Monday, January 30, 2012

The Choices We Make

ecisions, decisions, decisions…!  Boy, did this lecture strike a familiar chord!  Barry Swartz (The Paradox of Choice:  Why More is Less) couldn’t have been more on-point if he’d actually looked in my pantry and seen my reaction to too many kinds of jelly on the shelf at the supermarket.  My reaction?  Too many kinds of jelly on my pantry shelf as well.  If I’d been forced by circumstance to choose just one, I would have come home empty-handed like the folks in the study wound up doing, because the options were overwhelming.  But given a debit card and ample jelly-and-jam-buying resources, I went the other way.  I can slather every slice of toast in the neighborhood for months without ever having to shop…and I don’t even eat jelly.  

There’s the irony.  I’m one of those people not only overwhelmed by options for things that I actually want and need, but give me enough options on anything, and I’ll feel forced to pick one.  Or twenty. 

Where does this leave me in the world of horses?  Well, it leaves me with a herd of horses that can’t be described in one word.  I’m not a “hunter rider” or a “western rider” or any other easily-pigeonholed type.  I’m not even a hoarder.  I have the number of horses I need in order to do all the things that I feel I want to do, even when I don’t want to do them.  


I used to be the type that strikes fear into the hearts of barn owners and thrills the horse dealers.  I didn't know what I wanted, so I wound up appearing a little loose around the edges.  I solved the problem by resolving to never make decisions on impulse.  

Okay, that's a lie.  I never made that resolution.  I do decide--and often buy-- on impulse, but I avoid life-changing decisions and purchases of anything bigger than new shoes and medium-weight horse turnout blankets, which I buy in multiples and far too often.  In truth, I've raised dithering to an art form. 

What I do hasn't really got a name yet.  I wait for the monthly landslide of catalogs like I'm expecting to find diamonds in the mailbox.  Then I sit in ritualistic rigor, hour after hour, reading descriptions of everything from pj's to saddles to jewelry and real estate, dog-earing pages, circling product numbers, and fantasizing about how this purchase or that will make my life ever so much better.

Then I put the catalogs on my desk and walk away.  By the next morning, I can't remember why I thought any of it was a good idea.  I flip through the dog-ears.  If there's something I actually meant to order--a refill on a horse supplement, for instance--I order it online.  The rest land in a pile on the floor on their way to the recycling bin.  

Can't do that with horses.  They don't recycle as easily.  I've taken a Just Say No stance on those.  It took hours of practice, saying that in front of a mirror, before I got good enough at it to go public.  

The options are just so broad, and the reasons for choosing them are even broader.  So, like the people observed in the study, I freeze.  Unlike them, I can sometimes thaw and make huge rash purchases that leave me wondering later.  But through it all I can't help but wonder at what point will the marketing gurus figure out that we don't really  need another different kind of whatever.  Cell phone/nose hair trimmer/creme brulee torch?  Hoof pick/flashlight/keychain/MP3 player?  

We are becoming a society of maximizers, always looking for the Next Big Thing and living in a constant state of regret, because nothing we've already done can possibly be as good at the choices in front of us or the ones we let get away.  And according to Zip, we're freaking out our horses.  Zip has become flinchy every time I reach for my latest grooming product "must-have".

ME: Check this out!  It's going to make your tail grow six inches by the end of the month!

ZIP:  It smells like something I'm gonna have to roll in manure in the pasture to get rid of.  

ME: Look at the cool applicator bottle!  It's got little sunshines all over it and it glitters.  It has to be super-great if it's in a glitter bottle.

ZIP:  [eyes rolling]  And you wonder why I listed myself on

So it goes.  There will always be another "best" halter, horse, partner, hair style, fad food.  Maybe it's okay to let a few slide on by and focus on why we have the things we've already this super-nifty massager/letter opener/pencil sharpener I just found in my bottom drawer!  Hoo-hah!  

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