I Hate Making Small Decisions
Every mistake is a moral failure!
I think hell would be forcing someone to go shopping with me. It takes about 153 percent longer than it should because I can't make basic decisions about what I want.
Do I want the organic bananas or should I save the 47 cents and go with the regular? Would I even be able to tell the difference? Plastic containers or glass? One might kill the environment, but I am clumsily and I am worried about glass going everywhere.
I spent what felt like hours trying to choose a hair dryer from Amazon. I had to drag a friend along with me last time I went home goods shopping. Her sole job was to tell me just to buy the things I needed, like a nice set of cookware or the not-cheapest lamp. And I can't tell you the number of times I went to buy something like a mop or a coffee maker because I couldn't decide on the right one.
There are also so many choices these days for simple products. I recently tried to buy a set of simple Bluetooth headphones, but I was immediately overwhelmed by pages and pages of results online.
I know on some level, I should be able to just pick one, but what if I got the wrong one? Plus, spending money makes me nervous. My mother was a single mom at one point, and we ate simple meat-and-potato types of meals off paper plates. We lived in a trailer. That life is behind all of us, but I still get this fear that if I don't spend my money the right way that I'll somehow ruin my life.
I have a decent job, and I make enough to cover rent, pay for my dog, and allow me to go out with friends now and then. But spending beyond that makes me so nervous.
How do I get past this tick and just decide what I want and spend the money that I have? I don't want to keep wasting time on flip-flopping.
Dear Can’t Decide,
Time is money. My dad was an economist, so he said this often, usually when someone was wasting his time or their own. He also talked a lot about opportunity costs: If you choose to do x instead of y, what are the costs? For example, if your time is worth $50 an hour, and you spend two hours on Amazon trying to decide which hair dryer to buy, you’ve already spent $100 extra on that hair dryer.
It makes more sense to choose the highest quality hair dryer very quickly, and save yourself the 2 hours of unpaid labor scouring Amazon for the “right” choice.
You see how making the “wrong” choice presents itself as a kind of a sin? High-capitalist consumer culture infuses simple buying decisions with heavy moral implications. If you’re not buying correctly, you’re trespassing against God and humanity. Giving a trivial choice such moral weight gums up the gears in your brain and you can’t proceed.
Scraping this perspective out of your head is important not just so you’ll stop torturing yourself and everyone around you. People who live inside this kind of scarcity mindset believe that whatever the market asks of them, that’s what they should be doing. If I followed this directive, I’d be speaking to a bunch of college kids at some spa-like summer program right now, telling them to follow their hearts and trust themselves and dance in a circle and breathe in the earth’s blessings. Likewise, the market told the sisters behind Ann Landers and Dear Abby to become the same person, but with dueling advice columns. And I think they hated each other? Was there a biopic about this? I could research this right now but I won’t, because I’d rather do something else.
The whole idea that siblings should hate each other just because they’re different underscores how much we bake competition into every dimension of our lives. Even within a family, we feel like we’re competing for limited resources and affection. Which child will make the “right” choice? Who is doing the “wrong” thing with their time?
I love this newsletter because it doesn’t march in a straight line under some branded imperative. It’s just a fucked up, meandering pocket of chaos where I can write whatever I want. I started writing this thing because I would go online and feel annoyed and angry and pissy and bratty and bleccccch and there was nothing to read online when I felt that way. Picking a fight with a troll was the best that feeling had to offer. It was nothing and nowhere.
Our culture makes us crazy but there’s nowhere to put our crazy. We are alone, staring at our phones, wondering if anyone else feels this way. I find it truly restorative to make stupid-ass jokes under these conditions. What feeds my soul is writing down the things I don’t like, the things I don’t want, the things I never want to waste my time doing. I particularly hate lucrative ventures that involve doing what you’re already doing in front of bigger and bigger crowds. That, to me, is like spending five hours in a bad home goods store while your friend says, “This is the crockpot for you, buddy. Trust me. This is the right one.” Purgatorial!
What about the other people who live inside my skin, who want to paint or go on a long walk or write mean jokes about their husband’s crumbling knees? I need more petulance and whining and eye-rolling in my creative life. I want to be directionless. I want to make the wrong choices, in part because they’re the wrong choices. I want to read other writers making bad choices. I’m bored with restraint and taste and bland takes on the same old thing. I want foot stomping fits. I want sadness. I want goofy stupid bullshit.
We are melting down. Let’s not pretend that we can quietly analyze this clown show. We need to be angry and exuberant and melancholy. We need to get loose, or we’ll implode. Wildness will lead us out of our anxiety.
You’re too anxious to live inside your own skin. You have no time to wander. You are focusing on tedious math that’s arbitrary and wastes your time and doesn’t help a bit. Find a way to avoid buying anything new for a while. Learn to wander. Wander through a Goodwill store and contemplate used stuff. Think about what prices mean to you. Use what you already have. With food purchases, vow to make snap decisions and vow not to analyze them after the fact. Free up some emotional space for feeling whatever comes up, and for contemplating what’s important to you.
Look closely at how much you beat yourself up for very small choices every day. As long as you live under this self-flagellating regime, you’ll be unhappy. You need freedom from the voices in your head. The voices are bad for you, and they never shut up. Listen to them. Notice how they never fucking shut up, never cut you some slack, never give you a minute’s peace.
Notice and correct them. “No, I’m doing fine. No, this isn’t important. Yes, I can buy the goddamn organic bananas just because. No, I’m not fucking up right now.”
Correct your bad voices until they’re silenced.
Learn to live in a new way. The bad voices represent 2 out of the 391 people living inside your skin. It’s time to find out what those other 299 people want from this life.
Get to know them. Wander, and let them show you what they want. Let them show you what they’ve been thinking, what they’ve been yearning for, what they’ve been trying to tell you, before those two obsessive consumerist bullies started to drown them out with their constant blathering.
Our world is very dark and very sad at the moment. We each have to find our own way toward the light. Sometimes that goes beyond taking a walk in the garden or looking at videos of puppies as directed by the Twittering masses. Sometimes your light involves dressing in weird jumpsuits and dancing a jig on the beach and being a little odd on the bus because you’re in an odd mood. Sometimes you need to dig for your truest desires, patiently, with an old notebook and a good pen. Sometimes you need to be a fucking stupid stubborn angry dick about everything. Sometimes you need to be alone. Sometimes you need to bake a fucking pie. Sometimes you need a nap. Sometimes you need to cry.
Exert your right to what you need. Cut yourself some slack. You’re 391 different people who want different things on different days. Stop punishing them. Give them what they want for a change.
Feeling needy but pissed off about it? Write to askmolly at protonmail.com.