6 Times More Confused!

Having more choices in paper towels is not a good thing. What were the marketers thinking?


I stop briefly in the grocery store aisle. We’re out of paper towels and I’m looking to buy. What could be simpler?  I have, after all, reached an accommodation with paper towels.

The youthful foolishness that saw me experimenting with cheap paper towels is long done: now I pay for quality, reasonably. The mid-life restlessness that saw me sampling all the name brands is also gone: now I buy one brand, faithfully. Even the more-recent indecisiveness that saw me alternating between full-size and half-size towels has passed: now I buy the half-size ones, exclusively.  

My reasonable, faithful, and exclusive paper-towel-buying rut is also comfortable, effective, and efficient. Like any good habit, it keeps me doing the little things that need doing, while saving me from the tedium of thinking about them. Think flossing, taking calcium supplements, making the bed.

Or better yet, don’t think about them. I don’t. I just do them by rote, saving brain power urgently needed for things that matter, or at least that matter to me. Things like what the next trip should be. Or what bird that was that flitted through the yard. Or how to use my new camera.

And so it is that I have relegated the buying of paper towels to the realm of habit. Having analyzed my options and made my selection, I need think no more about it. My analysis may not meet the standards for settled science, but it passes my test for settled shopping.

Or it did. But as I scan the shelf looking for my standard choice, I see that the marketers for my brand have crafted a new option for me. A glorious option, apparently, judging by the excited label. I can now buy paper towels that are

3 times as strong!

I shrug.  That sounds OK: I mean, who can argue against strength in a paper towel? But as I reach for the package, another label from the same brand catches my eye. I could, instead, buy paper towels that are

2 times as absorbent!

Oh, dear. I hesitate and am lost. My unaccustomed delay in this aisle lengthens as I spot a third option under the same brand name. If I don’t want more strength or absorbency, I could instead just buy more, indeed

25% more!

Presumably that’s 25% more of the ‘one-third as strong and one-half as absorbent’ originals for the same price as last week, although I note that the label doesn’t say that in so many words.

Now I’m really stuck. I was happy with the paper towels I bought last week, but now that I could have stronger or more absorbent ones, I’m not entirely secure in that happiness. If I stick with the old ones, am I settling? Am I being irrationally resistant to change? And if I do embrace change, which is better for my needs: 3 times (!) more strength or 2 times (!) more absorbency? How would I even decide something like that?

You know, it’s got me thinking.

Thanks a bunch, guys.

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14 Comments

Filed under Day-to-Day Encounters

14 Responses to 6 Times More Confused!

  1. Famous Vogue photographer David Bailey said, “If you think about something too long, it will become a problem.”

    Too late for THAT advice.

    John pointed out to me that buying a 6-roll pack of a brand was MUCH more expensive than buying a 2-pack (per roll). BUT, I see that the 6 rolls have more sheets on each roll. Even still, they are more per roll!
    Tricky bastards!

    Here is why grocery stores do this. For every minute the store can keep you there, they make another buck or two. Your indecision = $$$$.

    • Isabel Gibson

      Barbara – I think I’d like Mr. Bailey. As for the unit pricing, you do have to stay alert. And ‘alert’ is just how I don’t really want to go through those aisles . . .

      • But then there is the digestive biscuit problem: are they cookies or crackers. Loblaw’s has one brand miles from another brand. I now buy 2 packages if I ever manage to find them.

        • Isabel Gibson

          Barbara – Yes, the whole like-with-like set of decisions (i.e. what things are alike) should probably be a diagnostic for something. I do fine when I’m in my usual store, but the anxiety level starts to rise in a new shopping environment. BTW, digestive biscuits are cookies, no argument.

