history, many intelligent people have claimed that it’s better to live a life without excess, and just as many intelligent people have claimed that it’s better to live a life of excess. In 2017, this disagreement is being played out in the world of interior design.1
For minimalists, less is more. That means white walls, white furniture, and creating calmness and beauty by limiting yourself to the absolute basics. For maximalists, more is more. That means throwing together as many colours and patterns as possible and creating beauty through the sheer variety and amount of stuff in a given room.
However, becoming a minimalist 2or becoming a maximalist is about much more than sofas and lampshades. They are both philosophies which try to tell us how best to think, to feel, and to live our lives. This is nothing new.
Plato debated with his contemporaries 3about how we can achieve eudaimonia, a Greek word which roughly translates as “human fulfilment”. 2,400 years later, the minimalists and maximalists are arguing over the very same question.
Minimalist from Past to Present
Minimalism has its roots in cynicism. In the 21st Century, we tend to imagine that this word means someone who is world-weary, negative, and sceptical. However, the original, Greek meaning of the word referred to a school of philosophy which questioned how much we really needed.
Ancient Greek cynics 4believed that true happiness did not depend on material goods or things from the external world. Rather, true happiness could only be found within. As a result, it’s something that anyone can attain.
One of the most famous cynics was a man named Diogenes. Diogenes was a philosopher who wandered the earth with only four possessions: a barrel (which was also his home), a stick, a cloak, and a bread bag. According to some sources, he was once asked by Emperor Alexander the Great if there was anything he wanted. He replied by saying that he wanted the Emperor to move to the side; he was blocking the sun.
In more recent times, minimalism can be traced back to American philosophers and writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson5 and Henry David Thoreau.6 Emerson was born and raised in the United States at a time when the country was still trying to figure itself out. He felt that, while the US had declared itself politically independent from Europe, it had yet to become intellectually or philosophically independent from Europe.
As a man raised by a long line English puritans, Emerson felt trapped by the traditions of Europe and, in turn, he felt trapped by what he saw as an obsession with the material world. He was struck by the epiphany that, though humans are a part of the natural world, we often act as if we are apart from it.
As a result, we try to achieve happiness by shielding ourselves from nature through extravagant homes with countless possessions. Emerson rejected this idea, claiming that a simpler life which was more in touch with nature was best.
This philosophy, known as transcendentalism, was then developed upon by Thoreau. After moving into a cabin the woods in order to become completely self-reliant (and to avoid paying taxes as a form of political protest), Thoreau discovered that he didn’t need all that much to achieve the state of eudaimonia that Plato talked about.
Maximalist: Its Root and Development
Maximalism, too, can be traced back to Western antiquity. In response to the cynics, the epicureans saw things differently 7. These guys believed that it was more important to live a life devoted to the pursuit of pleasure than it was to rid your life of unnecessary things. For them, if something feels good, then it probably is good.
However, epicureans were also aware that pleasure was a kind of calculation. After all, too much short-term pleasure can get in the way…