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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” (Forbes).

Here are some modern day examples of the Diderot Effect in real life today…(exerpt from the author’s webpage on

  • You buy a new dress and now you have to get shoes and earrings to match.
  • You buy a CrossFit membership and soon you’re paying for foam rollers, knee sleeves, wrist wraps, and paleo meal plans.
  • You buy your kid an American Girl doll and find yourself purchasing more accessories than you ever knew existed for dolls.
  • You buy a new couch and suddenly you’re questioning the layout of your entire living room. Those chairs? That coffee table? That rug? They all gotta go.

Point of Clarification Through a Stewardship/Biblical Lens – If you buy nice things, that does NOT necessarily make you a sinful person. However, just because you CAN buy something, doesn’t mean you SHOULD, because there is great risk of spiraling out of control with your purchases. There is a risk of becoming possessed by your possessions.


Why Do We Want Things We Don’t Need?

“[Diderot] wrote that there was ‘no more coordination, no more unity, no more beauty’ between his elegant robe and the rest of his stuff.” – Atomic Habits, pg 73


What are some of the key reasons why people may buy things they don’t necessarily need…

Psychological factors: Many buying decisions are driven by psychological factors such as boredom, emotions, social pressures, or personal desires. People might make impulsive purchases to satisfy immediate gratification or seek emotional comfort. 

Social influence: Moreso today than any other time in history, people are often influenced by their social circles and the desire to fit in or keep up with others. They may feel compelled to buy certain items to meet social expectations or maintain a certain lifestyle. This can lead to purchasing goods or services that are not essential but are seen as status symbols or symbols of belonging.  And in doing this, the Diderot Effect snowball of purchases kicks into high gear!

Sales and discounts: The perception of a good deal or a limited-time offer can lead people to make purchases they otherwise wouldn’t consider (E.G. Amazon Lightning Deal etc…). The fear of missing out (FOMO) on a bargain can override the rational assessment of whether the item is genuinely necessary.

Retail therapy: People today are meeting some sort of inward pressure/desire/loss though engaging in shopping as a means of mood enhancement and/or stress relief. The act of buying something new can provide temporary feelings of happiness or excitement, even if the purchase is not practical or necessary in the long run.  And again, this leads to the snowball Diderot Effect of getting other things that “would match” what you just got.

Lack of self-control: Impulse buying often occurs when individuals struggle with self-control or have weak decision-making skills. They may succumb to immediate desires without carefully evaluating their needs or considering the consequences. Later on we will discuss the “30 Day Shopping List” that may benefit some of our listeners.

Marketing and persuasion techniques: Companies invest significant resources in creating persuasive advertisements and employing various marketing strategies to encourage people to buy their products. In 2021 alone there was just short of 300B spent on advertising and marketing in North America!  These marketing persuasions can tap into human psychology and create a sense of urgency, desire and/or “need” for items that are not essential.


Many of us today process our “THINGS” this way…

  • We want COMFORT/NICE – I want to feel good…things that match, things that look like they fit the rest of the stuff around them. 
  • Or we want COMPLETE/MORE – the desire to have a complete set, not just one bobble head (I want them ALL). 
  • We want to COMPETE/LOOK GOOD – in doing this, we cross many boundaries in that process of “keeping up with Joneses”.
  • Or it could just blatantly be…Covetousness/jealousy. And when we play this card (internally) we fly in the face of Scripture about being content in all circumstances, and coveting what our “neighbor” has

Luke 12:15 – “Then He said to them, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.”


How Do We Fight The Diderot Effect in our Own Lives?

See more:

  • Overcome ‘want’ & learn contentment. 
    • Psalm 23 – The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not…WANT.
    • Philip. 4:11 – I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content…
  • Reduce your exposure – Eliminate the triggers that could cause you to overspend.
    • People – Materialistic friends or family
    • Places – Shopping (Amazon, Ebay, etc…LOG OUT of apps so it makes it a little harder to just jump into “shopping mode”)
    • Propaganda – Commercials, Slick marketing, promotional emails, etc.
    • Programs – Media programs (Fixer Upper, QVC, late night infomercials…)
  • Work within your own constraints – Don’t buy things that would require you to “upgrade your whole system”
    • Try to count the “cost” of what seems to be a simple upgrade, but may have a domino effect of replacements or upgrades.
    • Commit to not ever having a monthly storage unit payment for stuff that is not worth the annual cost of the rental unit!
  • Set limits for yourself – Create boundaries that you are not willing to expand outside of.
    • Have a “shopping list” that you put things on…and do not make a purchase of the item unless it is on your list for 30 days or more.
    • Use (and stick to) a budget.
    • Put a “stop here” pledge in remodeling projects for the year.  Come back to it in the next year and then make a decision if more remodeling/updating is needed, necessary or wanted.  Shut down the snowball effect early on!
  • Increase Generosity – Giving breaks the power of money in your life!
    • Eccl 1:2 – Meaningless! Meaningless! says the Teacher.  “Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless.
    • Eccl 2:11Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.
    • Acts 20:35b“It is more blessed to give than to receive”

In Diderot’s own words, “Let my example teach you a lesson. Poverty has its freedoms; opulence has its obstacles.”


Stewardship Application

Luke 14:28–30“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’”

COUNT THE COSTS!  Whether it is a small project, or a large project, assess the costs! Living life with the Diderot Effect kept unchecked potentially can cause a financial spiral and even debt (if not planned for). If married, come up with a limit, or a plan with your spouse.  The goal should be progress toward completion, not completion no matter what the financial cost!


Next Steps


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