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Which One Is Better: A Minimalist Lifestyle or a Maximalist Lifestyle?

Which One Is Better: A Minimalist Lifestyle or a Maximalist Lifestyle?

Throughout 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 [2]or 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 [3]about 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

The Beginning

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 [4]believed 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.

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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.

The Modern Time

In more recent times, minimalism can be traced back to American philosophers and writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson[5] 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

The Beginning

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.

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However, epicureans were also aware that pleasure was a kind of calculation. After all, too much short-term pleasure can get in the way of long-term pleasure. If you drink two bottles of champagne at a fancy bar because of a commitment to short-term pleasure, you’ll likely regret it in the long-term when your head is throbbing and your bank account is empty.

For epicureans, this doesn’t mean that drinking two bottles of champagne at a fancy bar is wrong. It just means that short-term pleasure can sometimes come at a cost. The secret to happiness means just being aware of this cost.

Jump forward a few hundred years, there was a man named Oscar Wilde[8], the author of his first and only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. For Wilde, art is beautiful uselessness. To stay alive, we only need to sleep and eat. So a home with just a bed and a table would be an extremely ugly place because it would only contain useful things. A home with unnecessary but attractive additions such as sculptures, paintings, vast numbers of books, comfortable chairs, and an enormous grand piano is an extremely beautiful place. This is the basis of Wilde’s aesthetic philosophy, sometimes referred to as “new hedonism”, and it’s also the basis of maximalism.

The Modern Time

Maximalism, as we understand it today, is mostly defined by post-modernism. Novels such as Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 [9] and Salman Rushdie’ s Midnight’s Children [10] do not limit themselves to the traditional idea that a novel needs to be about one story happening at one place or at one time. Both novels span hundreds of years (though flashbacks and flash forwards), take place in hundreds of settings, and explore the lives of hundreds of characters. In doing so, these novels ask us a question: why limit the stories you can tell when there are so many stories to tell?

What’s Good with Minimalism?

One man influenced by Thoreau’s writing was Gandhi. Living under the British Empire in the early 20th century, Gandhi felt compelled to live a life where he didn’t need to rely on British goods in order to survive. Eventually, this idea evolved into a philosophy whereby Gandhi felt determined to live on just the bare essentials in order to survive.What’s more, he was also influenced by Thoreau’s notion of “civil disobedience”. Rather than protesting British rule with aggression or violence, Gandhi opposed it with noncompliance[11] . He wouldn’t pay their taxes, buy their products, or follow their law. He would rely on himself by growing his own food, knitting his own clothes and, ultimately, thinking his own thoughts.

With this is in mind, the benefits of minimalism can be divided up into two broad categories: the practical benefits and the intellectual (or spiritual) benefits.

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Practically, minimalism means having less physical stuff to weigh you down and fewer things to depend upon.

In turn, this leads to the intellectual benefit of being free to consider for yourself what you need and want rather than have this dictated to you by the culture which you happened to be born into.

Intellectually, you can think independently.

By being independent from society (both practically and intellectually), you are then able to think independently about society. It’s no coincidence then that Thoreau and Gandhi ended up deciding upon two quite radical (but ultimately correct) ideas about the societies which they had removed themselves from.

For Gandhi, minimalism helped him to better realise that India needed to be free from British rule. For Thoreau, minimalism helped him to better realise that slavery was indefensible and needed to end. Both of these ideas sound obvious now, but they weren’t at the time. It’s difficult to criticise a society if you yourself are part of that society. Minimalism allows you to stand outside society. As Shakespeare once said, “the eye sees not itself.[12]

What Do We Gain from Maximalism?

Life is short. If the entire universe were a 13-year-old girl, she would have only known about humans for the last 50 minutes. [13] What’s more, for most of those 50 minutes, humans would have been hunter-gatherers who roamed from place to place. The first proper human civilisations would have emerged just five minutes ago.

