Thursday, 10 September 2020

Oh Denis, Denis... be doo

Debbie Harry always pronounced it the French way [Den-nee, not Den-niss] but I don't know which particular Frenchman she loved. I wonder if it was Denis Diderot, the philosopher who lived from 1713-8? Personally I am not greatly enamoured of his ideas, but there is one thing he has contributed to the debate during Zero Waste Week.

The Diderot Effect

Basically, this says "the acquisition of a new possession creates a spiral of consumption which leads us to acquire more things.As a result, we end up buying things which our previous selves never need to feel happy or fulfilled"

I buy a pair of trousers. Now I need a new top to go with them. But my shoes are the wrong heel height, so I buy new shoes...

A man buys a new bicycle. He decided his lycra cycle gear looks scruffy, so he buys another set. Then he thinks his padlock is inadequate...

A child gets a new backpack for the start of term. But her lunchbox doesn't match. And then she realises her water bottle is a different colour too...

You get the idea. It can be particularly noticeable with furnishings. The new sofa makes the old rug look tired, and then the curtains just look all wrong...And in all these situations, the 'old' gets discarded because it no longer pleases us. New 'needs' emerge.

In Zero Waste Week, I am concentrating this year less on the "don't throw it away thoughtlessly" - but more on "don't buy it in the first place, without considering if it is really necessary"

Diderot wrote of coming into money, buying a fancy new dressing gown, and finding the rest of his possessions seemed tawdry."I was master of my old dressing gown - but have become a slave to my new one"

It is too easy to do this when food shopping - if I buy the fresh bread, I might buy butter, good paté and interesting cheese to go with it... and end up with stuff going to waste in the fridge because it didn't get eaten whilst it was still fresh. 

Have you ever fallen victim to this effect?


  1. No as a matter fact I haven't. Being born in the 1950s is a good antidote to this sort of human behaviour and stays with you, fortunately. Not being materialistic also helps. One can lead a good and fulfilled life with very few material possessions. But I am sure you know that.

  2. Yes, I suppose I have, from time to time. I bought a desk top computer (before laptops became common) because my daughter needed a computer for her school work once she started middle school (going to the library every evening became hard to do) and I felt the need to get a proper computer desk for it and a proper mouse pad (after using a magazine for some time). We decided to take dance classes and that required special costumes and shoes and a bag in which to carry the stuff (although I sewed the bag). I now have a desk top computer that no longer works and ballet shoes that don't get worn!

  3. I have been thinking about Diderot over Lockdown, but for slightly different reasons. I love his idea that the ideal age in the history of (wo)man was when (s)he came out of the savage forests and lived in small, properly civilised communities, self sustaining but not yet commercially corrupt. I was wondering then if the quieter, more environmentally responsible life of Lockdown would have lasting effects. Presumably one dressing gown lasted a lifetime in the village, maybe even was passed on! My winter dressing gown was one of my mother's when she tired of it. So maybe I have the Diderot effect hanging on the bathroom radiator!

    1. He had some interesting (and some crazy) ideas. Maintaining a sense of community has been really hard for some people during lockdown. I've been grateful for the support of good friends in my church family. Dressing gowns should be bought to last, they are " comfort garments" in troubled times

  4. Interesting and definitely something I have fallen victim to! Mainly in the clothing stakes because I find a lovely comfy pair of trousers and then I worry what would happen if I ruin them and want to buy a back up pair. Or something stupid of that ilk. Funnily enough though, I really don't buy new dressing gowns or pyjamas. Any new ones I've got have been presents almost. My bathrobe came from my Mum about 12 years ago, my teal bamboo dressing gown was one my Mum bought for herself with matching Pyjamas and found uncomfortable (I've had them for 4 years), short fleece one which I wear as a bed jacket if reading and cold. Then I have Aunty Norma's Japanese kimono which she gave me 2nd hand when I was about 12 and finally, a cream silk Paisley one I bought for 50p at the North Dean fete at Music Camp about 9 years ago when I had forgotten to take my one with me. I'm glad I bought it as I wore it on the day of my wedding for my Wedding prep photos!
    But yes, considering whether the item is really needed is So so important. As you know, I have way too much stuff! I've found some creative ways to share things with others but definitely need to work on reduction and not buying more, even if it is second hand.


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