Welcoming the Maximalist Movement

It’s the beginning of a new year, and I’ve been thinking a lot about how I’ll structure my life and work over the next 365 days. Like I said before, you don’t need to wait for any monumental occasion to make a big change in your life; but as long as the occasion is here, you might as well use it.

If you didn’t notice, 2010 was pretty well dominated by the minimalist movement. The news was filled with stories of simple living, new blogs sprouted up all over the internet, and people actually started counting how many things they owned. That’s good; I have a lot of minimalist friends – people like Everett Bogue, Tammy Strobel, Joshua Becker, Nina Yau, and Dusti Arab. They’re great folks and they’re doing great work.

If you came over to my place for dinner, you might think I was a minimalist – I have very few material possessions. But, when Tammy recently asked if I considered myself a minimalist, all I could answer with was “No, not really.”

After thinking about it for awhile, I realized that I’m more of a maximalist with minimalist tendencies – I own little so that I may have a lot.

  • So that I may have a lot of experiences. Owning few things and finding comfort in traveling with less allows me to see more of the world faster. It allows me the freedom to do many things and, rather than slowly absorbing the world around me, I choose to use that freedom to drink it in as fast as possible.
  • So that I may have a lot of friends. Being tied to little allows me all the time and mental capacity I need to form all the human connections that I want. Dunbar’s Law says that you can only maintain 150 connections in your life, but I reject that notion. That’s why I follow back every person that follows me on Twitter.
  • So that I may have a lot of possessions if I want them. Being very conscious of what I choose to own and spend my money on allows me to own a lot, if that’s what I want. For a long time, I owned a lot of musical equipment – a whole studio’s worth, really. I used it every day to fuel my passion for recording and I produced a lot of work that I’m quite proud of.

More, and More Less

At the heart of this new maximalist movement is one simple ideal: more. I think people want more from life, not less. But, I also think that the two are not mutually exclusive.

I reject the idea that the answer to a happy life is merely to simplify and do less. Instead, I propose that it’s to:

  • Do much more of what you love and much less of what you’d prefer to avoid.
  • Think more about what makes you happy and less about what makes you sad.
  • Say more of what you truly feel and stop giving lip service to what you think people want to hear.
  • Have more of the things you value in your life and purge everything you don’t.
  • Be more of the person you want to be and less of the person you think others want you to be.
  • Create more beautiful things and destroy more ugly ones.

Rather than exclude indiscriminately, focus your time, energy, and effort on more of the good things in life and ruthlessly exclude the bad. Get more of what you really want.

Twice as Good and Twice as Much

I think it was Jason Fried of 37 Signals who said “Half. Not half-ass.” When his company develops a piece of software, they do an incredible job implementing half the features they want to rather than half-assing the whole shebang. In other words, twice as good, not twice as much.

Jason’s a sharp guy, and I look up to him in a lot of ways. That quote made me think hard about how I focus my own attention. However, I think the real goal for maximalists like you and me is twice as good, and twice as much. Yes, I do think it’s possible to do everything you want and do it well. It takes an incredible focus and determination, but that’s something worth pursuing for it’s own sake, don’t you think?

When I was in college studying architecture, I had a professor that loved to use the time–cost–quality pyramid as a teaching aid. It looks like this:

The argument is that, in any project, you must sacrifice one leg of that pyramid to achieve the other two. Needless to say, we didn’t exactly see eye to eye. I found this idea wholly accepted even after I left college and started working in construction.

Most people are happy to accept these terms as they’re given to them, but not us. No, I believe that when you embrace maximalism and focus your energy on what you love and what you’re good at, then you can, in fact, have your cake and eat it to.

You can have fast, cheap, and good. You can have twice as good and twice as much.

Be an Extremist

To truly accept the idea of maximalism, I think you have to be a bit of an extremist; there isn’t much room for existing “in the middle.”

If you’re going to maximize what you love, then you must also minimize what you hate. Embracing maximalism doesn’t make a lot of sense if you use it to intensify what makes you unhappy.

I aim for maximum enjoyment, maximum purpose, and maximum achievement. I think that’s possible and even more likely to happen by embracing more instead of shunning it.

  • If you want to be social, be very social. Make as many new friends as possible, and don’t exclude anyone. Work hard to maintain your connections and build a huge network of people who support you as much as you support them. Disregard Dunbar’s Law and build your relationships how you want to.
  • If you enjoy owning something, own a lot of it. You don’t have to follow my lead and banish possessions. My grandma owns hundreds of Beanie Babies. It makes absolutely no sense to me, but it’s not my collection and it’s none of my business. I’ve never once heard her complain about having too many.
  • If you love to travel, go to ten places instead of just one the next time you take a trip. Squeeze as many different experiences as you can out of your adventure. Or, go to one place and stay there ten times longer. Get to know it better than any outsider.
  • If you love doing something, try to be the best at it. I’ve never really understood the idea of trying to do something you couldn’t be the best at. If you can’t be the best, then consider trying to be the worst.
  • If you’re a goal setter, set lots of them and make them big. Then, work your ass off to accomplish them. If you’re a risk-taker, find more ways to take big risks. If you stand for something, go all out and really stand for it.

Start thinking and acting either really big or really small. Maximize. Or, maximize your minimization.

Now Accepting Applications

Yes, I’m a maximalist, and no longer will I hide it. If you think you might be one, I’d encourage you to come out of the closet as well. Minimalism is great, but this is a big world and there’s room for all of us. You don’t have to deny yourself what you really want for the sake of keeping up with the Joneses because keeping up with the Joneses is exactly what minimalism aims to defeat.

What I mean to say is that it’s okay to be the Joneses if that’s who you really want to be. And it’s okay to be okay with others not keeping up with you. Live and let live, I say.

I’m declaring 2011 the year of maximalism. If that sounds good to you, then I’m also accepting applications for the movement. We’ll meet right here twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays. There’s no selection process – you just apply and you’re in. Here’s the sign-up form:

First Name:Email:

I’ll never share your address and I do an impressive disappearing act if this isn’t for you.

See you on the other side?


Image by: lindaaslund