Rand once told me that people are happier when they’re given fewer choices. He’d read an article on it. Something about how we still like to have options, but when we’re faced with too many of them, we get overwhelmed. Our instinctual reaction is try to limit our options to only a few, and failing that, to curl into a ball and suck our thumb until someone makes a decision for us.

By the way, that latter technique? TOTALLY works.

He mentioned this phenomenon to me one afternoon while I was standing in the middle of an IKEA on the verge of one of my patented and adorable nervous breakdowns. If you are unfamiliar with the Swedish furniture mecca that is IKEA, let me tell you now: it could drive the most resolute soul into a mad rage, could reduce the happiest of mortals into sniveling mess. In 1998, Gandhi punched a dude who was trying to snag the last OMSORG shoe tree in stock. True story.

It isn’t just that IKEA is a sensory-overloaded, windowless maze that forces you to go through the entire store before you are able to escape (a forty-minute excursion, if you maintain an average running speed of 1 mile every 6 minutes). Or that it’s filled with dozens of items that seem like a good idea until you get them home, and then have to explain to your husband why you bought a pack of 5,000 votive candles (“They were only $3.95!” is not a sufficient excuse), a mosquito net (WHEN YOU LIVE IN SEATTLE), or a lamp that only works with a wattage of bulb that is not available in North America except at friggin IKEA and YOU ARE SO NOT GOING BACK THERE. And it’s not even that IKEA products take several long years to assemble, and absolutely everything, even trash cans and garlic presses and wooden mixing spoons, need to be assembled (though that’s a big part of it. My marriage has been tested by an IKEA file cabinet. It currently sits in my office, quietly mocking me. One day I will hurl it out the window with the battle cry of a Norse god. But right now it holds my paper clips).

All of these elements contribute to the dark evil that is IKEA, but the biggest problem with the entire place? There are far too many options.

No matter how specific your needs, IKEA will have 17 potential solutions available in four different colors. Rand and I had spotted a wardrobe that looked perfect for us. When I asked an employee for help, he explained that it couldn’t be purchased in one package. We’d have to select the width of the wardrobe, along with the height and depth, all of which were available in 6 different sizes. We had to select the color of the wardrobe, the color of the doors, trim, and handles. We needed to chose all the interior features: coat racks, shoe racks, hat racks, sliding drawers (available in a myriad of sizes and colors), mirrors, cabinets, and hooks.

“There are,” the young employee told us, his eyes shining with perverse pleasure, “thousands of options.” (I hope he gets a splinter while assembling his IKEA coffee cup. I really do.)

And when I heard those words in the middle of the IKEA showroom, I did what so many have done before: I began to panic.

That, like always, was where Rand came in.

“You know,” he said calmly, with a sort of inner peace that would make the Dalai Lama proud, “we could just forget we ever saw this thing.”

I looked up at him, tears in my eyes. What was this madness coming from his lips?

“Wha … wha?” was my eloquent reply.

Rand eyes twinkled, and his voice came out in an excited whisper.

“We could just buy that bookshelf over there to store our clothes. And then we wouldn’t have to worry about any of this.”

“Hubba wha?” I said. My brain was fried. IKEA is awful.

And so Rand gently grabbed my arm, and took me to the restaurant, the only safe haven in all of IKEA, where options are few and glorious, and bought me a piece of cake.

Then we bought a bookshelf in which to put our clothes, took it home, and didn’t fight at all when we assembled it. We are going to be married for a bazillion years, and all of them will be glorious. Here’s proof:

We store our clothes on a bookshelf. We're SO wacky.

-

That day at IKEA came to mind when I was once again faced with too many options. I was at Bogey’s in Hutchinson, Kansas. And sadly, Rand was not there.

Jason and I headed to Bogey’s after our journey to the Kansas Underground Salt Museum.

Whenever a restaurant has an image of ice cream on the sign, it's probably not going to be terribly healthy.

-

Bogey’s offers fairly standard fast food fare. They have a handful of fried entrees and side orders to choose from. I got a burger, which didn’t impress me much, and some fried okra, which did. Why we don’t have okra in the northwest is beyond me. Someone call the governor and tell her to get on this immediately.
-

Oh, and I also got a shake, for which Bogey’s is known. IKEA may have 500 different closet combinations, but Bogey’s has 101 hundred different flavors of milkshakes. ONE HUNDRED AND ONE. For those of you who are bad at math, that’s one milkshake for every dalmatian. The list is daunting.

-

Faced with so many choices, very little time elapsed before I began to lose my mind. My eyes began to blur. Some of the flavors, like Dutch apple pie, made no sense at the time. Others, like hot-fudge-butter-pecan-banana still confound me.

