Waking up early every spring break, I open my closet to a plethora of clothes: some I wear almost daily and others that I have not thought about in months. There is the red blouse I don’t remember buying, a onesie I wore for a themed day during homecoming week, my favorite sweater and other clothes with backgrounds of varying importance. My rule stands that if I cannot remember the last time I wore it or I simply do not like the item anymore, it will be donated.
I began down a path of minimalism well before I could put a name to it. My closet refresh each year is just one example of me embracing the concept in my life. I began adopting the school of thought that “less is more” and tried to declutter other areas such as my room and study spaces.
As I continued to identify the things that were a necessary part of my daily routines and got the courage to get rid of the rest, I found that the feeling I had was not a fluke. I felt more liberated, centered and focused in spaces that were narrowed to bare essentials.
Although the phrase “less is more” can originally be traced back to Robert Brownings’ 1855 poem titled “Andrea del Santo,” 20th century modern architect Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe popularized the idiom in the 1920s. His structures around Chicago and New York City are famous for their elegant simplicity and further spread the idea of “less is more.”
The modern meaning of “less is more” is closely related to minimalism and anti-materialism, which both focus on the intentional choice of keeping the things that you love and value and letting go of all the rest. Focusing on reducing consumption by buying less can reduce the waste and pollution that harms the environment. In 2018, the United States Environmental Protection Agency estimated that the generation of textiles was 17 million tons. The amount of textiles in landfills in municipal solid waste was 11.3 million tons.
After I had donated my clothes and decluttered my spaces, I suddenly felt less stressed and more focused. With further research, I discovered that this phenomenon was in fact not uncommon.
In 2011, neuroscience researchers Stephanie McMains and Sabin Kastner of Princeton University used functional magnetic resonance imaging and other measurements to find that clearing clutter from work and home environments aided in a better ability to process and focus information, along with an increase in productivity.
In terms of mental health, a research article first published in 2009 by UCLA found that the levels of cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone, were higher in mothers whose environment at home was in disorder. Even in the classroom, less decor has been found to help children stay focused and grounded.
A 2014 research article from Carnegie Mellon University found that children who spent time in a classroom with highly decorated walls were distracted easily and demonstrated smaller gains of knowledge than when the decorations were taken off.
This is not to say that filling a room with decorations is bad or to villainize minimalism’s counterpart, maximalism. I recognize there is a certain joy that comes with cherishing a keepsake from your childhood and displaying it on your mantel or plastering posters of your favorite bands on your walls. However, as Tyler Durden of “Fight Club” famously put it, “The things you own, end up owning you.” While this may not always be the case, when we start to place paramount importance on the need to buy the next “big thing,” maximalism, and even further — consumerism, can begin to chip away at our wellbeing.
Marie Kondo, a Japanese organizing consultant, author and TV consultant, wrote a book on and branded the KonMari Method. The method encourages getting rid of items that are no longer needed and keeping items of purpose and meaning. Kondo’s philosophy advocates for only owning things that you love and adopting a new mindset to keep essentials.
Scrolling through Instagram, there is never an ad far from your fingertips telling you the next item that you must have, displayed in a perfectly aesthetic photo. It can be difficult in our modern society to differentiate between the essential and the nonessential.
Seeing your possessions as an extension of yourself can be dangerous when you are always seeking to collect new items. This will never allow for space to settle and simply be. And minimalism is not just owning fewer material possessions, it’s about the conscious effort to choose the items that bring you joy and diminish frivolous expenses.
The next time you open your closet, look around at all of the items you have forgotten about, or don’t fit anymore, or haven’t worn in months. I promise the sheer quantity of them will shock you. The goal of minimalism is not to get rid of everything but is rather rooted in the beauty of simplicity and not letting your material possessions possess you.
If you have ever stepped foot in my room at either my mom’s or dad’s, you would most likely be overwhelmed. From floor to ceiling, something occupies the once-empty beige. Posters, cut-outs, vinyl art, virtually anything I have found visually appealing over the years have been impulsively plastered to my walls. I’ve been doing this for as long as I can remember (my most vivid memory of this being the time I was eight and decided to cut out pictures of Taylor Swift and in a totally-not-creepy way tape these pictures on the wall above my bed.)
While my walls have evolved over the years and my taste has “matured,” (I put that in quotes because I am still very in love with Taylor Swift) they remain filled. They serve as a platform to show guests who I am, what I believe in and the things I love and am proud to love. I am not the only person who has this penchant for collecting and displaying things. In fact, this has evolved in recent years to be a movement with a given name: maximalism.
Most likely you are more familiar with the opposing movement minimalism. If you are not familiar, it is exactly how it sounds. You own and display the minimum amount of stuff humanly possible. The term minimalism became popularized in the ‘50s and ‘60s to describe simple, objective trends in art. Minimalism as an art form soon evolved into architecture and eventually, millennials were flooding Instagram feeds with gray tones, empty walls, clean lines and rooms full of nothing.
While I respect that this movement is almost similar to the principles of Buddhism or Christianity, in that it encourages people to find attachment in things outside of the material world, the movement as an aesthetic and lifestyle is absolutely no fun and makes spaces feel much less human.
I commend minimalists’ attempts to be more eco-friendly.. The less you own and the less you are consuming the less your carbon footprint is etc.. I am a strong proponent of attempting to consume less in the right context. I am just not entirely sure that it’s necessary in the context of decorating your spaces. In my own rooms, the things I use as decoration are all things I’ve accumulated over the years. I love repurposing old items for art. For instance, in my bedroom at my dad’s apartment, I have a framed picture of my dad’s childhood home that was passed down to him by his mother. This picture has been circulating since long before I was born, so really the environmental impacts of me owning and displaying this piece of art are not too resounding. Beyond that, I also enjoy using thrifted pieces and pictures from my mom’s old scrapbooks to decorate spaces. Again, there is a very small impact on the environment in hoarding and displaying all of these possessions, so small that it is comparable to simply owning less.
I understand the goal of not having an attachment to material items. I am not saying that having maximalist spaces is the trick to finding true happiness. I will also concede that sometimes in creating these maximalist spaces there comes a self-imposed need to constantly satiate the eye. This may result in even more decorating, then redecorating. I am not saying I recommend falling down this never-ending rabbit hole. I am saying that there is beauty in owning and displaying the things we love. There is such a human quality to maximalism that I feel is often ignored.
There is a discrete vulnerability in displaying the things we love. We are constantly putting parts of ourselves onto our walls and on our shelves, asking people to comment on them and view them. This requires a confidence in the things we love and the people we invite into our spaces. And beyond that, this creates a bond between us and our guests that would have never been achieved in a minimalist space. Choose to love what you love and display it fervently in the spaces you find most sacred. There is nothing more beautiful, and there is nothing more human.