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Posts Tagged ‘choices’

parnassus cooking travel section bookstore

It took me a long time to realize this, and even longer to admit it. But I am a person easily overwhelmed by too many choices.

Give me a couple of options and I’m fine. English Breakfast or Earl Grey? Chocolate or vanilla? Red or white wine? I can make a quick, painless decision when the options are few. (Chocolate and red wine, always.)

But put me in front of a vast array of choices – booking a vacation rental on Airbnb, grocery shopping without a meal plan, clothes shopping of almost any kind – and I start to panic, then shut down.

I realized this again recently, when I headed to the mall to run a few errands. I only go to the mall about three times a year, but I needed to go to Target, which is attached to our mall. I also had two store coupons that were about to expire, and I was looking for a dark gray cardigan to replace my ancient one.

All of the above were fairly simple transactions. I bought the items on my list at Target (though I still spent more than I intended to), used one store coupon and decided to toss another, and searched for a gray cardigan (to no avail). The overwhelm set in when I decided to do a little extra browsing – and couldn’t find anything I liked.

strawberries

I love browsing and having a ton of choices in a few specific settings: the farmers’ market, the library, the bookstore, the florist. Mostly because I know that a lot of the available options are things I will definitely love. (This is one reason I love a good series, literary or otherwise: it eliminates decision fatigue.)

At my favorite stores, it’s easy for me to zero in on what works. I enjoy consignment shopping because the options aren’t endless (and I can look for my favorite brands). I can also shop with a few specific items in mind. But a department or big-box store with too many choices is a recipe for disaster.

I do like to try new things: a different style of dress or shoe, a new flavor of ice cream or (nearly always) a book I haven’t read. But it’s amazing how helpful this bit of self-knowledge has been.

Sometimes, when I’m faced with a dizzying array of choices, it helps to narrow them down: to choose from four flavors of frozen yogurt instead of 20, or limit my shopping to one or two stores. I can usually find what I’m looking for, and I’m left feeling much less frazzled.

Of course, there are some things I never get tired of buying, and sometimes the decision-making is part of the fun. But for those times when it’s overwhelming, I’m doing my best to remember: narrow the choices.

Do you struggle with decision fatigue?

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something good polka dot mug

I’ve been thinking a lot about decision fatigue lately – because I have it, big-time.

For many of us, each day holds (potentially) a thousand small decisions: what do I wear? What do I eat? What do I read or watch or listen to? How do I tackle projects at work, and in what order? Do I make this phone call, respond to that email, engage in this online conversation? And what on earth do I buy everyone for Christmas?

I’m easily overwhelmed by lots of options. The exception is a bookstore, where the browsing – for me – is a big part of the fun. (My husband, on the other hand, likes to pick one book and read it till I’m done perusing the shelves.)

brookline booksmith interior twinkle lights

In most areas of my life, the decisions can start to crowd my brain until it feels like there’s no mental space left. I like to have choices (and I’m often terrified of being bored), but in this busy season, I’m trying not to waste all my energy on small decisions. So the answers to a few key questions lately are nearly the same every day.

  • What am I wearing? Some version of my winter personal uniform: black leggings and boots with a dress and cardigan, a cozy scarf and my jade-green wool coat. (I’m putting off the switch to the down coat as long as I can.)
  • What am I brewing in the morning? Santa’s Secret black tea with peppermint, usually in my old cobalt blue mug from the Ground Floor. It feels just right in my hands.
  • What am I reading? My Advent book, over breakfast. Working through the review stack, on my commute. And Winter Solstice, before bed.
  • What am I eating for lunch? Leftovers, leftovers, leftovers. Sometimes boring, but reliably tasty. (Bonus: they’re free!)
  • What am I cooking? Simple, tasty meals: pasta with veggies, chicken burritos, lots and lots of soup. (Bonus: leftovers!)
  • What am I listening to? This one’s easy: Christmas music, all the time.
  • What color am I painting my toenails? A festive, rich crimson – until I can make time for a pedicure.
  • What am I ordering at Darwin’s? Chai. Always chai.

Maybe I’ll mix it up a little after the New Year. But for now, this is what’s working.

Are you an overthinker, like me? Do you thrive on routine, or do you relish the chance to make every day different?

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When it’s all too much

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My mom used to tell me, over and over again: “You can’t do everything.”

I am only now starting to believe her.

I was a super-involved child and teenager, by my own choice. Piano lessons. Spelling bees. Marching band. A student diplomatic organization. Lots of church activities, in addition to classes and homework. I treasured my solitude even then, holed up with a book or my journal, but I treasure community too, and I never want to be left out. I struggle with saying no to anything that sounds appealing, even if I know I don’t have the time or energy for it.

Since moving to New England, I’ve learned how the daily grind can wear you down, even if you work in a beautiful place, even if you love your work and your colleagues. Sometimes weekends are for travel and exploring and brand-new adventures, but just as often, they are for puttering and sipping tea, for quiet afternoons and lots of rest.

Most of the time, I don’t mind taking a quiet weekend. But it’s harder when you’ve made plans and have to cancel them, when you’ve invested time and money and you have to cut those losses because you know it would be better to stay home and rest.

We had hoped to spend the upcoming long weekend in New York – a city I love, which endlessly fascinates me. We’d bought bus tickets and booked a cute little studio apartment in Brooklyn, even made plans for brunch with a friend. But about a week ago, we looked at each other and said: Let’s stay home.

This is my husband’s last week at the job he’s worked for three years, and while he is excited to be moving on to a new organization, he is saying lots of good-byes, and those are tiring. I am smack in the middle of a busy season at work: three or four events jammed up against one another, all in the space of two weeks. Add to that a work conference in Rhode Island (for me) and the death of a relative in Texas (for my husband), not to mention all the small daily details, and perhaps you will understand: we are tired.

It felt strangely adult to cancel our plans, the life equivalent of reaching for a healthy salad even though you’d rather order a steaming plate of salty, delicious, not-so-healthy fish and chips. We lost a bit of money, but the deciding factor was taking a clear-eyed look at our lives as they are right now, and choosing what we need over what we want.

This is a small issue, I know, in the grand scheme of things. There will be other New York weekends, other chances to explore and sightsee, other adventures. We did not give up anything permanent, and this was in no way a life-or-death decision.

Still, it feels important, and grown-up: realizing we can’t do everything, and choosing not to try. Rather, we are choosing to rest and renew, so we can come back to our everyday lives with energy, grace and even joy.

Do you struggle with saying no, or with choosing to rest?

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