Others are repetitive. I question whether one would be able to distinguish between chocolate-banana and chocolate-banana-nut.  Or chocolate cheesecake and chocolate-chip-cheesecake. The differences, I suspect, are slim.

I scanned the menu, and my eyes stopped on s’mores. I love s’mores. They one on the growing list of reasons I will never be a vegetarian.

But I’d read less than a tenth of the menu. Surely I couldn’t stop there, right? But as soon as I tried to read on, I got dizzy.

Strawberry marshmallow chocolate chip? THAT IS NOT A FLAVOR. THAT IS A GROCERY LIST.

Could I get something as relatively boring as s’mores? Didn’t I have to try a strange flavor? Or seven? My heart rate quickened. I was tempted to crawl into my shirt and scuttle out the door. But I remembered what Rand had said in IKEA. Sometimes, you can forget that you saw all those other options.

“I’ll have a s’mores shake,” I told the girl behind the counter.

-

And I was very happy with that decision.

Full list of categories:  City Guide » Food » Local Color » Restaurants
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Comments (25)

  1. 1

    Kopp’s Frozen Custard in Wisconsin would be perfect for you. They keep a stable of 10 or so flavors, but have 2 flavors of the day to keep things interesting.

  2. 2
    Janet T says:

    “Freedom of Choice is no choice”- sorry, that line always comes to me when faced with moments like the ones described.

    Ikea does the same thing to me……….I go there to shop not to do math and planograms. I tend to stick to throw rugs and swedish meatballs when I’m there. Rand is a decision making god.

    and fried okra looks like tater tots

  3. 3
    Joy says:

    Wait, vegetarians can’t have s’mores!?!? That’s just crazy talk! Who in their right mind would choose a lifestyle that would eliminate s’mores!?!?

  4. 4
    Philip says:

    We were just at the “Seattle” IKEA (Dear IKEA, Renton is not Seattle) and because we are idiots, we went on a rainy Saturday night and we took the four-year-old child along. So I made a list. I actually went through the catalog and made a list of the three things I wanted and I didn’t look at anything else. That is not to say we didn’t end up with 40 other things (my darling spouse was not impressed with my list) but I knew the only way I would get out without tears (mine, not the kid’s) was to keep a very narrow focus and constant forward motion.

    Any idea what Bogey’s stuffs their pretzels with? (“I’ll stuff your pretzel, Mister!”)

  5. 5
    Amber says:

    Yea, what kind of weird smore’s are you eating?

  6. 6
    Lizzie says:

    Vegetarians eat gelatin (they just avoid meat). Vegans avoid all animal products, including honey, eggs, leather, and gelatin.

  7. 7
    Jim says:

    Rand is right about too many choices.

  8. 8
    Janine says:

    I am totally disgusted to learn that about gelatin! Ugh! I will now look at gelatin differently, even if it’s made from non-animal sources. Digusting but interesting.

  9. 9
    TreeJoe says:

    Ikea raises the blood pressure of even the most stoic souls. I can literally notice my vision narrowing as the option overload sets in – and their in-store restaurant disgusts me.

    When I finally arrive at the plant section, I stop and spend 15 minutes there. They carry my 2 favorite hard-to-kill indoor plants: Bamboo and Cactus. I ponder over these for 15 minutes, feel a sense of calm return, and then I take a deep breath and plunge through the last 250 feet of store. Then I’m confronted with driving out of the parking lot which is a death trap due to all the college students and poor 20 year olds who have crammed an apartment’s full of un-assembled furniture in a 1980s 2-door – and they can’t see me when they try to navigate out of ikea themselves.

    Or they can see me, but they no longer care and they just want to get the hell out.

  10. 10
    Jeff says:

    Was just at Bogey’s last month. Have to agree on the unimpressive hamburger, wish I had tried the fried okra, now.

  11. 11
    Nikkie says:

    I bet that was a PAX wardrobe, I almost died while choosing which one to buy (I didn’t buy any doors and went for the curtains – way easier, there was just one kind of curtain). By the way, there’s a teeny tiny award on my busy times-post, have fun with it :-)

  12. 12
    Lauren says:

    After 4 hours trying to escape Ikea, I was waiting for my taxi in front of the store and I the box my vase was in broke. The vase crashed to the floor, shattering into a billion pieces. I burst into tears and had a mini break down. Thanks for reminding me that I am not crazy and Ikea is a scary scary place and causes more psychological torment than solitude in a maximum security prison. It would take a lot longer than 4 hours for that place to break me.

