The tyranny of choice

Choosing a car

When I was a kid, I recall Orange Crush, Dr. Pepper and root beer as the only soda pop available. (And, incidentally, nothing quenched my thirst on a hot Minnesota summer day like Orange Crush.)

Decades later, as an airline stewardess, I pushed a heavy beverage cart filled with regular Coca Cola and 7- Up, plus their diet and decaffeinated variations, and also bottled water and fruit juice, down the aisle of a jetliner, offering the entire assortment to passengers. (Even so, occasionally, someone might request Mountain Dew, Fresca or Pepsi, and seem vexed that we didn’t carry them.)

Excessive choice like this is the norm in our society today, and in almost every conceivable area. This is good — right? It’s a luxury to be able to decide from a wide selection of goods and services?


Having too many options can be debilitating. It produces a form of anxiety that’s been dubbed “analysis paralysis,” the fear that whatever we eventually select, one of the other choices would have been better.

When this involves, say, a toothpaste brand or pistachio versus rocky road ice cream or an internet provider for your computer, the anxiety is mild. But when it involves spending a lot of money for something critically important, like the computer itself, it becomes acute.

A case in point: A year ago I realized my aged Dodge minivan had reached the end of its life. It had to be replaced. A new car would cost around $25,000. And as with everything else, every make of car comes out with something similar to every other make of car, every year.

I dread auto dealerships. I know almost nothing about what goes on under the hood, nor about the efficacy of the many new computerized gadgets installed in today’s cars (or even the not-so-new — my mini-van still had hand-crank windows). I panicked. I felt unqualified to make a good selection.

Know what I did? I have a trusted friend, Steve, who is something of an expert on automobiles. He owns several and also a recreational vehicle. He repairs all of them himself. For fun, when new models arrive at auto dealerships in the fall, Steve test drives a number of them.

When I told him of my dilemma and described my needs, he offered to car shop for me! Offered! Which he did.

The outcome: Today, I’m the only person I know who never had to set foot inside an auto dealership and dicker over price and frustratingly contrast and compare models. And yet I came away with the perfect car — a nifty, metallic blue Buick Encore!

This was, of course, totally unorthodox. Totally me!

For all other situations requiring a decision, I always struggle to make the perfect choice — or at least a “good enough” choice — with the one possible exception of choosing a husband.

Then I recently read the book, Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough.

Author Lori Gottlieb cautions that too many women today end up alone because they hold men to insanely high standards.


Carol Hall lives in Woodbury. She’s a longtime freelance writer, a University of Minnesota graduate and a former Northwest Airlines stewardess. Send comments and questions to [email protected].