodendrons. I guess our match was fixed in heavens to maintain equilibrium. 😀

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