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Decisions, Decisions: Choosing Among Countless Versions of the Same Product

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Illustration by Emily Thompson
I stand in aisle nine and stare blankly at the toothbrushes. There are 97 different kinds to choose from—each one recommended by a different dental association. I pore over the options, weighing my mouth’s needs with each specialty.

I find the one perfectly suited for me—but it only comes in pink. I can’t rightly go home with a pink toothbrush, so I begin all over again.

All told, I’ve burned 10 minutes and haven’t even made it to the toothpaste yet. And I’ll likely have a cavity at my next checkup anyhow (in which case, I should’ve gone with pink).

The process repeats itself in aisle after aisle: 32 types of light bulbs, 21 different detergents, chocolate chips in 16 shapes, sizes and flavors, at least a hundred pasta sauces (somewhere in this sea of red, there must be a jar that reads “marinara”).

By the time I leave the grocery store, the moon has replaced the sun and I’m left with heartburn, a headache and an utter sense of uncertainty about the stuff I’ve just purchased.

According to the Food Marketing Institute, the average number of items carried in a supermarket is 38,718. Not that it’s any better elsewhere: The home store has 86 kinds of caulk, the pharmacy 132 ways to get rid of a cold, and the shoe store at least 61 types of sneakers for a sundry of ambulatory activities.

Sometimes, I’ll bypass brick and mortar altogether and try my luck online. With the web’s untold options and countless opinions, I find these escapades even more fruitless—as in my recent quest for a new potato peeler. Mary from Minnesota absolutely loved the peeler I was considering, while Bob from Idaho found it dull and mediocre at best. Then again, renowned blogger Potato Patty gave it a four-spud rating on her website. “I would’ve given it five potatoes,” she wrote, “but it didn’t do such a hot job with apples.”

Three hours flew by, and I still had reservations about the potato peeler. I’d accomplished nothing.

Utterly paralyzed by uncertainty and frequently emasculated by choice, my daily life continues to be colored by the seemingly unending mantra: … indecision, indecision, indecision, indecision, indecision, indecision …

On second thought, maybe I will hit the web and take another whack at that potato peeler.

When he’s not pretending to shop, West Chester’s Michael T. Dolan is a writer. Read more of his work at conversari.com.
 

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