Charlie's Blog: Anti-Minimalism

9.19.2016

Anti-Minimalism


Prose is architecture and the Baroque age is over.
ERNEST HEMINGWAY

Ernest Hemingway was a good writer. He was also a bad writer. He could be a really bad writer. The reason he was both good and bad is the same. Hemingway was a minimalist. Minimalism can be a cure, but it can also be a curse. To avoid the curse and embrace the cure, I recommend anti-minimalism.

We live in an age of extremes where to embrace a position means to automatically be opposed to its opposite. Readers of this essay will assume that anti-minimalism is the same as maximalism. This assumption is a mistake. People can't seem to think except in terms of either/or. This represents a mental trap. They see a front door and a back door, but never reflect that a window is a perfectly suitable exit from a burning house. Anti-minimalism is a window.

The problems with maximalism are obvious. There is such a thing as too much. Whether it is art or lifestyle or interior design or suburban homes, adding more on top of more ends up being stupid, wasteful, and ugly. More is not more. More is just trash burying the treasure beneath it.

Minimalism is the extreme reaction to those maximalist impulses. When people go down the minimalist path, it is liberating at first in the same way that going on a diet yields healthy weight loss in the beginning. Then, there is anorexia nervosa where that healthy weight loss zips by the window as you race down the interstate highway of oblivion.


Minimalism is anorexia. You don't have to become a skeleton to not be fat. You just have to not be fat. Likewise, you don't have to be a minimalist to not be a maximalist or a materialist. Yet, people go to extremes because they can't do the hard mental work of deciding what is enough.

I believe in simplicity. I like a watch that is inexpensive, tells the time reliably, and maybe even tells the date. I don't need a maximalist smartwatch that connects to my phone and the internet and notifies me of Facebook status updates. But I also hate watches without numbers on them. A numberless watch makes it hard to tell time, so I have to guess if it is 10 o'clock or 11 o'clock. That is the stupidity of minimalism. This is where less becomes less.

The way to escape the minimalist/maximalist mindtrap is to stop thinking in terms of less or more. Instead, think in terms of better or worse. We do this all the time. For instance, we adjust the volume on our devices to a midpoint between mute and deafening. We find that point where it stops being bad, but we stop before it becomes bad again. Yet, some people can't apply this same distinction to things like product design, their wardrobe, the homes they live in, the cars they drive, and on and on.

I believe that you should make things as simple as possible. Simplicity is awesome. I love simplicity. If you can subtract something, then you should do it. But the level at which you stop subtracting is that point where it stops being better and starts becoming worse. If only Hemingway could have figured this out.

Minimalism is prone to becoming ridiculous. This is why you have to become an anti-minimalist. To be anti-minimalist is to follow common sense. Common sense dictates that you should improve your life not empty it or fill it with needless crap. Learn how to be simple and better.