According to Consumer Reports, Between 1975 and 2008, the number of products in the average supermarket swelled from an average of 8,948 to almost 47,000.
There are 14 different kinds of Cheerios.
When walking down the cereal aisle at the grocery store is overwhelming, while people go hungry in our cities and countries, something is broken. I’m not saying that fewer cereal choices is the solution to hunger, but if we weren’t so weighed down with the meaningless decisions we make everyday, perhaps we’d have the clarity for choices that make a difference in the world.
Instead of mastering productivity with the goal of making even more decisions every day, what if we eliminated some of the unnecessary choices we make every day? We are fortunate to have the freedom to choose, but according to Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, we aren’t happier because of it.
Schwartz says, “When people have no choice, life is almost unbearable. As the number of available choices increases, as it has in our consumer culture, the autonomy, control, and liberation this variety brings are powerful and positive. But as the number of choices keeps growing, negative aspects of having a multitude of options begin to appear. As the number of choices grows further, the negatives escalate until we become overloaded. At this point, choice no longer liberates, but debilitates.”
If we were making fewer decisions, could we make better decisions? I’ve experimented with living and dressing less, and the answer I’ve discovered, as have many others, is a resounding yes. When we create boundaries around things that are distracting us from what really matters, our level of engagement in the things we actually care about becomes boundless.
How to Eliminate Thousands of Meaningless Decisions
Choose fewer items in the grocery store.
The typical American grocery store offers more than 47,000 items to choose from. We could spend hours walking up and down the aisles, taunted by product placement, deciphering labels, or we could have a list of our favorite ingredients, mostly real food, and only purchase and create meals with them.
Try the Capsule Kitchen challenge and save time, money and mental energy.
Pretend the internet is broken.
Bored? Play an internet game. Lost? Google it. Lonely? Find friends on Facebook. The internet has endless options and choices that trick us into believing that a workable solution is only a click away (and then another and another). The problem is we don’t get to discover the solutions that come from being bored, lost, lonely and many other things. Creativity and clarity is squashed with too many answers.
Tell your family that the internet is broken on Sundays or whatever day works for you and take a digital break.
Take back your inbox.
Email creates a plethora of decisions to be made. Respond? Delete? Hit send? Read all the way through? Say yes? Say no? And all of the questions and ideas that arrive during the day occupy your brain. While there are systems out there to alleviate email stress, the best way to take control is to only open your inbox 1-3 times a day.
Turn off distracting notifications and manage email on your time.
Ask for help.
Instead of tormenting yourself trying to make a decision, or worse, avoiding the decision all together because you are too scared or overwhelmed to choose, ask someone for help. Sometimes letting someone else weigh in adds great clarity to your decision.
Undo your to-do list.
The reason we don’t know how to prioritize is because there is so much to do that we can’t identify how we want to spend our time. Passions and interests are buried somewhere on page 3 of our to-do lists. These never-ending lists are winning. They never get done, only re-written.
All of that time consumed with listing the things to do and feeling bad about the things that were left undone contributes to the lack of time you have to do them. Instead, keep a master list in Evernote and before you go to sleep, pull 1-3 items that you’ll do tomorrow. When you finish them, revisit the list or go for a walk.
Consider that un-rounded kids are pretty awesome too.
Violin lessons for focus, team sports for persistence, tutoring sessions for perfection, and the activities to round out our kids goes on and on. We are creating resumes for children for a life they probably don’t want. Kids and parents are exhausted. Pick one activity instead of all the activities.
Instead of making kids well-rounded, let’s make them loved and loving.
Create a decision-free closet.
How many decisions a day are fashion based? When mornings are consumed with choosing outfits and weekends at the mall looking for deals and trends, we become a slave to fashion, even when we aren’t very fashionable. Create a capsule wardrobe and choose from a very small selection seasonally.
Simplifying things creates a life that requires fewer choices. When we give things up, and let things go, we might miss out on some of it, but we won’t care because we will be so damn happy that we are surrounded by and immersed in our favorite things, and that we are making decisions that offer greater benefit than the perfect cereal for breakfast.
Maybe variety isn’t the spice of life.