78 rpm record minimalism

The flip side of a stack of 78 rpm records – the Diderot Effect

A stack of 78 rpm records led me to purchase less, be more intentional, and to embrace minimalism. But they also taught me a clear lesson in what is called the Diderot Effect.

A year ago I detailed how discovering a collection of 78 rpm records at a yard sale started me down the path to minimalism. I thought at the time it was ironic that an impulse purchase led me to get rid of three quarters of my possessions.

But as I put those records into the pile for a yard sale, I reflected on how they have continued to be an ironic symbol of the process.

Playing those records reminded me to be slow and intentional. To treasure the actions and results. To do one task. Playing records is more akin to a zen tea ceremony than it is the impulse of hitting play on an iPod.

However, purchasing those records for the bargain price of about 50 cents each meant I was then ‘required’ to purchase a bunch of other items.

This is part of the Diderot Effect. The introduction of a new possession that is deviant from the consumer’s current possession can result in a process of spiraling consumption. I first learned of this from Joshua Becker’s excellent site Becoming Minimalist.

Here’s how it was expressed for me.

  • I bought over 100 78 rpm records from a yard sale = $55
  • Though I had been given a record player, it didn’t play 78s so I ‘had to’ buy one = $60
  • The records ‘needed’ sleeves instead of the dusty booklets they were in = $24
  • Once they were in sleeves, I ‘needed’ a storage solution = $20
  • Discovered that 78s destroy modern record needles (oops) = $3

Those records at 50 cents each quickly spiraled into triple the original cost!

As time went on, I found that I wasn’t listening to them that often. Every few months I would play a few, but honestly, as pleasantly intentional as it is to play records, it’s a bit tedious to get up to switch it every 3-4 minutes (78s hold only one song per side).

Rather than regret, though, I think this is a good lesson in how something can bring great value for a time and then you can let go. The records served a purpose, brought me joy, and now can move on their merry way.

  • Sold 1/2 of the records = $35
  • Sold 4 of the original storage books = $20

and now the rest of the 78s are on the block

Perhaps the reverse of the Diderot Effect is that once we start minimizing, each of those items naturally pulls others in its wake.

Goodbye 78s -> 78 sleeves -> storage bin for the 78s  -> extra record player -> and so it goes.