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“As much money and life as you could want! The two things most human beings would choose above all – the trouble is, humans do have a knack of choosing precisely those things that are worst for them.”  – J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone


Have you ever found yourself trapped in a situation where you purchase one item after the other, and you immediately feel the need to replace the older ones, because you no longer like them? Or maybe because they’re no longer appealing?

-Maybe you purchased a new house or apartment and you no longer want the old (not so beautiful) furniture. So you buy new furniture to match your new home?

-Or you’ve moved into a new office and all you want is everything brand new? Including tech gadgets, stationery, etc.

-Or if you are keen on how fashionable you look, you find yourself buying  a new  pair of shoes to match your handbag?

-Or a coat to match your dress

-Or a watch to match your new car?

I know a number of women (including myself), who’ve struggled with a repeated behaviour of shopping for clothing, shoes and handbags, make up etc, just because we felt the necessity of upgrading our wardrobes, or we felt certain items we already possessed were not ‘good enough‘ or maybe  ‘sooo last season.

It’s crazy and that craziness has a name!

Well, if you find yourself in a situation where purchase an item or series of items just  to upgrade some other items you already own, then you might want to consider yourself a victim of the Diderot effect!

The term Diderot effect was coined in 1988, by anthropologist and scholar of consumer patterns Grant McCracken,  in his book entitled ‘Culture and Consumption: New Approaches to the Symbolic Character of Consumer Goods and Activities.’ The phenomenon was named after French philosopher Denis Diderot, (1773-1784), who after receiving  a beautiful gown from his friend, immediately despised his old shabby tattered gown and got rid of it.  Within a short time, he was dissatisfied and felt his new gown was out place among other rugs and cheap furniture he had in possession. And one by one he replaced them all, just to match his magnificent gown. Little did he know that, that was just the beginning of his ‘financial misery’!

Denis Diderot. Source-Wikipedia

In his essay, “Regrets on Parting with my Old Dressing Gown” Dennis Diderot, expresses his regrets and describes the situation and one which led him into debt.

…where is my good, my old housekeeper? What demon obsessed me the day I chased her away for this one!…


What Lessons Can We Learn from Denis Diderot’s Story?

The simple answer -We can learn many lessons!

We can learn about how we can make use of the diderot effect as marketers and consumers and how we as consumers, can avoid financial pitfalls due to our spending habits.

The Diderot’s effect is common among many consumers.  Especially those with the mindset to purchase a set of  goods that ‘go to together’. Or those consumers who simply keep buying additional goods to “complete the series.”

The truth is, there’s nothing wrong with spending money on items you love and as long as  you can afford them!

When it comes to discussing financial management and how people spend ‘their’ money, it’s important to spread the knowledge cautiously! – Because money matters are quite delicate!

Just like Miley Cyrus lyrics would say it all on her song “We can’t stop”

…Doing whatever we want
This is our house
This is our rules

And we can’t stop
And we won’t stop
Can’t you see it’s we who own the night?
Can’t you see it’s we who ’bout that life?…

… We run things, things don’t run we
Don’t take nothing from nobody

But if you find yourself slowly slipping into debt, then it’s time we thought about that purchasing behavior that is getting out of hand!  Here are some ways you could start doing that:

1) Avoid unnecessary spending

You don’t have to change your entire wardrobe just because you bought a new pair of jeans, shirt, handbag, dress, heels, etc.  Do you really need an expensive watch or handbag just because you just bought luxury car brand?   Just like Diderot would say:

…I don’t cry, I don’t sigh, but every moment I say: Cursed be he who invented the art of putting a price on common material by tinting it scarlet. Cursed be the precious garment that I revere. Where is my old, my humble, my comfortable rag of common cloth?…

2)  Defeat the Urge to buy things you do not ‘need’ when led by emotions

Sometimes, we’re carried away by emotions and life episodes that have an effect on how we make our spending decisions. I know some who shop when they’re sad and others who shop when they’re excited. Others shop when they’re bored. Learn to control your emotions and do not let your negative or positive emotions determine how you spend your money. Take Diderot’s advice-

…My friends, keep your old friends. My friends, fear the touch of wealth. Let my example teach you a lesson. Poverty has its freedoms; opulence has its obstacles…

3) Avoid advertisement exposure and impulse buying/unintended purchases

I know it’s not easy! With the all the money they invest on those advertising channels these days, it’s hard to go without noticing them! And sometimes it’s hard to say NO to those products and services! I totally understand!

Today’s smart marketers have mastered the many forms of inducement to make consumers buy particular goods or services. Either through discounts, instant markdowns, decoy pricing, false sense of urgency where products are marked are ‘limited stock’,  low prices,  and the ‘Gruen transfer’, where we as customers are ‘surrounded by an intentionally confusing layout and before we know it, we’ve lost track of our original purchasing intentions, and  off we end up making impulse buying! As Diderot writes

…But that’s not all, my friend. Lend an ear to the ravages of luxury, the results of a consistent luxury…

I found this video on YouTube. Find out how being “An Enlightened Stupid Marketer is really like.



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4 thoughts on “The Diderot Effect- Avoid Shopping Your Way To ‘Financial Misery’

  1. I do accept as true with all the ideas you have offered on your post.
    They are very convincing and will certainly work.
    Still, the posts are too brief for starters. May you please
    extend them a little from subsequent time? Thank you for the post.

  2. Hey Rahab. Nice read. What I do is maintain a list of items I want to buy, and whenever I see any item on discount (at Flipkart), I buy that one. This way, I save at least 20% of my expenses regularly.

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