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Stressed by Toothpaste

By Tiffany Kosolcharoen

Associate Features Editor

Crest. Colgate. Aquafresh. Aim. Tartar Control. Multicare. Cavity Protection. Fluoride. With gel.

Who would expect tiny LaVerde’s to carry six feet of toothpaste and toothbrushes? All I sought was clean teeth, not a test of decision-making.

Instead, America the Plentiful has brought forth a ton of choices -- and stress. (It’s not easy getting the best bang for the buck when Colgate Total has 0.4 oz less than Crest Multicare -- and charges more.)

Don’t get me wrong. I think it is wonderful that there are more than 19,000 ways to customize a cup of Starbuck’s coffee. No foam? Extra foam? Light foam? It’s a coffee connoisseur’s heaven. As to why Whole Foods sells 40 types of lettuce -- oh, it must please somebody.

We’ve become the gosh-darn picky products of our luxurious, bountiful society but sometimes having no choice is the best choice.

The McDonald’s in my hometown is really crowded (or at least it was before America went Atkins). When you open the door to Hamburger Frenzy, however, your first choice is not quarter pounder or double cheeseburger. What you’re really asking is “which of the five crowded lines should I stand in?”

Fortunately, many McDonald’s and Burger King’s across the U.S. have renovated their stores in the past few years to create the single line system. One line with multiple cashiers at the front is the most customer friendly -- because we have no choice!

Today’s column is an ode to simplicity... and success.

More than ever, the world’s leading companies thrive on the business model of simplicity. For example, Southwest has the lowest complaint rate in the industry: 0.14 complaints per 100,000 customers [14th annual Airline Quality Rating, University of Nebraska. April 2004] and it has no pre-assigned seating! With fewer choices, we have fewer egos to deal with (i.e. frequent fliers and their upgrades) and less stress about what we’re missing out ... because we aren’t missing anything!

Another success story is one restaurant’s six-item menu and tremendous cult following. In-and-Out Burger is a popular West Coast chain that only sells cheeseburgers, double cheeseburgers, hamburgers, french fries, shakes, and sodas.

Substituting for quantity of choices is quality. Instead of whipping up every sandwich under the sun, In-and-Out rewards with a truly juicy, quality meat burger. Heard of that at McDonald’s?

I’m sounding excessively hungry on this column (yet I’m not and I try to avoid fast food), but it is to prove a delicious point: less is more!

Just examine our lives. From birth to death, the complications that come with more choices are time-wasting and trivial. Kindergartners want the biggest boxes of Crayola crayons and then spend ten minutes deciding which of the 300 colors to use. Incoming freshmen worry about the brand, color, and features of their cell phone. Newlyweds obsess over the paint color of their new house.

In the end, material items only serve a function. Fretting over them is at the expense of our health and the stress is there even if you don’t consciously feel it. Do not succumb to the glee of marketers, who keep us spending by manipulating our fickle tastes.

When I asked my dentist what toothpaste he used, he chuckled, “Oh, the free samples they give me here at work!”

His secret to clean teeth? It did not depend on whether the toothpaste had baking soda, microscrubbing beads, or fluoride. In the end, all the choices could lead to the same, cavity-free result. “It’s all in the mechanics of brushing.”