Maximalism: A Backlash to Minimalism?

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busy is not better
Busier is Not Better
March 12, 2017
Decisions and smart actions
Living Small Makes You Smarter
May 26, 2017
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Maximalism: A Backlash to Minimalism?


I’m amused by the new term Maximalism as a backlash and opposition to the concept of minimalism. Amused because most of the articles I’ve read about Maximalism shun minimal lifestyles without really understanding them. They are stuck back in the past when minimalism meant living a monk-like existence with a single bowl for rice, a single outfit for everyday wear, and a hard single mattress thrown on a bare floor in a tiny room with white walls.

Minimalism is Personal

That, my friends, may be minimalism — to an extreme — but it’s not the minimalism of most functional living small enthusiasts today.

Perhaps it’s a matter of the connotative “minimalism” (how it’s put into practical use) vs. denotative “minimalism” ( the dictionary definition). Of course, if you reference the dictionary, minimalism will talk about styles of art and music — but not about living styles. The dictionary defines maximalists as “one who advocates immediate and direct action to secure the whole of a program or set of goals.” It sometimes takes awhile for the dictionary to catch up with social trends.

Today’s functional lifestyle minimalism is about finding the definition of “just enough” and that definition is different for each person. My minimal meal probably won’t look much like yours. My minimal packing for a three day trip may take up three times the space of yours — or half the space. My minimal office is portable — yours might not be.

Minimal lifestyles are a personalized, optimized paring away to the essential. Essential is what’s required to do the job — and enjoy doing it. It’s not built on suffering or sacrifice or doing without. It’s about NOT cluttering your life and your processes with extra maintenance, fuss, drama, expense and effort while you are achieving your goals.

It’s all about balance.

Maximalism Isn’t Quite the Opposite of Minimalism

In this article, a push for Maximalism in decor, states that this approach doesn’t shy away from interesting silhouettes, textures and details. Although the approach of design elements differs somewhat from individuals who actually live with a pared down environment and fewer possessions, most of us who “live small” place quite a bit of importance on the silhouettes, textures and details in the items we choose.

Personally, I consider these elements when choosing something as basic as a wooden spoon for my kitchen or a blanket for my bed. For me, the quality and individuality as well as the pleasure the item brings to my own sense of aesthetic is extremely important — even more important for each item in my home, now that I own fewer things.

I choose based on function and beauty and usually on BOTH when I bring something new into my home.

I curate, I don’t clutter.

Mixing and Matching

Maximalism is defined as a “mixture” of styles, eras, textures, colors and concepts. Yeah? Well, so is Living Small. I love the overdone look of some pieces of Victorian and Art Deco jewelry, the sleek lines of some modern furniture, the rough textures of antique tool boxes and containers, and the contrast of having items of different styles in my home. I include elements of sterling silver, wood, tapestry, steel, stone, copper, bronze and pottery. I use what pleases my senses in my home.

I select what I like, regardless of the materials, the era, or the intended use. I like Vardos, for goodness sake, and they may be tiny living spaces — but they are jewels, beautiful works of art in their own right — plush and bohemian and simply glorious! They are anything but spartan — but they are one approach to a minimal lifestyle, a lifestyle more constrained by space than by decoration. They don’t have much, but what they do have is beautifully decorated and everyday items are transformed into art.

Don’t Define Me If You Don’t Know Me

Maximalists seem to want to put minimalists in a cramped little box of definition. (They must think we like cramped spaces simply because some of us like tiny houses.) Maybe they just want to be different. Maybe they are looking for their own “originality” by railing against what they don’t quite understand… and what they think is opposite.

Or maybe they are considering minimalistic design trends and erroneously assuming that most minimalist seek to live with a sterile, cold white and steel backdrop to their lives. Most of us are a little more creative than that. Few of us are so narrow that every thing in our home and office have to follow a strict stylistic uniformity to be included.

One of the most difficult things for me to reconcile in my own journey to living small was that I don’t have to pick one style to love. I can love bohemian styles for my bedroom, and still want cleaner lines and spaces in the kitchen and bathroom. It’s ok. A home is where you feel most at ease. It’s where you go to re-energize. It shouldn’t suck away your energy, it should replenish it.

Living small is more about removing those things that drain you (drama/clutter/worry) and incorporating what brings you joy. It’s about being in control of your life — your home, your work, your finances, and your own happiness.

Clutter Is Bothersome

Some Maximalist decor can be a little “cluttered” for my tastes, and some of it appears to be visually loud in an overt attempt to be overwhelming. That bothers me. It makes me feel closed in and smothered. Too much clutter and I’m uncomfortable in a room or in a house. I like rooms with balance, that are soothing, that are inviting. I like comfy, calm spaces.

However, I can often find elements in these cluttered spaces that I like. In the same way that Couture fashion is often too “out there” for my tastes, but I find some aspects quite appealing — even if I can’t embrace the whole ensemble, as a personal style.

It’s not a design thing, it’s a practicality thing. I simply don’t want to live in a filthy house, nor do I want to spend a great deal of my time dusting and cleaning. I have better things to do, so my interiors need to make it easy to maintain them so I can have more fun, pursue my passions, have adventures and live — and do less housework and maintenance on my home.

With that said, some “tiny homes” that are featured in magazines, videos and online platforms are way too “cluttered” for my own tastes… but they suit their inhabitants. And, isn’t that the point?

Life is about living with joy, not confining yourself. Living small enthusiasts understand that, even if it would seem that those who “live large and loud” often don’t understand living small… at all.

It’s Ok To Have Maximalist Things — You Can Still Live Small

As contradictory as it may sound, I enjoy looking at the “maximalist” spreads online. Some make me uncomfortable — those that seem to attack me visually — but most have some interesting elements that I like and I may elect to have things in my environment, in my wardrobe and in my life that may be considered “maximalist” to some. But you won’t find me cluttering the place (and taking up my time, space and resources) beyond the point that they tip the scales and become more trouble than they are worth.

Living small is about balance. That is the difference. I will continue to curate my personal space, my expenditure of time, my financial outlays and my work to be sure I’m getting the most benefit and… the most enjoyment possible… from the choices I make for my life.

How about you?

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