The Diderot Effect

I learned about The Diderot Effect while reading James Clear‘s book Atomic Habits to earn my Institute for Challenging Disorganization Level II Time Management and Productivity Specialist Certificate. Denis Diderot, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, was a French philosopher in the 1700s who explored a huge range of social, political and scientific issues of his day. One of his most personal observations concerned materialism.

Diderot was deeply, desperately poor for most of his adult life. Poor enough that, later in his existence, he sold his library, a cherished collection, to raise money to live on. But WOW, he was well-liked: Catherine the Great of Russia bought it and she paid A LOT. So Diderot went from barely scraping by to pretty-darn-well-off. One of his first actions after coming into a bunch of loot – he let himself buy a gorgeous, thick, luxurious new bathrobe to replace a really ratty one – I’m with him, I love warm, snuggle-into-and-you-can-barely-unwrap-yourself bathrobes! He talked about this in an essay “Regrets on Parting with my Old Dressing Gown; or, A Warning to Those who Have More Taste Than Money” (1964/1772). I’m grateful to for what seems to be a reliable translation from the French.


He noticed two things about this new bit of finery: (1) Suddenly, wearing this new robe, he was a new man. And that wasn’t necessarily positive. (2) And nothing else in the house was now good enough – everything was shabby, rickety, and just wouldn’t do. So he went on a spending spree. Canadian anthropologist Grant David McCracken qualified the phenomena in his book Culture and Consumption.


Understand as many of your motives for buying things as you possibly can. Materialism is sneaky.






About Lauren Williams

Lauren Williams, Certified Professional Organizer®, Certified Virtual Professional Organizer®

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