Skip to content

Mini or maxi or cut to the core

Who is the expert on what your house should look like?
shelley column pic
Is minimalism in or out?

My husband and I were sorting through some of my mother-in-law's belongings after she made a move to a different place last month. It is fascinating seeing things that mean the most to her and what she tucked away over the years as special remembrances and keepsakes of different people and events in her life.

But it's also what makes going through her stuff challenging. Dealing with dishes, towels, pots and pans is one thing. Those items are easy to donate and others can put them to use. But some of our other stuff isn't necessarily what others might be looking for and raises questions where it should be directed. It's simply too personal because some possessions are more than just things. They can tell stories and store our memories.

It made me think of some of the things I have in my house that unless I choose to do something about, my daughters will be faced with similar questions one day. It starts with books, including several shelves of nothing but volumes on the British monarchy. I'm sure they're going to cherish the picture of me and a friend up in the middle of the night to watch the coronation of King Charles III, right? Yeah, probably not.

I read the story of a man whose mother is in a care home following the death of his father, and as their only child he is responsible for clearing out the house they lived in for 48 years which he says means "piles and piles of stuff with nowhere to go." He is putting much into storage to deal with. Someday.  It’s become big business. One Canadian storage company saw their share price soar from 50 cents to more than $6.

While many families will be faced with the prospect of clearing out everything grandparents/parents accumulated over a lifetime, there will come a time when we might see less of it as those who have been living a minimalist lifestyle reach their most senior years.

Minimalism started with an increase in 'simple living' movements more than four decades ago in places where people were protesting the opening of fast food restaurants and discount stores offering cheaply made products. Supporters embracing the movement were resisting the idea that faster acquisition of more is somehow better.

By the time we ushered in the new millennium minimalism was mainstream and the philosophy that less is more became a catch-all term to describe simple and sustainable living, quality design, and purchasing with intent.

It is a huge movement. Ironically, given the vast number of writers, podcasters and speakers promoting it, we seemed to be maxing out on minimalism. Nonetheless, it became widely embraced—at least for a time.

A few years ago some experts declared minimalism to be over, replaced by cluttercore. Tiring of monochromatic design and stark spaces, (and fueled by a pandemic) a desire to have homes that looked more personal began to be sought. Colorful, cozy rooms were the goal so walls were painted and mementos came out of storage tubs. A design psychologist noted it was “an emotional security blanket” during difficult times. Minimalism heightened the sense of isolation during the pandemic. Cluttercore was a reaction to that, giving people a sense that a house could, and should, look like a well-lived in home. Searches on cluttercore design trends rose by more than 500% during that time.

So which is it? Too much stuff is stressful. Fill your home with unique pieces to make you more creative. Clutter decreases productivity. Messy is okay. Experts go back and forth; one countering the other. Enough already. Do you know who should be the expert when it comes to your house? You.

As the pendulum swings back and forth—maximalism, minimalism, vibrant color, monochromes, less, more, spotless, messy, simplicity, cluttercore--many people find themselves unsure what to do.

Yet consider how much is at our disposal that we have opportunity to even consider such things. The only people who can determine what sort of lifestyle they want to live are the ones with the resources to do just that.

It can be said that the first minimalist was Diogenes born around 412 BC. He lived in a rain barrel, had one piece of clothing and said he refused to conform to society’s values of accumulating possessions. That was more than 1600 years ago. In other words, it’s nothing new. So instead of trying to live the way others think you should, why not embrace what works for you.

Whether by choice or by circumstance, the most important aspect of our home is not what is in it, but who is in it. You matter. Minimize the noise of others telling you what your home should look like and maximize the joy of living the way you feel is best. That’s my outlook.