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Minimalism in the Rear View Mirror for 2020s

Alexandra Lewis

Jan 15, 2024

The Aesthetics of Minimalism Is What Killed the Minimalism Trend

Sitting in the corner of your apartment next to your front door is an old bookshelf, now waiting to be taken to the curb for trash collection. The planks of wood are white, narrow and there are five of them in total. What was once used to house a small collection of books and a house plant is now dismantled and soon to be forgotten. The purchase of the shelf was inspired by the trend of minimalism that flooded social media nearly ten years ago. Your social media was full of people decluttering their homes and getting rid of anything that didn’t “spark joy”. The sleek, clean and minimal home interiors were all over your feed, and you hopped on the trend like it was the last bus home.

When looking around at the interior design trends of the 2020’s — the white shelves and grey rugs are getting fewer and further between in favour of a new style: maximalism. But why did people turn their heads away from their marble coffee tables and bare shelves? The answer would be that, for some, the minimalism trend became a competition and its inherit values got lost in the monochromatic grey sauce. For others, it just wasn’t fun anymore and the pressure to keep your home as sparse as possible became hard to maintain, especially in the face of the pandemic when people spent more time in their homes that ever before.


Who Can Win The “Less Stuff” Challenge?

Minimalism as a style has existed for many years, but the trend really started around 2010 with the release of books like Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Dave Bruno’s 100 Thing Challenge. While Kondo’s book was about the Japanese art of decluttering and how to implement the method in your home, Bruno’s book took a more competitive approach to minimalism — try to get your worldly possessions down to just 100 items as a response to what he deemed “American-style consumerism”.

In an interview from the blog Man vs Debt, Bruno said the 100 Thing Challenge was “crafted around forming new habits and breaking free this [consumerist] cycle and no longer participating in this get, get, get kind of attitude.”

Which sounds great! Stop participating in consumerism and capitalism by breaking the habit of mindless purchases and consumption. Which ties into the core values of minimalism which are to keep only what you love and don’t purchase or hold on to things that you don’t love or need. Unfortunately, as the trend of minimalism spiked after the release of the Netflix documentary Minimalism: A Documentary About Important Things in 2015, the internet took hold of the idea that owning the least number of items will make you happy.

A quick look on YouTube will lead you to finding dozens of videos of people doing massive declutter sessions, downsizing their possession and even trying to get their items down to just 100 things. This fueled an odd competition for people to live with less; not because of the mindful practice of minimalism, but just to see if they could do it. The pressure that came with the idea that you should only own basic necessities was intense for some people and many who identified as minimalists left the trend behind them because of it.

YouTuber Lana Blakely published a video in 2021 titled Goodbye, Minimalism where she explained why she was putting the aesthetic behind her. She talks of the pressure of feeling like she had too much stuff, especially when moving to a new home.

“When I moved into my apartment, I was questioning the necessity of quite literally everything as an attempt to reduce my possessions to as few as possible.”

She even found herself questioning the need for things like scissors and a toolbox. The pressure to maintain sparse environment led to her deciding that the trend just wasn’t for her anymore. But that’s not the only reason people decided to leave the trend behind.

Having Less Doesn’t Mean It’s Easy

On top of the pressure to have less comes with the pressure of keeping things minimal. The blog Silk and Sonder describes the minimalist aesthetic as “neutral colors, clean spaces, few distractions, little to no clutter, and a calm vibe” in their article What does it mean to have a minimalist aesthetic? 

The problem with maintaining this so called “calm vibe” is that when the average person owns or rents a home, they generally tend to live in it. Keeping a home free of clutter and being endlessly spotless is difficult, as anyone with white kitchen cabinets or floors can attest. Light colours show dirt, grime, dust, and anything else that isn’t the same shade of eggshell, ivory or pearl. But cleaning aside, even keeping clutter out of your life can prove difficult.

People accumulate messes all the time without realising it: the extra batteries you keep for the TV remote, the crappy headphones that came with your old phone that you keep “just in case”, flyers from the mail with coupons you promise yourself you’ll use before they expire (you won’t), and the porcelain figurines from your aunt that feel rude to regift or throw away.

