The Allure Of The Incomplete Picture – How I Shrank My Desire For Stuff

I’m not keen on having too many material possessions, be it cameras, clothes, books or anything else.

In other words, I don’t like having too much stuff. 

A part of me has always been this way, coming from a fairly frugal family upbringing.

My dad was often self employed so income was variable, plus he had a fondness for cars and motorbikes, owning at least two or three at one time, with their associated expenses.

My mum was excellent at budget management, meaning we never felt we lacked anything as children, but didn’t have expensive trips out, eat often in restaurants or get take-aways, own loads of clothes or go on many holidays.

Entering into adulthood myself, my views on possessions were mixed.

I didn’t ever feel I needed to buy or hoard stuff just for the sake of it, or to try to prove my status or wealth to anyone, as many seem to.

But when it came to items that I felt were essential to my wellbeing and evolution, like music, books and films, I was happy to accumulate a more sizeable collection.

Around 2011 though, I started a major purge on these too.

The essentials from my 500+ CD album collection were saved to my Mac’s hard drive and iPod Classic, and I sold the originals.

My film collection was thinned, keeping the DVDs simply in plastic sleeves, and binning the bulky boxes, which reduced the overall space required for them to about a quarter. (Why are DVD and BluRay boxes still about twice the size they need to be to hold the disc?)

I had one phone camera, and one dedicated “proper” camera, the Nikon Coolpix P300.

In other words, around this time I owned fewer possessions than in any time in my adult life previously, and had no plans to add anything I didn’t need.

Then, in the summer of 2012, I was given a Holga 120N film camera as a gift on my birthday that year, and soon after a 35mm Minox.

These cameras, along with a Smena 8M, started my film adventures.

Before long, I became curious about SLRs, and bought an old Praktica BMS Electronic and was blown away by what it could do compared with something the like basic Smena, especially in terms of shallow depth of field.

8454000898_ed461e091e_b

The journey continued with other cameras and lenses, and when I discovered I could buy a digital mirrorless camera like a Sony NEX and mount all kinds of old SLR lenses on it with cheap adapters, enjoying the convenience of digital, with the character of vintage glass, my accumulation hit new levels.

Four years on, around 2016, I looked at the cameras and lenses over-spilling my shelves, and decided to lay them all out and see what I really had.

A habit of buying cameras on eBay because they were just so cheap and available, then moving on to buy another before the previous one had even arrived in the post, let alone I’d used it, meant over half of the cameras sprawled across my floor were virtually unknown to me, and hadn’t had even a single roll of film through them.

23933205419_6207e98992_b

Thus began a great, but gradual, purge, and by mid 2017 I’d reduced my film cameras to a handful.

Since then, I have bought more digital cameras, but sold even more, so in some ways I’m back to that point I was in 2012, with fewer possessions than in years.

An instrumental shift in my outlook was changing how I viewed what was missing in any particular collection or group of things.

I don’t have that many clothes generally, and my work clothes for the office are a good example of my approach – two pairs of trousers, four shirts, one t-shirt to wear underneath in colder months, and one pair of shoes, which live at work, whilst I travel to and from work in trainers.

I could have another four shirts, another two pairs of trousers, more shoes, and so on.

But firstly, I don’t need them, and secondly, I have enough variation that I doubt people notice how I’ve chosen to keep my wardrobe this streamlined – four shirts x two pairs of trousers = eight different “outfits” anyway.

With cameras, in the past, this is where things got out of hand.

I was not operating from a position of what I actually needed to go out and make photographs I loved, with equipment I enjoyed.

Instead I was looking at the perceived holes in my collection, how I could make that incomplete picture, complete.

I had a 35mm lens, a 50mm lens, a 55mm lens and a 135mm lens, but I didn’t have one at 70 or 105 or 120mm.

Which in time I went on to purchase, to try to bridge the span between 24 and 150mm without any more than 20 or 25mm between lenses with adjacent focal lengths.

But then this entered whole other level of perceived incompleteness, and then gap filling.

I had a Super-Takumar 55/1.8, but not an Auto Takumar 55/1.8, with more aperture blades and different build.

I had a Helios 44-2 and 44M, but not a 44M-4 or 44M-5, and so on.

At one point I think I had around eight variations of the Helios 44, three or four 55mm Takumars and half a dozen versions of the Pentacon 50/1.8.

Plus other 50mm lenses!

28007452216_2658c28342_b

The penny finally dropped that this kind of gap filling could continue ad infinitum, if I burrowed down into ever more detail of the variations of different lenses.

