Do You Suffer From the Diderot Effect?

Diderot Effect

To be clear, the Diderot effect is not a dog-sledding contest in Alaska. That’s called the Iditarod and it’s completely different. The Diderot effect is named after 18th century French philosopher Denis Diderot who lived nearly his entire life in poverty. When he was 52 and his daughter wanted to get married, he couldn’t afford to pay the dowry. You see, back then (and still today in some countries) you had to pay someone to marry your daughter.

Despite the fact that Diderot was flat broke, his name was well-known due to his being the writer of the Encyclopédie. When Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia, heard about Diderot’s circumstances, she purchased his library for what would amount to today as $50K. Wowza! That’s a pretty good library. Diderot instantly when from being broke to being not broke and his daughter was able to get married. Everything is great, right?

Here’s where it all went wrong. Diderot acquired a new coat. Sounds perfectly reasonable, right? But everything near the new coat he purchased looked like crap. So of course Diderot started buying other things to look good with his robe. A new scarf, a new hat, a new rug, a new sculpture, and a new kitchen. Makes perfect sense to me that a new robe triggered a new kitchen, but apparently these reactionary impulses are called the Diderot Effect. When consumption leads to more consumption because you can’t stop consuming.

Why do we always want more, faster, better, newer? According to James Clear, it’s our natural inclination to hunt, gather, upgrade and build upon. But just as the Notorious B.I.G who said, “Mo money, mo problems.” Clutter and an abundance can make our lives run a muck. Take the new luxury car I just purchased. I now need better insurance, better gasoline, and the unlimited car-wash membership because it always rains right after I wash my car. That’s the Diderot Effect. Spending begets spending.

The big question is how do you stop the Diderot effect? Well, you can’t, but you can try to manage it. For starters, don’t impulse buy. Implement the 24-hour rule and wait to make that purchase. Another way is to plan ahead when making a purchase. Let’s say you need a new dress for a reception. That’s’ fine, buy the dress, you deserve it. Just don’t buy new shoes, new jewelry and a new purse to go with said new dress. Buy a dress that will go with those items you already have.

It’s difficult to conquer, but James Clear recommends three tactics to avoid the Diderot Effect.

1) Buy one, give one. Each time you buy a new fishing pole or designer bag, donate one. You know it’s just going to sit there and collect dust because you want to use the new item. Don’t be a hoarder and donate your old stuff to someone who could really use it.

2) Go one month without buying something new. Let’s say you’ve just purchased the boat and the life preservers. Have to have those. Wait to get the skis, the better stereo system, or the precise depth finder one month per item. Learn to restrict and delay gratification.

3) Let go of wanting things. This is where I said, WTF?! How do you do this? Simply put, you can’t. There will always be something else we as humans want/need. It’s why we get out of bed in the morning, actually. But it’s suggested that we try to get in touch with nature and enjoy things that can’t be purchased like sunsets and mountain views or real friendships.

And remember what Denis Diderot said about his own situation, “Let my example teach you a lesson. Poverty has its freedoms; opulence has its obstacles.”

Do You Suffer from the Diderot Effect?
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