Minimalism is the philosophy of living with less, while maximalism is all about having more. In terms of design, minimalism focuses on simplicity. Maximalism embraces extravagance.
So, when it comes to minimalism vs. maximalism, which one is right for you? Can you be a maximalist and a minimalist simultaneously? We answer these questions and more in this guide. But first, some quick definitions.
What is minimalism?
Minimalism is a style or perspective applied to many different areas of life, including design, art, music, fashion, and lifestyle.
The minimalism movement picked up steam in the 20th century when renowned artists started pioneering the minimalist aesthetic in their work. However, the minimalist mindset has been practised in Greek and Roman philosophy and Buddhism since ancient times.
Minimalists believe that less is more. They focus on quality over quantity, live with only the essentials, and naturally reject excessive consumerism.
What is maximalism?
Maximalism is the opposite of minimalism. It’s a style or technique that embraces excess and extravagance.
Maximalists believe that more is more. They focus on quantity and quality and surround themselves with as many things as possible. They want to have everything they desire, and they want it to be loud, colourful, and sometimes chaotic.
For example, the 2022 trend “weird girl aesthetic” is a maximalist fashion that rejects neutrals and timeless basics for busy and colourful pieces.
the weird girl aesthetic. is it anti-fashion? are people trying too hard just to look ugly? does it only work on bella hadid? let’s discuss pic.twitter.com/lRZZJ0JoAK— ً (@KAlAGEBER) May 7, 2022
Minimalism vs. maximalism: examples and scenarios
In this next section, I’ll give examples of minimalism vs. maximalism in different areas of life. Note that these are generalisations, not strict rules. You can be a minimalist in some areas of your life and a maximalist in others.
Emptiness vs. fullness
In minimalism, emptiness is seen as a sign of beauty. Minimalists feel that empty spaces can be calming and serene.
In maximalism, fullness is seen as a sign of richness and personality. Maximalists try to fill their spaces with as many beautiful things as possible.
What maximalists and minimalists think of each other
Minimalists see maximalists as wasteful, attention-seeking, and materialistic. They believe that maximalists are trying to fill a void in their lives with stuff.
Maximalists see minimalists as boring, deprived, and uptight. They believe minimalists are missing out on the joys of life by owning so little.
Relationship to things
Maximalists grow a deep attachment to their things, while minimalists see their things as just that—things.
Maximalists think that the objects in their lives have meaning and purpose. There’s usually a story behind each item they’ve acquired. They sentimentalise belongings and have difficulty getting rid of them, even when they’re no longer helpful.
In contrast, Minimalists believe an object’s value lies in its utility. They’re more likely to get rid of things when they’re no longer needed and try not to attach sentimental value to their items.
Minimalists trust that the less emotional connection they have to possessions, the more freedom they have.
Approach to shopping
Maximalists love shopping, especially finding unique pieces. They see it as a hobby—even a skill—and a way to express their personality.
Minimalists don’t like shopping and see it as a waste of time and money. They’d instead use those resources to create memorable experiences.
Maximalists desire one-of-a-kind possessions. Minimalists are happy with duplicates—for example, personal uniforms.
Minimalists believe investing in quality items that will last long is more critical. Maximalists think it’s more important to have a variety of things to match their mood, a season, or an event.
Maximalism can be described as “loud,” while minimalism is “quiet.”
For instance, maximalists seek to communicate their personality through art and design. They want their clothes, homes, and tastes in film, food and music to reflect who they are.
When you walk into a maximalist’s home, you’ll quickly spark conversations while looking at their artwork, decor, bookshelf and ornaments. It’s through their things that make it incredibly easy to connect and relate to a maximalist.
Conversely, Minimalists pare back things until all that’s left is their personality. They use minimalism as a tool to declutter their lives and focus on what’s important.
When you walk into a minimalist’s home, the uncluttered environment will challenge you to be present and get to know the person.
Maximalist design is usually seen as “trendy”, while minimalist design is “timeless.”
Maximalists want to keep their spaces current and stylish. They also tend to get bored quickly. As their interests evolve, so does their style. Consequently, maximalist design is relatively transient.
Minimalist design is more timeless. There’ll always be a place for black t-shirts and white walls regardless of whether you’re a minimalist or a maximalist.
It might sometimes be boring, but it’s a safe bet. Alternatively, you might wake up one morning and start to detest your maximalist decor, so you move on to the next project.
Maximalism highlights the decor while minimalism highlights the architecture
In a maximalist space, the furnishings, artwork, and even books are the star of the show. The architecture takes a backseat. In fact, you might not even notice the architectural details in a maximalist space because they’re so overwhelmed by the decor.
