54 Flavors of Choice Fatigue

In 2008, I left my career in the film business to suspend myself in the air. The bubble had burst, but I still stood there motionless. No longer wanting to work the industry I had loved since I was a little girl, I vehemently pulled my foundation up from Los Angeles, only to be left standing there with the roots in my hands, clueless as to where to start planting. The vastness of options before me left me ambivalent. I had a couple of near getaways, only to come crawling back to Los Angeles dismayed and disoriented. I spent the summer wandering aimlessly around my life. Until one day I decided to take control….
Towering before me amongst the big sky backdrop of Suburbia, Texas, stood a Super Wal-Mart and Super Target.

I needed toothpaste and undereye concealer- a necessity ever since 7th grade when classmates interpreted my dark circles as a deep love for crack cocaine. I typically would not shop at either place, but having been new to this neck of the woods, there was something safe and familiar with the old heavyweights of convenience.

Choosing which super store to go into was easy. I thought back to the night I ended up curled into a ball, crying, screaming at the TV set, and collapsing from the weight of fear for the world after watching the documentary, “Walmart: The High Cost of Low Price”. Though Target has had it’s fair share of controversy regarding worker’s rights, ultimately the corporation is far more socially conscious than Walmart.
At least that is what I tell myself at night.
The Super Target I entered boasted a grocery store and retail store. Anything you could possibly want can be found there. You can furnish your entire house, fill up your refrigerator, spruce up your closet, and entertain yourself with a plethora of options at Super Target. Want California grown avocados? Super Target’s got ’em! Want visually displeasing bedding from a sell-out designer? Look no further! Need your fix of forced sardonic dialogue and excessive pop culture references? Get the entire series of “Gilmore Girls” on DVD…at Super Target!
It’s easy to get side tracked at Super Target. I found myself wandering into the produce section, picking up fixings for a salad, then subsequently veering into the condiment aisle. I stood, staring at an entire wall of salad dressings. Now, I have difficultly choosing a salad dressing to begin with. At one point two years ago, I had 13 salad dressings in my refrigerator to represent my indecisiveness with life. I scanned from top to bottom to see what Kraft in particular had to offer me. Kraft had to offer over 50 different types of salad dressing there at Super Target that day.
54 types to be exact.
I counted out every single one, loudly.

For example, this is what one had to chose from if one liked Italian dressing:

Zesty Italian
Tuscan House Italian
Creamy Italian
Golden Italian
Caesar Italian
Italian Vinaigrette
Free Caesar Italian
Free Zesty Italian
Light Done Right Italian
Carb Well Light Italian
Carb Well Italian
House Italian Reduced Fat
Light Done Right House Italian
Reduced Fat Light Done Right Zesty Italian
Reduced Fat Roasted Red Pepper Italian with Parmesan
Special Collection Caesar Italian with Oregano
Special Collection Classic Italian Vinaigrette
Special Collection Italian Pesto
Special Collection Parmesan Italian with Basil
Three Cheese Italian

The phrase “choice fatigue” came to mind.

“Choice fatigue” or “choice overload” is the theory that too many choices leads to paralysis in decision making and unhappiness with life. Well, I think I had just proved that idea correct. I stood there in the salad dressings for 20 minutes. I bounced from intrigue to confusion to pissiness. I left the salad dressings completely empty-handed, exhausted, and angry.

When I discovered the theory of “choice fatigue” earlier that year, it was as if a light had been turned on. Being a frustrated, nonplussed twenty-something, this explained a lot of things. Everyone nowadays is faced with countless options in their daily life, but Generation Y was born into it. In the beginning of 2008, I quit my career. I wasn’t happy and I didn’t know why. I purposely cleared my slate and decided to start from the scratch. I then spent the following months confused and immobile. I could go in any direction. The possibilities were infinite. The infiniteness terrified me. I could go back to school. I could move anywhere in the world. I could try to climb the corporate ladder. I could not shave my legs and paint fucking leprechauns all day (not fucking leprechauns but fucking leprechauns).

We’re told we can do EVERYTHING, and by God, I was afraid to do anything. Normally a girl who always knew what she wanted, I felt like I was drowning in the sea of options. I thought long and hard on why I felt such paralysis. Why does choice make life more difficult? Nothing is permanent, yet why do we lay such burden on our decisions? Is it because our lives are temporary and making the wrong choice could set us back precious time? Or have we just gotten too exhausted (or too lazy) to contemplate multiple thoughts nowadays? I realized that for me, is was the former. Then it hit me. I’m losing more valuable time by being afraid. Yes, we’re pelted by the assault rifle of options on a daily basis, but we can’t let it stop us from living our lives. I made a u-turn with my shopping cart and headed back to the salad dressings. I picked out two salad dressings that day and it felt good. That evening I had the most delicious salad I had ever tasted. A salad made with the freedom I had found in making a choice.

Any choice.
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  • Reply Juliette May 27, 2010 at 5:15 pm

    This is beautiful, and so relevant to what I'm going through now with graduating high school. I'm about to make a million choices all at once and all of them have the possibility of impacting my future.

    P.S. I hate Wal-Mart too, I also saw that documentary.

    -Juliette WhereForArtThouRomeo

  • Reply IT May 27, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    Y'know if you don't choose… that's a choice too.

    Just sayin' and I don't recommend it.

