Mind the Diderot Effect

Hi Friend,

Melbourne has the salubrious title of most locked-down city in the world. This hasn’t helped our COVID case numbers and I can now say I’ve succumbed to the virus. I’ve been self-isolating for weeks.

Today I went to the shops for the first time in months. Despite the fact that the Australian inflation rate has surged and the regular supermarket shop is noticeably higher than 5 years ago, the beaconing of the consumption machine has not abated. The shops were packed. People were spending BIG.

I guess shopping is a way to brighten our day. Give us that little dopamine hit I talked about last week.

I’ve been thinking back to the relaxed days of lockdown where trackies (tracksuit pants to non Aussies or Kiwis) were de rigour.

Our sense of self-worth is relative to the comparisons we make with our peers, right? But when we were in lockdown we couldn’t see anyone or go anywhere or do anything. I mean, on Zoom you can get away with a lot in terms of grooming (my husband’s hair even post lockdown is a perfect example ;) ).

So, who were we comparing ourselves to during lockdown? I had no idea what my friend was wearing, eating, or doing over text message.

One possible suspect is social media. I think many of us fought the boredom of isolation by mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, TikTok and Instagram reels. It gave us a little bit of a peek inside our heroes’ homes and lives. And, we covet what we see everyday, right Clarice? (That’s a little quote from Silence of the Lambs if it sounds familiar.)

But, that’s not the whole story.

Spending so much time at home, our drab décor, that we hardly concern ourselves with when working 9-5 5 days a week in the office, came into sharp focus during the pandemic. Many of us are still working from home 70%-100% of the time and our environment has a significant impact on our mood.

The soft furnishings market is the fastest growing industry in response to COVID-19 (458%) and it’s not just because we compare our home to Reece Witherspoon’s and want what she’s got. It’s also the Diderot Effect.

What the hell’s the Diderot effect?

Basically the famous but poor philosopher Denis Diderot (1769) suddenly came into some money and thought: “Treat Yo Self!”

Diderot bought a divine scarlet robe. That’s when he started to look around him and saw the shabbiness of the rest of his clothes so he purchased new ones. Then the threadbare chaise lounge needed to be replaced to match the magnificence of the robe and new wardrobe.

Diderot then found himself in a spiral of purchases that left him depressed and right back where he started…poor.

This phenomenon of purchases begetting purchases is alive and well in a suburban home near you. Who hasn’t bought a new couch and then noticed the state of the rug. I know I’ve bought a dress and needed new shoes and a belt to perfect the outfit and then contemplated a matching lipstick and hair accessories.

It isn’t hard to see why our stay-at-home restrictions have taken us down this road and the cause is comparison. Comparing: Our home with famous people’s mansions; Old furniture with new impulse items we bought to ‘cheer’ ourselves up; Our stained tracksuit top with the glamorous Insta Influencer’s athleisure wear (who swears she can change our lives and make us rich).

A uniquely human tendency to make comparisons is what leads us into these purchasing spirals. When we see everyone is more than us, chicer than us, or their homes are cosier than ours, we feel the urge to close that gap.

What we need to do is mind the gap!

If you find yourself at the precipice of one of these whirlpools of consumption, take a breath. Sit back and explore your needs and wants; chances are it’s a want.

If you can slow down, observe yourself and as if you’re a friend (a supportive friend not a nagging spiteful one), give yourself advice about how to deal with these desires for the next best thing.

Remember once the item is in your possessions it’s exponentially harder to let it go and if it’s a replacement for something you already own be prepared for the push-back on letting the old go. It might be “still good” or “worth something” and then you feel guilty using the new when the old would do.

Until next week :)

Jan <3

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