Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Multiple Choices

Have you noticed what a huge virtue ‘being able to choose’ has become?

Every time I go to the supermarket, wanting to buy even the most common kind of food staple, cleaning agent, or beverage, I am faced with a bewildering choice.  What brand, kind, country of origin do I want my coffee or tea to be, which kind of biscuit, tinned beans or rice do I want today, which floor cleaner or sink scourer will be the only one suitable  for my specialized flooring, or the material my kitchen sink is made of. The purchase of the most mundane, boring, commonplace household item requires a conscious decision. 

It’s enough to make my head ache.

Shopping is a bore at the best of times, having to use valuable thinking capacity doing it is a waste of human resources. Sell me the stuff I need, make it a decent quality at a reasonable price and I’ll be yours forever.

Consumer goods, whether white, electrical, digital, leisure, whatever, come in dozens of varieties nowadays. Just invent the best washing machine you can, do away with inbuilt obsolescence, show me how it works and I’m away. And, for heaven’s sake, why do I need a dozen or more different washing powders, gels, liquids, concentrated, not concentrated, long-life, flavoured, spring-scented for whites, for coloureds, for delicates, for  woollens, his ‘n’ her’s, the kid’s and old uncle Tom Cobley ‘n’ all ? 

Choice is everything. Women were told that having the choice between household drudgery and an exciting working life was like finding the holy grail. In the end we chose to have it all, juggling paid work, household drudgery, husbands, and childrearing. What a con that turned out to be.

I am all in favour of  weighing up the pros and cons of any specific issue, moral, political, cultural, commercial and financial. We can choose how to have our children, even what sex they should be. We chose our children’s school. We chose our environmental footprint by choosing our car, our holidays, our home. Not every choice we make is wise, there is room for disagreement. Ethics come into it. 

I wish we didn’t have to make some choices: all schools should guarantee a decent education for our children, we shouldn’t have to elbow other parents aside to get our kids into the best schools. I wish we didn’t have to park our old people in dreadful care homes, which are anything but caring. I wish we hadn’t attacked our planet with such gusto in the past and were now free to choose to live a life that shares the earth’s resources generously and justly.

I wish choosing one politician over another, one political party rather than another, made a real difference. I wish that believing one set of promises over another makes my choice a genuine one; instead, so very often, they are cynically discarded for the sake of expediency, making my choice a fool’s errand. 

If I might have a choice in the matter, could I please have quality rather than quantity, the best the wisest  can come up with, choose with the benefit of all in mind.

Then, and only then, you can keep your 57 varieties, one of everything will do me fine. 


  1. Hear! Hear! I'm amazed that our grocery store has a whole aisle of frozen pizza and another of french fries (chips.) And breakfast cereals, of course.

  2. Too much choice is still better than the alternative.

  3. I echo Vicki's 'hear, hear'. We shop at a smaller supermarket now as the shopping gets done much more quickly with less choice.

    Choice of schools and hospitals is madness. If services are good then there should only be one choice: the local one.

  4. So much choice, but so much gets ruled out by economy , ethics , eco- awareness, health etc. In the end you will probably end up with what you always got. Who needs all that stuff ?

  5. They do that in the big supermarkets just to confuse you. It takes that long to decide you end up buying one of each just in case! Love the post Friko and agree with everything you've said.

  6. This is a great post. I agree about not needing all those different kinds of toothpaste and cereal. But no choice at all is also not good. I think all schools should be good, but it's okay with me if they are not all the same. It's good to have a choice of schools. After all, not all children are the same. And I am glad to be able to choose my doctor, something that my daughter who lives in England can't do.

    I laughed out loud at the picture of the cat with all those mice to choose from!

  7. Great post. I was thinking the same thing the other day while shopping in Target. We are drowning in choices for everything. How many all-purpose cleaners are out there, do you suppose? It hurts my head.

  8. Like some others, I would be reluctant to give up too much choice - but like you, I wish that some choices I make could really make a difference. We seem to have way to many choices about things that don't matter and way too little about the things that do.
    I had to laugh at your comments on the choices that women of my generation were encouraged to make because the reality was that no matter what we chose, we ended up doing it all.

  9. How refreshing to read. And yes, there are supermarkets over here, offering more than three yards of spaghetti, about twenty different sorts of bubble gum and and and ... am currently on the lookout of what one can buy with 50cent, makes the choice indeed a bit smaller ;) Please have a great Thursday.

    daily athens

  10. I think it is marketing. So many items are made from the same manufacturer then sold to different companies under various names. I don’t know if you remember but a few years ago there was some terrible stuff placed into cat food which had been made in China I believe. When I checked to see under which label this was sold I was totally bewildered to see that the same product was sold in the USA under at least 20 or more names – the same product. You think you have a choice, and that is the idea.

