A Bright Idea?

28 Jun

I had never thought of purchasing light bulbs as a daunting task.

But while settling into my new country of residence, acquiring these little tubes of glowing gasses has proved to be quite the ordeal.

Bayonet style. E14 screw-type. Energy saver. Halogen. Small bayonet style. 40 watt equivalent. There is more variety here among light bulbs than there is among colors of umbrellas.

We have bought and returned many light bulbs over the last few weeks, and each purchase and each refund come with a tinge of anxiety. Is this the right bulb? Will we find the right one this time?

Pitiful enough, once we find that we have indeed purchased the right kind of bulb, I’m keeping the empty packaging, and labeling it with which fixture in the house this bulb is the appropriate one for. I’m really hoping to avoid future stress when it comes time to replace them again.

I have no idea why there are so many styles of light bulb. I don’t see why a particular lamp or chandelier couldn’t have been fitted with a slightly different socket in order to promote a more universally acceptable bulb type. Nevertheless, the variety does exist, and we are the ones who must reach back into our human heritage as hunter-gatherers in order to obtain the correct mysterious glowing orbs—be they candle-style, round, flood-lamp, or loop.

Have we made things needlessly difficult for ourselves? Although we often herald variety as a virtue, have we really obtained something so laudable?

A recent documentary on the wholesale store Costco revealed that part of their success is not to offer 5 different brands of ketchup. There is one choice alone…and consumers are grateful for it. No time or energy need be spent comparing prices or quality; if ketchup is on the shopping list, it is located on the shelf and put into the cart. No dilemma. No debate.

I spent four hours just at two different stores today: one, a hardware store; the other, a grocery store. Which paint to buy? Which potato chips? What’s the best deal on tissues?

We tend to equate choice and options with freedom. But we fail to recognize the tyranny of variety. Besides inspiring severe cases of “decision constipation” (as my father-in-law would say), having many options just opens the door for uncertainty and regret. No one ever wonders if they bought the wrong ketchup at Costco. They got the only one available, and it will have to do. “Why didn’t I buy the Kleenex in the pink box without lotion?” “I knew I should have gotten the semi-gloss black paint and not the ebony wood stain!”

But we insist on making the choice for ourselves, requiring manufacturers to present us with super-eco halogen light bulbs guaranteed for 10,000 hours of use, and also regular eco mini-fluorescent bulbs rated for 6,000 hours. Apparently, I want to be the one to decide if my bulbs will need to be replaced after 14 months of round-the-clock use, or only 8 and a half.

Thankfully, I sit here in my living room, knowing that every fixture in my house now has the appropriate bulb (though we still have one or two incorrect ones left to return to the store). I have survived weeks of hunting and deciding. But it’s not over yet.

Next week? It’ll be time to purchase some flashlights.

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Posted by on June 28, 2012 in Life


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