In the 18th century, a French writer named Denis Diderot received a gift: a beautiful scarlet dressing gown.
The fabric was gorgeous. The colors were rich. The craftsmanship was spectacular.
Diderot immediately threw his tattered old gown away. He didn’t need it anymore. His new gown was breathtaking.
Of course, he needed to make a few extra purchases to accommodate that gown. In the past, if one of his books was covered with dust, he’d simply use his old gown as a rag. But he couldn’t wipe away dust with his beautiful new gown. He’d need to buy some dust rags.
When there was excess ink on his pen, he used his old gown to wipe it clear. He couldn’t do that with the new gown. He’d need to buy handkerchiefs, or perhaps he’d need better pens.
But those are small purchases, right? A small price to pay to maintain such a beautiful gown … right?
Diderot began to notice that the rest of his home looked shabby in comparison to the gown. His drapes were threadbare and faded, in contract to the rich colors of the gown. He’d need to replace them.
He often sat in a straw chair. He didn’t want the gown to snag on the fibers. His gown looked silly on such a cheap old chair, anyway. He bought a chair upholstered in rich Moroccan leather, with colors that suited the scarlet tones of his gown.
He spent most of his day sitting at his desk, wearing the gown. But the gown didn’t match the rickety desk. It would be the 18th-century equivalent of wearing a crisp Armani suit while sitting at a beat-up Walmart desk. So Diderot purchased an expensive new desk.
Once he had that desk, though, his paintings looked amateurish and faded. He needed more exquisite art on his walls, art that matched the desk and drapes.
Soon, Diderot plunged into debt.
Fast-Forward to the 21st Century …
You buy a new home. Now you need new furniture to fill that home.
You buy a nice car. Now you need professional car washes and nicer hubcaps.
You buy a beautiful shirt. But you don’t have jeans or a blazer to match.
You have an iPad, but you need a case. Preferably a nice one.
Your home has a huge lawn, which you need to landscape. That costs two weeks’ pay …
You found great shoes, but they don’t really coordinate with anything else in your closet ….
So you jump on an “escalator.” You upsell yourself. It’s called the Diderot Effect.
So What Happened to Diderot?
Diderot wrote an essay outlining his regret. His beautiful scarlet gown had become a curse, not a blessing.
He missed his faded, tattered robe, he wrote. Its folds fit comfortably around his body. Its dust-and-ink stains reflected the life of “a writer, a man who works.”
“I was absolute master of my old dressing gown,” Diderot said, “but I have become a slave to my new one.”
Like This Post? Want More?
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- Or Try Money Doesn’t Buy Stuff, It Buys Choices
Thanks to Notions Capital for today’s photo.