79 Sticks of Deodorant on the Wall

79bottlesdeo

by guest blogger Renee James, humorist and blogger

Here’s today’s quiz: What’s the difference between 108,000 square feet and 3,600 square feet? Answer: 50 years.

No, this isn’t a Common Core math problem. Let me explain…

Prior to the last blizzard that never arrived in eastern Pennsylvania, I made my way to the grocery store, like hundreds of inexplicably panicked citizens. I stocked up as if we were planning an extended stay in cozy Vostok Station, Antarctica. Among other items, I picked up soup (but not the kind I wanted, because they were out), coffee (but not hot chocolate, because they were out), and cookies—I never said I was stocking up healthfully—and checked my list. One more thing: deodorant. That’s it. A quick stop in the personal care aisle, and I was out of there.

Wrong. I wanted a replacement of the same kind of deodorant I’d run out of that morning. The one I’d purchased not long ago at this same store. But when I turned down the aisle, I found a display containing something like 79 different options, all varieties of the same brand. (That’s an odd number, but I snapped a picture of it and counted later. The display showed some empty slots, so maybe the total should have been more like 84 or 88. I was bleary-eyed. Who can say?)

Despite the scores of options in front of me, I finally spied the one I wanted. Am I the only person who sees this kind of excess and thinks: Why?

A few days later, I read an article about the latest innovations in slow coockers. The article described other “time-saving” devices that were meant to change the lives of “housewives” in America and did nothing of the kind. Why? Well, according to the report, it turns out that many women did take advantage of modern appliances like clothes washers and dryers that all but eliminated the labor-intensive nature of laundry that our mothers and grandmothers managed with wringer-washers and clotheslines. Then what? I’ll tell you then what. We didn’t use that “saved time” to read or exercise or play with our kids or see our friends or volunteer or plant a garden or take a pottery class. We ran out of the house and found jobs. Which meant that we saved exactly no time to do anything. (I’m getting to the math problem, I promise!)

This isn’t about women’s choices or empowerment or equality. Those are topics for another day. No, all of this left me wondering: What good are more choices or “modern” options if they just leave us perplexed, scattered, or exhausted? What are we not thinking about because we spend way too much time thinking about deodorant? Maybe not much, but then again, if we face hundreds of these inconsequential decisions every day or every week, when will we think about what matters? Marriage, children, friendships, communities—God knows.

I’m all for convenience and innovation. I just can’t get too excited about it when, despite managing everything at the touch of a button, I have no more free time than I had before I ever heard of a self-stirring Crock-Pot.

This is where I start to recognize that my mother was a genius. (This is also where I explain the math problem.) Fifty years ago, my mom shopped for groceries once a week in a neighborhood market. And how big was that market? It was 3,600 square feet. And I’m pretty sure it never ran out of anything.

These days, we all seem to shop a few days a week in grocery stores that are something like 108,000 square feet and stock 88 different kinds of one brand of deodorant, along with 726 options for water, including artesian water. No joke.

I don’t remember what kind of deodorant she bought, but 50 years ago, my mother had an endless bottle of Jean Naté in the bathroom. I don’t think the bottle or the logo—let alone the formula—ever changed. There was one kind of Jean Naté, and one kind was all any woman needed. Brilliant.

At that time, my mom and her friends used to have what they called a weekly “coffee klatch.” Translation: Several of them got together—in person—to share coffee and conversation for an entire morning, not a Crock-Pot (self-stirring or otherwise) or a grand coffee-picking choice (have you seen coffee shop menus these days?) among them. Impressive; where did they find the time?

Well, turns out I’m not alone in my dismay. Psychologists call this concept “decision fatigue,” and in terms of the workplace, it boils down to this: Stressing over largely inconsequential things and pointless details makes us less productive. In other areas of our lives, when faced with choice after choice after choice, our resistance is lowered, and we are vulnerable to making all kinds of ill-advised decisions as a result. There’s a reason candy is displayed at every checkout aisle in America. You’ve just made hundreds of decisions while shopping. Wouldn’t a hit of sugar feel pretty good right now?