But to what end?

I’m a photographer, not a camera museum curator!

All it did was give me more options when I came to choose a lens to shoot with, and took me longer and longer to make a decision.

Then, whatever decision I did make, I would be out shooting with that lens, but wondering if any one of a handful of others sat back at home might have been a better choice.

Viewing a collection of items in terms of what is missing is a sure fire way to be permanently unhappy with that collection, and not enjoy all you have.

Whether it’s cameras, clothes, cars, shoes, watches, bicycles, or anything else, the same fundamental idea applies.

If you look only at what you perceive is missing, you’re not going to appreciate what’s already there and ready to be enjoyed. 

Whilst I’ve not quite evolved to the point of asking myself “Do I have a single working camera?” and as the answer is yes, selling all other cameras, I do have far less overlap and duplication than any time since 2011.

In fact, my recent experiments with zero processing – only using cameras that can deliver images I love straight out of camera without any need for post processing – have narrowed these cameras down to just six, two mainly for colour, four for b/w.

And my One Month, One Camera experiments which began in January 2019 have continually reminded me of the simply joy of just grabbing one camera that you already chose at the start of the month, and heading out to enjoy it, without any deliberation to get in the way.

How about you? How do you stop accumulating too much stuff? Are there any areas you feel you have too much and would like to simplify? 

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for looking.

What Next?

Share this post with someone you think will enjoy it using the buttons below.

Read a random post from the archives.

See what I’m up to About Now.

12 thoughts on “The Allure Of The Incomplete Picture – How I Shrank My Desire For Stuff”

  1. I have 3 cameras and 8 lenses and 3 flashes. Two of the lenses I rarely use and should sell. I do use all three cameras. Mainly my Nikon D750. I have a small trunk filled with all my camera stuff. I’ll look into at selling at least one lens. Thanks.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Sherry. I think a great first step for anyone looking to slim down their cameras is to ask which gear you haven’t used in ages, and could quite easily sell or donate.

  2. I try to travel light in this world as well. However, I still have a few strongholds of stuff. For example, I probably own 30-40 long-sleeved dress and sport shirts, and 25 polo shirts. I just love clothes, and the variety lets me dress in a fairly fresh way every day. I don’t mind selecting my daily outfit from all of the available choices.

    1. Strongholds, that’s a good word for it Jim!

      That sounds like a huge amount of shirts, but then I roughly counted and I have about 15 t-shirts and seven or eight hoodies or fleeces, which is my standard “uniform” outside of the office, and that’s more than I thought I had. It soon builds up.

      I like most things in my life to be fairly routine or with only a simple choice to make. That leaves space and energy and time for the other unexpected chaos that naturally occurs anyway!

  3. Forced loss of the massive collection in 2018 combined with low income and poor availability of anything interesting keeps my camera hoard to a minimum. I regret having lost some of them, but not all because I don’t shoot film anymore – digital is far more practical. Mostly I miss having certain lenses I now know I should have saved for the DSLR, which I didn’t have at the time.
    C’est la vie.

    1. Marc, doesn’t there come a time with a large collection of anything though where it’s too much for one’s mind to appreciate all at once? Maybe that’s just how I felt.

      More than about a dozen cameras in total and my appreciation of having variety drops into unease at having too much to choose from, store, and remember how to use!

      Six is probably about ideal for me.

      1. Dan, when I was actively collecting the sky was the limit. But the end result? Well after cleaning out my Dad’s house the truth is you can definitely have too much of anything, no matter what it is. I’ve already got 7 digital cameras with another on the way. Now, which will I use regularly and what will I do with those I don’t? That remains to be seen.

      2. The sensor looks interesting, 12MP CCD, and 1/2″ is a decent size on such a small camera. Sounds like it has some tricks up its sleeve with the different sensor modes too. Let us know how you get on.

        I have very limited experience with Fuji cameras (just two) but my summary would be excellent sensor (both had a “Super CCD sensor”) and lens combo, very capable, but not the greatest user interface – too messy and too many buttons. So it’ll be good to hear your experiences a few weeks down the line.

  4. Well I never had a ton of cameras… right now I have 3 and it doesn’t feel like a lot because two of them have issues and are not worht selling. But they also still work, so I can basically shoot with them until they die – and they might not die anytime soon…
    I did have a rule for myself that I would not have more than 12 lenses, and I did break that rule, having about 20 right now… and that’s after I sold a few recently. I might get down a bit more but some of them are so cheap they are not worth selling – and the image quality is amazing. So why not keep them?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s