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.