power in words and pictures

Can We Be too Free?

Can We Be too Free?

“Too much freedom is a dangerous thing.
Too much freedom inhibits choice.
Constructive narrowness clarifies choice.”
~Walter Darby Bannard

Walking along the street, I let our dog pull the retractable leash so he can investigate the smells in the yards. Unlike his shorter leash, this long leash provides freedom. Enabling him to lollygag, to sniff every pile of leaves along the way, it’s so much easier to walk him on the long leash  — until it is not easy at all. The retractable leash gives Mac too much freedom at times. He seems to forget why we are out there, though I’ve told him often. The truth is, Bannard is right — too much freedom can be a dangerous thing, and it’s as true for humans as it is for dogs.

People who have talked to me for longer than a few minutes have heard me talk about the 52Frames photography project. Each week, we receive a challenge to complete with our camera, and most weeks the challenge is specific — ‘red’, ‘high key’, ‘blue hour’ — but sometimes, it’s wide open, like last week when the theme was ‘life’. Where do you even begin to choose a subject? When there is too much freedom in the theme, many of us struggle with choosing what to shoot. As in life, people like freedom, but need some constraints and structure.

When I visit the houses of friends who have sparsely decorated homes, I find that I come away feeling calmer and interested in paring down the items in my own home. Are the things we love imprisoning us? With all of our wonderful ‘stuff’ comes that feeling of ‘it’s too much’ that leaves us not enjoying it much at all. Think I’m just making this up? Read on.

When I was telling a friend about my theory that having too many choices gives us less freedom, she quickly remarked, “Oh, like The Jam Study.” The what? It turns out that in 2000, Iyengar and Lepper published a study on the results of having many choices compared with having few choices of jars of jam at a grocery. On the days there were fewer jars offered, sales were better. We might ooh and aah over a large array of colorful jars, but we are more likely to enjoy a purchase if the choices are few.

How does that translate into our own lives? Where do you and I have too many choices, and where could we begin to limit our choices in an effort to increase satisfaction? Do we want choices or do we want freedom? Where in your life do you have so much from which to choose that you feel you are a prisoner?

With the holidays around the corner, there is the temptation to get many ‘perfect’ gifts, but if we go by the studies, we can put a few items back on the shelves in order to bring more joy into our homes.  Give a small child a choice of shiny new toys or a big empty box, and you might be surprised at how much fun a kid can have with a box. It’s the marketing efforts that convince us to buy more, to buy bigger, to buy more expensive toys to satisfy the children we adore, and we seem to forget by the next holiday that most of the gifts that were opened with great excitement quickly found a home in a toy box or under a bed — the chaotic fallout of too many choices.

Boxing up almost all of my clothes a few years ago, I decided I wanted less worry about what to wear. What began as a month-long experiment is now in its third year and has brought me less stress and more freedom in the simplicity of my wardrobe choices. Don’t wait for someone else to decide for you — make your own choice to free yourself today.

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