The last year of numerous lockdowns has made many of us see the importance of our homes as sanctuaries from the world outside. How the inside of our living spaces look is a reflection of who we are, what makes us feel calm and happy. Two interior design styles that speak to our different personalities are minimalism and maximalism. For some, a fuss-free, stark home with spare white walls helps to feel serene and still, creating an appreciation of the little things. For others, maximalism is the ultimate comforting mood-booster, a visual reminder of favourite objects amassed over a lifetime. Here, a minimalist and maximalist discuss the merits of each approach.
In the minimalism camp: Tina Charisma, writer and Ted Talk speaker
I initially had reservations about minimalism. As a social innovator who has spent her career addressing issues predominantly associated with inequalities, minimalism sounded like a subject only the rich could be concerned with. I could not imagine myself, at work leading or designing a project, telling people who – at times did not even know where their next meal is coming from – that, “less is more, just declutter.” Less of what?
But minimalism is not just about a design aesthetic. It’s a philosophy with holistic benefits, as argued by authors and podcasters Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus in their Netflix documentary series Less Is Now. Like Marie Kondo, the pair advocate for the process of removing unfavourable things in your life, keeping only the items that add happiness. According to them, “We created Less Is Now because we wanted to explore the benefits of starting over with less”.
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Our digital consumption adds a layer of influx that minimalists caution against, so we focus on the things that matter the most. It’s about calmness and clarity. Recently, while adjusting the window to my bedroom in my apartment the, latch bent causing the window to be stuck and unable to close. Despite my constant push and puffs, rising frustration followed with irritation. I gave in. For a split second, I stood, taking in the cool air that seeped in. I remember feeling the breeze the moment I let go. The cool air embraced me. It felt like giving in to nature’s conspiracy to have me chill, leave the window open, and let in some air. Living the little things has always been a core aspect of my life that I share with fellow minimalists.
The term was originally associated with the art scene of the late ‘50s. The aesthetically pleasing art of simplicity was a reaction against the abstract expressionist movement of the 1950s, which the minimalists thought was sentimental and pretentious. Instead, this new wave of artists thought that art should not refer to the artist’s emotional state – it should be stripped of external motives and meaning and be evaluated as a piece of art and nothing more.
Today, it has evolved to become an umbrella term to describe, not only a genre of art, but also, among other things, a certain way of dressing and a type of interior design. It is a look characterised by order, simplicity and harmony. My love for bright colours, fashion, and tech bears some contrasts to the plain, white aesthetics associated with minimalism. My own urgent need to seek a more minimal path several years ago begun with the collapse of my 150-foot built-in wardrobe. I realised I didn’t need all these clothes and shoes and decluttered.
Now, I borrow more from the minimal camp of intentionality and serenity. I bask in organisation, rather than clutter. My apartment is a typical example of a minimalist living space with its neutral aesthetics and arrangements. Functional, small, but cosy. My sanctuary, my peace. I donated most of my possessions before moving in. It allowed me to feel free, creating a calming vibe while living more sustainably. Minimalists can take many forms – there are, of course, the Marie Kondo joy-seekers who focus on curating a house that is deliberate and satisfying. Some, activists, and environmentalists by default also prove to be great examples of minimalists through their conscious moral purchases and recycling.
Everyone has their journey into minimalism, Writer Christine Platt, also known as Afrominimalist, shared her journey: “I committed to doing something about my excess. The one word that kept coming up in my search was minimalism. And so, my journey began. Minimalism is liberation.”
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Shira Gill, a home organiser and author, asserts that minimalism doesn’t have to be rigid or austere. Although her philosophy is inspired by simplicity, she isn’t regimented about it. “As a busy working mum, who happens to love pretty things, I have customised a minimalist philosophy that works for my real life,” says Gill. “I define minimalism, not as the absence or lack of something, but rather, the perfect amount for you. Minimalism can mean different things for different people.”
Culture shifts over the years have resulted in our purchases becoming an extension or part of our identities, sometimes symbols of things we want to live up to. Research conducted by American Psychological Association shows that materialism and overconsumption generally breed dissatisfaction. –Growing up, the phrase ‘Cleanliness is next to godliness’, was common in my household. Science Daily also confirms that a cluttered space can often lead to a cluttered mind, the benefits posed by our living environment has the potential to promote healthy mental health, and life.
From a social development lens, the decision to be minimalist or maximalist remains a great privilege when considering the lack the choice many around the world have when it comes to their home. How we live contributes to our health and wellbeing. Whether that is less or more, it should be appreciated for the joy it brings.
In the maximalism camp: Abigail Ahern, interior designer and author
I get the biggest adrenaline rush when people see my home and their jaws hit the floor. Their eyes dance around, they smile and they don’t know where to look. Their eyes are drawn in so many directions that they feel excited, tantalised and intrigued and that is exactly how I feel. By simply converting to maximalism you change how you and others feel in a space. Its mind-blowing.
Maximalism brings joy to the home. It lifts the spirits and provides inspiration. There is such an emotional quality to maximalist interiors because they require you to draw upon things you love. Maximalism pushes boundaries and challenges rules and in so doing provokes such an emotional response. Whether your pad is big or small, owned or rented, whether you live uptown or downtown, on the coast or in the country, this style is all about surrounding yourself with things that you love things that resonate with the heart. Surrounding ourselves with things we love that make us feel a little bit happier, more glamorous and joyful is so important. Our four walls are the one place free from authority and rules; they are our own personal sanctuary, a place to escape and reboot. It shouldn’t be a carbon copy of everything else. Maximalist interiors are all about making homes feel inviting and comfortable, from soft lighting to rugs skimming floors. I create spaces that prompt conversation and evoke such immense personal pleasure. Since I’ve crossed over to maximalism, I’ve grown in confidence with my interiors. I look outwards more, across cultures, styles, ages and eras.
In the past, maximalism had a bad rap because it can look like spaces have been decorated by someone who has slugged back seven cups of coffee while nursing a hangover. It was associated with chaos, mess, thoughtlessness and disarray that felt jarring and not at all serene. Filling homes with a hodge-podge of stuff or a pastiche of the past where random assortments of things fill shelves is not what it’s about.
I champion a new kind of maximalism, one that feels more ordered, considered, curated and magical, where a visual cacophony of pieces come together. Many of anything, whether colours, textures or styles, can make a room feel busy and overwhelming but when you rein things in by reducing the number of colours for instance, or repeating back materials, you create a framework that immediately harmonises and looks elegant. The best maximalist interiors have a strong identity with a clear sense of what they are. They combine many opposing complicated elements and are playful but always in a beautiful, sophisticated and restrained fashion.
Believe it or not living with a maximalist interior has nothing to do with being materialistic. Instead, it’s about having pieces in your life that remind you of something, a trip to Asia, a memory of a loved one, something your kids painted. It’s about curating memories and you don’t get to do that if everything is stored away or behind a push drawer. No stuff, no intrigue. No intrigue, no magic.
Everything: A Maximalist Style Guide by Abigail Ahern is published by Pavilion.
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