Growing up American, a hard thing to understand is that less can be a luxury.
We are conditioned to want more, to leave our options open, to value choice. Some of this is human (more food is greater than less food if we’re fighting for survival), some of this is cultural (with Americans taking the cake).
More can be great.
I’m a feminist, and believe that both men and women should have the whole rainbow of choices.
There’s also the famous spaghetti sauce realization: there is no such thing as one best spaghetti sauce, rather there is a best spaghetti sauce for any number of tastes. (And I totally believe that having your favorite sauce is a good thing!)
But, choice does not equal satisfaction.
I remember coming back to the states from an ethnographic (anthropology) expedition in Tonga, where I went for months and months without seeing a store, let alone buying anything. Upon return, I was tasked with buying toothpaste. I remember standing in the store feeling utterly overwhelmed by the choice before me, thinking how the hell am I supposed to figure out which one to buy? Although I’m better at tuning it out now, I still feel that overwhelm every time I visit a supermarket.
But here’s the really bad news: making overwhelming decisions is not only momentarily uncomfortable but also dissatisfying because there remains lingering doubt that you made the correct decision. Any resistance or downside can be perceived as a fault in choice and, therefore, a fault in yourself.
This is the cause of the quarter life crisis: overwhelm, decision fatigue and fear.
Barry Schwartz expands on this overwhelm and the subsequent sense of dissatisfaction in his fantastic book The Paradox of Choice (also, TED talk).
Less can be a luxury.
Releasing yourself from the burden of choice can be a real luxury and the best way to do this is to set yourself up so that there is no bad decision.
If you know your favorite kind of spaghetti sauce, no need to have the others.
If you hone your personal style, a capsule wardrobe reduces the uncertainty.
If you know what interests you, shut some doors! Delight in shutting them.
Less: relinquishing choice for freedom, emotional bandwidth and overall better decisions, can be a luxury indeed.