My Personal Battle with Maximalism

Thursday, January 04, 2018


I grew up poor. After my parents divorced, I lived primarily with my mother who worked three jobs to climb her way out of debt and bankruptcy. My mother worked incredibly hard to make sure that I could enjoy life's big and little luxuries, like a surprise trip to Disneyland or the magical routine of shopping for new school supplies and clothes.

 So when I finally started making my own money, I went a little apeshit. I developed a Kong-sized spending habit in college that has taken an incredibly long time to control. I still splurge from time to time, but I am now in a position to support my own lifestyle without any help from my husband.

I think personally I tend to gravitate toward maximalism, which is defined by Wikipedia as an aesthetic of "excess and redundancy." Now, some of you are not going to like me for this, and I promise I'll explain myself, but when I think of maximalism I conjure up images of:

Fixer Upper // Magnolia Market




Liz Marie Blog //  The Found Cottage




Are you sensing a trend? I adore all decor rustic, vintage/antique, natural, neutral, and just a little beat up. My husband cannot stand it. I love things that look lived in, and he can't stand anything that isn't crisp, clean, and vacuum-sealed.

But this decor trend is maximalist. It's an aesthetic that pushes decor for decor's sake (rarely are these items functional, except for storing more decor). It's bold, it's often redundant (repeating pieces or patterns). The other thing is: it's expensive.

Yo, trying to make your home look like it's straight outta HGTV's Fixer Upper will break your bank. Even folks who make extraordinary amounts of money struggle to keep up as this rustic chic trend evolves and grows.

My battle with this form of maximalism isn't just about the money, though. It's also the clutter. Sure, there's a way to perfectly arrange every doodad, but in the end...

it's just more stuff.

I am finding as I get older, as my career evolves, and as my time at home diminishes, I'm wanting a space that is less cluttered and more purposeful. I read Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up last year, and it changed my life.

Seriously.

It didn't just change my home and my organizational habits, it changed the way I looked at everything in my life. If it wasn't sparking joy, it was getting the proverbial boot. Over time though, I kind of forgot about the spark and I became a little less decisive. Then I started browsing the internet...and well, minimalism lost the fight.

Now I've got a house full of crap that doesn't really suit my husband and myself. There are pieces that still spark joy every time I look at them, but their brilliance is often dulled by the weird little tchotchkes next to them that I would rather donate or sell.

It's psychologically and practically difficult to marry these maximalist design trends and my desire for a more minimalist lifestyle. And you know what? I blame Instagram.

Not really, because it's not their fault. But we live in a maximalist society, and maximalist photos tend to get the views, sponsorships, followers, et cetera et cetera et cetera.

So my first step this week toward being more minimalist in my daily life and honing my personal routine was to clear out my Instagram. I stopped following the feeds that didn't spark joy for me. It wasn't personal, though really in a way it was - you get what I mean (I hope). When I open up my social media, email, Flipboard, whatever I want to feel a spark of interest and excitement. I don't want to keep on scrolling to get to the things that matter to me.

Same thing with my eyes. I don't want to keep on scrolling in my own home. I want to light up with joy in my home space. I want to handle my knick-knacks and be able to sit in silence and admire my own home the way I would a comfortable, cozy hotel.

Though my husband hates spring cleaning and decluttering (basically anything that involves getting rid of stuff), we both agree that it does wonders for our mindset. Downsizing out stuff also easier to clean because let's face it: my house is maximalist. I live in 2400sqft on 2.4 acres with 2.4 bathrooms and 2.4 cats.

That's a joke.

But not really. It's a lot to keep up with, and it's so expensive. We bit off more than we could chew, and I'm finding that this is a pretty major (would even say maximalist) trend for us. Excess and redundancy, when what we need right now is simplicity, tranquility, and accessibility.

When you have a disabled spouse, extra stuff sometimes becomes the name of the game, but not necessarily in the way you might expect. We own a wheelchair. We own crutches. We have canes and more canes; we even keep a back-up in each car. We have three medicine cabinets full of prescriptions and over the counter medications. In this regard, we're not excessive. The redundancy and excess serve a clear purpose. These are life skills we have learned that help us adapt to my husband's disability so we can deal with emergencies and tasks of daily living with ease. Here, maximalism serves us well.

But when that maximalism starts to compete with the other, arguably less important shit in our lives, it drives us both crazy. It drives me crazy because buyer's remorse sucks and because my husband's middle name is Frugal. 

So yeah, I love Joanna Gaines and I admire the White Cottage Farm because I see a lot of my own tastes and ideals in these two wonderful, brilliant ladies. They are a hoot to follow and they are doing great things in the digital and physical worlds. I would love to be able to leave behind my day job and do what they do, but I chose my path (see my last post) for a reason.

I simply can't keep up with maximalism, as much as I adore it and covet it. Part of minimalism is learning how to step away from the excess and the redundancy, to recognize maximalism's place in our lives. When it suits and when it doesn't. The other part of minimalism is knowing when to let go so that a thing can more fully spark joy in someone else's life. It's tough going, the process of letting go, and it requires a lot of self-reflecting and getting down to the business of looking at what purpose things serve in our lives.

There's a lot of frustration, pressure, and regret in the process too, as you may have seen if you've ever watched YouTubers explain their struggles with turning minimalist. It's like a settling in, rather than just a settling. Maybe that's the whole point: to find joy (aka the spark) in the simple, mundane, unextraordinary. I may not relish it all the time, but that's OK.

You know, I am quickly finding my phrase of the year is one both minimal and maximal in all the best ways: "That's OK." It's quite freeing when you think about it. It's simple yet extraordinary; it's even mundane.

And you know what?

That's OK too. 

Photos credited in sections. The top featured photo is by little ol' me! 

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