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Maximalism vs Clutter: What's the Difference? 6 Decorating Tips

Maximalist living room with pink couch, coffee table, plants and gold-framed artwork

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Maximalism is an interior design style that embraces a "more is more" philosophy. In contrast to minimalism, which encourages simplicity and minimising unnecessary belongings, maximalist spaces typically embrace eclecticism and flamboyance, some referring to it as the "aesthetic of excess".

If you're not familiar with maximalism, or if you've heard about the well-being benefits of its opposite, minimalism, you might be thinking that a maximalist approach is nothing but an excuse to welcome more clutter and chaos into your home, ultimately leading to more stress. 

But there's a big difference between maximalism and clutter.

How to Do Maximalism Without Clutter

A cluttered space is, simply put, full of stuff. Some of it might be functional, some might be decorative, but overall, excess clutter just makes a space feel claustrophobic and, well, messy. There's nothing intentional about unwanted clutter. Sometimes it's the result of an overdue home clearout, or it might overaccumulate if one feels overwhelmed by their personal lives, lacking the time to filter out the junk that stockpiles in every corner of their home.

Maximalism, on the other hand, while being all about excess, requires thoughtful consideration and intentional decoration. The approach pays homage to bold colours and patterns, design elements that feel both luxurious and eccentric and eclectic decor collections. It also provides an opportunity to showcase your personality through your home. 

Maximalist enthusiasts often aim to express their passions, hobbies, or unique tastes through their decor, by creating a cohesive and meaningful story. However, achieving the perfect look requires a mindful approach to the layout and organisation of the room, to ensure balance and harmony in the overall design.

Ultimately, your maximalist design should make you smile when you walk into it. It shouldn't make you want to tidy up.

Let's say you're giving maximalism a try, how can you proceed without making your space feel disorganised and cramped? 

1: Maintain a Theme

A maximalist home study with a blue theme. Lots of decorations and artwork.

Maximalism isn't a design style alone, but instead an approach to decorating which can be applied to many interior design styles such as dopamine decordark academia, biophilic, or bohemian. 

Feel free to combine design styles to meet your taste, but be decisive about the aesthetic you want to create before jumping into decorating. Doing so will help you avoid clutter and ensure that your design stays neat and organized, instead of overwhelming. 

To achieve a cohesive, consider maintaining a common theme when it comes to the colours, patterns, and materials used in a room. One way to do this is by choosing patterns that feature the dominant colour of the rest of the room. Another option is to find a common pairing of materials and stick to it - for example, exposed wood and velvet make a great combination. By no means be reserved with your design choices, maximalism touts the benefits of doing the exact opposite, but be deliberate and consistent with your colour choices to maintain a sense of harmony. 

If you're having trouble balancing your colour palette, consider implementing the 60-30-10 rule. Allocate 60% to a dominant colour, 30% to a secondary colour, and 10% to accent hues. This allows you to be diverse with your colour choices while preserving cohesivity. 

2: Be Diverse but Practice Moderation

A Bohemian, style maximalist room with chair, console, table, artwork, and plants

A true maximalist design is carefully curated, with intricate attention paid to the design. It doesn't mean throwing a mishmash of ornaments, colours and materials into a room and expecting it to look great.

By all means, let your creativity take the reigns, but bring some method to the madness. 

Make the distinction between pattern and/or colour pairings that clash in a good way and a not-so-good way. To combine elements that typically clash, there needs to be balance. Test combos before you implement them permanently. 

If you're keen to include clashing design elements, know how to create balance. Take patterns for example: consider using block colours between each patterned surface to break up the visual noise. You could apply patterned wallpaper to just 1-2 walls instead of the whole room, or pair plain bed covers with a fiercely printed bedspread.

When it comes to bold colours, consider weaving neutral shades into your design to offset any overwhelming effects of blindingly vibrant hues. This can actually place more focus on the parts of your design you want to enhance. Perhaps you could put a brightly coloured couch against a white wall, or invigorate your beige sofa with a vibrant rug and bold wall colour. 

3: Designate Zones

A home study with floral wallpaper, plants and lamp

It's important not to sacrifice practicality for aesthetics.

