I’m barely into my “How Do I Adult” series (see that? I’m being hopeful that it will continue!) and I’m starting to notice a theme. Both in places where I got my inspiration for this series in the first place, and in comments all you lovely folks are leaving me (I love comments, I really do). That theme being: decisions are hard!
I’m not talking about the big decisions, here. Big decisions, like buying a car or a house or when or whether or not to have kids, these are expected to be difficult. As such, lots of people talk about the process of handling them, there are lots of resources out there to help manage overwhelming choices when the decision is big and scary and potentially life altering. Little decisions, though, seem to be things that most people just do without thinking about it. People hardly ever talk about how to go about choosing what soap or shampoo to get, or what to have for dinner, or which yogurt to get at the grocery store.
As such, I thought that I might try to tackle this one.
Thinking things through ahead of time is a wonderful way to handle decisions, even the little ones. If you get to the store and are frozen by the wide array of options for Every. Little. Thing. then planning ahead is definitely your friend.
So one thing is to explicitly think about what is important to you for what you are looking for. How much does it actually matter? This is different for everyone, so don’t worry about what you think should be important, just think about what is important for you.
For example, let’s think about that yogurt thing. Let’s say you know you want to munch on yogurt, but you don’t know which one you want to get. First thing, decide what is important to you. For instance, many people need to keep to a budget and have a limited amount of money set aside for groceries. In that case, price will need to be very high on the list of priorities. In that case, you could just go with the cheapest options, or you could just randomly grab the first one you see that happens to be within your price range.
However, maybe other things matter. Maybe flavor is important. Maybe probiotic is important.
I was originally going to say that once you decide what is important to you, just disregard the rest. Don’t even worry about it, don’t try to find some perfect ideal for every single little decision. Now, I do stick by that, but Nee pointed out that there is another facet to this prioritizing – it can also help to explicitly think about what is NOT important to you. Decide on what just doesn’t really matter, and make an explicit choice to just let that go.
Also, and this may seem weird for me to say, there is a lot that can be said for arbitrary brand loyalty. By that I don’t mean that you’ve tested all the brands and have compared and decided which one is best – that’s for cars, not yogurt. I mean just pick one and stick with it because why not? Nee sticks with a brand of yogurt that he remembers commercials of from his childhood. I drink the same beverages all the time because I know I like them and don’t feel like exploring others. It’s ok to explore more if you want to, but it’s also ok to not explore if you don’t want to.
It’s really tempting to want to say that EVERYTHING matters. However, that is simply not a viable way to handle every little decision that’s going to come your way. Hence the prioritizing. There will be many, many situations in which you will be well-served to not be particularly picky. My approach is that it’s totally cool to be super picky about some things that you decide are important to you, provided that you don’t try to be super picky about everything.
So for example, I am extremely picky about my soap and other showering products. There are specific things I need my soap to be, and I refuse to tolerate any deviation from those things. This is very important to me. Other things I’m kind of picky about simply in that I always get the same thing because I know I like them and I don’t want to explore. Oh, I probably could explore if I had to (and sometimes I do if the store is out of what I like), but if I don’t have to then I just stick with what I know. And some things I just don’t care – like milk. Provided that I’m not drinking whole milk, I really don’t care what fat percentage it has or what brand it is or anything. Nee, on the other hand, cares quite a bit about which milk we get. End result – he chooses the milk and we’re both happy.
So basically, prioritize your pickiness as well. This is more deciding ahead of time what is important to you.
Planning and structure
I love routines. I have routines around so many things, and I find them so very helpful. It’s very important for me to have structure in my life, and I am quite happy to find and impose my own structure, designed around what works best for me. Choosing what to cook is one of those places that is well-served by pre-planning and lots of structure.
Happily, this is one that is well-served by various products and services out there designed to make meal planning easier. Lots of people write up weekly schedules for what to cook. You can get into detail, noting down exactly which day to take out meat to thaw it for a meal a day or two later and things like that. Get it all down, and then just follow the schedule.
In terms of services, there are websites like Supercook that let you put in the ingredients you have, and then come back with recipes that use those particular ingredients.
Nee and I simply mostly rely on dinners that require little in the way of pre-planning, and only ever focus on one “big” meal at a time. It works for us, but won’t work for everyone. Happily, there are so many tools out there (some I mentioned, and probably many that I have not) to help you find a solution that works for you.
Some outside perspective
After writing the above I asked various people how they handle various day-to-day decisions, and I got some interesting answers.
These types of decisions are usually made without a lot of thought or perhaps applying one or two factors. The shampoo choice is mainly cost, as it doesn’t really matter much. I may have looked at ingredients at one time and saw they were about the same for any shampoo. For something to eat or cook, that would vary with the timeframe. Given what is in the house, the choice may be arbitrary (just randomly pick one menu). For the longer term, nutritional concerns, taste, and cost were usually factors. I guess to summarize, the decisions usually have some previous background investigation, and then become somewhat arbitrary.
What stands out for me here is the combination of some amount of background investigation, and then going rather arbitrary. L also has her specific primary concerns – specifically, nutrition, taste, and cost. Importantly, once the choices are within whatever she has chosen her limits to be, the final decisions become arbitrary.
A— P— says:
There was a store I really liked in NJ called “Produce Junction.” You’d walk up to the counter and say “give me apples.” It was really nice because you’d just get a bag of them, and you wouldn’t have to obsess over picking the “best” apples.
What jumped out at me about this one was something I had not explicitly thought of – if you can, just let someone else make the decision! This is unlikely to work for all decisions but for some things, if you really feel frozen and there is someone available who can choose for you, just let them choose.
The yoghurt example: I’d look at the ingredient list and the nutritional information. Then go for the one that has the least amount of mystery ingredients (long chemical names or stuff I don’t know what the H it is), then lowest fat. I may try a new flavour if I’m feeling adventurous.
Sometimes I’l be bored with my standard fare…then it’s “Hmmm that looks interesting ” and I’ll try a new food…which may get tossed out cause it’s horrid.
Anonymous is another one who goes with a combination of choosing what is important to him (mystery ingredients and fat content), and going arbitrary.