the paradox of choice

I've been thinking a lot lately about the paradox of choice - the idea that when people have more choices, it actually leads to greater anxiety.   Kembe's homecoming from Haiti has caused me to analyze many of the ways we live life here in America.  I am not one of those people who subscribes to the idea that internationally adopted children are "lucky" because they now get to grow up in America.  I think that children benefit from life in a family instead of an institution, but I really believe that there are pros and cons to every culture.  I am aware of some of the benefits he gets from living in America - certainly education, safety, and privilege being at the forefront.  But I am also humble enough to think through some of the parts of our lifestyle that might be less than ideal.

I am often introspective about the contrast between our family life and his life at the orphanage, and one of the things that stands out is the amount of choices we have here.  I'm not always sure this is a good thing.  At the orphanage, life was very predictable.  The nannies didn't have to make a lot of choices.   They wore scrubs every day, and had few distractions from caring for the children.  The kids had a set schedule each day.  They weren't going to Disneyland or running errands.  But they were content.

I'm really wondering about how to simplify our life.  I'm starting to wonder how the reduction of choices might affect our family in positive ways.  What if we had less clothing?  What if we went fewer places?  What if we drastically pared down our meals, our errands, our toys, our activities?

I don't have any answers or big revelations yet.  But it's what I'm chewing on today.  That, and some orange Tic-Tacs.

Speaking of choices, Kembe chose his own outfit today.  Board shorts, plaid shirt, beanie, sandals.    I think he is looking like a Southern California kid!


  1. I agree with this, actually, and think you make an excellent point. We don't own a home or a car or that much "stuff" compared to a lot of people we know, but I still feel the burden of what we have and what we do. One way I started simplifying was in what we eat. I'm not sure why. It just felt like something I could control. We mostly cook from simple ingredients, mostly raw ingredients, and we don't have more than a couple of things on the menu each night. It's tasty, but simple. Maybe soon I'll be brave enough to move on to simplifying other things.

  2. Anonymous11:12 AM

    fight the good fight on this! as your kids get older, the choices will bombard you. i'm sure you read tara l.'s post on this topic a few weeks ago. just going to the grocery store is and overwhelming experience! life here in the U.S. can be complicated if we allow all these choices to cloud what's really important.

    i, for one, am all for eliminating choices b/c i can't make a decision to save my life. since kids have come along (ummmmm 12 years ago) my decision making skills over meaningless tasks has decreased dramatically. for instance, i don't ever order for myself in a restaurant. my husband does it for me - i don't even look at the menu - it overwhelms me. if my husband is not there, i will ask the server what his/her favorite dish is and i will order that. be careful using this method though. i have recently figured out the servers will always say their favorite selection is the most most expensive item on the menu!
    that was a tangent -
    we could all stand to simplify. the fact that i'm able to have a garage sale EVERY year says i have too much crap. we all know the kids are most happy when they are playing with a cardboard box. once again, just as your post summarized yesterday, simple can be better. and easier. AND meaningful, too.
    now i just have to get over the fact that i am overwhelmed with the choices of where to start simplifying! ha!

  3. Absolutely, definitely. It's hard for me to explain to people how children in refugee camp were so much more joyful than most kids I know in the U.S. I really do not want to romanticize what people go through other places, but we have also romanticized our lives here, unquestioning in our belief that they are so superior.

    I just got to see my dearest Liberian friend who has moved to the U.S. On the refugee camp, we would laugh and joke and have a good time always. Now? He hardly even smiles. The pressures of life there were immediate and overwhelming, but the pressures here are sneaky and everpresent and very stressful.

  4. oh i do love some orange tic-tacs. and your post.

  5. I totally agree! My mom, bless her heart, wanted to buy me a new set of dishes. ANY SET I WANTED....well, as long as it was in JC PENNEY...LOL...well, it took me FOREVER to choose!!! why? Because knowing I could have any set I wanted, and there was too many to choose, it put a kabosh on my spontanity... Nevermind the fact that I'd have to live with those dishes "foever". If I only had 2 choices it would of taking me all of 5 minutes.
    For me, too many choices= indecision.

  6. Simplicity brings amazing freedom.

    I cannot explain how rich my life is now in the midst of insane simplicity.

    Find your sweet spot and start to nestle in. It's really great.

  7. I watched a talk show before...okay, it was Oprah. She was spotlighting people who had chosen to radically simplify their lives and exploring what they had done, how they had implemented change and what the results had been.

    The one that stood out to me the most was a mom of two kids, who CHOSE to leave her privileged, upper class life and move to a very rural area with no modern conveniences and live in a little cottage. She talked about how after dinner they would colour, ride bikes, do puzzles and just BE together because there was nothing to DO. It has always stuck with me and I've thought of it many times.

  8. Anonymous1:09 PM

    As a former Peace Corps Volunteer who is married to a Mexican from very humble beginnings, I agree with this thought completely. My husband came to this country at the age of 17 and to this day he gets frustrated when presented with the many choices we make in this country. He still remembers his first dilemma - how would he like his chicken sandwich? Although I finnished Peace Corps almost 10 years ago, I still sit and think about which environment offers a greater quality of life.

  9. I have to say, I love it when you're introspective :)

    I've been thinking about the same thing, as we are getting ready to bring our ethiopian girl home and adjust to a new routine. Our life is so different from her current routine. Good thoughts.

