Beware the Diderot Effect..

Do you ever buy one thing, say a jacket, kitchen appliance, or piece of furniture, and it just needs a few more things to complete it? 

“Wow, these nice shoes need some pants, and look, there’s a perfect shirt for it too! “ 

Boom, a simple purchase of a pair of shoes lead to two more items. 

Yes, this experience is very common, and it seems like we all experience it. There must be a scientific name for this seemingly universal experience?

Well, not quite a scientific name, but one of the first written observations of this was an essay, “Regrets for my Old Dressing Gown”written by Denis Diderot, an 18th century French philosopher. His humble, well worn dressing gown was replaced by a much nicer new one, which led to Diderot redecorating most of his house.

Friends, this is the Diderot Effect. 

My favorite highlights:

My old robe was one with the other rags that surrounded me. A straw chair, a wooden table, a rug from Bergamo, a wood plank that held up a few books, a few smoky prints without frames, hung by its corners on that tapestry.

Between these prints three or four suspended plasters formed, along with my old robe, the most harmonious indigence.

All is now discordant. No more coordination, no more unity, no more beauty.

…There was a vacant corner next to my window. This corner asked for a writing desk, which it obtained.

After he spent on unneeded luxury:

…With time all debts will be paid, remorse will be calmed and I will have pure joy. Don’t fear that the mad desire to stock up beautiful things has taken control of me.

Inspired by his new gown, Diderot replaced most of his shabby, but comfortable household décor with newer, improved items, and it caused him enough anguish to write a lengthy essay about it.

Certainly, we see this happening in our current lives. A new home needs new furniture, appliances, window treatments, etc. Or does it?

I’m sure many clothing retailers have mastered the Diderot Effect in order to increase their sales.

One, I know from experience, is the Men’s Wearhouse. I’ve popped in there to buy ONE navy blue sportcoat, and the pretty young lady will put out three coordinating shirts and ties, showing that I now have nine different combinations. It’s so easy!  They are very good at this.

Do I give in to these great suggestions? Hmm, to an extent… I already have plenty of ties, but I usually grab a shirt or two.

How about you?  Has the Diderot Effect cursed your household into unneeded extravagant spending?  The new Tiffany lamp clashing with your 5 year old IKEA furniture?

What about the opposite of the Diderot effect? Can we flip it on its head? I think getting rid of one item can spur parting with more items?  How about for you? 

Just comment below and share your thoughts and experiences! 

What happens when you declutter alone? (Based on a true story)


So you’re excited to declutter by yourself… Awesome. 

This is how it went for me.

After being inspired by few episodes of a reality show like Clean House, I’m all ready to tackle and transform from a cluttered house into a cleared out, clutter-free one in an hour.  JUST LIKE THE SHOW!

Gee, where do I start? Well, I live in a two story town-home, three stories if you count the garage.

Ok. Let’s start with the top floor, and in my bedroom closet. It’s got a bunch of stuff in there, clothes, papers, anything that I threw in there to sort of “clean up”.

Um, I’ll start with my clothes, I guess.

Let’s see. I go from left to right.

Wow I sure have a lot of silly t-shirts that I never wear. Giveaways, promos, and a bunch in size XL that are too big for me now. I lost some weight last year.

Ok, I’ll take those, and get rid of them.

The “Pile” begins…

So there’s some white t-shirts, some green ones, some blue ones. - I’ll toss those in pile.

Wow, this is fun!

I grab all my pants. Hmmm, having 4 pairs of jeans is a bit much. I’ll get rid of two.

Alright! I’m doing great.

These old khakis.. GONE! Ugh, with pleats too. Never a good fashion choice.

Oh yeah, here’s another pile of t-shirts I forgot in the bottom of the closet. . I haven’t looked at these in years.  What is this? “National Semiconductor Company Picnic 1994”? Wow, I really need to stop holding on to stuff.

Wait, am I dealing with shirts or pants right now?

