There are some places where I just don’t go anymore, because it’s not safe. These places include High Street clothing shops, rooms with televisions playing in them and supermarkets with more than four checkouts, and it’s because I’m an optiophobe: scared of choice. Well, I say “scared of choice”, but obviously I’m not humiliatingly, irrationally, terrified of it like I am of spiders, and I don’t want to abdicate all choice, otherwise I could just commit a terrible crime and look forward to a life prescribed for me by prison officers. On the other hand, given a choice of 60 different types of ice-cream, I will invariably choose either:

a) Vanilla,
b) No ice-cream at all,

because the thought of choosing from the endless variety is just too much for me.

This may give the impression that I’m a useless, pathetic weed who is simply incapable of thinking things through and making up her own mind. This would be only partly true. I am, of course, a useless, pathetic weed, as the sum total of my action to defend myself against the ills of this world consists of this blog, so the weed charge stands. Thinking things through, however, is another matter: I’m quite good at it, and I do it all the time, which is exactly the problem. While I’m contemplating the 60 available ice-cream flavours, I can’t help but begin comparing them and their interactions on my palate. Not only that, but their nutrition value, possible melt rate, desirability by my companions (share value), relationship to my diet so far that day, their place in my overall ice-cream consumption, their price, location, fat content, and the social signals I’m receiving from the person selling them and from the other customers, all flicker through my consciousness before I can bring myself to make an order.

Help in making choices can be hard to find.

Help in making choices can be hard to find.

I can do it, I honestly can. I can summon all my mental powers to focus and tune out, and clear my mind of everything not related to ice-cream purchasing, and I can get the job done…. but then, why should I? The things I’ve had to evict from my sphere of concentration are probably much more important than what kind of ice-cream I should have. When I then forget to transfer the money for the rent, or turn up for work without the presentation I’m meant to be presenting, I can’t help wondering if that’s because I quashed exactly that “remember the rent/presentation” thought, in order to make some trivial and irrelevant decision involving an unnecessarily broad spectrum of choice.

Choice is like food, or water. A certain amount is necessary; increases beyond sufficiency are not necessarily beneficial. Too much leaves us bloated, overweight and drowning.

The end effect is, I couldn’t give two hoots if people think I’m socially incompetent when I stand there blankly refusing to pick one. They may well think “This idiot really needs to get a handle on these basic life decisions”, respond telepathically with “Get your choices out of my face: I have better things to do with my brain than this.” I don’t want a choice of doctors, I want one competent doctor. I don’t want an entire high street of fashion labels competing for my attention and limited finance, I just want a pair of trousers and a shirt, and so I have developed a number of coping techniques. Here are my favourites:

  1. Only wear clothes in one colour and without logos.  The in-shop choosing is almost annihilated once you’re limited to the clothes that fit these criteria and your body, and getting dressed is then also simplified, because everything goes together.  Yay!
  2. Stop eating meat, or some other very common ingredient.  Your choices in restaurants are similarly decimated.
  3. Stop trying to get a really good meal/dress/wine/whatever, and aim for something acceptable.  This means you can get a recommendation from the staff and just buy that, safe in the knowledge that it’s probably not a disaster. Be a good tipper and you’ll probably end up with all the nicest stuff anyway.
  4. Go with loyalty instead of trends, in everything except brands. Stick with everything you’ve got: objects, friends, clothes – don’t go for new when you don’t have to.  Mending old clothes (or having them mended) is still cheaper, faster and less stressful than shopping.  Mend old friendships wherever possible too.
  5. Stop watching TV (another source of endless and trivial naffing choices), and use an adblocker on your computer.  Cultivate ignorance of consumer culture, and even salespeople will start to steer a course around you.
  6. Practice a blank idiot stare to defend yourself with in high-choice scenarios. After step 5 this will come automatically.

A bit of a crash diet? Maybe. But it does mean I remembered the rent this month, and my presentation too.  I count that as “acceptable” which, by my own rules, means it’s good enough for me: I win!


About alexandraengland

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