  10. Anonymous1:56 PM

    My new years resolution this year was to "touch" every single "thing" in my house, and decide if it was necessary. I went through every cabinet, drawer, closet, pantry, dressor... and purged. It felt amazing. I did one little thing a day, from the spices, to the garage. Now I am trying to only bring new stuff in, when I take old stuff out. Simplicity feels like freedom : )

  11. Jennifer2:39 PM

    I'm a new follower of your blog. We have one adopted child and two birth children. My husband and I have been realizing lately that we sometimes give our 6 year old choices because we don't want to make the decision ourselves, so we're making an effort to stop. Jennifer

  12. we believe pretty strongly that less is more around here too, our kids do not have video games or cable, they have a small selection of toys and life is good.

  13. Anonymous8:30 PM

    I hear you sister. I just wish I knew how to do it better. I am having yet another garage sale to sell my CRAP (with anonymous above and the rest of the neighborhood) and I'm trying really hard to purge and not replace. But that's really hard to do with grandma's that are out of town, but always arrive bearing gifts (regardless of the occasion!)

    Let me know if you have tips. I'd love to hear them!


  14. Kristin8:34 PM

    I've been struggling with this for a few years. One problem is we bought a home so now we have that to maintain. Life was much simpler renting an apt...they take care of any problems and there was no yard maintain. But no yard was a challenge too with kids. I sometimes feel envious (literally) when I read the Livesays blog at how simple there life is in Haiti...they don't have all of the US greed and cultural obsessions/noises we have to fight against here. And then when she wrote about coming here and all of the choices in the grocery store I was jealous of how little they have to worry about there. Who cares what you wear or how your hair looks or what is on sale? That's how I always feel on mission trips...none of that is relevant and seems almost stupid to think about. And yet it's hard to avoid here. I feel I have to detox myself everyday living here. Anyway, we realize our big time sucks are TV/computer and then the amount of time we spend on eating healthy (we juice fresh fruit/veggies, etc.). This makes our life more complex but we like to eat healthy so it's worth it. I also find that now that I rarely watch TV, I feel really socially out of it but it sure simplifies things because I'm not trying to keep up with the latest house decor or fashion trend. And another way I simplify is to make lists and when I do have to run errands, I only buy what is on my list and don't go up and down other aisles. This saves me time and money and keeps junk out of our lives. I wish I could live the way they do in other countries but then I also feel like we'd be complete social outcasts and not be able to relate and minister to anyone here. I'm not sure what the balance is...

  15. I've been thinking the same thing. ...Less clothes AND TOYS for sure. Just today we struggled with the fight for another toy in Big Lots... .
    ps. Love his outfit

  16. You don't know me. I know Sarah, but I've been reading your blog since you were in Haiti. Anyhoo, I am a Missionary kid from Kenya. The most overwhelming thing about coming back to the States on furlough was the number of choices. I am trying to find ways to simplify now that I have adapted to this life. Loved this post!

  17. Anonymous10:23 PM

    Kristin said the KEY word in herr last coment: balance. You don't have to give up living in a house you have to maintain if you simplify what you want in and around the house. Your method of shopping is definitely simplified. Yes, our life here is very different than life in PaP or middle Aftica . . . but we can make it just as rich and meaningful here . . . it's where our priorities are. On the stuff or on the people.
    Honestly - wouldn't you rather struggle for 15 seconds over which toilet paper to buy than live where there is only bread on the store shelf twice a week? Yes - we were lucky to be born here . . . we've been spoiled. But we don't have to let that ruin our attitudes, lifestyle, or spiritual selves. BALANCE . . . . very, verrrrry important word!

  18. I lived in the old China (23 years ago) and there were literally two choices for everything, all state owned: White Kat laundry detergent or Blue Flower, Green Dragon bike or Flying Star. I LOVED that decisionmaking was a non-issue. With four small children you have the opportunity to set standards in your house before it's too late. Do it! Go the simple route and the kids will come to appreciate the things you buy them more dearly because they'll be special. No clutter in the house, no clutter in the mind. Besides, not going the simplicity route with four kids is going to be very, very expensive as the years go on.

  19. Oh very good thoughts! We are trying to sell our townhouse, and I have to say that downsizing the choice of toys and excess stuff has been liberating. So much less to literally wade through. Many of our belongings have been in storage (in a 16ft POD) for almost three months. Know what we are missing? The bubbles and the lawn chairs. Hubby packed them in the midst of a snowstorm w/o thinking. That's it.

    Also, LOVE the photos in your header and of Kembe's self-chosen outfit!!

  20. Simplify...I don't know if it's a reaction to our present circumstance, a God thing, or maybe just wise reasoning, but it's something I've been hearing more of lately and meditating more on. It certainly has been a topic in my household within the last month. How do we live below our means and have lives that's more of a give-away? How can we be more content with less and, not only take joy in, but produce more of with less? Getting fired within the last week (funny coincidence) is definitely a way God is using to bring me to discover living out what is coming out of my mouth. Kristen, there may be something to what you are saying. Seems like when there is less in the cup, it gives God a chance to pour something new into it.

  21. i just took this book from the library after reading many good reviews about it.
    sounds like you might find this interesting too-

  22. I yearn to downsize my choices too. My child and husband are both on the autism spectrum and they are both even more overwhelmed by all the extra stuff in our house than I am. I think we have eight sets of dishes. I don't even know how that happened. Sigh.

  23. I'M FOR IT!!!! does this mean that we can make the choice to throw most of the crap we have in our house, out in the yard and torch it? b/c that's what i feel like doing most of the time. that's why i hate knick knack stuff on the shelves. looks awesome, but i don't know how to pick them out or arrange them and i'm glad b/c now i don't have to pick them up to dust around them. i also like to stay clueless. we cut our cable out a few months ago. now i know even less about what movies and shows and music are out than i did before. and i'd love to toss lots of clothes and toys and storage items out. seriously, what are the burning laws? wouldn't that be great! but that's all i got.


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