Minimalism and simplicity are often used interchangeably. And it doesn’t stop there. Phrases like essentialism, intentionality, and slow living get thrown into the mix, making all of this a little confusing.
While these terms are related, they’re not the same. I don’t like getting too bogged down on definitions. But words hold meaning.
Minimalism and simple living represent a mindset. A way of thinking that can be transformational.
In this article, I’ll break down the differences between these two concepts and, more importantly, look at the extraordinary synergy between minimalism and simplicity.
First, some definitions.
In a world that is constantly changing and growing more complex, it becomes increasingly difficult to recognise and appreciate the ordinary and mundane. We’re bombarded with stimulation from all sides, and it can be easy to get caught up in the rat race and forget what matters.
According to Merrian-Webster, simplicity is a state of being uncomplicated and uncompounded — free from complexity, excess, or ambiguity. Doesn’t that sound wonderful?
In today’s fast-paced world, simplicity is a rare commodity. We have to remind ourselves to appreciate the simple things in life, whether it’s spending time with loved ones, nature, or enjoying a quiet moment.
Minimalism as a concept is a lot newer than simplicity — and the definition is still evolving.
But for consistency, Marrian-Webster defines minimalism as a style or technique (as in music, literature, or design) characterised by extreme spareness and simplicity.
I interpret this definition that simplicity is the desired outcome of applying minimalism — which shows the complementary nature of these concepts.
I want to add that minimalism is generally considered an active approach to reducing the number of things you possess to create space.
The differences between minimalism and simplicity (with examples)
Below are some key differences between minimalism and simplicity:
Minimalism is a process or journey, while simplicity is a state of being.Minimalism is about reducing the number of things you own, while simplicity is about living with less complexity.Minimalism can be applied to your physical possessions, schedule, and commitments. Simplicity is about reducing mental clutter and creating more margin in your life.Minimalism is often about doing more with less. Simplicity is about making things easy.Minimalism can be communicated as an identity, i.e. “I’m a minimalist“, while there isn’t an identity marker for simplicity.Minimalism can be perceived as cold and stark, while simplicity is viewed as inviting and calming.Minimalism is more measurable, i.e. counting the number of things you own or see before and after transformations. Simplicity is harder to quantify, as it’s more of a feeling or a mindset.Minimalism is often associated with austerity. Simplicity is often associated with peace.
Let’s look at some examples to help illustrate these differences.
If you own 100 things and get rid of 80 of them, you’re practising minimalism. However, while paring down your items is helpful, it doesn’t guarantee you’ll reduce the complexities and pressures of life.
Conversely, you can be drowning in clutter and still have a simple and easygoing outlook on everything you do.
Simplicity reminds me of childlike innocence or how your pet goes about its day. They either like something, or they don’t. They feel their emotions fully at any given moment. And there aren’t a million things going through their mind.
When I visualise minimalism, there’s a lot of thinking and contemplating about the most optimal solutions. Minimalism is about editing, resetting, refocusing and efficiency. There’s something methodical about minimalism that I love. Nothing is wasted. However, the risk here is that minimalists can get trapped, seeking perfectionism and missing the point altogether.
When you take a step back, it becomes clear that simplicity sits in the feeling side of your brain while minimalism operates in the rational thinking part.
By understanding these differences, we can start unlocking the magical dance between simplicity and minimalism.
Minimalism and simplicity, like peanut butter and jelly
Peanut butter and jelly are entirely different ingredients, but it’s like they were made for each other. The same applies the minimalism and simple living. They each benefit from the other.
Simplicity’s goal is to reduce complexity. One of the greatest drivers of complexity is adding more to your life, whether it’s things, debt or commitments. In other words, clutter. Logical minimalism comes in to remove clutter and creates the breathing room to be simple again.
On the flip side, most minimalists would agree that their end game is to live simply. Yet their highly intentional way of thinking often gets in the way of bringing back that naive, childlike innocence. Simplicity teaches minimalism to enjoy and maintain the beautiful space they’ve created.
For example, adopting a personal uniform or a capsule wardrobe is an act of minimalism. But the outcome is to enjoy the simplicities of making fewer decisions about what to wear today.
The risk here is that a minimalist may overedit or over optimise their wardrobe for no gain. It’s like watching your father-in-law over trim the hedges. He just doesn’t know when to stop and, in the end, does more harm than good.
By thinking simply, minimalists can stop editing and start enjoying.
How to embrace the benefits of minimalism and simplicity
Minimalism and simplicity are the perfect combo, but sometimes minimalists forget to enjoy the benefits of their decisions.
Simple living teaches minimalists to be content without all the extra stuff that clutters life. Simplicity helps reduce complexity to live a more peaceful life.
Minimalists will often argue that they don’t need much because it’s about editing and resetting your mindset for efficiency and freedom. However, you can still have minimalist tendencies while being mindful of not overdoing things or getting caught up in perfectionism when you’re downsizing your life — this is where simplicity comes into play.
What do you think? Do you think minimalism and simplicity are a good combination? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading.