Overcome the Consumption Spiral

You spent a couple of days this weekend painting one of your rooms and now everything looks old and tired against the freshly painted walls. Some new furniture would definitely improve things. Maybe a new rug, too. Art for the walls? Maybe a large screen TV …

Have you ever found yourself trapped in this spiral of consumption? Where, after making one purchase or making a change to something, your (old) things pale in comparison and you find yourself wanting to purchase more and more to match up?

These reactive purchases are known as the Diderot Effect, a psychological tendency know as “Want Spending”. This can cause you to spend money needlessly, eroding your hard-earned savings.

Try these ideas to help you master the Diderot Effect by curating, eliminating, and focusing on the things that matter.

  • Reduce exposure: Avoid the habits that trigger your spending
  • Buy items that fit your current system: Purchase items that work with what you already own
  • Set self-imposed limits: Live a carefully constrained life
  • Buy one, give one: For every item you buy, eliminate one
  • Go one month without buying something new: The more you restrict yourself, the more resourceful you become
  • Let go of wanting things: Wanting is just an option, not a need. Instead, be grateful for what you have.

The impulsive buying syndrome was inspired by the life of the French philosopher Denis Diderot. He was the co-founder and writer of Encyclopédie. Catherine the Great, the Empress of Russia, heard how he and his daughter were struggling to make ends meet. So, she bought his entire library for GBP 1,000, i.e., USD 50,000 in 2015. Instead of saving the money, Diderot spent it all on redecorating his house just to match a newly purchased scarlet robe.

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