Uh, both, I guess.

Pants are hanging in there randomly, between jackets, shirts, some sweaters.

It’s all kinda mixed up, and I never really organized it from the beginning.

I’m not really sure how to go about this.

I’ll just go one item at a time. Shirt. Pants. Sweater. Pants. One. By. One.


I don’t care. I’ll get through this mess.

The brown dress shirt - Gone!

How did I ever buy that? Must’ve seen it in some magazine.

What’s next, oh the grey wool vneck sweater? Hmm, I haven't seen that in years!

With it being mushed in between the old jacket I never wear, and the Halloween costume from 3 years ago.

I love that sweater, I’m totally going to wear it again.

Let me admire it for a minute… I won’t slow down. Too much.

Nice, I think it will still fit perfectly.

I slip it on. pull it down to my waist.

It fits GREAT! I’m so happy to find this again.

Ok, back to work. Wow, has it been a half hour already? And all I have is a pile of clothes?

Let me take off this old sweater and get crackin’.

AWWW MAN!! The sweater has a bunch of moth holes in it.

Totally ruined. I’m bummed.

I run my fingers through it, and remember the first time I wore it. At least five people gave me a compliment.

Now, I’d look like a bum.

Wow, it’s been 35 minutes since I started.

I throw the old Halloween costume, the v neck sweater, and jacket on the “The Pile”.

I’m back at it. Furiously pulling stuff of the rack. I’m annoyed and stressed.
How could I let my stuff get ruined like that?!

Anyways, now I finish throwing all my clothes in a huge pile on my bed

Now I’m creating a separate piles for stuff I want to give away or keep.

After another 15 minutes, the “donate” pile and “keep” piles have overtaken my bedroom.

Ok, I need to put the donate stuff in something, to carry them somewhere.

Hmm, where are the good heavy duty trash bags?

I’ll just grab the kitchen trash bags down stairs.

I start filling the up.

One Bag, Filled, stuffed in fact.

Second bag, filled, just as stuffed.

Ok, I’ll just carry these downstairs.

Wow, these bags aren’t very strong.. they’re starting to stretch and tear open.

they’re not big enough either. I’m going to need a bunch of them.

And I only have 8 bags left. I should have thought about that.

I run back upstairs.

Fill up two more bags… and run back down stairs to get more bags.

Ok, it’s been an hour and a half... and I’ve only tackled my closet!

I still have a bunch of clothes in the dresser.

I’ll hang back up the clothes I’m keeping.

Maybe I should have some sort of order.

Ok, Pants on the left.. then shirts, then jackets, then ties… oh man, do I even wear ties anymore?

I still have a huge pile of clothes to give away, so I’m filling those up again.

I’ve used up six bags, and I only have four left.

I fill up three more bags with clothes, and lug them down.. the straps are cutting into my hands, and are about to rip from the bags, they’re so heavy.  

I make it down, and now I haul all my bags Ahh, that feels so good. I’m loving this!

Man, I need to go to the store though. I’m totally going to run out of bags soon.

Time to go  through my dresser so I can wrap up the clothes decluttering for today.

I’ll start at the bottom.

Hmm, some old socks, computer cables, old toiletries, magazines, even some old books.

What the hell? I’ve forgotten about all this crap!

I only want to deal with one thing at a time!

Here’s an old laptop charger.. that was from three laptops ago… Fine, I’ll get rid of it.. but will goodwill take it? Where do I take old computer crap?

And look at this pile of cables, old digital cameras, memory cards, an external hard drive, a friggin Iomega Zip drive!

Crap.. I forgot about all this stuff… the charity won’t want all this stuff.. can I just  throw it away?

I read somewhere about electronic waste recycling. Do they pick it up? Or do I drop it off somewhere?

I fire up my not obsolete yet laptop, search on ewaste recycling.

Ok, so the city has a program, and I need to schedule a drop off date. Ok, fine.

