Back in 1785, the English poet William Cowper wrote “Variety’s the very spice of life, That gives it all its flavour.” If Mr. Cowper could have seen into the future 200 years, I wonder if he would have changed that to “Variety’s the very spice of life, yet it overwhelms us in excess.”
In our modern world, we love having extensive choices and options all at our finger tips. Here in the United States especially, we are lucky and privileged to rarely feel that we are lacking in possibilities. It is a beautiful thing to be able to pick and choose everything from what we wear to how we spend our free time, to any number of goods we purchase.
Yet I wonder if at some point, when does so much turn into too much? Simply walk down the breakfast food lane in a grocery store, and the cereal boxes literally run the entire length of the aisle. Is it really necessary to have so many options that it can take 15 minutes to make a selection? This past weekend I realized that the second place contender in the Ridiculous Quantity of Varieties race is the frozen meals section. The cooler units are bulging with cardboard boxes containing heat ‘n eat meals from Lean Cuisine, Healthy Choice, Marie Callender, Swanson, and other brands I’ve never heard of. I found myself standing there, staring through the glass trying to pick out a couple to use as lunches for work, or for after school snacks for my son. Another woman came up behind me and I apologized for dawdling. She and I agreed that if there were just three to choose from, we’d be on our way much faster. When I was a kid, the only options were “tv dinners” by Hungry Man, Morton and Banquet. And they all basically looked like turkey or meatloaf with gravy and mashed potatoes.
Speaking of food, one of the fastest ways to overwhelm me in a restaurant is to hand me a bound, multi-page menu. This really seems to be a trend at this point. Gone are the days of a single-sided laminated card with a handful of options. Now it is like opening up a bedtime story book with several chapters. Gosh, don’t feel pressured while the waiter is standing next to you, ready to take your order, and you are only on page 8 and have not even had a chance to narrow down your preferences. You finally make your selection, close the cover of the food novel in your lap, and then realize there are two supplemental publications on the table, telling tall tales of available beverages and desserts.
Of course these are all First World Problems, and we need to be grateful for all we have. But really, isn’t there some point where it just isn’t necessary to have more and more of something? This evening I decided to treat my sad stubby fingernails to a manicure. As I sat down, the nail technician handed me the available options of Gel Nail color. There were literally approximately 130 colors to choose from. And that was just for that variety of polish. It did not include the regular, acrylic, 3-D designs, and who knows what else. Come on, ladies, can’t we find a color we like out of, say, 50? That would still be enough to choose a different color for nearly every week of the year.
Maybe it’s just me, but when I’m faced with so many options and choices, I start to glaze over. I start to long for the days when we had 4 TV channels, simple dinner selections, and a handful of cosmetics from Avon. I start to wish I had an angel on my shoulder who would whisper “pick that one”, and I’d be happy with that choice. I’m not sure if the multitude of possibilities in front of us every day is a sign that we all have a touch of ADD, or that we all are desperate to carve out our own unique style, or we just get bored really, really easily. No matter the reason, there seems to be no end in sight. Literally.
So rather than fight it, perhaps I need to channel my inner Mae West, and her famous assertion that “Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.”
After all, tonight I chose nail color #102.