Wanting Things That We Don't Need; The Diderot Effect

3년 전



  • Before I'm going to ramble about something related to the title of this article, let me tell you a story. This story goes way back to 1700s during the reign of Catherine the Great in Russia. This story is about a philosopher named, Mr D.

  • Mr D is a French philosopher. He has been living in poverty for 52 years while raising a daughter. He graduated from the University of Paris and has been studying art, literature, philosophy and science.

  • Even though he was not wealthy, he was quite famous back then as he is one of the most important contributors to Encyclopédie; that my friend is an encyclopaedia. Before the advent of something more sophisticated like an internet connection, encyclopaedias were quite a hit.

  • Encyclopédie is one of the most popular versions of encyclopaedia during that time due to its comprehensibility. Mr D has been staying up all night correcting most of the works done by incompetent authors, damaging his eyesight in the process.

  • When he was 52 years old (1765), her daughter decided that she wanted to get married to the man that she loves. It might be the best day for her daughter, but it is the worst time possible for Mr D. How can he find a sum of money to provide a dowry for his daughter's wedding?

  • The rumours about Mr D was having some financial problems spread out through the wind until it reaches the ear of the Empress of Russia; Catherine the great. As Mr D has quite a reputation, she wanted to help him by offering to pay roughly about 50,000 USD (2015 value) for his book collections.

  • He agreed and suddenly, he became rich (well, 50,000 USD is quite a sum during that time). Not only he can provide a dowry for his daughter's wedding, he can buy some clothes for himself to make him look pretty.

  • He went to a store down the road, and his eyes were fixed to a scarlet robe. Oh boy, it's going to get ugly!

  • After buying that particular, he realised that every single piece of cloth that he owned were unmatched with his new robe so he decided to spend some more money buying accessories, new pants and maybe a pair of shoes.

  • Did it stop there? God no. He started to replace some of his furniture into something that he perceived equal to his current standard. Suddenly his old rug was thrown away and replaces by a custom rug imported from Damascus. He threw away his straw chair, replacing it with a fine, leather, imported chair.

  • If you realise, he has spiralled out of control. He became obsessed with replacing any of his old belonging to something which suits his current style. If you are thinking of bipolar disorder, then you might want to rethink again.

  • This is some kind of reaction of any one of us could or have experienced in the past. Buy one new item and suddenly everything seems dull and need to be replaced with something new. We start to buy something which is not needed. It's not for me, it's for the suit, this shoe matches with my current suit, said everyone.

  • This phenomenon was known as the Diderot Effect.

The Reason Why We Buy Something We Don't Need


Source: Flickr Author: Amélie Verleene (CC BY 2.0)

  • Mr D is not the only individual who has become the victim of the Diderot Effect. We have the tendency to upgrade something in order to match our newly possessed item. Have you ever plan on buying a single item without making an additional purchase? Me neither.

  • Let's imagine, you wanted to buy a new phone. You have been using your iPhone for quite sometimes and you've decided to buy the latest version of iPhone. How sure are you that the iPhone will be the only item you will be purchasing?

  • You will need a screen protector, three cases for three different occasions or moods (whatever), you will be tempted to buy the new air pod to match your current style and if there is any wireless charger available for that particular phone model, you might have bought that too.

  • Your original budget was 999 USD but you have spent up to 2000 USD for a single phone. Excuse, let me rephrase that; a single new phone.


Source: Flickr Author: Elaine Smith

  • Why the emphasis on the word "new"? Let's say you've decided to downgrade from your current phone model due to financial restraint, you will become less tempted to buy accompanied gadgets. Our natural inclination won't tolerate us to downgrade.

  • That's why sometimes, after a significant exposure time to a PS4, you will be less interested to play your PS2. There is only one direction our desire would able to tolerate; it is going upward.

  • The effect would be profound if the price of the item you want to buy is expensive. The accompanying gadgets/accessories should be expensive as well, and that is not a good thing. I mean, you wouldn't want to receive a 20,000 USD credit card bill at the end of the month, do you?

Minimising The Damage Cause By Diderot Effect

  • Let me be honest, overcoming Diderot Effect is not easy. People are easily tempted by something they didn't have or could not afford to buy and when the time comes, they will be on the "shopping spree" mode.

  • There are a few tips, which I'm not sure would be helpful to you, readers or not, that you can contemplate in order to minimise the number of damages that Diderot Effect could impose on your financial instability.


  • Exposure: Reducing the number of external stimuli that would make you feel tempted, is the first step in overcoming Diderot Effect. Throw out any product magazines, avoid as much as possible from subscribing to the online shopping site (they will always offer you items at a discounted rate) and do some outdoor activities with your friends rather than meeting them in a mall (landmine field full of Diderot Effect, you will never know when you are going to step onto a great discounted item).

  • Consider your current style: Instead of starting new, analyse your wardrobe, analyse your garage and analyse whatever that you have been possessing all this while. Try to find an item which can fit your current possession so that you wouldn't have to buy new accessories or side-gadget. Find a shirt which matches with your old pants.

  • Sell or give away your old item: It would be better for you, financially speaking. Submitting yourself to Diderot Effect would cost a lot of money. If the situation is inevitable, buy something before you buy something. If you want to buy a 500 USD phone, sell your old phone. You will be spending a lot less, technically and this will hurt your financial less.

  • Just let it go: Sometimes we forget that our desires were optional, not something absolute that we have to obey. There will be no ending to the things that we want in this world. There will never be the time when you felt satisfied with what you have. Your eyes will surely catch on something that you don't.

“Let my example teach you a lesson. Poverty has its freedoms; opulence has its obstacles.” - Mr D.


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