The Diderot Effect: Don’t Tell My Wife

Don’t Tell My Wife

There is an interesting phenomenon known as The Diderot Effect.

Denis Diderot was an 18th Century French Philosopher.

Denis observed and made note of this phenomenon in an essay titled, “Regrets on Parting with My Old Dressing Gown.”

In the story, he receives a new, elegant dressing gown from his friend, a kind gesture. However, upon receiving the gown, Denis notices all his other possessions begin to look drab and faded compared to it. He begins replacing them—all of them—even the art on the walls. And by the end of the story, Denis notes, “I was absolute master of my old dressing gown, but I have become a slave to my new one.”

In this way, Diderot explains how new consumption often leads to further consumption. But more than that, he argues that we begin identifying with our possessions and search for new things that fit into our specific mold. The purchase of fashion, he would argue, is rarely about the functional use of clothing—it’s not just about finding something to cover our bodies. Instead, the purchase of clothing (and everything else) represents an opportunity for self-expression.

This reminds me of last summer. In a way. Just promise not to tell my wife I shared this story.

I live in a house that has (well had) a formal dining room. A formal dining room that nobody dined in.

Last summer my wife turned it into a sitting room. A sitting room that nobody sits in. Don’t get me wrong, as you can clearly see from the picture, the room is beautiful. With the decision to makeover a perfectly good dining room, came the decision to make a series of purchases that in the end served no real purpose.

Lately, I’ve been deep thinking more than usual. You can probably tell from the subject matter. I’m very interested in the psychology of money and consumption. I’ll be sharing many of these thoughts with you as time goes on.

Do you have a similar story you’d like to share with me? Maybe you decided to buy a new dress and quickly realized that you must also have new shoes to go with the new dress. Or you purchased a new car and now find yourself spending more money at the car wash or on premium gasoline. Whatever your story or example I’d love to hear from you.

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