Beware the Diderot Effect

I shop therefore I amHave you ever purchased a throw rug only to realize that it would look so much better if you also had a new coffee table over in that corner and wow a lamp would really set the whole thing off and crap that couch is looking pretty shabby I mean what’s the point of having a new rug if the couch and love seat look like they belong in a homeless shelter and what drugs was I on when I bought those pictures they have to go and holy shit these walls are like 3 shades too dark they have to be painted … well, you get the idea. This is called the Diderot Effect and it is no doubt a big reason why we Americans have so much trouble living within our means.

The term “Diderot Effect” was coined in 1988 by anthropologist Grant McCracken but it has it’s roots in an essay by French philosopher Denis Diderot titled Regrets on Parting with My Old Dressing Gown. In his essay, Diderot tells the story of receiving a new dressing gown (what we would generally call a bath robe these days) and how this acquisition inevitably led to redecorating his entire study so that the surroundings in which he wore the gown matched the magnificence of this stunning new garment. Throughout the essay, Diderot mourns the loss of his old dressing gown, which had become like an “old friend”, and regrets the path of debt and consumerism that he has found himself pursuing. In the end, the new dressing gown just brings more stress and unhappiness into his life that would not have been there had he just kept the old gown that he loved so much.

I certainly have experienced the Diderot Effect more recently than I care to admit. In my constant struggle to reduce the unnecessary things in my life, I find myself considering purchases more carefully and doing my best to not be an impulse buyer.

To this end, I have recently started bringing my 10 year old son with me whenever I go shopping. He mercilessly questions me about every purchase to the point where I find myself constructing responses in advance so that I can convince him that Daddy really does need that new whatever. This has really brought a new dimension to my shopping habits and has probably saved me hundreds of dollars. I guess the kid just wants to make sure I don’t blow through his college fund.

Beware the Diderot Effect in your own life and you will probably be a happier person. Now, if you will excuse me, I have some painting to do.