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Dammmmmmn Diderot!

Since one of my 2020 “goals” is to figure out my spending/debt, I have been doing some reading into the psychology behind it.

One interesting tidbit I read in the book Atomic Habits was about the “Diderot Effect” which is named after the 1700s French Philosopher, Denis Diderot.
To sum it up quickly – it’s the “tendency for one purchase to lead to another”.

WOAH – I thought that was just my incessant need to buy things, but there’s a NAME for this?! Thank goodness, because saying “I suffer from the Diderot Effect” seems much classier than “I’m a shopaholic”. OK – they are two different things – BUT it is interesting to think about the chain reaction of events that stem from a single action (or purchase). This Diderot idea focuses on the consumerist “need” to fulfill one’s identity through the purchase of goods, AND how from one purchase, we essentially justify the purchase of MORE items.

Let me give you an example from my own life:
One day I thought “I could use a dress for this upcoming event” – so I went to the mall.

I was on my way into the department store and I happened to pass the shoe department first. So I thought “what could it hurt” and dove in. I found a pair of shoes that I loved and I thought “THESE would complete me. THESE would show the world that I am successful, classy and confident.” [<– There’s that “identity” seeking behavior]
Putting the shoes on hold at the counter I headed up to find a dress worthy of such shoes. What did I find? TWO dresses. Along with the new dress(es) – because I couldn’t just wear such a nice dress without the proper undergarments to make it look the most flattering on me as possible – I convinced myself that I NEEDED to get the “shapewear” that the sales person brought me. [<– There’s the justification of “more”]
By the end of that trip “to buy a dress”… I walked out with 1 pair of shoes, 1 under garment, and two dresses – having spent a whopping….ONE THOUSAND FOUR HUNDRED SEVENTY ONE DOLLARS and 86 cents.
Yes, you read that correctly – $1,471.86 in less than 2 hours, for 4 items.

So – by way of MY poor life choices, we have illustrated the Diderot effect. Although my example was a PRETTY expensive example, I’m sure we can all look around and see how this happens fairly regularly.

Have you bought a new gadget for the kitchen? Now, of course, you NEED to buy some special foods/ingredients and make some meals/invite people over and spend more on food/alcohol!
Have you bought a new “accent” item for your living room? Now NONE of these other items that already live in the space match! Time to go buy a whole new color scheme of items to “tie it all together”!
Have you updated some part of a hobby, and now the rest of the things just “look” or “seem” out of place/outdated? Get the new technology or upgrade those things! (Like a new golf bag … so CLEARLY I should get new clubs…and golf shoes…and a walking cart…!?)

There are countless ways and reasons for our spending – this is just one of them, however it is certainly eye opening. Observing the WHY behind our actions and focusing on how we FEEL (or want to feel) is something that can really help us to self-moderate. Don’t think of it as guilt or shame – it’s just reflection and re-setting learned behaviors. Can you change it? Maybe…perhaps you can return some purchases – but really it’s about being able to make a better choice the next time.

Take that breath, spend a few minutes talking it over with a friend or family member, or think about it overnight.

…and actually – THANK YOU Diderot for giving a name to a situation. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and experience with us, so we could look at ourselves!



I am not paid to endorse any product, entity or program. I am not an advertiser for anyone.



By DreamerSD

Life enthusiast

2 replies on “Dammmmmmn Diderot!”

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