I am addicted to G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). I always want to buy new stuff — the newest iPad (Epic), cars (Mustang), phone (iPhone 6s or Nexus 6P), clothes (hipster $200+ raw denim), coffee makers ($500+), and tons of other stuff in my Amazon gift list. Here are some practical tips that have helped me (partially) combat G.A.S.
#1. Let someone else control your credit card
My partner, Cindy, and I recently combined credit cards and finances. Now she watches all of my purchases. Why? I don’t trust myself. I am a kid who grew up poor, and I am horrible with money. You hand me money, I am going to go out and immediately spend it (because who knows if tomorrow I’ll have the money, or be homeless).
In a strange way it was a great blessing, as I know I can no longer sneak purchases without Cindy knowing about it.
I was joking with her recently, saying that I should ask her for an allowance. This would actually cause me a lot less stress; because all I need money is to buy coffee, food, and transportation. I already have all the material possessions I could possibly need — laptop, smartphone, tablet, camera, clothes — so everything else I would want to buy is just extraneous.
Furthermore I have instituted a personal rule: if I want to buy anything above $300, I need explicit permission from Cindy (she is much more rational than me, and can see past my consumerism).
In Vietnamese culture, it is the women who control the money and finances. Why? Stereotypically, Vietnamese men go out and gamble, drink, and have coffee, so the women have to make sure that bills get paid and that the money doesn’t get pissed away.
If you are like me (a sucker to buying stuff), it might be a good idea to let someone else control the money.
#2. Have a “buy new stuff” rule
Cindy and I are moving to Vietnam next July, and we are going to be there for a year. Then for a year after, we might actually live in Marseille in France (she is going to continue to do research there for her Ph.D. in Vietnamese Colonial History). So we are actually in the middle of reducing the crap we have at our home, because we won’t be able to bring it.
I have a plan: I want to fit all of my life’s possessions in my backpack (ThinkTank Perception 15) which is quite small. All I think I can fit is a laptop, smartphone, chargers, camera, few clothes, and a handful of books. That is it. No better way to force myself to edit myself down. Furthermore, Cindy recently proposed a new rule; “Buy nothing new until we go to Vietnam.”
For you, perhaps you can institute this “buy no new stuff” rule for a day, a week, a month, 3 months 6 months, or even a year. You don’t need to follow this rule for the rest of your life. I have personally found this exercise to teach me the difference between what I think I “need” (versus my artificial “wants”).
#3. Re-read old reviews of the stuff you already own
Do you remember how excited you were when you first bought your (current) digital camera? Re-live that experience by re-reading the reviews of the camera you already own. Also, you can imagine the pain you would feel if someone stole your camera, or if you lost it. Then realize you still have your camera, and you will appreciate it more.
You never know how much you appreciate something until you lose it (material things, your physical faculties, or even the life of a loved one). So constantly practice the thought experiment: “How would I feel if I lost ‘x’ in my life?”
#4. More stuff, more problems
I also try to constantly remind myself; the more stuff I have, the more complications it adds to my life. If I buy more clothes, I need more room in my closet. If I buy a new camera, I have to buy more hard drives (and possibly upgrade my computer because ‘more megapixels, more problems.’)
Funny enough, this is also with money. The more money you have, the more stress and problems you could have. Don’t get me wrong— it is important to have material possessions. But realize that before you buy anything new, there will be new headaches as well.
#5. Expect to get “used to it”
“Hedonic adaptation” is a psychological process in which we get used to any material thing we buy, any upgrade in our lifestyle, or any good (or bad) event that happens in our life.
If we win the lottery, we are excited for a week, then realize the stress of winning the lottery (family coming out of the woodwork who feel ‘entitled’ to that money, people trying to scheme you for the money, and being constantly harassed by charity organizations). Not only that, but you will be adjusted and “get used to” the new level of wealth in your life.
Similarly, if you buy a new camera, no matter how expensive it is, you will get used to it (whether a new compact, micro 4/3rds, DSLR, rangefinder, etc).
So the secret isn’t to never buy a new camera (I do recommend upgrading a digital camera as often as you upgrade your smartphone or laptop). The secret is to underestimate how much happiness a new purchase will make in your life.