  11. I do and don't agree with this .
    Choices in schools or health care are often illusory .Keeping the universal standard high is what matters and that depends on everyone working hard at a local level to make their own facilities efficient , pleasant and fit for purpose , while government oversees fair and sensible distribution of available funds .
    And I like the idea of supermarket shopping for basics being simple and speedy . Own brand products are usually perfectly good and an easy choice .
    But how far would you extend this idea ? One kind of apple, one kind of bread , one kind of margarine ?( no butter obviously because too liable to regional variations . Margarine , being artificial , is centrally regulatable . )
    No , I think we'll just have to decide for ourselves what products/ foods we like , can afford and are sensibly and ethically produced .
    Leave the dithering over Lo-Fat Hi-Fibre Cookies or Hi-Fibre Lo-Fat Biscuits or LoFatHiFibre Snacks to others who care.

  12. When do we want to choose?
    When we don't like what we have.
    When do we need to choose? ...
    It's that old chestnut, the difference between what we want and what we need.

  13. Theoretically, the market absorbs the choices we make, and inferior or over-priced products are eventually weeded out. I probably wouldn't be happy without choices, but I agree that it's tiring and frustrating - mostly because often, my choices are made based on superficial information.
    The ecological choices really get to me. Dishwasher vs. handwashing, for instance. I could, I suppose, measure the amount of water I use if I/we washed three sets of meal dishes every day and compare that to the dishwasher, run once every day and a half. It uses electricity, but certainly less water. But how much electricity is used to heat the water for 5 bouts of washing in the sink?

    It's impossible to inform yourself enough to make sound choices about everything. Some basic tenets guide my shopping - I ignore things that are disposable (as much as possible) excess packaging, garish advertising on the package, and anything that I've seen on the television. Those advertising costs are built into my bill!

    MFB has an annoying habit of offering me too many choices. He'll ask, do you want this? and before I can reply yes or no, he comes up with a second choice. I could smack him!!

  14. Excellent post. Shopping for the "right" item can be so bewildering these days.. and time consuming.

  15. I prefer to shop in our local village store or in the small Co-op, rather than in the large Tesco's - but often we are forced into using the big store to get gluten-free foods.

  16. Friko, which supermarket shelf lined up all the vermin for you to parade before your cat? Was there a choice of white, brown or black, or just short tails or long? Were they supplied in unethical packaging, or a good old paper bag? A shopper likes to know these things...

  17. Vicki Lane - too too much . . .

    ER - Does it always have to be either/or? A more measured approach would suit me better.

    Christine - my point exactly; It still doesn't have to be one-size-fits-all, there would still be room for the extraordinary or specialised.

    Ivy - not me.

    mollgolver - I think it's more likely they do it to get our cash.

    20th Century Woman - I am not against choice per se where an alternative provision is necessary, as the schools you mentioned, for instance. I am against choice for the sake of it and for purely commercial reasons.

    Nancy - I'd rather think along more productive lines that pick up, study and still remain unable to choose between one cleaner and the next. Stupid world.

    Pondside - exactly my point. Keep the pointless choice give me the ones that matter.

    Robert - have fun finding something for your 50 cents.

    Vagabonde - On top of conning you they then sell you rubbish. 20 different times. It's unbelievable.

    S&S - I wouldn't extend the one-of-everything rule to those items which come in many different varieties anyway, like apples, vegetables etc. I am taking about the man-made items, such as the ones I've mentioned. I'd also leave choice in clothing, say, or cars. You go and count the breakfast cereals on supermarket shelves, for instance, all made from the same raw materials, but all called by different names;

  18. Deborah - I knew you'd get it. On the whole I agree with everything you've said. I object, in particular, to the miles of supermarket aisles I have to traipse through to get to what I want. An aisle for just one kind of comestible is way too much for me. And then I have to find the tried and tested one (by me) amongst all the chaff.

    Another coincidence: B will do that too, but then he grew up in a grocer's shop and it has become second nature to offer a choice or several; he does it as a matter of course. Try saying yes or no to the whole row of offers at the end, that'll confuse him.

    Hilary - it's the 'time-consuming' and 'extra effort' I object to.

    Freda - I also use a big supermarket once or twice a month for a mega-shop, I have to, because I just can't get what I want in the village shop. I hate it, it takes too much time and a great deal of effort.

    Jinksy - They come by mail-order, one after the other appears from the garden and the fields, unfortunately not sorted, just freshly dead.
    Only kidding.

  19. But having choices when visiting the local greenhouse - that is very nice! I do agree though with much of what you say - who needs 8 different types of whitening toothpaste?

    Love the neatly lined up mice - wonder which one the cat finally decided on?

  20. Friko, again you've raised interesting questions and received very thoughtful replies.

    I am very glad to have the opportunity of choosing your site! xo

  21. Ah, Friko, if wishes were horses...

    We live with an embarrassement[that doesn't look right] of riches.

    Congrats on a mention at Hilary's Post of the Day.

  22. I so agree with you about too many product choices - all done in the name of consumerism and the good of the economy. There are some choices I'm happy to make but like you, if my money is going to go for something I need, offer me the best and be done with it.


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