To ensure that your maximalist design does not hinder your home's functionality, you can divide your home into different sections for decor and practical tasks. It is essential to be clear about which areas are curated for aesthetics and which are optimised for practical jobs or chores. When these two areas overlap, your decorative items may become an obstacle to your daily activities.

To keep your task areas such as kitchen counters or study desks clutter-free, make sure to prioritise space and tidiness. Avoid using excess decor in these areas or choose decorations that don't take up workspace, such as hanging decorations or wall art. This will help you avoid the need for unnecessary tidying every time you use the space to complete a task.

To showcase your decorative items like ornaments, plants, or trinkets, it's best to reserve specific sections on shelves, end tables, console tables, or windowsills. While putting up decorations, it's crucial to consider their placement to avoid accidentally knocking them over while walking by. Keep decorative sections out of reach of children and pets to prevent any mishaps and keep your decorations looking great.

To keep your decor items organised and make cleaning easier, consider using ornamental trays to contain your smallest items. This way, the surfaces underneath can be dusted and cleaned without moving every single item.

Wall art is a staple addition when it comes to maximalism. Many designers suggest limiting wall art to one "gallery wall" to create balance. When it comes to maximalism, feel free to break this rule. However, to maintain a sense of order, you might consider implementing it or dedicating your other wall space to be the backdrop for statement furniture or tall items like floor lamps or large plants.

4: Spread Out Your Decor

A colourful maximalist living room with velvet blue couch, two chairs, a coffee table, green walls and patterned curtains

Layering is an essential step in creating a balanced maximalist design. To layer effectively, you need to consider the space from floor to ceiling, not just things on floor level.

If you are aiming for a maximalist design, it means you want every detail in the room to capture attention. You wouldn't want to leave any corner of the room untouched. It's important to avoid having one significant decorative area while the rest of the room comes up short.

Pay attention to detail and distribute decorative items evenly to create a harmonious aesthetic. To do this, make sure you use your walls - wall decor and patterned wallpaper provide visual interest without taking up floor space, allowing for easy movement through the room, and helping to enhance spaciousness. Similarly, hanging decor such as trailing plants or garlands brings attention upwards and adds decorative value.

5: Maintain Functionality

A colourful maximalist kitchen with teal cabinets, open shelves, a deep sink and plants

You want to maintain a sense of order and balance within your maximalism design so it's functional and aesthetically pleasing. 

Ensure there are clear pathways within each room for easy movement. Don't obstruct doorways or entrances with excessive decor.

Consider including items that serve both a functional and aesthetical purpose, such as colourful coasters or retro clocks, eclectic lamps to provide cosy lighting and mirrors in unique frames or unusual shapes.

Optimise storage to keep unnecessary clutter out of sight and consider multi-functional furniture with storage features such as ottomans, or coffee tables with built-in drawers or shelves.

6: Smart Cleaning

Someone dusting a TV stand

One thing to consider when curating your maximalist interior design is how to optimise the space for easy cleaning. One thing minimalism triumphs at is how easy it is to dust because there are fewer obstacles to clean around. But a maximalism space doesn't have to be a dust magnet if you have the right tools.

Air purifiers help to reduce dust particles in the air, pulling them and trapping them in a filter before they can settle on the surfaces in your home. They won't eliminate dust, but they can help to reduce build-up and will keep your air cleaner and safer to breathe too. 

Regular vacuuming helps to get rid of dust that accumulates on the floor and reduces the amount of dust that settles on higher surfaces. This results in a cleaner and healthier environment by preventing the circulation of dust in the air.

Microfiber cloths are unrivalled as a staple addition to any dusting tool set. Reusable, therefore eco-friendly, and efficient at collecting dust. You can either use them slightly damp or with a cleaning spray (make sure it's suitable for the surface you're cleaning).

For cleaning around small trinkets or delicate objects, a soft paintbrush can be helpful to get into small spaces. Wipe the excess dust from the brush onto a damp microfiber cloth as you go. 

A maximalist living room with a studded, green velvet couch, studded, green velvet, Ottoman, gold leaf wallpaper

Is the thought of keeping your home tidy and orderly stopping you from adopting a maximalist approach to your interior decorating? By following the steps above you can enjoy a vibrant, colourful and joyful home without worrying about clutter build-up or spending extra time dusting!

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