I once bought a rug. It was pretty, it was on sale, and I said what the heck, it’s only $US20, and took it home and put it on my floor. Days later, I bought new pillows; the old ones didn’t match the rug. Before I knew it, I’d also bought new plants, a chair, and a ton of other accessories. That $US20 spiraled into hundreds of dollars worth of new stuff. This is the Diderot Effect in action.
Photo by jarmoluk.
It’s a nasty little habit, but knowing how it works can help you stop it in its tracks. To put it in basic terms, the Diderot Effect a social habit that involves two ideas:
- Sometimes the stuff we buy is linked to our sense of identity. Think about something you own that you just couldn’t part with.
- Sometimes the stuff we buy is so great it makes us want to buy other great stuff. Like my rug.
The term was coined by 18th century French philosopher Denis Diderot who wrote the essay, “Regrets on Parting with My Old Dressing Gown.” In the essay, he talks about receiving a beautiful new dressing gown as a gift. He loves it, but then he realises it makes all of his other things look like crap. So what does he do? He goes out and buys new things. Diderot writes:
I was absolute master of my old dressing gown…but I have become a slave to my new one … Beware of the contamination of sudden wealth. The poor man may take his ease without thinking of appearances, but the rich man is always under a strain.
First world problems, I know. But essentially, this is how lifestyle inflation happens. We get used to having a certain fancy thing, and then we feel compelled to match the rest of our lifestyle to that thing. Most of us have been there.
While Diderot seems to take a moral stance on the issue, I personally don’t think there’s anything wrong with buying whatever the hell you want, as long as you’re financially stable, you’re financially prepared for the future, and you’re mindful about your budget and your spending. The problem with the Diderot Effect is that it’s mindless consumption.
Simply being aware that this phenomenon exists will probably go a long way toward preventing it. But over at Becoming Minimalist, writer Joshua Becker has a few other suggestions. Here are some of my favourite:
Analyse and predict the full cost of future purchases. A store may be having a great sale on a new outfit — but if the new outfit compels you to buy a new pair of shoes or handbag to match, it just became a more expensive purchase than originally assumed.
Buy things for their usefulness rather than their status. Stop trying to impress others with your stuff and start trying to impress them with your life.
Remind yourself that possessions do not define you. Abundance of life is not found in the things that you own. Your possessions do not define you or your success — no matter what marketers will try to tell you.
Becker offers additional insight on the Diderot Effect over at his blog. Check it out at the link below.
Understanding the Diderot Effect (and How To Overcome It) [Becoming Minimalist]