Dealing with Choice Overload

Last week, we were having dinner and hanging out with some friends when the subject of Choice Overload came up in conversation. For those who are unaware, the principle basically looks to explain the difficulty people have in taking a decision when faced with too many options. When we talked about it further, we realized how much choice overload complicates our everyday life.

From the moment we wake up, we are bombarded by choices. For me, these include: What clothes to wear to work, what to have for breakfast, what salad to have for lunch, what brand of product to buy at the grocery store (toothpaste, cereal, baked beans, bread, ketchup, potato chips, etc.), what TV show/movie to watch and where to watch it (plain old TV, Netflix, movie theater etc.), what to have for dinner, what flavor of ice cream to have for dessert, etc. This is a just a basic day but I’m sure if you really think about it, you can come up with hundreds or even thousands of more examples. More complicated (but less-frequent) choices include which cellphone carrier and plan to choose, which insurance company and deductible to go with, etc.

If you add it all up, the sheer number of hours we waste over the course of our lives trying to make choices of low-importance is astounding. It has been proven than choice overload is a known contributor to unhappiness and stress and at times even pushes people into making decisions that are against their own best interest. But you don’t need research to tell you this. I’m sure you’ve experienced the feelings of frustration, anger, impatience and helplessness when you’ve been unable to choose something.

To eliminate these negative feelings and start my day on a positive note, I have taken a few tiny steps in the battle against choice overload. Over the last few months, I have been working on drastically cutting the size of my wardrobe. I have eliminated anything I haven’t worn in the last year. If this includes something I really like, I give it a second chance by putting it on “probation” for 3 months. If I find that I still haven’t worn it at the end of 3 months, it joins the rest of my clothes in goodwill. In this way, I have successfully slashed the size of my wardrobe by more than 50% and in doing so have made my daily life a little less stressful. I can now see all the clothes I own in one quick glance and my wardrobe is much better organized. (Not to mention the cathartic feeling that comes from throwing things away and cleaning house.)

Apart from reducing the size of my wardrobe, the Honey Bee and I have instituted and committed to 2 rules to prevent the problem from getting any bigger.

Rule #1: No one is allowed to buy each other clothes.
This way no one ends up receiving clothes they don’t like. As a result, useless clothes don’t accumulate and increase the size of the wardrobe.

Rule #2: For every new item of clothing that enters the wardrobe, an old item must be removed.
This effectively freezes the wardrobe at its current size and prevents it from growing any bigger.  Another plus point is that it reduces the amount of money you spend on clothing, because it makes you think twice (what can I eliminate?) before making any unnecessary purchases.

These (mostly) simple steps have allowed us to improve the quality of our lives by eliminating some negative feelings from the start of our day and taking back some of the time we wasted in making low-importance choices. Based on what we’ve achieved, I’d highly encourage you to take a step back from your everyday and figure out where you can eliminate some choice overload from your life.


(Over the course of my research for this post, I came across a very interesting article from 2010 on the subject by the New York Times. If you are interested and have the time, I highly recommend you read it. Too Many Choices: A Problem That Can Paralyze)