In a minimalist space, the focus is on the architecture. The furnishings are minimal, and there’s often very little (if any) artwork or decorations. This allows you to appreciate the architectural details of the space.
Misconceptions and general thoughts on maximalism and minimalism
In this section, I want to address some common misconceptions about minimalism and maximalism.
Minimalist design doesn’t have to be boring
Minimalism isn’t about being “boring” or “plain.” Just because a space is minimal doesn’t mean it has to be devoid of personality. Think about Japanese or Scandinavian minimalism. These minimal spaces are incredibly stylish and full of character.
Maximalist design doesn’t always mean cluttered
Yes, maximalist design can be cluttered, but it doesn’t have to be. A well-designed maximalist space is cohesive and well-edited. It might look like a lot is going on, but if you look closely, you’ll see that everything has a purpose and a place.
Minimalism isn’t about being “perfect”
There’s this idea that minimalism is about having a “perfect” life or space. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Minimalism is about making room for what’s important to you and letting go of the rest. It’s not about being perfect. It’s about being intentional.
There’s a difference between maximalism and hoarding
Just because someone is a maximalist doesn’t mean they’re a hoarder. Hoarding is technically a disorder that requires professional help. Hoarders accumulate things from a deep emotional response.
A maximalist, on the other hand, carefully curates their items. They only surround themselves with things that light them up.
Minimalism is often used as a temporary solution
Some people naturally have a minimalist mindset and always have and will continue to be essentialists.
However, many people get into minimalism to cope with a life that has gotten out of control. Sometimes you need to hit reset and start fresh. So for the next few months or a year, you might declutter or commit to a minimalist challenge to detox.
Once you’ve cleansed your life and gotten rid of the excess, you can slowly bring things back in on an as-needed basis.
Maximalist design can be a genuine passion
Maximalist design can be the ultimate life project of self-expression, art, and creativity without materialism. It can be an ever-evolving process of curation and collecting that can be very fulfilling.
Minimalism is maximalism
Wait, what? How can minimalism be maximalism?
I know it sounds contradictory, but hear me out.
Minimalism is about removing everything that doesn’t bring you joy or serve a purpose. But once you’ve decluttered and have only the essentials, you’ll find more space (and time) to commit yourself to your interests fully.
So in a way, minimalism is maximalism because you’re making room to maximise what’s important. Joshua Becker explains it best in this video.
People may get into maximalism or minimalism as a response to the other
Both minimalism and maximalism have been trendy at different points in time. And sometimes, people may get into one as a response to the other.
For example, after years of minimalism being “in,” some people might be over it and want to go in the opposite direction. Or they might be sick of minimalism being associated with “cold” or “clinical” spaces and want to add warmth to their homes.
On the flip side, after years of maximalism being “in,” some people might be craving simplicity and minimalism. Or they might be sick of feeling like they have to constantly keep up with the latest trends and want to simplify their lives.
Can you be a maximalist and a minimalist at the same time?
Absolutely. Tiny houses are a perfect example of being minimalist and maximalist simultaneously. By having limited space, you’re forced to pare down your possessions. But how you style your tiny home may take on a maximalist aesthetic.
Furthermore, while having a maximalist design style, you can have a minimalist mindset (everything has a purpose/reason for being in your space).
You could argue that there’s a difference between a minimalist style and a minimalist mindset. With style, you might get rid of everything that isn’t necessary (even art on walls sometimes).
Whereas with the minimalist mindset, you’re curating the stuff you have in your life and getting rid of the stuff that doesn’t have a purpose, doesn’t bring joy, or doesn’t function in your space.
So minimalism and maximalism aren’t mutually exclusive. You can like (and even love) both. It just depends on what works for you and your lifestyle.
Both minimalism and maximalism are about being intentional
Minimalism and maximalism are about being intentional with your life and belongings. It’s about making choices based on what’s important to you.
So ask yourself, what kind of life do you want to live? And design accordingly.
Do you lean towards maximalism or minimalism, or both? Let me know in the comments.
This was such an insightful read! I am a “pack rat in recovery” coming from a house with “maximalist” (read “hoarder”) parents. As a parent myself to four humans, I have recently started down the road to simplicity and minimalism helps. I enjoyed Josh Becker’s explanation of the two terms from this article. I appreciate your thoughts and sharing. I am thrilled to have found you! Cheers!
Glad you enjoyed the read, Nicole. All the best with your journey. It’s freeing!
Enjoyed reading all the topics discussed in this blog. Loved the comparisons beteen mjnimalists and maximists. Liked the peaceful calm of little to no clutter.
Thanks, Essie. It’s an interesting contrast.