A Maximalist at Heart: Confessions of a Millennial

Emre Can,  Interior with Brass Chandelier , 2019, Digital photograph.

Emre Can, Interior with Brass Chandelier, 2019, Digital photograph.

I have a confession to make – I’m a Millennial, and I like things. I know, I know, it’s not what one is “supposed” to be in these early years of the 21st century. We are all meant to declutter and discover a minimalist path in life, most especially if you were born after 1981. Blame it on Western astrology (Taurus signs do love beauty) or the Chinese zodiac (earth dragons tend to be materialists) or perhaps being a third-generation magpie (the paternal side can’t resist a shiny bargain). And really, it should be no surprise given that I make a living evaluating art and antiques. Whether it’s nature or nurture, I’m a maximalist at heart.

Popular media has deemed Millennials to be a generation who prefers experiences over goods. Meanwhile, acquiring items for pleasure’s sake has garnered stigma. “Leave conspicuous consumption in the past for those Renaissance Florentines!” said no one, but I feel it socially implied. Today, the word “materialism” easily evokes the dreaded hoarder, a yuppy left over from the 1980s, and the commonplace-overwhelming-feeling-of-just-too-much-stuff. 

Truly, I sympathize. But am I an outlier in my object passion or only one of the less observed many? Stacks of books persistently pile up on my bedside table. Series of framed landscapes hang on my walls à la salon style. My inner child continues to adore one in every color, be it markers or shoes. If given the option between a two-night stay getaway or owning a Federal period sideboard, I’m leaning towards the case furniture with its lovely bellflower inlay. Unlike some Ikea purchases which seem to have a life expectancy of five years, that old sideboard can trust cohabiting with me for decades and hope that posterity will bring forth a history-loving steward. 

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema,  Library in Townshend House ,  London,  1888, Brush and watercolor and gouache, pen and ink, graphite on white paper.  Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum , New York.

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Library in Townshend House, London, 1888, Brush and watercolor and gouache, pen and ink, graphite on white paper. Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York.

Sadly, I weekly hear the common Baby Boomer mantra, “These kids don’t want to inherit anything.” They can adopt me, or better yet, hire me. I’ll find the appropriate new home for their objects. It will likely involve a multi-tier approach of gifting, sales, donations, charities, etcetera. Not every single piece is destined to be prized. 

But don’t fret minimalist readers. I do curb my appetite for all the pretty things. Spring cleaning occurs in my household as well. Loved ones are encouraged to cull at least five t-shirts of various hues. I even advocate the importance of downsizing to clients through a “less is more” attitude. I too am learning to be more mindful of what crosses the threshold. Do I really love it? Can I wear it for many seasons? It’s an ongoing practice. The more intentional I am with that which surrounds me, the happier I am in my object-filled environment.

And while everything in moderation, I don’t think I will ever become a resident of a white room contemplating the single orchid placed strategically in the light-filled corner. I sometimes wonder if I was a Victorian aesthete in a past life – spending evenings in the library and tinkering with my curiosity cabinet. When many today look at period photographs of late 19th-century domestic interiors, they mock the density of articles existing in the parlor. In distaste, they ask how a person could live that way. Well, I can imagine doing just fine. 

Tom Balabaud,  Frames in Dublin , 2019, Digital photograph.

Tom Balabaud, Frames in Dublin, 2019, Digital photograph.

So where is the happy medium in our attitude towards the material slant of our modern world? I say tend to your object garden, occasionally pull out the stuff-weeds that no longer enhance the present moment. It is possible to joyfully inhabit spaces containing a multitude of objects that resonate with memories and sentiment. These inanimate creatures will thrive as long as they are given a sense of dignity through attentive placement, care, display, and function. A gathering of beloved items creates a very different setting than those that are neglected or, worse yet, forgotten in the closet for your adult children to handle when you decide to move someplace warmer. Continue to edit, evolve, and reorganize your worldly goods. These processes revitalize spaces and offer an opportunity to determine whether something still has importance in your interior life. 

Am I ever going to live the way of a Zen master? My vintage Magic-8 ball says, “very doubtful.” Minimalism is not my tendency, and that’s okay. I am most content to reside among curated belongings. Maybe there are those who have a higher capacity for such art-full domestication. You can see it as someone’s hobby. You play tennis and knit while I collect art and rearrange furnishings. To each their own. Personally, it’s a delight to enter someone’s home layered with contents that convey a biography without words. Unique and quirky pieces are at the ready to be conversation starters. Have no shame fellow maximalists, yet learn how to have a healthy relationship with your true nature. And may those who are similarly inclined embrace a lifelong pursuit of balancing ornament and harmony.

Courtney Ahlstrom Christy, ISA CAPP, AAA AM is Co-Editor of Worthwhile Magazine and Principal Appraiser of Ahlstrom Appraisals LLC. Courtney can be reached at ahlstromappraisals.com.

© Courtney Ahlstrom Christy 2019

For further discussion about the relationship between people and their possessions read “The Right Stuff: The Surprising Compatibility of Collecting and Minimalism.”