Are choices making our lives more stressful?

I miss the simplicity of my childhood. Choices of just about everything were so limited, life was practically stress-free.

The only source of digital entertainment and news we had as kids was the radio. My father had a Sanyo and later a Phillips radio back in the days. It was a treasured family possession. It occupied a place of honour in the living room or table room as we called it. It was via the radio that I first learnt about apartheid and the struggle for democracy in South Africa. The Swahili news broadcast often made reference to Africa ya Kusini and makaburu wenye siasa kali, Shujaa Nelson Mandela, P.W Botha. I hated the latter. I did not fully comprehend his role during the apartheid but from the little I gathered from the radio he was not a good man.

Unlike today when there are a gazillion radio stations, there were only two national channels – the VOK Swahili and English service. VOK was Voice of Kenya – for all you youngsters reading this, which was the precursor of KBC. My parents favourite was the Swahili channel, and a Kikuyu local channel that seemed to focus on death and funeral announcements: who was dead, where are they from, who they are related to and when they will be buried. Think obituaries read out in Kikuyu. This was pre-cellphone age and the newspapers were not very effective in the village so radio was the best means of notifying you that your relative or friend had ‘slept’. People in the village rarely say someone died. They say he slept or she slept, which, if you think about it, is a more hopeful term. You are just asleep; you are expected to rise up at some point.

Today you have sports only stations, politics, talk radio, religious radios, internet radio, all competing for your attention!

We did not have a TV. This was Wiyumiririe, not Nairobi, or some other city or town. Rural electrification was still a few light years away.  Where is Wiyumiririe,  you ask? Well, if you draw a straight line from Nairobi heading north, over the eastern edge of the Abadares and  right  before you cross the equator to go to the Northern Hemisphere, if you look to your left, you will see my village. Just be sure not to cross the Equator, you will find the place!

Without TV and with my dad being in control of the radio (like the dads of today who ‘own’ the remote) we played outside most of the time. We made the balls, the toys, the games. That was before China chocked the world with plastic toys. Today, I do not care much about TV and can live without it, but I think it is ridiculous to have 50 channels when all I am interested in is National Geographic and the History channel!

If you wanted to buy bread, there was only one type of bread- Elliot’s. The original Elliot’s came in parchment-type paper that was biodegradable – yes, someone was thinking about the environment then. The packaging would get a little oily, depending on how fresh the bread was. For bathing soap, there was Lux, Rexona and Lifebuoy. We believed Lifebuoy was meant for boys – I guess we missed the ‘u’ in the buoy.  For laundry soap, it was Omo, or Kwanga.

Today I go to buy bread I am presented with a whole aisle of bread. 12 Grain, Whole wheat, Rye Bread, Milk bread, 7 grains, No sugar added, White bread, Oat bread…

“Should I try Rye bread today…or may be 12 Grains, that sounds healthier. Let’s see.. how many calories per slice… 150? Nope! Pass. No, too much sodium…” Help!!! A simple task that should take me less than a minute – walk to the bread aisle, pick bread and walk to the counter – ends up taking me five minutes.

Turns out there is a good reason why we should be concerned about the plethora of choices and options that we have to deal with. Everyday, we are confronted with hundreds of choices for which we make decisions. From the moment we wake up… Should I stay in bed a few more minutes, or should I get up? Coffee or Tea? Black suit or gray suit? Heels or flats? (I think for ladies the struggle is real here…).

Apparently, the more decisions you make in a day, the more energy you expend and the more you take away from your decision making capacity. In other words, having to make decisions about the unimportant stuff will take away from your capacity to make important decisions. It is the reason why Steve Jobs wore a black turtle neck and a blue pair of jeans every single day. He never had to think what to wear.

I cannot get my childhood simple life back, but I am taking on the challenge to declutter.


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