November 25, 2019

You Have a Problem: Reframing Gear Acquisition Syndrome

We take a much-needed look at G.A.S., what causes it and how to pass it. We promise that this will likely be the last double entendre involving the word “gas” in this article.

What is G.A.S?

It’s not quite the common cold, but it can make us just as miserable. G.A.S stands for “gear acquisition syndrome” and is a strain of addictive retail therapy commonly associated with photographers. It involves purchasing gear at a rate that’s higher than needed and often distracts from the activity the gear’s intended for.

Yet this type of acquisitive behavior can easily affect non-photographers as well, such as people who work with audio. Rob Power and Matt Parker of Music Radar outline the 7 signs of G.A.S. which just as accurately represent phases of G.A.S. We’ve listed them here with examples from our own experience with G.A.S. (aggregated so we don’t single anyone out, Nate).

  1. Dissatisfaction: you’re dissatisfied with your current equipment.
  2. Desire: you see a new piece of equipment that will “complete” you.
  3. Research: you suffer hours of paralysis by analysis wading through options.
  4. Purchase: you break the deadlock with a rapid series of smaller purchases or a single big buy.
  5. Guilt: the gaping hole in the credit card or bank account leaves you pondering your decision, which may take you back to #3 to confirm if you made the right decision.
  6. Acceptance: you come to terms with what you’ve done, and might be filled with newfound and unbridled optimism toward your creative output in the vein of “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!”
  7. Relapse: your unresolved dissatisfaction quickly returns to attack your new creative implement, potentially as you discover that one missing feature that will completely upend your career.

What causes G.A.S?

Photographer, neuroscientist and writer Joshua Sariñana gives a highly detailed breakdown for G.A.S. and also explains the neurochemical mechanisms for how stressors trigger impulsive behavior and how purchases tap into our brain’s reward center. But of the many possible causes for those stressors, he proposes the most likely culprit in creatives: the fear of creativity itself.

Uncertainty: The creative process is already fraught with uncertainty and this uncertainty gives rise to fear of failure, criticism or even critique.

Catastrophizing: This is a common behavior where we always imagine the worst-case scenario. Combined with an existing cognitive bias against ourselves, this behavior repeats and small challenges seem insurmountable.

Avoidant Behavior: Like most living things, we tend to avoid discomforting things, even if that very thing is beneficial to us.

Buying Gear to Ease the Pain: Sariñana notes the potential for buying new gear to resemble drug abuse in the sense that we quickly acclimate to the ‘hit’ that comes with our new purchase, only to seek out bigger and better rewards.

How to get past gas

If you or someone you know has G.A.S., here are some ways to tackle the problem. Some involve dealing with the physical objects themselves while others focus on the mindset that leads to G.A.S.:

Realize you may have it: Even if you’re not a “gear head,” you might be acquiring services, plugins, memberships and subscriptions just as you would physical tools.

Validate yourself: Remind yourself that you are enough, even if your tools were to magically become primitive tomorrow. You have the talent to create something good with what essentials you have right now and the resourcefulness to improve on it later in the polishing phase.

Unplug: Our constant exposure to iconic, famous and professional-level content or simply content that we love constantly reminds us of how painfully inadequate our work is. Accompanying this, the democratization of creative tools means new markets to be targeted with marketing.

Be deliberate: Whether it’s finding references in the planning phases or only searching up in designated phases, if you find yourself stressing more about gear than creating, then it might be time to unplug from your media exposure.

Each item becomes a promise: Realize that each piece isn’t just an obligation to use it: you will have to maintain it and some items might require more purchases to keep them in good condition. If you have too many promises to keep, KonMari (Marie Kondo’s Shinto-based tidying methodology) your gear, digitally if you must: gather all your tools in one place (or start with one category of them if you’ve got that much) and notice how much you have. Keep the essentials, followed only by the ones that stir positive emotions. Take everything else out of play.

Get creative: this doesn’t just mean actually going out or staying in and doing the thing you bought the gear for. This means finding workarounds for limitations in the entire creative setup that includes gear, you personally and your situation. Consider using creative constraints to your advantage.

Borrow or rent: This might help you to let go of the idea that you need to have (as in own) a given tool to validate your creative title, and be comfortable with the fact you just need to use it for that project — especially true if you need to beef up your tiny mirrorless camera just so a client takes you seriously on that day. Likewise, borrowing or renting lets you “try before you buy.”

Co-buy or own: Or, if you’ve thought ahead and are sure you want something and will use it for the long-term: commit to making a few key purchases, either yourself or with someone, and then commit to using them for many years. Once you’ve committed, you’ll come to appreciate and acknowledge their limitations in conveying what you put into it. Assuming you’ve been using this gear this whole time, you’ll come to love it so much you won’t want to lend it out or replace it.

Make shit: Learn to be comfortable with making highly flawed and imperfect work with no intention of sharing it (or the possibility that nothing will come of it). The obsession with constantly making work for display to reinforce a given title may lead you to want to always “put your best foot forward” and buying new tools can add that polish.

The Takeaway

It’s okay. Everyone has suffered a bad case of G.A.S. or several relapses over the years (we’re pretty sure we’ve had a few). What matters is that you catch yourself early or you tweak your rate of acquisition to match your growing skill level or the actual demands of your jobs or career aspirations.

Regardless of what stage you might be in, for those who think you might be catching it, we highly recommend this detailed recount by “gear addict turned photography addict” Olivier Duong.

In writing this, we found a disproportionate amount of literature connecting G.A.S. to photographers and to a lesser degree, musicians. But this problem extends far beyond those two fields and even beyond physical “gear” as we know it to include subscriptions, plugins, services and software.

Whether you’re an artist that’s bought maybe a hundred Copic markers too many or a hobbyist sewer that’s filled their basement with more bolts of fabric than they have projects for, we’d like to hear any experiences with G.A.S. you’d like to share or suggestions on a broader term that captures this insecurity-driven acquisitive behavior in creatives.

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