The Diderot Effect: There’s more to life than buying stuff

The Diderot Effect 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 realizes 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.

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 favorite:

  • Analyze 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.
buy less, chose well, make it last. Vivienne Westwood
buy less, chose well, make it last. Vivienne Westwood

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


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