Why We Want What We Don’t Need
Do we need it or want it? I read this great article by James Clear called “The Diderot Effect: Why We Want Things We Don’t Need — And What to Do About It”.
The gist of the story is about a man named Denis Diderot who was a famous French philosopher that lived nearly his entire life in poverty. When his daughter was about to be married, and he couldn’t afford to provide a dowry, a wealthy female emperor of Russia bought his entire library from him, allowing him to keep the library and continue writing. With his new income Diderot acquired a new scarlet robe.
The robe was so beautiful that it seemed out of place with all of the rest of his common possession. In his words, there was “no more coordination, no more unity, no more beauty” between his robe and the rest of his items. The philosopher soon felt the urge to buy some new things to match the beauty of his robe.
He replaced his old rug with a new one from Damascus. Then he decorated his home with beautiful sculptures and a better kitchen table. Next he bought a new mirror to place above the mantle and his “straw chair was relegated to the antechamber by a leather chair.”
The Diderot Effect
These reactive purchases have become known as the Diderot Effect.
The Diderot Effect states that obtaining a new possession often creates a spiral of consumption which leads you to acquire more new things. As a result, we end up buying things that our previous selves never needed to feel happy or fulfilled.
We live in a society that is inundated with a stifling number of choices of products. You and I are inundated with product advertising trying to convince us of all the things we should buy, most of which we ultimately don’t need. How often do we hear ‘buy it now, pay later’ as we become more and more inundated with the need for the convenience to ‘get it now’? Live for today and don’t worry about tomorrow. If we don’t have enough income, that’s OK, our credit card just raised our credit limit to $100,000!
James said that life has a natural tendency to become filled with more. We are rarely looking to downgrade, to simplify, to eliminate, to reduce. Our natural inclination is always to accumulate, to add, to upgrade, and to build upon.
In the words of sociology professor Juliet Schor, “the pressure to upgrade our stock of stuff is relentlessly unidirectional, always ascending.” [“The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don’t Need” by Juliet Schor. Chapter 6.] James suggests in his article that we evaluate ways we can avoid the Diderot effect by carefully evaluating what we have, reducing ourselves to exposure to buy more, set limits on what you need, try to update and get by with what you have rather than buying something new, shop thrifty, and eliminate some old things when you buy new things.
I believe in living within your means and staying out of debt. Debt is bondage and interest never sleeps.
J. Rueben Clark – “It is a rule . . . in all the world that interest is to be paid on borrowed money. May I say something about interest? Interest never sleeps nor sickens nor dies; it never goes to the hospital; [interest] works on Sundays and holidays; it never takes a vacation; [interest] never visits nor travels . . . it has no love, no sympathy; [interest] is as hard and soulless as a granite cliff. Once in debt, interest is your companion every minute of the day and night; you cannot shun it or slip away from it; you cannot dismiss it; it yields neither to entreaties, demands nor orders; and whenever you get in its way or cross its course or fail to meet its demands, it crushes you.”
We can’t enjoy our possessions under these circumstances. If we carefully evaluate the purchases we make we can enjoy our possession within reason. Meaning within the bounds of good sense or practicality. For instance, do we need a special kitchen gadget or appliance for everything? Or can we multi-purpose with utensils we already have?
I got interested in making yogurt a few years ago. I researched yogurt makers and various recipes and methods of making yogurt. Initially I wasn’t sure how easy it would be, or if I would even like it. I discovered that I like it very much and make a batch at least once a month. I’m very glad I didn’t buy a yogurt maker for several reasons. 1. the cost. 2. takes up space I don’t have. 3. it works great to use the simple oven method using a 2 quart glass measuring bowl that is useful for other tasks. I have also had appliances in the past that haven’t worked for me, like a rice cooker, when it’s just easier to cook it in a pan on the stove.
There are exceptions. I don’t drink coffee, but if I did, a coffee maker would be more practical, and save more money than getting convenience coffee on the go. Even though a person can make dough in other ways, I have worn out 2 bread machines using them to just make dough. They are worth it to me. We just need to weigh out what appliances will get us the most mileage for the price we pay for them.
Less is More
We often hear that statement, but what does it really mean? In an article written by Tony Reno he gives the meaning from a book he read written by Joe Dominquez. He said less is more:
Because everything requires maintenance. That summer home, the boat in the garage, the extra car rarely just sit there quietly being ready when you need them. They rust, rot, get attacked by insects and pranksters. Everything you own represents a responsibility to maintain it. Each of these responsibilities eat into your time. There is a word for how much you need. It’s enough. Less is more because less is easier to maintain.
The Minimalists wrote an article about this on their website, and I thought their prospective was good.
Is less really more? If so, is more actually less? We suggest the answer to both is yes.
Owning less stuff, focusing on fewer tasks, and having less in the way has given us more time, more freedom, and more meaning in our lives. Working less allows us to contribute more, grow more, and pursue our passions much more.
Having more time causes less frustration and less stress, more freedom adds less anxiety and less worry, and more meaning in our lives allows us to focus far less on life’s excess in favor of what’s truly important.
So, more is less? Yes, more or less.
Learning from Others
I like watching HGTV. One of the programs on there is Tiny House Hunters. It’s one of the latest trends gaining popularity. It really intrigues me how compactly and minimally people can live. Their reasons for wanting a tiny house are very good reasons. Many of them would rather spend less time at a job paying for possessions, and more time spent doing things. For others it gives them the freedom to move around with their work, or where they want to go.
The key is obviously balance. Find the balance in your life between what is enough and what is too much. I didn’t think it was bad, once given the means to do so, for Denis Diderot to improve his living quarters with new rugs and furniture, or buying some new apparel. We are meant to enjoy life, and often it can really put a spring in your step and a smile on your face to see a new colorful rug on your floor. Or to buy a new outfit. The problem only comes when we are being excessive, because then those not so great feelings enter in.
I really admire people who are generous. I have a daughter that is generous almost to a fault, but it tickles me to watch her kindness trickle out on others. Sharing what we have with others comes back to us in huge benefits. There is probably no better way to spend money than spending it to help someone else.
I have learned that hanging onto things I really wasn’t using or didn’t need, only led to their deterioration or waste after a long period of time. It’s much better to give the stuff away while it’s still good so it can go to benefit someone else. The bonus is that taking the excess out of your closet gives you much needed organization. Simplicity that can reduce feelings of being overwhelmed, or stressing when you can’t find what you need.
What do you think of the Diderot effect?