By: Summer Mengarelli
Don’t tell IKEA, but minimalism has competition. Clean lines and muted color palettes have dominated the design world for awhile, and their influence shows no signs of stopping. Nonetheless, in recent years there has been a revival of a style we might characterize as the antithesis of minimalism. With its bold textures and clashing patterns, maximalism is a lot to look at, but the motivation behind this aesthetic renaissance is fairly simple.
Maximalism is absolutely opulent, but its aim is never to boast wealth. Instead, the movement suggests that interior design, like fashion, can be an avenue of self-expression. It proposes that the spaces we occupy are opportunities to extravagantly illustrate our lives. This simple principle translates beyond interior design, as maximalism, like minimalism, is as much a lifestyle as it is an aesthetic movement. To live as a maximalist is to live extravagantly. Although the phrase rings beautifully and is probably destined to end up tattooed on someone’s rib cage, the concept of extravagant living requires evaluation.
Like minimalism and so many other aspects of Western life, maximalism as a lifestyle can be traced back to ancient Greece. Epicurus and adherents to his school of thought defined pleasure as a lack of pain and mental tribulation, and saw it as the ultimate good of life. Ethical theories that view pleasure in this way fall under the label of hedonism. However, Epicurus was careful to emphasize that pleasure includes justice and wisdom, not simply carnal delights. Fast forward to the late 1800s, when Oscar Wilde is writing and publishing the now-classic “Picture of Dorian Gray.” Through Dorian’s actions, Wilde articulates a value system that has been deemed “the New Hedonism,” in which indulgence and the pursuit of earthly pleasures are viewed as the highest purposes of human life.
If you are at all familiar with the plot of the novel, you know that this brand of hedonism does not work out well for Dorian Gray — to reduce the story quite a bit, a life of perpetual youth, extravagance, and debauchery ends in a tragic death. There are certainly parallels to be found between the lavish life of Dorian and the type of lifestyle that can be assumed of a maximalist: the pursuit and enjoyment of art, food, drink, entertainment, and interesting company is inherent to both.
I can easily picture Dorian Gray lounging on a jewel-toned settee in a well-tailored suit, a glass of wine dangling from his manicured hand. The storyline of “The Picture of Dorian Gray” and the aesthetics of maximalism simply go hand-in-hand.
However, to live as a maximalist does not necessitate a complete abandon to carnal pleasures, and certainly not at the expense of a moral system, a desire for justice, or the pursuit of wisdom. The less materialistic side of maximalism as a lifestyle entails living in grateful wonder at the beauty of the sensual world; it is recognizing the grandeur of the universe and striving to maximize our experience in it. Maximalism does not have to be an accumulation of material goods. Living maximally can mean accumulating knowledge, experiences, and meaningful relationships. It can be as simple as fostering a mindset that searches out and appreciates instances of beauty (whether aesthetic, poetic, relational, or any other form of beauty) in ordinary quotidian details.
I thought I was a minimalist until I researched maximalism. My dorm room walls are covered in black-and-white tapestries, not the patterned murals or gilded wallpapers of my dreams, and there is a regrettable lack of throw pillows on my lofted bed. Nonetheless, I can’t help but see the tenets of maximalism reflected in the stacks of books invading the flat surfaces of my room as swiftly as the tips from my waitressing job will allow me to buy them.
And even beyond the beauty of the material and intellectual realms, I want to live maximally in my relationships. I want to foster a deep appreciation for the ways the people in my life love, encourage, and challenge me; and I want to value them like a curator values their collection. The concept of maximalism is simple: whether it manifests as an aesthetic of textures and colors lush enough to make Marie Kondo faint, or it manifests as a lifestyle rich in experiences and relationships, the art of maximalism rests in appreciation of what life has to offer.