  2. Or, you could eschew paper towels, as my children do. Since my sister has been living with us she uses six times the paper towels I use, possibly more because my calculations of frequency of purchase have blurred along with my memory of where I used to be able to find utensils in my kitchen. Whether from insight or spite, I have been pushed by her extravagance much closer to the kids’ ecologically minded abstemiousness. Without much more effort than you expend in the grocery aisle I could turn my excessive supply of old linens into wipes. Not handy? I suppose an empty facial tissues box could serve as a dispenser. Thanks to you and the kids, I will feel guilty if I do not!

    • Judith

      I’m with you and your kids, but when my cat barfs I have to clean up this wet, sticky gross pile, I really want a *strong*, *absorbent* piece of paper towel to pick it up and throw the whole mess in the garbage. Then I can use a cloth for cleaning the floor. What would you use without a paper towel? Do you use a cloth and scrape the barf into the garbage (or toilet)? Or do you just pick an old rag that was ready to be sacrificed?
      Oh, Isabel, the conversation you’ve started…

      • Isabel Gibson

        Judith – I’m pretty sure that cat barf is also compostable and, as such, belongs at the curb in the designated container rather than being cavalierly flushed. I believe that settles the matter – paper towels are the eco-friendly picker-upper.

        • Not ALL of them are recyclable my cleaning man tells me! and he knows!

          And do you flush paper towels — even if they contain cat barf??!!

          Is a paper towel full of cat barf go in the paper bin or the organic bin?

          Oh my. It has become a problem…

          • Isabel Gibson

            Barbara – I blame the young for this current societal preoccupation with cat barf. And you *can* flush paper towels, but you’ll be sorry . . .

    • Isabel Gibson

      Laurna – Ever since Ottawa started curbside pickup of compostable materials, I feel much better about my use of paper towels. In they go with the apple cores, grapefruit rinds, used facial tissues, and vacuum cleaner crud. On the other matter you raise, I empathize with you on the misplaced utensils. To add someone else’s inexplicable variations to my own inexcusable losses would definitely push things over the top.

  3. Jim Taylor

    I don’t buy paper towels. But I do pay attention to car ads and specifications. Every year or so, it seems, various makers redesign the chassis structure, and announce that the new frame is 30%, 40%, even 60% stiffer/more torsion resistant/stronger than the previous model. If I work back, I have to conclude that the cars I grew up with must have had frames made of freshly boiled spaghetti.
    Jim

    • Isabel Gibson

      Jim – But think how compostable – a car frame made of boiled spaghetti! Oh, for the good old days.

  4. John Clinton

    OK. So let’s say that you regularly shop at Store A…….. You are comfortable because you know where things are. Then they “remodel” — a conscious effort to confuse the shopper into thinking that shopping will be “better” for the changes…………. Then they move the paper towels from Aisle 1 to Aisle 15. Then when you get there, you find that the towels have been rearranged so you have to figure out where your favorite is. Then you realize (Horror of horrors!) that YOUR store does NOT carry YOUR brand anymore. They have moved your brand off the shelves in favor of some new “Green” paper towels that, upon closer inspection, are manufactured by the holding company for your store. Dilemma…. What to do………… Change brands??? Go to another store? Give up and go home & tell your spouse that you will no longer be using ANY paper towels!! Life is never easy. Paper towels now become #1 on the “To Do” list — or do we use yesterday’s newspapers instead?

    • Isabel Gibson

      John – Perhaps you jest, but I have lived this pain, even without the renovation. Travelling around Canada and the USA, I find that grocery stores are not all laid out the same way (What were they thinking?) nor do all humans group food the same way. Is salsa a Mexican food or a condiment? Are steel-cut oats a cereal to be placed alongside the Froot Loops, or a special food deserving placement either in the whole-foods section (as opposed to the partial-food section, I guess) or an end-of-row exhibit? Arggh. And all I really want to do is save my brain power, such as it is, for almost anything other than tracking down the salsa or selecting the best-unit-price and greenest paper towels . . . There are days I go with that pithy remark: Change is good; you go first. (Apparently by Anderson & Feltenstein, whose names I knoweth not – a good reminder for all writers.)