The Paradox of Choice Part 3: What if I make the wrong decision?

So you’ve made your decisions on interiors and your contractor is humming along building your house. You lay awake in bed, thinking: should I have picked the Cherry? Maybe the Walnut? There were 47 cabinet hardware choices, what if the one I chose was too trendy? Or too dated? Should I have done a double oven? What about Thanksgiving? Should we have spend the extra money for the counter depth refrigerator?


STOP! With all of the choices out there, it’s impossible to have reassurance you have made the right one. Your contractor and your architect will have different experiences and opinions. You’ll read scathing online reviews of products that were endorsed by others.

You’ve made your choices, be at peace with them and move on.

  • Always remember that satisfied customers rarely write good online reviews. People take to the internet when they’re angry. Take negative reviews with a grain of salt.
  • Talk to a rep who sells a variety of brands and get their take on your biggest concern. For example, building in the San Juan Islands near salt water, warranties on windows are often a make or break factor in decision making. If you live on an island or in a rural area, availability of servicing on appliances may make the decision for you. It may sound counter intuitive with all of the choices out there, but you might have the most peace of mind when your choice is limited by something like this.
  • Dwell on the positive. Think about the choices that you’re sure of that you are really excited about.
  • Know that most things are not set in stone. In reality, you will probably not take the time and money to go back and change anything major. But knowing the option is there can help you to not lose sleep over thinking you made the wrong choice.
  • In reality, you can live with even the worst decision. There was a reason you chose what you chose. Before we moved into our condo, we chose to put in hardwood instead of carpet. I picked out a beautiful dark walnut which I had seen in some model homes and was very trendy back in 2007. It is still beautiful-for about five minutes after you clean it. Once the dog walks across it once, or you accidentally wear your shoes through the house, it’s as if the floor was made to feature every spec of dust. Even though at times I have major buyer’s remorse and wish I had just gone with standard oak or maple, I still enjoy its beauty, how well it reflects what little light comes in on a gray Seattle day, how nicely if offsets the white walls and trim.

Don’t let the modern pace of decision making wear you down with constant stress.  Ignore the noise and focus on what you love. All those choices are there because there is a market for them, not necessarily because what was there before was insufficient or bad. Even though the task can seem daunting, it is great fun and a great privilege to have any level of customization of a home, especially from scratch.

The Paradox of Choice Part 2: Making a choice


As discussed in part one, the main problem with having so many choices is the stress that comes in making the wrong decision. In the past you had to decide if you wanted your coffee black, or with cream and or sugar. Now if you just have sugar, do you want honey, agave, Splenda, Sweet n Low, Equal, raw sugar or regular sugar? Do you want half and half, 2%, 1%, soy, almond? And that’s just your basic coffee. We’re not even getting into iced, hot, extra hot, syrups, foam, sizes, etc, etc, etc.

So our head is already spinning from decision fatigue and we haven’t even had our coffee yet. Why would one choose to take on the massive bundle of decisions that come with building a custom home? As someone who designs custom homes (and likes to eat and pay my mortgage) choosing to design your own home is a great decision. You just have to be prepared for the choices that are coming. Here are a few tips for dealing with these choices:

  • Know that the world will not end if you make the wrong choice. Think of all of the fixtures and materials in your home. You may have a few pet peeves, but chances are there are things you don’t even notice. The door hardware may not be what you would pick out if you had the choice, but you probably don’t even notice it on a day to day basis.
  • On that note, take stock  of your current home. Think about what really drives you crazy. For me, it’s that in my condo you can see the toilet from the dining room table. If I am ever able to design my own space, I will go to great lengths to make sure there are no situations like this. But we don’t have cabinet hardware, and that doesn’t bother me at all.
  • Enlist help from your friends. Put a call out on Facebook about people’s experiences with appliances, how different floors hold up to pets, etc.
  • Decide up front what the most important elements are, and that you want to have control over those elements. If you don’t care about, say, sinks, your designer will know you general style and can pick out a choice or two for you to pick from. There’s no reason to get decision fatigue looking at dozens of sinks and have little time or energy left to pick out the things you really care about.
  • Look for limiting factors to help narrow down your choices quickly. Maybe you don’t want to take the time to keep fingerprints off of stainless steel appliances. Undermount sinks are just not in your budget and you have never really noticed them anyway. Done.
  • Do you have the time to spend? If you do, give yourself limits: I’ll spend one hour looking at sinks. Narrow it down to a few choices, then sleep on it. Go back, and make a decision. If you have more money than time, your design will love to do this for you. If you’re worried about the amount of time, set a limit.
  • Leading up to the interiors decisions, over a few months or weeks, create a mood board using whatever method suits you-bookmark pages of the internet, use Photoshop to collage images, order samples to physically put together (your designer or architect can help with this), find pictures from books or magazines. Go through it and note what you like and don’t like about the picture. Even if you can’t articulate exactly what materials or style you want, your true desires should come through.

Resources for example photos:

The Paradox of Choice-Part 1

When you are working with an architect or designer to build a custom home, the amount of decisions to be made are staggering. You spend months working out how the house will look, how the rooms will be arranged, how this door will swing. You breath a sigh of relief when you finally get the bones of the house figured out but then it’s time to make hundreds of other decisions, from the color of the stains to the faucets.

Choice is supposed to be a good thing, right? We can almost get anything we want. But walking down the cereal aisle is enough to send even the most confident person into decision paralysis. Our bounty of choices is supposed to be an improvement, part of our evolution, but the stress of these choices is unnatural and grating, and because there are so many choices out there, there is always that feeling that we’ve made the wrong one.

This concept is explored by Barry Schwartz in the 2005 book The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less.

Yes, it’s great to have a choice. But there is an added level of perpetual stress that comes with making so many decisions.

Designing a custom home heaps on even more decisions. When you buy a house everything is already there and you may not even notice most things, but creating a custom home, suddenly you are responsible for all of these choices. You may not know how to even begin to go about sifting through all of the choices, much less actually making one. How do you know you have made the right one? How can you be at peace with your choice when there are so many options out there and new ones coming on the scene every day? In the coming weeks, we’ll discuss avoiding decision fatigue, or at least making it as painless as possible.

Being aware of decision fatigue is the first step in avoiding it. You may feel guilty for being stressed about it because we’ve been taught that choice is a good thing. It’s good in some ways and bad in others. I’m going to use what may be a controversial example, but I think it drives the point home. Women used to be relegated to certain roles in the home, and they were very well defined. There may have been many other issues in marriages, but who does what chores what not one of them. There was no choice, it was decided. Now, everything is up for grabs. Couples fight about who is supposed to do what and roles are not clearly set. As a wife who works and is married to an excellent cook, would I choose to go back to the old standard of marital relationships? No, absolutely not. I would not trade the choices that women have today. But, we can’t deny that the more choices we have (for example, when, how, and how many children we have) bring about a whole new way of life and a whole spectrum of neuroses that we are only beginning to scratch the surface of. City or suburbs? Home school, co-op, Montessori, public, private? Free range or attachment? Organic, sugar free, low garb, gluten free, low fat?

The point is to not feel guilty for being stressed. You might get into thoughts like “How can I feel guilty for all of these choices I have when people in the past or people in developing nations would give anything to have the choice?” The stress is natural. It’s in our biology. It’s even more important to keep this in mind when designing a custom home. Yes, you are lucky to have the choice, but that doesn’t make it any less stressful.