The Paradox of Choice and Why More Is Less

I’ll never forget the day Cherie and I were standing in Home Depot. We had just bought our “dream house” and like many honeymooners, we too were convinced that buying a “fixer upper” and putting some sweat equity into it would transform it from a house to a home. It’s a stage every young couple needs to wade through.

We bought paint sample after paint sample, drove home and slathered it on the kitchen wall, only to have the color again express my wife’s dissatisfaction…

I looked at what, emotionally, was an infinite set of colors and shades of paint that day, and something deep in me could feel the promise of happiness slipping through my fingers.  As I looked through the browns (mushroom, terracotta, meadow frost, birch, cottontail, earth…) it hit me that this infinite color palate guaranteed only one thing. Whatever color we chose, we wouldn’t be completely happy. And that was just the damn kitchen wall! (If I only had the courage to tell you the joys the color choices brought to our young marriage in those weeks…)

The Father was speaking something that day. I wish I would have listened instead of wasting my pain. Although the changes have been slow to come, over the decade the Father has been transforming me in the arena of the proliferation of choice. Much of it, interestingly, was born out of a fight to recover joy in my life.

Fast-forward eight years. One day in prayer I made one of the most life giving choices I have made in our ten years of marriage. I came downstairs and said, “Cherie here’s what I would love. I’d love to take the “choice” of moving into a new home off the table for today. Abigail is two. I would love to commit in this season to being in this same house when she graduates from high school.”

To abandon this modern thought of the “ever perpetual upgrade of everything,” which for us was often centered around our residency, felt foolish and liberating. We were drowning in seas of choice.

“The neighbors are driving me crazy, the road is too dangerous for the kids to play, there is no privacy, we have no flat screen or stucco, no granite countertops, I have no man space.” All legitimate reasons to bitch on some days. But I assumed something dangerous – that more happiness could be found in a “better” house. And what the assumption robbed from us were the gifts and blessings we do have in our home. Some of the neighbors have become remarkable friends. I can ride my bike to work, Cher walks the kids down the street to a great neighborhood park, monster mule deer forage in our front yard, the mortgage is very small and shrinking, we have Colorado mountains out of our east and west windows. We are choosing to live with less.

A friend (thanks Eric) sent me this incredible talk by Barry Schwartz: The Paradox of Choice.

This is a must watch for every man in his thirties.

I strongly encourage you to grab 15 undisturbed minutes to watch this video. Then take some time, at least five minutes of genuine solitude, to ask the Father, “Where do I need to repent from the proliferation of choice? What choices do I need to surrender through an act of my will?”

We abandoned the hamster wheel of the modern young couple and the perpetual upgrade of the home. Now, does that mean we are not open to moving if God prompted us? Of course not. This decision flows out of a deeper conviction (at least hope) that we are yielded to God. Thus, while we maintain a posture of listening to God the Father and following His leading, the daily wondering, wrestling, evaluating and considering of “should we move or not” has been buried. Our contentment and happiness has grown.  The cup is more than half full. We’ve bought back another small piece of freedom and life.

Father, what “choices” do I need to repent from as I sit on the eve of New Year?