Analysis paralysis, decision fatigue, and toilet paper

There is a such things as too many choices. How can toilet paper help you learn to avoid analysis paralysis brought on my decision fatigue? What could these three things possibly have in common? They are all for shit. And it has nothing to do with COVID-19’s run on toilet paper. Let me explain.

I arrived at Target and was cruising down the list. Tossing items in my cart right and left. Crossing things off the list and feeling like I could take over the world. Until I got to toilet paper. Have you been to the toilet paper aisle recently? It is worse than the yogurt aisle. Worse than the Jelly Belly section of a candy store. It is a ridiculous amount of choices. It felt like That Moment in the movie when the hero has to decide whether to cut the black or the red wire. 

Photo by Asia Pix by way of KRFO Radio.

This toilet tissue issue has recently surfaced because of two reasons:

1 – We quit our Costco membership. With Costco there is no TP Gate. There are maybe 2 choices. But out in the real world there is a bench in the middle of the toilet paper aisle because the elderly were passing out before getting to the end of the aisle. People have to use a sports drink and energy gel just to get to the end of the aisle it takes so long. 

2 – Now that the kids are teenagers, choices made by one person don’t usually impact us all. 

  • Don’t like what I chose for us to have for dinner? Make your own.
  • Want make up? Buy your own – mine is off limits. 
  • The Boy and I do use the same brand of razor blades. I am too cheap to buy a new razor so I use Bixby’s cast off men’s razor to shave my legs. When The Boy started shaving he just picked the one Bixby had. But that’s only 2 of the 4 of us agreeing on 1 decision.

But this? THIS was a choice I needed to make on behalf of my whole family and critical because it affects our behinds! And let me tell you, My People spend A LOT of time in the bathroom. When we were on vacation in Seattle last summer, I had to go to the lobby in my pajamas to use the bathroom because The Girl was in our hotel room bathroom so long. That is the last time I will ever share a bathroom with the kids – on vacation or otherwise. But I digress.

So there I was in Target with the bum wipe aisle looming large with a zillion choices. I knew that it had to be septic safe since we are outside the city limits and use a septic system. I preferred rolls that were not individually wrapped to cut down on the number of trees that were killed. But what was softest? What was worth paying more per roll in order to not have to spend money on cream to soothe an arse chafed by cheap TP. How do I translate the cost per sheet to a cost per foot and how does that compare to cost per roll? 

Needless to say I had a meltdown and left without ANY toilet paper. It was decision fatigue at its best (worst?). This is where our story diverges into two levels. 

The Hidden Level

You know the meltdown is not really about the toilet paper, right? Decision fatigue is a real thing. When I am off my game, it slides quickly into analysis paralysis and collapses into meltdown. 

And Dear Reader, off my game is such an understatement for the last few months. Usually January and February I hibernate to recover from the Birthday-Christmas-Giving shenanigans of December. But 2020 decided to roundhouse kick me in the head in January and February. There was no hibernating for me, so if you saw an overtired, grumpy bear whose hibernation was cancelled lumbering through Target – chances are, that may have been me. 

There was nothing to be done about the change of plans the Universe had for me. Sometimes you have to bear the unbearable. We refer to this as survival mode. Survival mode is not a sustainable pace of life. What we can do when this season hits is

  • Focus on the bare minimum of what needs to be done
  • Give yourself grace to let go of the rest
  • Notice what you want to tuck away as “lessons learned”

I have a few things tucked away to share with you in the coming months. I also tucked away that survival mode sucks just as much as I remember. Zero stars. Do not recommend.

The Practical Level

No matter how shitty life is (pun absolutely intended there), I still need to buy the dang toilet paper. Laura Vanderkam had a recent Before Breakfast podcast episode where she coached her listeners to have a default choice (Feb 26). This means that there is no “what toilet paper should I buy today” decision to make because there is a default choice already set for me. My husband and I took it one step further when a friend of mine suggested we set it up to be delivered to our house at a regular cadence. 

I am lucky enough to have an Enneagram 5 husband who loves nothing better than to research the crap (PUN!) out of choices. He also just wants to be able to swoop in and fix things for me when he can. So when I came home almost in tears at the overwhelm of the TP aisle and begged him to set up a recurring delivery from an online service, he jumped into action. 

I had only one parameter – I could not be the decision maker. If you think the Target aisle is overwhelming, do an Amazon search for toilet paper. I wailed so loudly the dog hid in the bedroom closet. 

I don’t know how long it took him to figure it out, but he is cheaper and more concerned about the environment than I am. So if he is satisfied with the choice, then by God I am too. Now toilet paper shows up in a little grey van every month without me having to think about it. I don’t have to even go down that aisle at Target. And that frees up more time for me to peruse the Dollar Spot!

What do you need to automate? Have you made any default choices in your life? What about analysis paralysis – are there certain triggers that cause this for you?