It is practical we need a camera to shoot — it is a tool. But the next time you buy that new camera, have realistic expectations. It will be good, but it won’t completely transform your photography nor solve your life’s problems. Try not to be too excited with your new gear, as you will eventually get used to it.
#6. Rent or borrow gear
Interestingly enough, one of the best ways to get over gear is to just try it out… and realize that it isn’t as great as you might expect.
For example, I was quite interested in the new Sony A7r II (40+ megapixel, and all these cool specs). However after trying my friend’s, I found out it was okay — not as great as I expected. It was just another camera at the end of the day. And I realized how much of a pain in the ass it is to have such big files (it slowed down my computer like hell).
Before you go out and buy a new camera (you probably don’t need), borrow it from a friend or rent it from a local camera shop or online. However, beware: sometimes ignorance is bliss. Sometimes borrowing a camera might be an expensive mistake. I think the secret is just knowing your personality, and following what works for you (whether ignorance is bliss, or testing it out and getting over it).
#7. Realize cameras are more similar than dissimilar
Psychologically we stress differences more than similarities (to convince us to buy things we don’t need). However in reality, most consumer goods are far more similar than dissimilar. Even iPhones and Android phones — sure they are different, but at the end of the day, they both answer emails, browse the Web, and access our social media apps.
Same with cameras. They all take photos at the end of the day, and the truth is that there is no longer any “bad” digital cameras. They are all really good.
Sure certain cameras might suit your style better than others, but whenever you want to buy a new camera, ask yourself, “What are the similarities of this camera to my current camera?” If you find the similarities outweigh the differences, you will be able to logically realize you don’t need a new camera or piece of equipment.
#8. “Need” vs “want”
I think this is the hardest thing I deal with when it comes to equipment — the question of whether I “need” a certain camera or lens, or whether I just “want” it. If you know that you want something (and don’t necessarily need it) but you can afford it and you’re fine with it, don’t feel any guilt. But I think it is important to know which camp you are in.
Often a lot of professionals need certain equipment for certain tasks. If you are a fashion photographer and going to print out billboard-sized prints, it is preferable to have a medium-format camera. But if you are a hobbyist, you don’t need 40+ megapixels.
Honestly none of us really “need” a camera at the end of the day, if we don’t earn a living from it. We simply “want” it because it brings us happiness, joy, and helps us be creative.
So if you already have a capable-enough camera, really look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself if you want to buy something new because you want it or need it. Don’t convince yourself that you “need” something (if you’re lying to yourself), especially if you can’t afford it and need to put it on your credit card. Debt is no fun.
#9. Compare your costs for experiences
$1,000 for a new camera can be 1 round-trip ticket internationally, 20 great photo books (for $50 each), or a photography workshop and experience that you won’t forget. Whenever I get tempted to buy new stuff, I try to equate that money-value into the experiences I can buy.
Money spent on experiences are always the best investment because no matter what, we can never “lose” an experience (it will always live in our memory). Whereas a camera can be stolen, made outdated, or can collect dust on the shelf. We tend to “adapt” less to novel experiences (traveling) as we “adapt” to material things.
At the end of your life, would you rather have a bunch of wonderful memories of traveling the world, meeting other photographers, printing your work, attending photography workshops and classes, or would you rather die on your deathbed with 100 Leicas?
#10. Just go out and shoot
Oddly enough, whenever I am out shooting (with the camera I already own), I no longer desire any other camera. I only desire new cameras when I am sitting on my butt at home, on my smartphone, reading gear review sites on the newest digital camera. When I am on the streets, the camera becomes invisible to me. I just react to what I see and shoot without thinking.
So, friend, if you are reading this and currently craving for a new camera or lens or accessory, just go out and make a few photos, and go enjoy your walk. Enjoy the gear you already have, re-read old reviews of it, and try to relive the experience when you first got it, and how happy and excited you were.
If you are reading this, you are blessed. You have access to an Internet connection, probably own a smartphone (modern smartphones can take far superior photos than old digital compact cameras), and the ability to share your photos with anyone in the world (social media). There is nothing holding you back but your own imagination, drive, grit, and curiosity.
About the author: Eric Kim is an international street photographer who’s currently based out of Berkeley, California. You can find more of his photography and writing on his website and blog. This article was also published here.