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Minimalism vs. maximalism

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I’ve always had an interest in interior design. This is hilarious, of course, since I have absolutely no talent for the subject. Nonetheless I have many coffee-table-sized books on various interior aesthetics. It started with a book on Shaker style I purchased in high school and, most recently, a copy of “The Not So Big House” purchased in a used-book store a couple years ago. In my younger days, I even subscribed to Architectural Digest, though the vast majority of each issue is nothing but advertisements and the rest are high falutin’ design styles that do nothing for me.

Of all the possible design styles out there, I’ve always been most attracted to minimalism. While I don’t care for bare stark white rooms, I admire the aesthetic of clean spaces with lots of wood trim (I think the term is “warm minimalism”).

Which is why, ironically, my own personal decorating style (if you can call it that) leans more toward what is called “maximalism.” How embarrassing.

Maximalism, according to Wikipedia, is “an aesthetic of excess. The philosophy can be summarized as “more is more,” contrasting with the minimalist motto “less is more.”

The interior decorating trend appears to be geared toward “curated collections,” whether artwork or books or glassware or whatever floats your boat. Colors and patterns are embraced, not rejected. The entire goal is to be comforting and welcoming. It’s described as a “space that tells your story” and “a happy interior style.”

What appears to tip us away from anything even remotely resembling minimalism is our book collection. Maximalism, is seems, is just made for book collectors. In a minimalistic lifestyle, books you’ve read in the past have no place in a home (with few exceptions) because they represent both physical and visual clutter. Minimalism favors library books, audio books, ebooks, or other temporary or non-tangible options. Me, I like books. Heavy, paper, physical books.

I’ve been saving favorite books since my high school days. There’s no way I’m ever going to get rid of them. In fact, despite the capacious shelves Don built when we moved into our house in late 2020, the shelves are overflowing … which is my fault entirely. (Don has a collection of literally thousands of books, but they’re on his computer.)

Another factor putting us squarely in the maximalism camp is our house size. We downsized to a home well under one-third the size of our old place (not counting Older Daughter’s side of the house, our living space is 1,000 square feet), so certain things (such as jigsaw puzzles and photo albums) are by default on display rather than stored in distant corners. We trimmed and pared down on things we no longer needed or wanted, and “curated” (that seems to be an important word) the things we wanted to keep. When we had our massive yard sale last summer, it was in part to get rid of things we no longer wanted or needed. Nonetheless, space in our home is at a premium, closets (except for small ones in the bedroom) are nonexistent, and we must make do with visually displaying and living among the things we choose to keep.

That said, there seems to be a camp which is a blend between minimalism and maximalism into which we fall. Maximalism doesn’t mean you go out and buy “stuff” for the sole purpose of displaying it. Rather, it seems to be the opportunity to display objects or collections you’ve inherited, thrifted, assembled, or otherwise acquired through frugal means.The lines of a home’s interior décor can still be clean and, yes, minimal. But the resident is comforted by the presence of comfortable and cherished furnishings.

Despite having a “maximalistic” style, I still like clean surfaces, uncluttered countertops in the kitchen, and other expressions of order.

What I try not to do is cross the line into clutter. “Cluttercore,” as the name implies, is embracing one’s inner collector and having spaces filled so with many objects that it’s often difficult to clean and (to me) visually unappealing. In some cases it may even bear some resemblance with borderline hoarding.

I still admire the heck out of minimalism … but I’m afraid it’s not me.


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