These Are Your Options

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Option of the day

My husband and I went furniture shopping over the weekend. I knew what I wanted when we set foot in the stadium-sized store we had chosen to visit. Like any good store, a sales person greeted us, asked what we were searching for and then left us to peruse the selection. After endless wandering through the maze of furnishings, I found what I wanted…sort of. It was the perfect table, size-wise, but I didn’t like the darkness of the wood. No problem. Sales staff are trained to saunter over to any shoppers who have stalled in one place. We were led to a display of an Amish furniture maker in Ohio. We could customize our table to our exact specifications. While I appreciated the versatility, there was a bewildering number of choices to be made late in the morning when I was mostly thinking about lunch.

As I looked at 16 different table leg options, my eyes glazed over. Options, I decided, were overrated and annoying. Wood type, stain, finishing, table top shape, size of extension, edge beveling, height, width, forest of origin. Just kidding on that last one (I pick Borneo, they don’t really need their trees). By the time we got around to choosing chairs, I had exhausted my decision-making capabilities. Gone are the days when you can just walk into a store and point at the one you want. There is such a thing as too many options. I was clamoring for a hearty meal to reinforce my selection-making fortitude. So, after much deliberation, we bought a table. I was exhausted and in dire need of calories. The chairs would have to wait.


Choosing what I want for lunch is easier than selecting multiple aspects of one simple dining room table. Once ensconced in the nearest cafe, my eyes scanned the menu for any vegetarian options. Most restaurants in the area have at least a couple things on offer which are suitable for me. What’s the hardest decision–eggplant or tempeh? It’s when I am lucky enough to dine at a vegan restaurant that I find myself in that too-many-choices state. Blast! The waitstaff at a vegan cafe should just bring food to my table, though I would tell them no raw onions or peppers as they upset my tummy. I would be good with that, but we live in a world where the consumer is expected to make the choice, and, the choices themselves seem endless.

The optimal question asked of me would be, “Which of these three things would you like?” Even then, I might take an annoyingly long time to decide. Given 20 options, I would crack, so I simply ask my server for a recommendation and go with that. Life made simpler. This tactic certainly does not work in a grocery store. But, that depends on the store. The little Indian grocery down the street is most accommodating in this respect. Here, they might see me as I walk in and decide for themselves I may need a little help in my selections. Then there are the big chain mega-stores. Walking into one is akin to entering a small city. There is no concierge service, no one to guide me through the dizzying array of foodstuff, so I wander, ponder and look yonder.


If I’m looking for a product I know and love, my only tactic is to scan the appropriate section for the color of the packaging. Woe to that manufacturer who changes the label. If I’m looking for a new thing in a vast array of new things, I must allow myself a good length of time to search for it and then pick among the multiple purveyors of said goods– whining optional. In November, I made an appetizer called Vegan Buffalo Quinoa Bites. As a vegetarian, I knew I would leave out the buffalo, until I realized it was a sauce and not some sort of bison. I had to find a hot sauce to include in my Bites. After walking up and down the aisles for what seemed an hour, I found the section which would bear the product required. There are about 140 different types of hot sauce. I narrowed it down to a red hot sauce and that left about 27. Choosing the one which would be best suited to something called buffalo called for a bit of research. So, in the middle of the grocery store, while smarter shoppers swooped up their favorite hot sauces, I Googled buffalo sauce and found that you can buy it ready made.

That seemed to be the best solution, but most of the ones I found weren’t vegan, so I returned to my phone to look for a recipe for making my own buffalo sauce. The recipe I found insisted I use Frank’s Red Hot Sauce. My journey to this point had taken a few twists and turns, but now I was on a specific mission to find this exact hot sauce for my Quinoa Bites. It took awhile, but I found two bottles of the stuff (must be popular!) on a high shelf, shoved back far enough to keep me from spotting it right away. One might believe I could have spent this time more productively, but this is the reality of a first-world problem. Too many choices can hold me up when I could have been home making those Quinoa Bites.

Getting help

Almost every place I shop (including online) seems eager to offer me a plethora of options for anything I might be buying. I prefer to go to a store in person as electronic shopping takes up a lot of time and energy and the quality of the product is difficult to determine. You can sometimes get a representative to chat online about the options available, but it’s nothing like getting assistance from the helpful folks who actually work in a store. Unless it’s a big box hardware store. Buying paint, for instance, is an exercise in futility without a knowledgeable guide. After a few experiences buying paint in one of our famous gigantoid-mega stores, I now prefer to go to an actual paint store, even if I have to pay more because I know there will be someone there to narrow my options and I won’t have to wait 30 minutes while they help someone else.

The first thing you need to know when you buy paint is what you wish to paint with it. Once you’ve established that, the paint store guide will start going over all the options and each decision will be narrowing down to the exact product you need to paint your fireplace. I ended up with three different kinds of paint to slap over the multi surfaces of my own hearth. I left the store satisfied with both the assistance and the purchases. So now, whenever I find myself in need of something new, I look for the best place to find a knowledgeable person and sometimes I am surprised by the quality of the help–good or bad.

I got this!

Smaller stores seem to have appropriately-qualified sales staff since their offerings are fewer than a department store or Walmart. I assume they get better pay for their expertise. Some of my friends hate when a sales person hovers over them, eager to make a sale. I embrace them (figuratively), and the whole concept that I have, standing in front of me, someone who will ask all the right questions, narrow down the list of possibilities and who will have the decency to feel like a failure if they can’t present me with the exact right thing I came in to find. But…if I buy something they’ve presented, through the rigorous decision-making process we’ve just shared together, I feel as though I should take them out for a glass of wine to celebrate this rare moment in Cheryl shopping history.

If only

Life presents us with all sorts of considerations from which we are obliged to make a choice. From remodeling the kitchen to buying your grandma a new sweater, the options sometimes feel endless. In a country where disposable income is a fairly normal thing, sellers want to give us as much to choose from as is humanly possible so as to not miss out on a single sale. Is that a good thing? Or a bad thing? See, I gave you two options there. Any more and you’d run screaming into the night…or day, or whenever you are reading this. Please rate this reading experience on this scale of 1 to 100. 1=Put me in a coma, 50=I need concierge-level assistance, 100=Hot damn that’s good. Or anywhere in between those numbers.

Just pick one already!



  1. Ha ha ha! One thing I loved about grocery shopping in England, was the simplicity of choices or no choice.

    I hate surveys so I will not be rating this article !! ????

  2. I rate you a 42, which I consider to be the perfect number.

  3. Truth: psychologists have studied people faced with too many choices and the results confirm excess options yields excess anxiety and unhappiness. Supermarkets ignore this finding. I agree with you. Fewer choices means less perplexity.

    • Maybe that’s why the Mexican market across from my neighborhood is so successful! People prefer to go there so as to reduce anxiety!

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