When choice becomes harmful

Choosing, in most cases, is wasteful. The more non-critical the purchase, the more trivial choice becomes.

I registered this with greater emphasis when we moved from a furnished to an unfurnished house. Let us consider curtains, for example. When we furnish a house ourselves, we are likely to invest a lot more time and effort in going through the available curtain choices, selecting a few and comparing between them. In a furnished house, we receive a choice that was already made. In my experience, the default choice is, in most cases, good enough. The same holds true also if a friend were to gift us curtains. I am likely to appreciate their selection just as much.

This is an important point because purchase decisions come with hidden costs.

Firstly, the cognitive decision-making ability can be gainfully used elsewhere. Secondly, there is often a drop in our satisfaction levels after making a careful choice. Past an optimal point, it has been proven that increase in choice makes it harder and less satisfying to make a decision. The optimal number of choices is far lesser that today’s consumerism based market offers us. This phenomenon, where excessive choice can be detrimental, is called the paradox of choice.

The bottom line? When presented with choice, especially for non-critical purchases, just choose the first thing you like. Going through the entire selection actually undermines the final choice you make. Another way to express the paradox of choice: past a handful of choices, the harder you look, the lesser you gain from doing so.

Inspiration: The paradox of choice – Barry Schwarz

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