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 (but I own my car!), 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.

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