Decision fatigue. How too many daily choices can wear you down.

hack away

By Brad Beckstrom

In modern life, we often face a paradox of choice. You’d think this would be fantastic. Our ancestors and those living in third world poverty would marvel at the amount of choices we have for everything, from snack foods to clothing to luxury automobiles. A cornucopia of choices delivered at a click of a mouse or a walk down the aisle of any big-box store.

From the moment you wake up in the morning, you’re bombarded with small choices, that when added up can exhaust you by the end of the day. This is called decision fatigue and we can reduce it through the science of simplicity.

For example, let’s look at one of the first decisions we make each day. What to wear? A quick count of the number of items in my closet including shirts, pants, shoes, and belts. Combined there’s about 140 items.  Without getting into combinations and permutation formulas, I have well over 1.5 million possible combinations of shirts, shoes, pants, and belts. Let’s see how I stack up against some smart guys who got this right. Remember a lower number is better.


Wardrobe daily combination options:

The Frug  1.5 Million +

Albert Einstein 25

Steve Jobs 15

Looks like Steve Jobs is the winner here.  He wore a black turtleneck, Levi’s, and New Balance sneakers everyday, making his closet a decision-free zone. He wasn’t always like this. In early photos he’s pictured in everything from three-piece suits to tie-dyed ponchos. He figured out the simplicity thing a bit later and it came through in his work.

For me, this is work in progress.  It’s a bit difficult being frugal and planning to wear stuff out and at the same time practice a minimal lifestyle. I’m following Bruce Lee’s advice and steadily hacking away at the unessential. Our family has been filling up an average of one large box a month of clothing and household goods for Purple Heart pickup (for years).  My sons have also been able to repurpose some of my clothing for various costumes, but we’re still just scratching the surface.

Another tip that works is to move clothing you haven’t worn in a long time to a separate closet. If you don’t go looking for it in a year then you can get rid of it.  It’s crazy how we need to come up with these life hacks just to get rid of stuff.  Like me, if you have a wife and kids, or have been in the accumulation mode for years like I was, you need to start somewhere and keep at it.

Why do this?  When you free up your mind from the small decisions you have more bandwidth for the larger ones.

Don’t stop with just clothes.The science of simplicity also can be applied to investing.  A great portfolio can be built from a group of three or four low-cost index funds in one investment account. For years, I’ve been consolidating and trimming back managed mutual funds with higher fees. I’ve been moving dollars to Fidelity Spartan and Vanguard Admiral Index funds with fees below 0.07% versus average fund fees of 1.4% (

Picture yourself on a beautiful sailboat or in a small cabin in the woods, with limited internet access, (because you’ll have better things to do). What will you need, how will you simplify things so they won’t need so much looking after?

If you keep at this long enough, you’ll find that you can reduce decision fatigue in other areas as well including Fitness, Diet, Work, and big decisions like buying a home or a car. You’ll get better at making life simple again.


The Frug


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