Why We Shop: Have You Met Diderot?

Recently I have been wondering why I haven’t been drawn to purchasing anything new. No new decorations for the house. No new kitchen appliances or gadgets. No new clothes or shoes. Nothing except for food and replacements to broken well used things. Then I heard about the Diderot Effect. A light bulb went off.

When the French philosopher, Denis Diderot, suddenly found himself above poverty he purchased himself a new dressing robe. He apparently loved his new dressing robe. It was shiny and new. All of a sudden he realized that the rest of his things were worn and should be replaced. He is quoted as saying that there was “no more coordination, no more unity, no more beauty” between his robe and the rest of his items. Guess what happened? He suddenly had a urge to buy new things to match the shiny, new dressing robe.

The Diderot Effect states that obtaining a new possession often creates a spiral of consumption which leads you to acquire more new things. As a result, we end up buying things that our previous selves never needed to feel happy or fulfilled.

James Clear

Show of hands. How many of you witnessed this same effect in your own lives? It might not have sparked from a new dressing robe, but did it start with a new kitchen gadget or a new decoration? We have a brand new kitchen because the dishwasher went. Sure the kitchen is nice, new, and in a proper triangle format. But did we really need a new kitchen? Probably not.

While you may or may not be on a no-spend month, day, or year, keep the Diderot Effect in mind when you are shopping. As I am working towards financial independence and paying off debt, I have become more mindful of my shopping habits and triggers. I cannot moderate. Instead it has to be a hard no with only life sustaining type exceptions like buying food and new running shoes as to not hurt myself by running with worn out sneakers.

8 thoughts on “Why We Shop: Have You Met Diderot?

  1. This is so accurate but I didn’t know it had a name! LOL When we moved into our house, we renovated our bathroom. We made the mistake of taking a piece of the new flooring to our kitchen. When we compared it to the kitchen flooring, we realized the kitchen needed a new floor too!

    Years later, we did a full kitchen renovation. Other than our dishwasher, which needed replacing anyway, we kept all of our old appliances. Yes, our 20 year-old stove didn’t look as fresh and new beside the new counter and cabinets but, you know what? It works! And 5 years later, that 25 year-old stove is still going strong. I am pretty sure that if we had bought a new stove, we would be soon replacing it again.

    We have to get away from this need to always have the latest and greatest. We chase these things but they don’t make us happy.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Same! I had no idea there was an official name.

      I am totally with you about stopping the chase. My no spend year it helping.

      I am currently experimenting to see how long I could go without replacing my cell phone. I think it’s been about 4 years.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This totally made me think of my thoughts yesterday! I bought a Patagonia shirt a week or so ago (a $45 t-shirt, that’s why I have 1) and I was wearing it yesterday and it’s so lovely, soft and feels good and I love it. And then I thought what if I had enough of these to wear everyday…. My other shirts suddenly seem like they need to be replaced.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Bonnie, this is brilliant! You’re so right that spending often leads to a cycle of spending – I just didn’t know the name for it. As a long term minimalist I’ve gradually learned to control the impulse … and it feels so good. I often substituted upcycling for new purchases and I find it immensely satisfying. Thanks for giving me a new term. 🙂 All the best, Terri

    Liked by 1 person

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