I swear I would pay an annual membership fee to shop in a 3,600-square-foot grocery store that offered a reasonable variety of everyday, ordinary, nothing-artesian-about-them groceries. Imagine what I could think about with all that extra time.

Renee-JamesRenee A. James works at Rodale Inc. and wrote an award-winning op-ed column for The Morning Call, the Allentown, Pennsylvania, newspaper, for almost 10 years. Her essays were included in the humor anthology, 101 Damnations: A Humorists’ Tour of Personal Hells (Thomas Dunne Books, 2002), and are also found online at Jewish World Review and The Daily Caller. She invites you to Like her Facebook page, where she celebrates—and broods about—life on a regular basis, mostly as a voice in the crowd that shouts, “Really? You’re kidding me, right?” (or wants to, anyway), and she welcomes your suggestions, comments, and feedback to the mix.

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13 Responses to 79 Sticks of Deodorant on the Wall

  1. Valerie February 6, 2015 at 11:58 am #

    Jean Nate! I LOVED that stuff. Where has it gone – it was a great product. My mother always used it and I loved it in the Summer – so refreshing!

  2. renee February 6, 2015 at 12:07 pm #

    Jean Nate is the best, right? Like everything in this century, it now has versions and iterations and options. Sigh. Although from some of the comments I’ve read, I’m not sure the formula is exactly the same. Sigh (again.) I’m buying some anyway. : )

  3. Paula February 6, 2015 at 12:15 pm #

    You’re right – it isn’t a Common Core problem. It’s part of an economics course. More space = more products (even though they’re not really different and often don’t offer more choices at all) and more products = more decisions and more decisions = fatigue, which ends up at a final total of consumers making more purchases than they would normally make or choosing more expensive products.

    Then there’s the time element. Technology “saves” time that can be “spent” (along with money) shopping! And we (in the US who choose or have to visit big box stores) have to spend way more time shopping now than ever. Simply parking and walking into the store is a small fitness program. Finding the items, which are never grouped logically, and which change every week anyway, takes another good chunk of time. And you always remember something in aisle 74 when you’re already back at aisle 16.

    I think it’s time to start more local food co-ops. Not necessarily the upscale, or hippie or politically correct stereotypical kind that many associate with the word “co-op”, but real honest to goodness cooperative buying groups (as many co-ops started out to be) where people get together, order WHAT THEY WANT from wholesalers and get good prices. Why not? If my only choice is big box when I move back to the States, that’s my new plan.

  4. Paula February 6, 2015 at 12:16 pm #

    You’re right – it isn’t a Common Core problem. It’s part of an economics course. More space = more products (even though they’re not really different and often don’t offer more choices at all) and more products = more decisions and more decisions = fatigue, which ends up at a final total of consumers making more purchases than they would normally make or choosing more expensive products.

    Then there’s the time element. Technology “saves” time that can be “spent” (along with money) shopping! And we (in the US who choose or have to visit big box stores) have to spend way more time shopping now than ever. Simply parking and walking into the store is a small fitness program. Finding the items, which are never grouped logically, and which change every week anyway, takes another good chunk of time. And you always remember something in aisle 74 when you’re already back at aisle 16.

    I think it’s time to start more local food co-ops. Not necessarily the upscale, or hippie or politically correct stereotypical kind that many associate with the word “co-op”, but real honest to goodness cooperative buying groups (as many co-ops started out to be) where people get together, order WHAT THEY WANT from wholesalers and get good prices. Why not? If my only choice is big box when I move back to the States, that’s my new plan.

    Thanks for bringing this up!

  5. Donna in Delaware February 7, 2015 at 2:41 pm #

    Oh boy, Jean Nate! I used to bathe in the product! Loved it! I doubt if the formula is still the same. like spam, it tastes completely different from when I was a child. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t eaten that for about 40 years, but I tasted it again in the ’90’s. It was a good product.

    I remember when I was growing up, we had a small grocery store in our neighborhood. When it ran out of a product, we walked to the local A&P, or Colonial Store Supermarkets, but of course we drove, too much to carry. My grandmother didn’t need to travel to 5 or 6 grocery stores to purchase what she needed. It was all there, all of the time.

