Diderot Effect – You may not have heard of it but you may be a victim

You buy the new fashionable shirt or a new coffee table and you feel that you don’t have a good pair of trousers to pair up with the new shirt or feel that the good old couch does not match up to the nice new coffee table. You then go and buy a pair of trousers and then maybe a pair of shoes to go with the new outfit. You buy a couch, new cushions for the couch etc. to match the coffee table. You end up splurging a lot of money or over consuming. If you had never got that shirt or the coffee table, you would have saved a tidy sum. I was surprised that this phenomenon of overconsumption due to the acquisition of one item have a name…. the Diderot effect.

Diderot Effect – You may not have heard of it but you may be a victim

Image courtesy of Vlado at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Read: How to Stop Buying things you never use

I am a recent Victim of Diderot Effect

From last  1 year, we were planning to replace our decade old car but I was resisting for the simple reason – our house lacked covered parking area (it really pains to see your car battling the sun in Rajasthan’s dry summers). Earlier we thought to put a fiberglass shade over iron frame, which will not cost much & our purpose will be solved. But then WE (wife empowerment/enforcement) decided that let’s have proper porch & the first floor can be used as a guest room (spouse was after my life for this from last few years & I was resisting).

Finally, work started after the rainy season…. and after a few days of work came another twist as the contractor suggested some changes in our layout & from nowhere he was able to add an extra room that can be called “kids room”. Home Minster okayed the plan & Finance Minister was looking at his deficit. In addition to this some changes in elevation, additional furniture & paint in whole house which was overdue also happened, leaving a vast ditch in my pocket.

Now work is in final stage & I know why one ad screamed CAAAAAR – car has become 2.5X…. Oops!! now I realise Rs 1000 car cover was a better option, but it’s too late 🙁

Yesterday this thought came to my mind that is there any scientific name of this DISEASE & discovered Diderot effect.

Who observed this first

This effect was described by Denis Diderot, a French philosopher. In an essay, he tells how a new dressing gown made him feel that all his other things were old and resulted in him buying a lot of stuff. This led him to falling into debt. The phenomenon of overconsumption where one item leads to spiralling buying spree is called the Diderot effect. Many of us have been victim to this concept even though we may not be aware of it.

Read: SmartPhones are making us dumb – Financially & Mentally

There’s another problem

Many of us fall prey to the Diderot effect as we tend to identify ourselves on the basis of what we have, what we wear and our lifestyle. Society is tending towards the Diderot effect. In earlier times, a family used to buy 1 car or 1 television set. It was used for many years. It was taken care of and maintained well. If it broke down, it was repaired. But today we do not have much patience to take care of our possessions and we want the new car or TV that is in the market. We throw away the older stuff even if there is nothing wrong it. Manufacturers also market goods in such a manner that makes us throw away the old stuff and buy new stuff. This results in overconsumption. The fashion industry is a perfect example of making us fall into the Diderot effect. We buy clothes not just to protect us but as a means of self-expression and show. Fashion keeps changing and we keep buying new clothes and accessories to keep up with latest fashion trends.

The Diderot effect results in our bank balance going down and us getting trapped in over consumerism.

Here are some tips to avoid falling into the Diderot Effect trap 

1) You should avoid unnecessary buying or consumption. You should buy what you need and not satisfy all your wants.

2) You should not let materialism dominate your life. You should live your life with a sense of purpose and be involved in things that give you peace of mind and happiness. You should not let buying of new things and possessions define your self-worth and status in society.

3) When you feel you are buying more than you need, check the cost implications. If you are going to buy things like a belt, handbag and shoes to match the new outfit, calculate the total expenditure involved before buying. You will realise that you are wasting money.

4) You can set limits on yourself if you feel you are falling in the Diderot effect trap. You can set a monetary limit on new purchases or different expenditure categories. You should buy new gadgets that work well or sync well with existing gadgets like chargers and cables. If you really want the new phone launched, you should set a constraint on yourself that you will gift yourself that phone next Diwali or on your birthday. This helps in curbing consumption.

5) Stick with the PLAN.

There is nothing wrong in wanting good things in life or having a well-coordinated wardrobe or home. But this should not make us consume unnecessarily and feel good only when we possess more and more. We should strike the right balance so that we satisfy our needs by consuming optimally, do not go into a  drive to possess more and more material things and save money and use it to improve our financial status.

There is a difference between lifestyle & quality of life – choose wisely.

Take some time to reflect on your buying behaviour in the last couple of months. Do you think you were a victim of the Diderot effect? Let me know how you want to change this behaviour.


  1. Hello Sir,

    Thanks for the article. Is it easy to stop this effect/habit if it is part of us from childhood?

  2. Hi Hemant,

    Good one and eye open article. If we think at so micro level before buying anything,it will stop to buy unnecessary. Really it’s a learning for me.


  3. You always come up with something unique and one can easily sense and identify themselves with the content. Good work buddy.

  4. Well written article.

    Your guidance requested on subjects : Mutual Funds Invest, Direct Equity



    • Dear Mr Gupta,
      We regularly write on MF. Direct equity is a complex animal & we don’t want to confuse our readers.

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