The Paradox of Choice

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Last week, I mentioned that I had started reading Play Anything, by Ian Bogost. Some of his ideas sparked ideas of my own, and I talked a bit about the fun aspect of minimalism.

As I continued reading, he brought up another idea that I also found fascinating; the Paradox of Choice. Now, I’d heard about the Paradox of Choice before, it’s a fairly widespread philosophical idea. But I hadn’t thought about it as impactful on fun. And I hadn’t thought about it being influenced by living zero-waste.

There’s a story that goes around in my family about a relative who faced a perfect example of the Paradox of Choice. This relative was taken to an ice cream shop when they were fairly young. The ice cream shop was one of those that advertise about a million flavours. The relative was so overwhelmed by all the choices that, after a long time spent trying to decide, they gave up and had vanilla.

At first glance, it might seem that the larger selection of ice cream makes for a more enjoyable experience. After all, shouldn’t everyone be able to find the perfect flavour? But often, as in the case of my relative, having so many choices actually decreases the enjoyment. It’s stressful having to decide when you don’t know what you’ll like best. And after you’ve chosen, there’s the niggling worry that maybe you chose wrong, and there was another flavour that you would have enjoyed more.

So what does this have to do with zero-waste?

Zero-waste provides a decision framework. It almost directly combats the Paradox of Choice.

When at the grocery store and faced by ten different kinds of salsa in as many different kinds of packaging, zero-waste dictates that you chose the salsa in the least packaging. And minimalism dictates that you choose the salsa in a container that you can reuse. That usually means choosing salsa in a glass jar, which will limit your options.

When you’re trying to decide what to do for dinner, zero-waste suggests that you find a sit-down restaurant instead of fast-food, since that will produce less waste. Or it asks you to stay at home and prepare something yourself instead of ordering in pizza.

Since starting the challenge, I’ve made many decisions based on zero-waste. Often I haven’t even had to think about the choices, because zero-waste has immediately narrowed the choices to a single option. Occasionally this option has been inconvenient, but that’s the price of cutting down on waste.

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