Awhile back, I read an excellent book called The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less by Barry Schwartz. The premise is fairly simple: The never-ending choices consumers have today are supposed to make life easier, but they often end up making it harder. Why? Because the sheer number of choices is totally overwhelming for many people. Schwartz details the scene at his local grocery:

My neighborhood supermarket is not a particularly large store, and yet next to the crackers were 285 varieties of cookies. Among chocolate chip cookies, there were 21 options. Among Goldfish (I don’t know whether to count them as cookies or crackers), there were 20 different varieties to choose from. Across the aisle were juices — 13 sports drinks, 65 box drinks for kids, 85 other flavors and brands of juices, and 75 iced teas and adult drinks. I could get these tea drinks sweetened (sugar or artificial sweetener), lemoned, and flavored.

To bring this back to parenting, I realize that I’m starting to fall victim to this “paradox of choice” when it comes to buying stuff for my little one. As Baby Y gets bigger, I’m facing this more and more as I look around for toys. There are SO MANY CHOICES, and I feel pressure to pick the single best one. It’s paralyzing.

According to Schwartz, this means I’m a “maximizer,” and thus a person who is likely to lose her mind when presented with too many choices. Whereas “satisficers” will be happy with any product that fits their criteria and not waste energy wondering whether there were better choices, “maximizers” research everything to death, examining every possible alternative so they can be confident they made the best decision – which is next to impossible in this world, of course. I did this with baby gear, and while I was ultimately happy with most of my choices, I remember how crazy-making it was during the research phase.

As I browsed Amazon the other evening, putting toys on Baby Y’s wish list, I realized I was doing it again. It took me eons to actually click the “add to wish list” button. I would read all the reviews, browse the similar items, and fall down a new rabbit hole of research. After all, if I was going to get him a play kitchen one day, it had to be the best play kitchen everrrrrr. And as for stocking that play kitchen with play food? Forget about it. Do you know many varieties of toy food there are? It’s ridiculous.

I am being especially hard on myself when it comes to toys because, well, I really don’t want Baby Y to have that many. I know that sounds horrid, so maybe I should clarify. I want him to have a good variety that will grow with him and stimulate his imagination and motor skills. I do not want him to have 10 toys that flash and blink and sing and do the same thing, or five kinds of race-car tracks, or two dozen stuffed animals. (We plan to hold off on big birthday bashes initially for this very reason!)

Even as young as he is now, Baby Y seems happier and more content when I give him a few toys to focus on, rather then putting him down on his play mat with every toy he owns spread around him. All that does is encourage him to play with something for two seconds and move on.

Ultimately, I am aware that there’s some irony here: I am determined to protect Baby Y from the paradox of choice, and because of that, I increasingly fall victim to it myself in an effort to make every toy count.

Are you overwhelmed by the choices you have for your kiddo, whether in the toy aisle or otherwise?

What to play with this time?