Minimalism or maximalism? That is the question.
These two polarising design styles have their devotees on social media. And beyond the aesthetics, it all boils down to one’s personality and lifestyle.
If you follow the “less is more” motto and prefer simplicity in your everyday life, then you’re likely leaning toward minimalism.
If you follow a “more is more” approach and like surrounding yourself with experiences, keepsakes, and enticing details, then you’re a maximalist at heart.
Minimalist and maximalist design trends encompass just about every discipline. Whether it’s in fine art, digital design and branding, interior design, architecture, and fashion, you’ll see professionals from various disciplines take advantage of one or the other.
Both design styles have their strengths and weaknesses. But evidently, it’s dictated by one’s preference, and way of life. Whichever movement you subscribe to, it’s obvious both are widely embraced and utilised in some form today.
Humble beginnings: The philosophy of minimalism
Minimalism started as an art movement in the 1960s, centred around an appreciation for the essential elements in life.
It served as a reaction against the abstract expressionist movement of the 1950s.
Minimalism spilt over into mainstream culture in the 20th century as it continued to serve as a reaction against the exuberance in realism and 19th-century art.
Appreciation for the design style persisted throughout the years. But care to guess when minimalism peaked? Well, When the recession hit in 2007, of course.
Exuberance became less remarkable, and people wanted to escape the chaos of the outside world. As a result, minimalism focused on eliminating any excess in design and prioritising function over form.
According to Elizabeth Brooke in an article for Vox, millennial-targeted minimalism was characterised by a look that’s “stripped-down but warm, with lots of sans serif letters and white space”. Talk about simplicity and harmony.
Clean lines, empty spaces, basic textures, mindful decor, neutral colours and patterns, absence of visual noise, focus on a select group of practical items.
These are the aesthetic principles that defined minimalism after the recession — people felt the need to embody serenity and stillness in the home, a respite from an unpredictable future.
Of course, we saw how minimalism evolved and how criticism of its irony reflected on influencers. For example, some minimalists were criticised for living an “increasingly aspirational and deluxe way of life”, according to Jia Tolentino of the New Yorker.
Influencers piling on minimalism
You are most likely familiar with the Marie Kondo approach — removing unnecessary things from your life and keeping only the items that add happiness.
Kondo, a decluttering guru, is famous for her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which sold more than ten million copies.
However, you might be surprised by Kondo’s claim that her tidying method is quite different from minimalism.
According to the KonMari Philosophy, minimalism advocates living with less, while the KonMari Method™ encourages living among items that you genuinely cherish.
Kondo’s approach still lines up with the definition and principles of minimalism. And in terms of aesthetics, we can’t deny that the look and feel are remarkably similar.
White walls, empty spaces, and neutral colours — that’s another way we could describe Kim and Kanye’s home.
The Calabasas mansion is on the extreme end of the spectrum, described as “horrifying” by some journalists for its coldness and austerity.
Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus’ Netflix documentary series Less Is Now is worth a watch for understanding the rationale behind minimalism.
One quote on the show: “our memories are not our things, our memories are inside us,” challenges the the human tendency to keep unnecessary things.
Perhaps the most compelling part of the movement is the craft behind the decluttering process and the anti-consumerist message.
Some activists and environmentalists have proved to be examples of the minimalist lifestyle through their conscious purchases and commitment to low impact living.
The overwhelming case for maximalism
The popularity of both minimalist and maximalist styles are always a reaction to the other. Whether it’s a fight for modernism or a show of eclectic taste, the pendulum is always in full swing.
Now don’t be fooled by conventional perspectives on maximalism. Contrary to popular belief, maximalists claim that they don’t embrace clutter. So they’re not exactly the opposite of minimalists.
Maximalism, in essence, revels in the spectacle.
Said to be undergoing a revival: instead of decadence, showiness, and wealth, it’s now more about playfulness, acceptance, and fun.
A typical maximalist room is full of possessions they love, which resonate with the heart.
A maximalist home brings joy and comfort, inspires and lifts the spirit of its owner.
Abigail Ahern, interior designer and author, actually champions a new kind of maximalism that is more ordered and curated while retaining a sense of magic.
There are exuberant and kitschy elements to this brand of maximalism, but it can also be sophisticated and restrained.
Not to be over the top, but we can see how maximalism takes up space.
If you examine the history of fashion, you will notice that maximalism stands out.
Maximalist fashion has been associated with extravagance, artifice, and non-functional style — commonly demonstrated through bold colours and statement pieces.
But it’s not just the fashion industry that is invested in maximalism today. Interiors designers and architects are gaining traction with those seeking an eclectic home.
The maximalist home is defined by spaces that prompt conversation and evoke immense pleasure; the gallery walls and home decor are bold and uninhibited.
The lack of restraint leaves room for mixing styles, cultures, and eras, making for a lived-in feel.
According to Shutterstock, the revival has been largely fuelled by social media. But, unfortunately, the internet has so much clutter.
If you notice maximalist influencers today, they are often travellers who use “things” to tell a story, a visual reminder of the objects and memories they have collected in their lifetime.
The pursuit of leisure and experience exemplifies the maximalist outlook; its advocates are a living embodiment of “the road less travelled by”.
Best of both worlds
All that said and done, which style takes “the cake”.
It’s important to understand which movement best suits your style and philosophy. Knowingyourselfand what drives your design choices is essential.
Our style reflects our environment, our values and the ideas that inspire us. But you don’t have to limit yourself to one school of thought; as we accumulate experiences, our tastes evolve.
Now is there anything stopping you from mixing both styles? Of course not! Less is more, BUT, at the same time … there’s no such thing as too much.
After all, like any trend, it’ll come full circle. What’s out today will be in tomorrow. Change is inevitable, so embrace whichever direction your style journey leads you.