More than that, those five minutes have been spent on planet earth which, though it is everything we have ever known and contains within it the lives and ideas of everyone we have ever heard about, is just an infinitesimal speck in the vast depths of space. As Carl Sagan once put it, the earth is just a pale blue dot.[14]

If the whole of human civilisation makes up just five measly minutes on a few tiny corners of a microscopic dot in the cosmic, 13-year-old’s life, then how can one human life have any meaning? Nihilists believe that it doesn’t.[15] The cosmic, 13-year-old is blind to humanity.

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When you embrace stuff, you may experience more with little time you have.

Maximalism is a reaction to this idea. While Epicures and Wilde could not have known how vast the universe is, they still would have had a decent grasp of how fleeting life is. With so little time on earth, these men felt compelled to live lives according to pleasure.

Post-modern literature takes this further by embracing the madness and information overload [16]of the modern world. Planes, the internet, television, films: all of these things make the world feel smaller. This, maximalists argue, is not a bad thing. It’s good that we can experience so much with what little time we have. In fact, there’s science to back up the idea that varying your experiences as much as possible can help you to feel like you’ve lived longer.[17] So rather than abandoning all the progress society has made by allowing us access to so much stuff, maximalists embrace this chaos. After all, we’ll soon be dead.

So Is It Better to Be a Minimalist or a Maximalist?

Being a minimalist means running contrary to the advice of Oscar Wilde, Epicurus, and countless post-modern writers while being a maximalist means running contrary to the advice of Diogenes, Emerson, and Gandhi. All these people have shown how both minimalism and maximalism can make you happy, unhappy, and everything in between. Like everything else, it’s a matter of taste.

Philip Glass’s Glassworks[18] shows us what beauty can be created when we stick to the essentials. The 40-minute album is a minimalist composition divided into six movements. Even though it expresses so much creativity and originality, it mostly consists of repetitions and variations of the same tunes played on different instruments.

By contrast, musicians like Kanye West with his magnum opus My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy[19] show us what can be achieved when we embrace our artistic greed and fill a song with as much noise, content, and experimentation as possible. The album is maximalist masterpiece of controversial lyrics, loud and layered music which blends dozens of genres at once, and even a 34-minute film to accompany it.[20]

Asking whether it’s better to be a minimalist or a maximalist is like asking which album is better. As previously mentioned, it’s a matter of taste. Consequently, a better question would be, “which album do you prefer?” If you can answer that question, you’ll probably have a better idea of whether you should live a minimalist lifestyle or a maximalist one.

Reference

More by this author

Mitchell Labiak

Freelance Writer. Digital Marketing Consultant at Exposure Ninja. Vlogger at YouTube.

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Last Updated on September 20, 2018

8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

You go to the gym to train your muscles. You run outside or go for hikes to train your endurance. Or, maybe you do neither of those, but still wish you exercised more.

Well, here is how to train one of the most important parts of your body: your brain.

When you train your brain, you will:

  • Avoid embarrassing situations. You remember his face, but what was his name?
  • Be a faster learner in all sorts of different skills. No problem for you to pick up a new language or new management skill.
  • Avoid diseases that hit as you get older. Alzheimer’s will not be affecting you.

So how to train your brain and improve your cognitive skills?

1. Work your memory

Twyla Tharp, a NYC-based renowned choreographer has come up with the following memory workout:

When she watches one of her performances, she tries to remember the first twelve to fourteen corrections she wants to discuss with her cast without writing them down.

If you think this is anything less than a feat, then think again. In her book The Creative Habit she says that most people cannot remember more than three.

The practice of both remembering events or things and then discussing them with others has actually been supported by brain fitness studies.

Memory activities that engage all levels of brain operation—receiving, remembering and thinking—help to improve the function of the brain.

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Now, you may not have dancers to correct, but you may be required to give feedback on a presentation, or your friends may ask you what interesting things you saw at the museum. These are great opportunities to practically train your brain by flexing your memory muscles.

What is the simplest way to help yourself remember what you see? Repetition.

For example, say you just met someone new:

“Hi, my name is George”

Don’t just respond with, “Nice to meet you”. Instead, say, “Nice to meet you George.”

