Diderot and his red robe

Remember Mr. Diderot and His Red Robe Before You Head out Shopping

The eighteenth-century French philosopher Denis Diderot wrote an essay entitled “Regrets on Parting with My Old Dressing Gown.” It seems someone gave Diderot an exquisite gift. Diderot was so happy to get a new red dressing gown, (not something your typical guy today would get too excited about, but remember this was the 1700s), that he promptly threw his old one away.

Diderot and his red robe

 Curiously, he hadn’t noticed how tattered the old gown was because it had become comfortable and blended into his surroundings.

The contrast between the new scarlet gown and everything else in his study was startling. While Diderot was wearing the gown, he couldn’t stop noticing the threadbare tapestries, the worn chair, and the beat-up bookcases.

Piece by piece he replaced everything with something more closely suited to the elegance of his robe. Diderot closes his essay regretting ever receiving the scarlet robe that forced everything else into conformity.

In these last few days before Christmas, it’s quite likely you and I will be visited by the “Diderot Effect.” Thoughts are storming my mind even as I write and count gifts, review the way things look, and anticipate the days ahead.

Is everything even? Did I manage the same number of gifts for every person?

What if my gifts don’t match or outdo those I will receive? I must re-buy!

Oh, no! The stockings aren’t filled as well as in previous years.

What if I run out of Cinnamon Rolls?!

Kohl’s just announced a sale on Saturday like none other ever offered in the history of the world! I must get there … I must!

The guest room looks a little “off!” New pillows—must get new pillows!

My shoes are going to look dorky with my new Christmas Eve outfit!

Etc., etc., etc., … !

I can’t blame my weakness on Denis (although that would be handy). On the contrary, he and his essay have gone a long way to help me come up with a plan to counter feelings of inadequacy and panic that can so easily creep into my heart and mind.


I’ve come to know myself well enough that no matter how much I spend, no matter how much I do, those feelings and thoughts are certain to revisit me as the event nears. And invariably they do. I plan for them so the feelings and thoughts do not surprise me when they show up.


This is it—my powerful weapon to destroy that Diderot effect. I parent myself. I do! I sit myself down and then give myself a little talking to.

What you bought/made was perfect when you bought/made it, right? Nothing has changed there! It is still right, so just shut up! I don’t want to hear you whine about this anymore! 

Tell me the last time you ever walked into any guest room anywhere and stopped short because the pillows were just slightly “off?” Exactly! Now put that thought out of your mind forever. I’m so sick of your stupid obsession over problems that simply do not exist!

Kohl’s? Are you freakin’ kidding me? Who in her right mind would ever consider showing up there on the Saturday before Christmas?! That’s a disaster just waiting to happen. Give yourself a break. Sleep in, lounge over a cup of coffee, and hit “play” on that Christmas movie you haven’t had two seconds to watch. 

Let’s review, shall we? Tell me even one inadequacy from the past that you worried yourself sick over, that EVER came to pass? Have you EVER had a guest that refused to return for lack of appropriate anything?! See? You are so offbase here and you know what? You’re making me exhausted with so much fake stuff that doesn’t exist, and will never happen. So just Cut. It. Out!!

(Remember, it’s just me and myself so I can get away was that kind of talk)

Time travel

Mentally transporting myself to say, Dec. 26 is quite possibly my best counterattack of all. I close my eyes and envision myself and my surroundings after all the gifts have been opened, the meals consumed, the guests have said goodbye, and all the decorations are put away for another year. I visualize my bank account, the promise of spring. All of that!

Without exception, my mind goes to everything lovely … the joy on my kids’ faces. The way my husband beamed over our Christmas meal. How amazing our kids have become, their beautiful spouses; our adorable our grandsons. How much fun it was to stay up nearly all night telling stories and catching up. And on and on it goes.

Using my Diderot tactic outlined above, I have never once wished I’d spent more, wrapped more, cooked more, surprised more, done more.

As I close, I can assure you I’ve gone through a bit of anticipating and self-talking this morning already. And now I am basking in the forecast.

A most beautiful holiday is predicted—clear and sunny all the way! And judging by my weather app, that is also the kind of weather predicted for northern Colorado.

We’ll hope for a white Christmas, next year.

Question: Have you ever experienced the Diderot Effect?


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4 replies
  1. Ann says:

    Your article on Mr. Diderot was meaningful and helpful to me. It addresses dealing with anxieties and worries on many levels. Of course I was trying to apply Biblical teachings concerning casting all my care on the Lord, and that His peace would guard my heart. Your article was as a parable to me from the Lord of how worry creeps in, and then how to deal with it by paying attention and using our self-talk.
    Thank you. It really helped and I don’t want to forget.

  2. Beth Sherrill says:

    holiday stress imposed by ourselves, and society make what should be an enjoyable season difficult, add. grief, poverty and health issues, and the whole thing is just too much

  3. jill says:

    This may be the best thing I’ve read about Christmas preparation, shopping, cooking, decorating and all the associated anxiety! THANK YOU and merry Christmas to you and those you love best.

  4. Teri says:

    I was chuckling reading this article because, as I was scrolling through it, every tempting ad was popping up and trying to capture my attention. You have done a great job of helping us keep everything in perspective this Christmas….Thanks Mary and have a joyous Christmas with your family xox


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