Secondhand Shopping and the Paradox of Choice
I’ve been doing the secondhand summer capsule challenge. And the truth is, I’ve been dressing okay; not great, just … okay. I have a few pieces that I absolutely love: a couple of tops I got from a flea market and this amazing pair of high-waisted black flares I bought off Poshmark. But overall, most of my clothes are a little worn out, not quite on trend, and fit slightly awkwardly.
But weirdly, this is the most satisfied I’ve been with my clothes in a long time.
In an effort to figure out why that is, I went back and listened to one of my favorite TED talks of all time, the talk that sparked my love affair with liberation through limitation: Barry Schwartz on the paradox of choice.
In this talk, Schwartz debunks what he refers to as the “official dogma” of affluent, industrialized societies today: More choice means more freedom. In fact, Schwartz says, modern Americans have more choices than ever before, yet are less satisfied with what they choose than ever before.
He presents four main reasons why having more choices makes us more miserable:
1. Regret and anticipated regret: Even before buying something, we anticipate wishing we’d bought something else. This leads to anxiety, stress, and at times paralysis when making decisions.
2. Opportunity costs: More options means more alternate realities in which we can imagine ourselves being happier and more satisfied. (a.k.a. FOMO)
3. Escalation of expectations: If we have two options, we can pick the “better” one and be done. If we have 30 options, the one we choose should be perfect.
4. Self-blame: If/when the choice we make isn’t perfect, we blame ourselves for not choosing something better.
I think these four reasons explain exactly why I am enjoying my less-than-fabulous summer wardrobe right now.
By shopping only secondhand and looking for only a few items to fill out my capsule, I’ve inadvertently limited myself to a very small pool of choices (lets face it: Value World had only one skirt my size that wasn’t repulsive), which has resulted in:
Not over-thinking my decisions
It’s really been more of a “Huh, that seems good enough” kind of situation when I buy things.
Because I am “forced” to limit myself to only secondhand items, those Madewell leather sandals are off the table, not because I can’t afford them (which I can’t anyway), but because they are against the rules I’m playing by. There’s something about knowing that I’m the one choosing the rules that makes me feel more content and less like a victim of circumstance.
I’ve been able to be pleasantly surprised
My expectations of what clothes I could find were so low going into this process that it has really been fun to find treasures that I like way more than I thought I would.
Overall, it’s been a really freeing experience and has made me start thinking about more “rules” I can set for myself so I can experience more liberation through limitation.