Ugh, I need to log in, give them my address, email, then they’ll schedule me in.

Wait, not until Wednesday? It’s Saturday,  I want to be done by tomorrow!


Ok, I found another place I can drop off without an appointment.

Damn, it’s only open until 1 on Saturdays.

I just started, and it’s already noon, and I’m not even supposed to be going through my old  electronics yet.

Maybe I can donate them on Monday? Great, it’s only open to 4pm on weekdays.. I won’t have time during lunch or after work to drop them off.

Well, let me get back to the clothes.

I toss the electronics to the side, making a huge mess.

Holy crap.. why do I have so many coaxial cables? Ugh.

I go up one more drawer. That has all my old t-shirts, long sleeve tops, and hats.

HOLY CRAP! My old Public Enemy sweatshirt and shirt from over twenty five years ago! It might be worth something. Should I sell it*? eBay? Craigslist? It's in great condition. All my friends from back in the day will give me crap if I don't keep it.

Wow, I haven’t worn a bunch of these in years.

Let me try on this University of Florida “Tim Tebow” t-shirt. Whoo, it smells like a thrift store.

I guess that’s what happens when I don’t wear it for 6 years. It was a gift anyway.

I’m down to one bag, it’s already almost two hours and I haven’t finished my clothes yet.

I rifle through that drawer quickly, pretty much tossing everything in there, it’s all old, I  wonder why I kept it!

Another bag stuffed! Down to two.

Two soon-to-be-very-stuffed-and-about-to-rip-open bags. Oops.

Well, I’ve been working for close to two hours, and I’ve only gone through the clothes hanging in my closet, and two dresser drawers. Well, only one drawer as I haven’t done anything with the electronics. They’re all in a pile. Arght.

Ok, I need a break.

What’s the tally so far.

Two hours, and eight plastic trash bags filled with old crap.

Can someone just take the bags away? I've decided to get rid of it. Now go away!

How did I accumulate so much stuff?

I pour myself a tall glass of cold water.

AND refill my coffee.. I’m starting to hit a wall.

Really. Two hours in and I feel a bit foggy. Like my head is sluggish, slow, heavy.

If I was crossing the street, I might forget to look both ways.

I sort of don’t care about going on… I’m starting to hate it.

Deep breath.

Let’s think.

Two hours, and I’m not even done with one room.

I'm not cleaning it, or reorganizing.

I'm just getting rid of stuff.

Not to mention just going through my clothes only.

I finish my water.

Reheat my coffee in the microwave.

Hmm. I’m hungry too.

I’ll wait to eat. I’ve hardly accomplished anything so far though. Or I feel like I haven't.

I feel guilty if I stop and take a long break now.

Let’s keep going.

I run back upstairs.

I go over the closet. Look at the pile of obsolete electronics.

Let me go over the final three drawers.

Typical stuff.

Top drawer is socks, undies, and undershirts. I have them in there all haphazardly, without any real way to see them. I don’t know what’s old, what’s new, what can go, what can stay.

Is there a formula for how many boxers I should own?

I start rifling through them. Here’s five that are at least three years old, the elastic is worn out.


I start filling my last of three bags with old and mismatched socks, undies, and yellowed undershirts.

Holy crap… it’s been three hours, and I haven’t finished my bedroom. I’ve only covered 30 square feet, , and I’ve 1,250 more to go… so I guess I’ll be done.. next year?

Back to reality.

This story, while it may seem far fetched, overly dramatic, was true to my personal experience.

The pitfalls with decluttering by yourself are as follows:

  • Too many distractions - It’s too easy to get overwhelmed by one area, so you go to the next.. then get overwhelmed by that one, then move on again..  Next thing you know, you’ve been overwhelmed by three different areas.

  • It goes way slower than expected. As you saw in my experience, it goes incredibly slow on your own.  All the piles building up, then hauling them around. It doesn’t seem like much, but when you are doing EVERYTHING on your own, ALL DAY, it gets very old.

