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

Why do we need 97 types of toothbrushes, anyway?

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).

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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.

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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

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