  • Reply KeLLy aNN May 27, 2010 at 5:20 pm

    Personally, I love Annie's Green Goddess Dressing….its great on salad and as a baste/marinade for chicken breast.

    Thanks to living in mid~city, we have cut our trips to wally world considerably, much to my happiness!
    If we only had a farmers market within walking distance…

    decisions..sometimes when I get stuck I just take the easy way out, cause sometimes the best way out is the easy way out.

    I'm glad that someone else has recognized the fear factor of reality…it makes me feel less angry at my self for being scared.

  • Reply Skelly May 27, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    What kind of salad dressing did you decide on?? And can the soundtrack to this post be Free Will by Rush?

  • Reply Adria May 27, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    Oh man…I learned about choice fatigue when I was living in London and there was only one kind of Cheddar cheese in my supermarket and it freaked me out…it was then that I realized that we do not NEED reduced fat, fat free, sugar free, low carb, blah blah blah.

    There is a lot of freedom in just going with the simplest, first choice. It's usually the right one.

    Loved this.

  • Reply Big Mark 243 May 27, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    Uh, first timer here, via 'My Soul Is A Butterfly', and I love this entry.

    Won't get all coal miner deep on this entry other than to say I think it is fabulous. Be well.

  • Reply Hipstercrite May 27, 2010 at 9:00 pm

    @Juliette- You just graduated high school? What are you doing next?

    @IT- Excellent point, my friend.

    @Kelly Ann- Annie's has fantastic salad dressing. I actually only make my own dressing now. Says a lot, huh?

    @Skelly- Some shitty kind, probably. As I mentioned to Kelly Ann, I make my own dressing now.

    @Adria- Funny enough, I'd like to have a zillion options of cheese. I love cheese! I can't imagine not having more than one option!

    @Big Mark 243- Thank you so much for stopping by! Hannah's blog is fantastic, isn't it?

  • Reply Chaos Painted Masterpiece May 27, 2010 at 9:47 pm

    Well said. This is actually a lot of how I've been feeling over the past few weeks. So many things to choose, not sure which choice is the best…but I've also started to come to the realization that the more I procrastinate those choices, no matter how insignificant they may be, I'm only doing myself harm.


  • Reply Idle Wife May 28, 2010 at 12:09 am

    Very good, thank you!

  • Reply Nikki May 28, 2010 at 12:17 am

    I'm SO there. Next month, I'm leaving LA and a film career & moving to the east coast. I have too many decisions & a great big emptiness of "I don't know" in front of me. Choice fatigue? Yup, I'm exhausted… but hopeful. So I guess that's all to say — I'm with ya.

  • Reply Angie May 28, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    I have 8 salad dressings, 5 hot sauces, and 3 bbq sauces in my fridge right now. You just inspired me to count them. I know how you feel.

  • Reply Hannah Miet May 28, 2010 at 8:07 pm

    There's something about the way you discuss transitions and escapes, sketchy hotel rooms and highways and strip malls, that always gets me. I hesitate to say that the dark places are your strongpoint as a writer, but when I read stuff like this, I just think "yes."

    Choice fatigue nails it. It gets me thinking about the way I make decisions, set goals and even buy things, which is to say, impulsively, with as little thought about what option a, b, or c might be. For example, when I get an idea for a story, I pitch it before I write it; I never go "shopping," but often buy dresses in windows. I think I may be fighting off what I know would be choice fatigue.

    This was a really great post.

  • Reply inflammatory writ May 29, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    I think half our generation's problem is that we have too many fucking choices. I've tried to stop exploring every avenue and just take the ones that make sense.

  • Reply laurenne May 30, 2010 at 7:57 am

    I LOVE this!
    One of my hipster-like qualities is that I listen to NPR, and they just did a report on this– stores are starting to scale back on the amount of options due to overwhelming the customer.

    I just found your blog and totally relate to it! Also left LA for all of 2009 to travel because I had no idea what I wanted to do. And I met this sage in India who taught me to make decisions and never look back. Because every decision you make is the right one. It's really true if you think about it. Bad decisions either lead to something better or a great story.

  • Reply Jobless & Ginger May 31, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    I, too, left my career, one I had worked long and hard to achieve, only to get there and realise that it wasn't as I thought it would be and I just couldn't shake the feeling of general discontent. So I can relate to this so much. With so many choices, it almost feels like there are no real choices. Petrifying! Beautifully written, good luck with everything.

  • Reply Jobless & Ginger May 31, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    I, too, left my career, one I had worked long and hard to achieve, only to get there and realise that it wasn't as I thought it would be and I just couldn't shake the feeling of general discontent. So I can relate to this so much. With so many choices, it almost feels like there are no real choices. Petrifying! Beautifully written, good luck with everything.

  • Reply Lindsey May 31, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    I feel like that all the time. My husband and I are moving and we are trying to simplify everything by getting rid of things and then, we go to wal-mart (we live in small town Missouri, that is literally the only choice here) and we are forced to be visually overwhelmed with 84 choices of bread, giant signs saying SALE and WAL MART and it's even more frustrating to think "okay I have a choice in what I buy" but not really when Wal Mart is the only option in town. It's one giant mindfuck.

  • Reply Under Urooba's Umbrella! June 18, 2010 at 4:51 am

    Goodness, I love this post.
    I can relate to everything (ish).

    I'm also just graduating high school.


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