  • Sell? I found a bunch of stuff I wanted to sell, but then I had to deal with putting up the ad, taking pictures, dealing with flakes, negotiators, scammers, and general weirdos on craigslist. That in itself is not a huge ordeal, but it adds another layer of clutter in your mind.

  • Hauling it out. You’re already tired from the emotions of going through your own stuff. Now you have to haul it down stairs, to your car, and drop it off, sell it, or trash it?

  • Getting permission. I’ve found that most of my clients have a hard time getting rid of something that’s “on the fence”, and worried if they get rid of something that's part of a shared experience their friends will be annoyed. I got this alot, "How could you get rid of your Star Wars toys?" (I heard that a few times before I got gave them away)

  • I'd list more, but I don't want to discourage you!

What have we learned here?

Decluttering, if done right and thoroughly,  is going to be an exhausting, time consuming process. To get the dramatic results you need to prepare, plan, and be realistic about the time and energy needed. Otherwise it you will get discouraged. There are many ways to plan it out, and I have my system with clients, but whatever plan you use, stick to it so you don’t lose your mind!

Keep the plan, save your mind.


*I ended up giving away the sweatshirt. I probably could have sold if for around a $100, but I didn't know that at the time. :)

Less stuff leads to more life

Decluttering - It's not your life. It gives you a life.

I’ll be the first to say this, there is no universal path to decluttering the junk in our lives.
Everyone goes about it a bit differently.

Sometimes it's easy to wonder,"Have I attained my true decluttered, simplified ideal yet?"

When will it end?

 Here's the best part -
 There is no finish line.  
 It is no race.

The winner is always yourself.

 As you go along this path (remember, it’s not a race), cutting out the stuff you don't need, love, or find useful,  you are constantly learning more about yourself.
Growing in knowledge and experience.
 How so?
Well, when you get rid of something, it creates a vacuum.
With a vacuum, something needs to fill it. It’s nature’s law. It's up to you what to fill it with.
And guess what?
You don't have to fill it with stuff.
You can fill that vacuum with anything.

  • A sense of calm
  • Sleeping in
  • A new activity

Instead of the stress and expense of maintaining all you extra stuff, you can go for a walk, read a book, visit the beach, even clearing out enough space to sit down and figure out when the bills are due so you don't stress about it anymore.

You have more space to sit down and pay the bills.

You can easily find your walking shoes for that hike.
You know where are the beach towels and picnic basket as they're no longer buried under junk.

You enjoy reading a book in your living room instead of stressing about all that junk in there.

The vacuum can be filled with ideas, trips, or  just being at peace with your environment.

I don’t make the rules. You do.

After I purged my unneeded stuff almost three years ago, I felt a huge sense of freedom, and realized I could rent out my house and live in a different city.  I wanted to live in San Francisco for a long time, but hadn’t made the move.

This had not seemed possible before. I had less stuff weighing me down mentally and physically.

I was open to exploring new ideas. The best part was it only took 30 minutes to load the moving van! Yes, it was moving van, not a big truck.

What have you learned about yourself from decluttering?
I read all the replies so please share!

Declutter Dude Press

I had the honor of guest posting AND a follow up interview on one of my favorite blogs and life coaches, Life In Focus

Alessandra Wall, Psychologist, Coach, and the voice of Life In Focus, and I met at a conference/retreat a while back, and it there was a lot of overlap in our philosophy.  She focuses on helping her clients on what really matters. I help my clients get rid of what doesn't matter.

Here is my guest post, I shared my journey into becoming the Declutter Dude and finding True Wealth. Hint, it's not about money.

There was such a great response Alessandra asked me to do a follow up interview. I was doubly honored and humbled. Dr. Wall's guests are a collection of amazing achievers, but on their own terms. That is very important to my philosophy and approach to life.

I hope you enjoy.

Have you made any big changes in your life or career that was based on being true to your values? Please share in the comments.