    You are correct . What does one need with so many different choices for one product? The different colors, fragrances, dryness levels, gels, creams, solids, etc., etc. Have you seen the choices for snacks products? The choices of potato chips now a days, and they keep coming up with different flavors, textures and crispness levels! Unbelievable and maddening! You stand there for what seem like hours, having to read and compare and cross compare, just to buy one bag. One needs to hire a personal shopper just to shop for groceries! I am aware that the natural foods industry is starting to mimic the regular grocery stores, it’s to be expected, but I hope that they won’t allow product choices to get out of hand. We certainly have no time for it. With every passing year, we afford ourselves less and less time. We need to take a lesson from people in other parts of the world, especially Europe. They WORK to LIVE, not the opposite, and they continuously purchase locally, with great fresh markets weekly. Supermarkets are a by-product for most of them. Just as well, you need a GPS to get around the store because of the size!

    Your local Natural food markets, farmers markets and co-ops are THE way to go! You can’t get everything, but you can get most things you really need, everything from soup-to-nuts, almost, and if not, learn how to live with less. It can’t hurt, only afford you a little more time.

  6. Renee February 8, 2015 at 2:15 pm #

    One more PS to the column and the comments from Paula and Donna – because we had one car, and my Dad usually had it all day, we walked to the little market, and one of the boys who worked there would pull the grocery bags to our house, using a little red wagon. Not kidding. We didn’t live in Mayberry but it sure sounds like it, right?

    Thanks very much for your thoughts. And the Jean Nate solidarity!

  7. Amy February 10, 2015 at 10:01 am #

    But what if that 3,600 sq. ft. store didn’t carry the soup and coffee you wanted?

  8. Paula February 10, 2015 at 10:08 am #

    Amy: if that store didn’t carry what we wanted, we asked them to order it and guess what? They did! I’ve tried this in larger stores with less success.

  9. Amy February 10, 2015 at 11:15 am #

    Paula: we could debate this all day. No one wishes we were back 50 years more than me. Who put those small mom and pop stores out of business? We did. People now days want things instantly and are not willing to wait 3 or more days for something to come in when you can run to another store and pick it up. How many times have you stood by your microwave and thought it was taking forever to heat something or are you ready to give up your cell phone for those instant calls or texts. 50 years ago times were simpler and I miss them, but we have moved forward and with that things change. Hopefully for the better with new technology in medicine and other areas. But you can always say remember when.

  10. Paula February 10, 2015 at 12:10 pm #

    Amy: we could debate this all day and I think that maybe we represent two of the main ways people respond to the bigger, faster, more mentality. I am willing to wait for an item when it is sold by someone I know and trust. I don’t have a microwave or a cell phone. Maybe you wish things were simpler, but it sounds like you’re with the group that has “moved forward” and chosen complexity. It is a choice. We are not just swept along powerlessly with the crowd. I just want the opportunity to choose to stay simple. Everyone says that the US is the land of opportunity. Unfortunately, (un)free enterprise is taking opportunities to stay small and local away every day. I don’t want to relegate that choice to memory.

  11. Jolene February 11, 2015 at 4:17 pm #

    I am all for the do it simpler mind set. Also, I don’t know about Jean Nate but I love Lemon and Coriander Deoderant from NYR Organics. They have 2, count them, 2 varieties, and I can shop from home! 🙂

  12. Donna in Delaware February 28, 2015 at 8:56 am #

    Jolene, you must be a young woman, for not knowing of Jean Nate!

  13. Donna in Delaware February 28, 2015 at 9:01 am #

    Valerie, I used to put large bottles of Jean Nate in the fridge over the summer, then spritz or splash it on after my bath! My mother used to use it all of the time too, that’s why I started using it! It was a great product. I still see it every now and then in some old store, and once in a while in a drugstore cosmetic area. I would use it again, but since a I don’t use fragrances anymore, I find that they make me sick when I smell them. Just walking through the department stores where they sell parfums make me cringe, and the men’s fragrances are atrocious. Much too strong!

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