Got it? Good.

2. Do something different repeatedly

By actually doing something new over and over again, your brain wires new pathways that help you do this new thing better and faster.

Think back to when you were three years old. You surely were strong enough to hold a knife and a fork just fine. Yet, when you were eating all by yourself, you were creating a mess.

It was not a matter of strength, you see. It was a matter of cultivating more and better neural pathways that would help you eat by yourself just like an adult does.

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And guess what? With enough repetition you made that happen!

But how does this apply to your life right now?

Say you are a procrastinator. The more you don’t procrastinate, the more you teach your brain not to wait for the last minute to make things happen.

Now, you might be thinking “Duh, if only not procrastinating could be that easy!”

Well, it can be. By doing something really small, that you wouldn’t normally do, but is in the direction of getting that task done, you will start creating those new precious neural pathways.

So if you have been postponing organizing your desk, just take one paper and put in its right place. Or, you can go even smaller. Look at one piece of paper and decide where to put it: Trash? Right cabinet? Another room? Give it to someone?

You don’t actually need to clean up that paper; you only need to decide what you need to do with it.

That’s how small you can start. And yet, those neural pathways are still being built. Gradually, you will transform yourself from a procrastinator to an in-the-moment action taker.

3. Learn something new

It might sound obvious, but the more you use your brain, the better its going to perform for you.

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For example, learning a new instrument improves your skill of translating something you see (sheet music) to something you actually do (playing the instrument).

Learning a new language exposes your brain to a different way of thinking, a different way of expressing yourself.

You can even literally take it a step further, and learn how to dance. Studies indicate that learning to dance helps seniors avoid Alzheimer’s. Not bad, huh?

4. Follow a brain training program

The Internet world can help you improve your brain function while lazily sitting on your couch. A clinically proven program like BrainHQ can help you improve your memory, or think faster, by just following their brain training exercises.

5. Work your body

You knew this one was coming didn’t you? Yes indeed, exercise does not just work your body; it also improves the fitness of your brain.

Even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions. But it’s not just that–exercise actually helps your brain create those new neural connections faster. You will learn faster, your alertness level will increase, and you get all that by moving your body.

Now, if you are not already a regular exerciser, and already feel guilty that you are not helping your brain by exercising more, try a brain training exercise program like Exercise Bliss.

Remember, just like we discussed in #2, by training your brain to do something new repeatedly, you are actually changing yourself permanently.

6. Spend time with your loved ones

If you want optimal cognitive abilities, then you’ve got to have meaningful relationships in your life.  Talking with others and engaging with your loved ones helps you think more clearly, and it can also lift your mood.

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If you are an extrovert, this holds even more weight for you. At a class at Stanford University, I learned that extroverts actually use talking to other people as a way to understand and process their own thoughts.

I remember that the teacher told us that after a personality test said she was an extrovert, she was surprised. She had always thought of herself as an introvert. But then, she realized how much talking to others helped her frame her own thoughts, so she accepted her new-found status as an extrovert.

7. Avoid crossword puzzles

Many of us, when we think of brain fitness, think of crossword puzzles. And it’s true–crossword puzzles do improve our fluency, yet studies show they are not enough by themselves.

Are they fun? Yes. Do they sharpen your brain? Not really.

Of course, if you are doing this for fun, then by all means go ahead. If you are doing it for brain fitness, then you might want to choose another activity

8. Eat right – and make sure dark chocolate is included

Foods like fish, fruits, and vegetables help your brain perform optimally. Yet, you might not know that dark chocolate gives your brain a good boost as well.

When you eat chocolate, your brain produces dopamine. And dopamine helps you learn faster and remember better. Not to mention, chocolate contains flavonols, antioxidants, which also improve your brain functions.

So next time you have something difficult to do, make sure you grab a bite or two of dark chocolate!

The bottom line

Now that you know how to train your brain, it’s actually time to start doing.

Don’t just consume this content and then go on with your life as if nothing has changed. Put this knowledge into action and become smarter than ever!

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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