A friend of mine passed me this article on Denis Diderot who I could have sworn we’ve blogged about before, but a quick search told me we hadn’t so I had to make sure we fixed that STAT :)
Here’s the article I was passed, by one of my favorite writers online – James Clear:
In a nutshell – Diderot was a French philosopher in the 1700s who one day acquired a new fancy robe which then didn’t match any of his other items. Feeling discontented by this, he went around upgrading his things in order to match the quality of the said robe, eventually plunging himself into a spiral of debt.
“Compared to his elegant new dressing gown, the rest of his possessions began to seem tawdry and he became dissatisfied that they did not live up to the elegance and style of his new possession. He replaced his old straw chair, for example, with an armchair covered in Moroccan leather; his old desk was replaced with an expensive new writing table; his formerly beloved prints were replaced with more costly prints, and so on. “I was absolute master of my old dressing gown”, Diderot writes, “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”.
And thus, the Diderot Effect was born!
When obtaining a new possession creates a spiral of consumption, leading you to acquire even more new things in order to feel completely satisfied. Which, of course, never transpires.
As funny as it is to think about how this could happen from a robe (must have been a killer one!), we’re all susceptible to this and have no doubt got sucked in many a times our selves…
I know I have! Even just this Saturday while house hunting I kept catching myself thinking about all the new stuff I’d have to buy in order to fit better in these immaculate homes! No way I could dirty it up with all my hand me down furniture or clothes, right?? Haha… I mean, what would all my dinner guests say when they
never come over?! ;)
(And then ironically enough, as we passed by some not-so-good homes an hour later I thought about how well my Frankencaddy would have fit vs my current shiny Lex, haha… The Diderot Effect in reverse, which actually would work out well to your advantage! ;))
A pretty interesting phenomenon nonetheless though, and of course there are many ways to catch yourself before the temptation sets in…
Here are 6 tips from James’ article that I think are super helpful:
(particularly #4 and #5)
#1. Reduce exposure. The fewer robes you see, the fewer robes you want!! ;) (But in more modern parlay – UNSUBSCRIBE FROM ALL THOSE STORE EMAILS or whatever else gets you drooling every day!! Even Instagram! *gasp*)
#2. Buy items that fit your current system. You’re perfectly happy with what you own now, so just keep pairing them with things that match well! “You don’t have to start from scratch each time you buy something new.”
#3. Set self-imposed limits. This one is great – and not unlike *budgeting* – where you give yourself limits to work in to avoid going overboard. And if you don’t trust yourself enough, wrangle in a BFF or spouse to help keep you in line! It’s a lot harder to stray once you involve others!
#4. Buy One, Give One. This is a popular mantra of minimalists, and for good reason. If you’re always offloading the same number of items you’re bringing in, you can never get buried in stuff! “Always be curating your life to include only the things that bring you joy and happiness.”
#5. Go one month without buying something new. And now a popular mantra of all $$$ bloggers, haha… But a great way to force yourself to reflect before going off the deep end for sure ;) And one that can totally change your wallet’s life!!
#6. Let go of wanting things. Admittedly a lot easier said than done, but still a worthy goal to shoot for. And James notes something here in a way I’ve never seen put that really had me thinking: “Realize that wanting is just an option your mind provides, not an order you have to follow.” YES!! TRUE!! Not that I ever confused a “want” with a “order”, per se, but it’s a great way of re-labeling things and one we’d be well rewarded for, especially during house hunting ;)
Here’s a link to the article again – it was a great one: The Diderot Effect: Why We Want Things We Don’t Need — And What to Do About It
Anyone else care to share their tips on how they avoid getting sucked in?? Or any of their Diderot stories to help us feel better about ourselves?! ;)
I can’t say I’ve ever been humbled by a robe before, but you never know what’s lying in the creep around the corner! It’s the unsuspecting stuff that gets us every time!
Thanks for the article rec, Leah!
Jay loves talking about money, collecting coins, blasting hip-hop, and hanging out with his three beautiful boys. You can check out all of his online projects at jmoney.biz. Thanks for reading the blog!