Clutter comes and goes, but generally we don’t feel guilty about it, unless the minimalists online catch those stray bobby pins in the background of your Instagram story.

In an article called The new maximalism for Vox, Rebecca Jennings spoke with author and senior story producer at Curbed, Diana Budds, about how minimalism was edged out in recent years. Budds tells her that minimalism is “hard to live with” because of the rigid rules of minimalism. Minimalist homes can be so clean and white that they almost look sterile, with all the surfaces only holding a few objects or none at all.

“These homes are impossible; they have no signs of life. . . I don’t think that most people can live like that.”


It's Just Plain Boring

The biggest plight of minimalism is that it’s boring. The muted colours, bare surfaces and blank walls are like a restrictive diet instead of a feast. There is no personality to these spaces because they lack any quirks, interest or bold colours. Furniture is often soft wood tones, marble or granite; bed spreads are white, grey or taupe; and maybe if you’re lucky there are some plants strategically placed so that owners can say that have do in fact have colour in their home.

The photo above shows what a typical minimalist bedroom looks like. The desk that only has a candle and plant on it makes it look like no one has ever sat at it. The white bedspread and drapes conjure images of plush hospital beds. Even the garbage can was carefully selected to as not to disrupt the design. Looking at this room does not spark joy; it sparks anxiety at the thought of even daring to enter the room with a cup of coffee for fear it might spill on the perfectly pristine décor.

It’s no wonder that people got bored of this aesthetic, especially once Covid-19 hit. When ordered to stay in your home, many decided that the beige wonderland they created just wasn’t cutting it anymore.

Make Way for Maximalism

In 2022, the United States Census Bureau reported that “e-commerce sales increased by $244.2 billion or 43% in 2020, the first year of the pandemic,” which is not much of a surprise. Stuck indoors with nothing to do and staring at blank walls, it’s no wonder so many people decided that their spaces needed some much-needed updating. For those who got stuck in the dopamine loop of TikTok, the videos of people redecorating their bedrooms, offices, and living rooms were endless.

With many donation places pausing the acceptance of new items, keeping the old and mixing in the new helped fuel the trend of maximalism. People decided to repaint items of furniture that they already had, add decorative coffee table books, and hang art on the walls. Maximalism isn’t as restrictive as minimalism, which makes it easier to follow and more accessible. You don’t need storage space to hide your collection of trinkets, you display them with pride and joy.

Minimalists turned maximalists decided to stop hiding the bright and colourful facets of their personalities in favour of letting them shine. Bringing in bright pops of colour, textures and knick-knacks galore, the homes changed from sparse to bursting. Interior designer and author, Abigail Ahern, is a cheerleader for maximalism.

For an article titled Minimalism vs Maximalism: Which is more stylish? Published by Harper’s Bazaar, Ahern weighed in for the maximalism argument saying, “Maximalism brings joy to the home. It lifts spirits and provides inspiration. . . Maximalism pushes boundaries and challenges rules and in so doing provokes such an emotional response.”

Finding joy in your home doesn’t have to mean you follow the idea of ‘tidy space, tidy mind’ it can mean finding joy in your possessions and how you display them. Letting your personality shine through interior decorating makes people feel like they own their spaces, leaving their mark in every room. Instead of trying to own less, maximalists decide to own as much as they want, as long as it feels like ‘them’.

Here’s Looking at You, Maximalism

So, while western society may have loved minimalism for a time, its time has now passed. By turning an age-old practice into a competition, keeping a house clean became a small nightmare, and be feeling like our personalities were lost in a sea of beige, it’s no wonder the masses decided to turn away from minimalism in favour of something freer and fun.

In the space where your old, white bookshelf stood stands another. But this new one is tall, blue and has several tiers at different heights to allow for the display of all manner of books, plants and art. Gone are the days of hiding your favourite vases in favour of a blank surface that will collect dust like no tomorrow. Here are the days of filling your empty spaces with items and pictures that illicit a new type of joy: the joy of maximalism.


Photos - Unsplash

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