  13. 13
    frank says:

    From one let’s-do-this-assembly-project-together kind of person to another: never try this with wallpapering a bathroom. It may seem like a good idea – it’s kinda putting something together … together. And it’s small and therefore just an experiment (more or less), so what could possibly go wrong? How stressful could it be? How many many ways can exactly identical, matching, repeating patterns not identically match or repeat or, for that matter, even stay stay stuck (their basic reason for being) to the wall. And how is it possible that a room could have more corners than flat surfaces? Doesn’t that break some fundamental geometric law of the universe or something? Anyway. I’m just sayin’ …

  14. 14
    Ian says:

    Yes. I totally agree.

    I’m a man of simple tastes, and choices continue to confuse and boggle my mind.
    I like to travel…to which country?
    I’d like food at a mexican restaurant…which of the 143 items that are the same ingredients just mixed around?
    I’d like to pay my bills…but which one first?

    I guess I wonder if there was ever a time when we had fewer choices, and if so can I go back there? Does the future hold the possibility that everything will be run by one company so I don’t have to pick between cell phone providers and computers and clothes and, and, and…?

    Did I really write a response that included only two statements, and five questions?

  15. 15
    catcat says:

    Ikea is the definition of overwhelming choices. I love Ikea products but you should either go there to just look (and only buy 13 small items) or with a definite list that you have meticulously pre-planned online (plus the 13 small items that leap out off the shelf into your cart as you are forced to walk by them).

  16. 16
    Wurstonline says:

    In terms of too many choices, I find Subway much worse than IKEA. I am ordering a sandwich and I have to answer 15 questions? Come on…

  17. 17
    Vicky says:

    Spot on – too many choices is why I would never want to build my own home. The thought of having to choose every knob, handle, baseboard, etc. would make my head explode. Well, might I say: the bookcase-as-wardrobe looks fabulous!

    I thought the fried okra were hush puppies!

  18. 18
    Sarah Weaver says:

    “Get outa town! Really. Well, no. Not really. Stay in town. But what? Okay, why I am reacting like this?

    Well picture this. Here I am, sitting at my cluttered desk with a dinky desk lamp illuminating my Mac and I in my double-occupancy room. As my Western Civilization homework started to bore me – meaning before I even opened my book, I find myself googling “Best Blogs of 2011.” Click, click, click and I’m here: your blog. (Congrats by the way to be named amongst Best Blog of 2011 on time.com. Talk about big time, pun intended.)

    So this visually-pleasing imaginary picture of me at my desk still does not answer why I would start off my comment with: “Get outa town!” I will add that I’m a college student and avid blogger who skims through the internet daily looking for something to intellectually stimulate me when Western Civ. does not. This time surfing the web was full surprises. I never find blog posts about Hutchinson, Kansas online, let alone on what TIME.com likes to call one of the best blogs of 2011.

    Here in Kansas, we like to call Hutchinson “Hutch.” Yes, here in Kansas. I failed to mention in my description that my desk resides in room in a sorority at the University of Kansas. Meaning when my internet browsing a.k.a. procrastinating led me to a blog post about Hutch, I was surprised. Now, I admit I have not visited the Bogey’s in Hutch. However, I have frequented the Bogey’s in Salina, and let me tell you, it didn’t disappoint. The shakes had me coming back for more. Unfortunately for Bogey’s employees and fellow customers who found themselves behind me in line, I am very indecisive. But without knowing it, I’ve taken your husband’s advice and pretended I never say their menu with hundreds of flavors and options. I’ve ordered anything from strawberry-banana-peanut butter to a good ol’ chocolate malt.

    Well this ridiculously long comment hopefully shows you that you never know who will stumble upon your blog and appreciate your love for Bogey’s.

    Now, I don’t know what you’re doing visiting salt museums in Hutch, let alone Kansas, but I do hope you enjoyed your time in the smack-dab-middle of America. If not, hope my comment was entertaining enough.

    – Sarah Weaver

  19. 19

    My Swedish ex-boyfriend used to drag me there for the meatballs every Saturday while we lived in Australia. Restaurant was cannily positioned towards the END of the interminable gauntlet. I think this bred focus, and determination, although I’m not quite sure how to work it into the personal attributes section of my CV.

  20. 20
    Xenia says:

    Greetings from Montenegro. We’d love to read your descriptions of our country.
    But as we wait, could someone tell me what s’mores are? :)

    • 20.1
      Adde says:

      S’mores are essentially an edible heaven.Gooey, chocolatey, sticky heaven.
      (Graham crakcer, melty marshmallow, chocolate, graham crakcer) You must try them, right now.

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