The rear view of two people's heads who are sitting with their hands propping up their heads, relaxing on the couch in Oregon.

Do you love living in a home that surrounds you with an abundance of possessions, patterns, and textures? You’re a maximalist, and I bet your house is filled with color, joy, and extroverted people. Or, do you find calm in the spare, clean spaces of minimalism? Your house is probably an oasis of peace and quiet—please invite me for coffee.

But…what if you’re a minimalist living with a maximalist? Or a maximalist living with a minimalist? How can you live in harmony when you’re at opposite ends of the “stuff spectrum” (like my husband and me)? How do you create a home that you’re both happy with?

Read on. It’s about listening, compromising, and meeting in the middle-ish. (I say “ish” because we all know one person will get their way a little more than the other. In our house, that’s usually me, so I’m good with that.)

How to live with a maximalist:

My husband thinks of himself as “somewhat” maximalist. However, I think of him as a wildly indiscriminate collector of tiki mugs, t-shirts, movie posters, tech equipment, and assorted vintage junk. (If I’m going to drink from a tiki mug, I want to do it in Hawaii, not Lake Oswego. So, why do we need thirty-two of them?) Nevertheless, here’s why we haven’t filed for divorce:

  • Remember, maximalists are often very sentimental. They value their things and the memories they bring. It might not be your style, but it brings them joy. Be gentle.
  • Maximalism can add fun and personality to minimalist spaces.
  • Honest communication is key. If a space really bothers you, then talk about why, without being accusatory or judgmental. Also, listen when they talk about why they love that space! What’s clutter to you is comfort to them.
  • Maximalism doesn’t mean nothing ever has to be thrown away (or sold, donated, or recycled). There’s a fine line between the actual maximalist design style and just having too much crap lying around. If your maximalist makes you feel like you’re drowning in their stuff, then it’s okay to ask for a rightsizing session.
  • However, never throw or give away a maximalist’s things without asking!
  • Most importantly, find a way to let your maximalist have a judgment-free space of their own to do whatever they want. In my home, we’re lucky to have a spare room off the garage that my husband uses as his office/hobby room. I never go in there, and with any luck, I’ll die without ever having to. I’m sure it’s a mess, but he’s happy puttering around and talking to his tiki mugs or whatever he’s doing in there.
  • If your resident maximalist is a roommate, then work to create “calm zones” where none of their stuff is allowed, period. It’s only fair that you both have spaces you feel at home in.
  • Are the maximalists in your life are your kids? You may have to make concessions for now. When our kids were little, I was amazed at how attached they got to the junk in their toy boxes. Once, I tossed out a ratty, bald tennis ball, and my kid wailed, “Noooo Mommy, that’s Franklin!” A Big Rocks team member suggests doing a rightsizing session with your kids once a year, such as before or after Christmas (tell them it’s to make room for more toys).
  • Make room in your minimalist heart for some generosity of spirit. Maybe, in the grand scheme of things, everything in your home doesn’t have to be perfectly minimal (I’m lecturing myself here). A few maximalist additions can amp up the coziness for both of you.

How to live with a minimalist:

I consider myself a minimalist. My husband says I’d be happy living in a shipping container with one light-colored wooden chair, a stylish toothbrush made by a Finnish architect, and three coffee table books with white covers. He’s not wrong. Here’s how we both get our way:

  • Respect boundaries: A minimalist needs to have some calm spaces in their home where nobody’s stuff intrudes. Even if it looks empty and sad to you, don’t be tempted to fill it with your stuff. Minimalists like empty and sad.
  • Understand that your minimalist may value relationships and experiences more than material things. Suggest doing something next weekend, rather than buying something.
  • Truthfully, most minimalists do love things—a lot—but only the best things, and not very many of them. Let them have their design obsessions. The perfect toothbrush really does make us happy, weirdos that we are.
  • Too much stuff makes many minimalists feel anxious, overwhelmed, or claustrophobic. If your stuff is affecting your partner’s mental health, then take steps to eliminate this stressor.
  • Be inspired by your minimalist’s organizing ability; could your stuff use some of their help?
  • If you’re the minimalist, then be clear about why an uncluttered space is important to you. Again, communication is key.
  • Think about the areas that cause the most stress to your minimalist partner when they’re cluttered—the coffee table, kitchen counters, etc.—and pay special attention to keeping them clear.
  • When you’re about to buy something for your collection of whatevers, ask whether adding to your stash is going to cause a problem, and is it really worth it.
  • If your minimal home feels cold and impersonal to you, then you have a right to speak up about adding some warmth. It’s your home too!

How to blend minimalism and maximalism:

News flash! You actually can mix minimalism with maximalism and have a vibrant, curated, and cohesive look. If you decide to go all in and create a look that keeps you both happy, great! It can be a little tricky to mix such different styles, so keep these few pointers (we’re not calling them rules) in mind.

  • The goal is to create rooms that have areas of colorful interest to satisfy the maximalist, mixed in with calm spaces to soothe the soul of the minimalist.
  • If you need to buy something for the house, then shop together to find something you both love.
  • Agree on a color palette, and stick to it. This helps create a sense of harmony that can appeal to people on both sides. Three colors should be just right to keep both of you happy. (For the sake of the maximalist in your home, don’t make all the colors neutral.)
  • Keep your large furniture pieces (couches, accent chairs, dining table) clean and simple-lined, then mix in a few more maximal pieces such as an ornate lamp or mirror, a vintage dresser, or a coffee table. Contrast is a good thing.
  • Mix up materials. Maximalist velvet can play nicely with minimalist linen or cotton; a simple, rustic wooden table can be a great place to put a highly decorative porcelain vase.
  • Try one ginormous maximal statement, like a huge colorful painting or a big, bold rug in an otherwise quiet, minimal room. It can add interest without being too busy.
  • Bring in a maximalist’s collection and put it in a concentrated space like your bookshelves. Even minimalists can get behind an interesting or quirky collection when it’s displayed right.
  • It isn’t necessarily about adding more stuff, it’s about adding more impactful stuff. Go play and see what happens!

Or…get a referee!

Not into DIY design? Can’t find that middle ground? If you’re having a hard time living with each other’s styles, have a neutral party gently assist you with rightsizing, organizing, and displaying your stuff. Big Rocks Organizing will help make your home exactly what you both want it to be!

Schedule a free exploratory call today.

About Andrea Thompson

Andrea was an advertising copywriter/creative director for 40 years before retiring then unretiring to start a new career in organizing. She fully admits her new home is not 100% organized.