How to Fight G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome)

Paris, 2015
Paris, 2015

Dear friend,

I am addicted to G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). I always want to buy new shit— 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 your partner control your credit card

Cindy and I recently combined credit cards and finances. Now she watches all of my purchases.

It was funny— when I was in LA I bought a coffee at Starbucks, and I got a text immediately 5 minute later from her saying, “Eric! I just loaded our Starbucks gift card, use that instead of the credit card!”

It was first a bit creepy (like big brother from 1984)— but at the same time refreshing.

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— I know I can no longer sneak purchases without Cindy knowing about it.

I was joking with Cindy — 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 the money doesn’t get pissed away.

If you are like me (sucker to buying stuff)— it might be a good idea to let your (more frugal) partner control the money.

2. Have a “buy new stuff” rule

Cindy and I are moving to Vietnam next July, and 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 (a few months ago) proposed a new rule; “Buy nothing new until we go to Vietnam.”

Admittedly we fell off the bandwagon (we bought crap we didn’t need— like a coffee grinder, some clothes from UNIQLO, and some new books). But I’m going to get back on the bandwagon — and try my best not to buy anything new until then.

During the 2 months (we didn’t buy anything new)— it was quite fun— I was able to work harder to re-purpose the stuff I already owned.

For example, I wanted a new camera bag (for some strange reason)— but I realized I have a hell of a lot of bags already at home. So I just went “closet shopping” and picked up some unused bags, got over them, and reverted back to my ThinkTank backpack.

I also wanted to buy new clothes, but then one again— realized how much unused clothes I had in the closet. So rather than buying new clothes, I started to wear clothes I haven’t wore in about a year.

I (still) want a car (we currently don’t have one)— but I know it is pointless. After next summer, we might be gone for 2 years — and we can’t take a car with us.

The benefit of not having a car— not stressing about parking, insurance, speeding tickets, the possibility of dying while driving (I often drive when tired or late at night), and it has forced us to walk more, take more public transportation (I love saying hello to the bus driver), and to explore more (we’ve been visiting Oakland more often, and don’t have to worry about our car being broken into, as it was in front of the Blue bottle on Broadway a few months ago).

I know I will probably buy something new again (that I don’t need before I go to Vietnam)— but I will try my best (and with the support of Cindy) not to buy new shit.

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.’

If I buy a new car, I worry about it getting dinged, someone stealing it, or ‘keying’ it (when hoodlum kids scratch the side of your car with a car key— yeah this happens in the Bay Area).

Funny enough— this is also with money. The more money you have, the more stress you have (your family is plotting to steal it from you, worrying about inheritances, worrying about paying more taxes, worrying about how to dodge the IRS, worrying how to invest the money, worrying that your investments might go downhill).

If you have a bigger/newer home— more insurance to pay, more space to clean, more chance of your home being broken into and robbed, and more furniture you need to buy to fill the house (more trips to IKEA), and also the more likely chance something will break in the house (more trips to Home Depot).

If you buy a new fancy watch (Rolex)— you are scared of walking into a ghetto neighborhood, because someone might chop off your wrist and steal your watch. In-fact, I have an old-school circa 1970’s Rolex I inherited from my Grandfather (died when I was 2 years old) that I think looks great. But I can’t wear it on a daily basis— because it gives me paranoia that someone might either judge me as being some pretentious rich kid, or someone in Oakland trying to rob me.

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 under-estimate how much happiness a new purchase will make in your life.

If you’re going to buy a new car— just tell yourself, “I am buying this new car because I just had a kid and I can no longer drive them around in my sports car. I will buy this new Honda Odyssey (sports package, because that is less lame) — but it really won’t bring me any new joy in my life— because I will become adjusted to it.”

Or let’s say you want to buy a new BMW M3. Realize that it will be fun to drive (it is a sexy car)— but realize that after a month or so, it will become like any other sports car (makes you speed more, get more speeding tickets, makes your friends envious about you and talk shit about you behind your back, more insurance, more expensive premium gas, and more expensive car maintenance).

It is practical we need a camera to shoot— it is a tool. So 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

Funny 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 A7rII (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 (slowed down my computer like hell).

Even a good way to get over my lust for new cars is to test drive them— and realize that at the end of the day, it is just another metal box with 4 wheels on it.

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 camerashop 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 shit 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 with equipment— whether I “need” a certain camera or lens, or whether I just “want” it.

I think 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

$1000 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 Leica’s?

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 ass 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.

Similarly, whenever I drive a car, I never notice what car I am driving. I am just in the “flow” of driving in general. Furthermore— you can never appreciate how your car looks (exterior) when you are driving.

So friend—if you are reading this and currently craving for a new camera (my daily temptation), 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 to 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.

Rock on,

Tuesday, 4:11PM, Emeryville, @ Starbucks with a “Mint Majesty” green tea (good to have tea after 4 espressos from today).