Have you heard maximalism is in and minimalism is out? Rooms bursting on the seams with clashing florals, vibrant furniture and innumerable knick-knacks, that is what defines the brand new interiors trend cluttercore (or bricabracomania).

Some say it’s a war between generation Z (born 1997-2012) and minimal millennials (born 1981-1996), symptomatic of greater differences. Others say it’s a pandemic response, where our domestic prisons became cuddly cocoons, stimulating our senses, connecting us with other people and places. But what really lays behind the alternative to clutter or cull?

Why do some people experience collections of novelty eggcups? Or have so many framed pictures you possibly can barely see the (ferociously busy) wallpaper? And why do those at the opposite end of the spectrum refuse to have even the essential stuff visible in the house, hiding it behind 1000’s of kilos’ of incognito cupboards?

One vital reason for the clash between minimalism and maximalism is easy: the relentless pendulum swing of fashion. Whatever psychological or cultural rationale pundits may suggest, fashion is all the time concerning the love of what strikes us as recent or different.

This struggle might sound recent nevertheless it is just history repeating itself, encapsulated in the inside struggle between less and more that began between class-ridden Victorian commodity culture and modernism’s seemingly healthy and egalitarian dream.

Loads of stuff

Victorians liked stuff that they might placed on display. These things communicated their status through solid evidence of capital, connectedness, signs of exotic travel and colonial power. Think inherited antique cabinets and Chinese ivory animals. Then imagine the labour required to not only create, but polish, dust, manage and maintain these myriad possessions.

But this deluge of stuff was made possible for more people as mass-produced commodities – especially those created from synthetic materials – became cheaper.

All this created a novel and lasting problem: select and organise a world with a lot aesthetic possibility – make things “go together”. The nineteenth and Twentieth-century guardians of culture and the “public good” were just as concerned concerning the spiritual chaos of an excessive amount of clutter as modern “organisational consultants” like Marie Kondo.

In response, they arrange design schools and academic showcases, just like the Great Exhibition of 1851, the 1930 New York World’s Fair and the Festival of Britain in 1951.

Very little stuff

The minimalist mantra “less is more”, courtesy of German art school the Bauhaus was established within the Nineteen Twenties. For some modernists, “pointless decoration” was an indication of an “uncivilised” (read feminine and non-white) mind. They nevertheless also looked to “primitive” cultures for daring aesthetics and authenticity superior to western excess.

Modernists believed that simplicity and stylish functionality, enabled by mass production and cost-effective recent materials (like tubular steel and plywood), could promote social equality in interior design. They had a degree. Without staff, what working person can, realistically, keep “curated” clutter looking cool (and clean)?

A mid-century modern room with desk and bookcase.
Modernists revolted against the inside excess of the Victorians, favouring sleek design with clean lines.

But, what about “cosiness”? That feeling, described within the Nineteen Nineties as “cocooning or providing a “warm welcome” to guests?

A Nineteen Eighties American study found that the “homeyness” desired in interiors was achieved by successive circles of stuff – from the white picket fence, to the wisteria on the outside partitions, the wallpaper, pictures and bookshelves lining the inside partitions after which furniture arranged also in roughly circular formations.

These layers would then be overlain with decorations and texture, making symbolic entry points in addition to enclosures. “Homey” was aesthetically the overall opposite of recent minimalism, whose “functionality” was perceived as cold, unsympathetic and unwelcoming.

Despite this popular rejection, modernism was the postwar default for European “good taste”, seen in design HQs and high-end interiors magazines. But wasn’t all of it not only uncomfortable, but in addition a bit boring? And, unfortunately, every bit as unforgiving without a number of money and a team of cleaners?

Modernism on the low cost is just depressing (see the concrete blocks of Sixties UK council flats). Sleek built-in cupboards cost quite a bit. And smooth, unadorned surfaces show every speck of dirt.

Rebelling against modernist mantras, Nineteen Eighties design sought to place “the fun back into function” for sophisticates. However, unusual people were all the time buying fun stuff, from plastic pineapples to granny chic knick knacks.

The impossibility of all of it

Nowadays, the “secure” and default mainstream option is a broadly-defined “modern” look characterised by Ikea. But it’s probably not minimalist. This look encourages an accumulation of stuff that never quite functions or matches together and which still fills a room in response to the ethos of homeyness – although each object may “look modern”.

It fails to inform a convincing story of the self or remain tidy, prompting further purchases of “storage solutions”. Minimalists strip this back to a minimum of objects with a neutral palette. Fewer mistakes equals less chucking out. Less stuff equals less to alter once you tire of it.

But minimalism is harder than ever. We are powerless against the tides of half-wanted incoming consumer stuff – especially if you might have children – which makes achieving minimalism all of the more impressive. People who do achieve it frame their shots with care and so they chuck a number of stuff away.

Making a more elastic aesthetic look good can also be difficult, possibly harder. Clutter lovers range from sub-pathological hoarders, to upper middle-class apers of aristocratic eclecticism, to moral “keepers”. An aesthetic mess can appear to be an accidental lack of human control, identity or hope. It takes quite a bit to make harmony out of all that potential noise – and keep it tidy.

Cluttercore is ideal for now, a vehicle to display the curated self, the “interesting” and “authentic” self so demanded by social media. And it hides behind the concept anything goes, when in actual fact, possibly some things must.

This article was originally published at theconversation.com