What motivates the choices we make?

As I’ve been struggling to keep myself engaged with writing this blog (even though I’ve been doing a fair enough job adhering to its principles, last night’s take-out Thai food notwithstanding), I’ve been thinking about what it really is that motivates us to make our choices, and what we’re hoping to get out of the experience.

SLP has talked a bit here (and more with me in person) about motivations. This blog is not necessarily about making any grandiose statement, doing something profound to make the world a better place, or even embracing the social and environmental responsibilities we know we should take on. As I’ve said before, it’s really just about making smarter choices, even though the criteria that inform those choices may at times be contradictory.

Let’s move away from the primary subject of this blog — food — to another of life’s necessities: clothing. I’m a t-shirt-and-jeans kind of guy. Back when I was a cubicle dweller, I regularly broke my companies’ “business casual” dress codes and wore jeans to work. When you’re just sitting in a box staring at a computer screen all day, what difference does it make what you’re wearing? I understand a dress code might be necessary if you’re meeting regularly with clients, but otherwise, it’s silly.

Now that I’m a freelancer, most days I’m wearing a t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops (at least, in the summer). I still have a special dress code for when I’m meeting with clients: I upgrade to jeans and a polo shirt.

The point is: t-shirts are a big part of my wardrobe. I may go weeks at a time without wearing any other kind of shirt. And I’ve gotten to know t-shirts well. There are plenty of issues with clothing, especially cheap clothing like t-shirts: they’re typically produced under sweatshop conditions, often by children, in economically-depressed parts of the world. But then there’s American Apparel. Made in the USA. But they’ve had their own string of controversies, from their borderline-pornographic advertising to accusations of sweatshop conditions in their downtown Los Angeles factory.

I’ve never set foot in an American Apparel store; I dislike their ads; and I’m suspicious of their integrity as an employer. But I love their t-shirts. More than half of the t-shirts I own, and almost all of the ones I wear on a regular basis (including the one I have on right now) are made by American Apparel. Sure, the “Made in the USA” label probably has some impact on me, but the main reason I prefer their t-shirts is the quality: they’re softer and more durable, with better construction and a better fit, by far, than any other brand I’ve owned. They’re more comfortable, they don’t stretch out of shape after multiple washings, their hems don’t unravel, and they fit me well: with most brands, medium is too small (specifically, too short) and large is too big. But American Apparel’s sizes are skewed slightly smaller, so a large AA t-shirt fits me just right.

American Apparel is in the news again today for a completely different reason: financial woes. Apparently their ill-advised decision to go public has proven difficult because they can’t keep up with their accounting reporting obligations. Or something. The bottom line is, their stock is tanking, they’re deep in the red (and getting deeper), and the company may soon collapse. Which makes me want to start stocking up on t-shirts. Not because I love the company or what they represent, but because they make the best of a particular product that I’ve been able to find, and I doubt anyone else is going to come along soon and take their place.

This kind of reasoning is, of course, in conflict with the reasoning I’ve been giving here for other purchasing decisions (specifically as regards Jimmy John’s), but that kind of conflict is an inherent part of any of the myriad decisions we make on a daily basis in life. The important thing, I think, is to be able to reflect on your decisions and be satisfied with the choices you’ve made and why you made them, despite the inevitable conflict.

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