“Do I really need this?”: Seven Ways to Immunize Yourself from the Diderot Effect

Picture this: you bought a new couch for your home. It is sleek, modern, and the perfect size for lounging and hanging out with your loved ones. It looks almost perfect when you look at your space, except the rug under the coffee table suddenly looks ugly.

That sculpture does not fit quite right. You tell yourself, “I should buy a new rug and sculpture. Better ones this time.” But then, you look at the photo frames, that other rug—now everything looks wrong! It feels as if you want to buy a new version of everything in your home.

Such an interesting phenomenon and this is what the Diderot effect is all about.

There will always be more things, new possession, seeking space in your life. As things get worse, one tends to look for more, and more, and more. As a result, you need to learn how to prioritize and organize your priorities.

What is the Diderot Effect?

The famous French philosopher Denis Diderot was 52 years old when his daughter was set to get married, but he was unable to pay for a dowry. Diderot’s name was well-known despite his lack of income since he co-founded and wrote Encyclopédie, one of the most comprehensive encyclopedias of the time.

When the Russian Empress Catherine the Great learned of Diderot’s financial troubles, she made an offer to buy his library for 1,000 GBP, or about 50,000 USD. Getting his hands on extra cash, he soon bought himself a new magnificent scarlet robe.

This was when his spiraling consumption began.

He quickly observed how out of place it appeared when surrounded with all his other possessions because his robe was so exquisite. He claimed that there was no more coordination, no more unity, no more beauty between his robe and the other items he was wearing.

Diderot immediately begin having impulses to purchase other items to complement the elegance of his new clothing.

He replaced his old rug with a new one from Damascus. He decorated his home with beautiful sculptures, a better kitchen table, and even the art. He bought a new mirror to place above the mantle and his straw chair was relegated to the antechamber by a leather chair.

These impulsive purchases have become known as the Diderot Effect—acquiring a new possession that often creates a spiral of consumption. As a result, we find ourselves purchasing things we never required before to feel happy or content.

How to protect yourself from the Diderot effect

1.      Awareness

If you find that you have a spending problem and have fallen victim to unnecessary consumerism, be aware of it and accept that it is happening. This is where taking control begins.

2.     Ask yourself the important questions

a.      Is this necessary?

Everyone has the natural tendency to acquire more stuff. There can never be enough shoes, new outfit, a new backpack, or even a new lunch bag. When you ask yourself this question, make sure to look at it objectively. Is it a worthy pursuit, an actual need or simply unplanned purchases that always lead to more.

It can be easy to say yes and lie to yourself, but look behind your answer. See if buying the item is only necessary for fulfilling a void inside you, or if it’s something you truly need. However, if the answer is no, then don’t buy it.

b.     Do I really want it, and why?

If you’re still confused, try to look at the purpose of the item you are buying. Is this something you need for maintaining your home, or are you buying this to impress people?

c.      Can I afford to buy 10 pieces of this?

This is a fantastic tip, as it truly makes you think about your finances and the importance of the item you plan on getting.

3.     Buy one, give one

Give something away each time you make a new purchase. Got a new dress? Give your old one away rather than adding it to your overflowing closet. The idea is to prevent your collection of items from expanding.

Your life should always be carefully curated to only include the things that make you happy and joyful.

4.     Tap your creativity

If you are tempted to make a purchase, try to look at what you already have and be creative. For example, you can try to switch up your regular style by mixing and matching the outfits that you already have in your closet.

If you are immediately drawn to buying a new piece of furniture or home decor, you can try revamping your space instead. Oftentimes, we are just looking for that sense of novelty. We do not actually need the item we are tempted to buy.

5.     Reduce exposure

Almost all habits are started by a signal or a trigger. Avoiding the habits that initiate the Diderot Effect is one of the easiest methods to lessen its impact.

Delete the shopping newsletter, unsubscribe from magazine mailings that send you catalogs, and unfollow pages and accounts that encourage you to needlessly splurge.

You can even assess what applications in your phone are the strongest triggers of your impulsivity and uninstall them. Instead of meeting friends at the mall, you can go to the park or hang out in the safety and comfort of your own home.

6.     Let go of wanting things

Most people have the natural inclination to new consumption. There will never be a point where you will stop wanting things, as there is always something to upgrade to. Got a new iPhone 11? You can upgrade to an iPhone 12. Got a new iPhone 12? You can upgrade to an iPhone 12 Pro Max.

Got a new iPhone 12 Pro Max? You can upgrade to an iPhone 14. Got a new iPhone 14? Have you thought about buying a MacBook Pro? Realize that wanting is merely a choice and not an order you have to follow.

7.     Know your worth

Remember, your possessions do not define you. A true abundant life is not about the things that you own, but the quality of life itself. Do you have a healthy self-esteem? Are you truly making your loved ones feel cared for? Do you have harmonious relationships with the people around you?

When you look at the things that truly matter, you look at what things to nurture more. Let this be the dictate of your future purchases.

The goal is not to live with the fewest amount of things, but to really look at the quality of everything that you have. Make sure that everything you have truly helps you live your life better. Take control of your own life!

As Denis Diderot said, “Let my example teach you a lesson. Poverty has its freedoms; opulence has its obstacles.”

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