I was recently taken aback when a friend asked me to provide a distinction between simplicity and minimalism. While I tend to use them interchangeably, I have yet to sit down and craft my own definitions of these lifestyle elements. And while there are deep similarities, I do view minimalism and simplicity as mutually exclusive ideas.
Born from a sense of the aesthetic, I see minimalism as an approach to my physical world, namely possessions. I desire minimizing what’s in my space, whether tangible or digital, to my favorite essentials. Simplicity on the other hand serves a different function in my life. It is when I develop a more intentional approach with my belongings that I then experience a simpler lifestyle. I feel as if simplicity is rooted in my emotional state and outlook. Hence, I want my life to look minimal and feel simple.
When I first set out to craft a more intentional life over two years ago, simplicity and minimalism were not my main focus. In fact, I’m not really sure I understood what either of those concepts were. At the time, I was intrigued by the realization that I could live below my financial means and still experience many joys of a fulfilling life. For the first time in my American upbringing, I realized that more wasn’t always better. Paradoxically, much of that additional consumption didn’t necessarily lead to an increase in my long-term satisfaction. It was through these lifestyle principles that I discovered minimalism and simplicity.
When I look around my room now, I see the essentials of my life: a camera, laptop, capsule wardrobe, favorite backpack, etc. The world around me has been minimized with great intention. My physical possessions are crafted for the life I want to lead; they are no longer a reflection of who I used to be. I found it gratifying to part with sentimental items (link) from my past in a healthy way. My time is minimized doing things I don’t enjoy, while I intentionally choose to make room for things I desire: community, travel, friends, writing. That doesn’t mean I’ve got it all figured out, but it does mean I’m more conscious of what I enjoy and what I don’t. To that end, I recently left an energy-draining job to pursue new opportunities as opposed to sticking with the status quo. These choices are a tangible manifestation of minimalism in my everyday life.
Simplicity on the other hand focuses on my outlook, my emotions, and my mindset. If I was to describe my day-to-day existence or how I move through the world, I would describe it as simple. Or at least simpler than my life was before all this downsizing. It is a more accurate way to describe how I feel about my lifestyle. Much of the aforementioned physical crafting makes way for the emotional space to think, create, meditate, and examine my values. And because of this, my values are more grounded and I’m less easily impacted by events I can’t control. I no longer feel as time-desperate as I once did and have developed a greater consciousness for everyday beauty.
Some of us may see simplicity as a component of minimalism or minimalism as one element of simplicity. For me, I see them as two critical components within the greater context of essentialism. Minimalism is an approach to the world I live in and move through. I use it to gauge what’s in my physical world. Simplicity describes my mentality and how I feel in my everyday existence. I develop a better sense of who I am and what values matter most.
As I reflect on the past couple years, I notice the concepts and and their importance in my life were in constant flux. What I once thought of as simplifying is no longer true. Some possessions I once deemed essential parts of my identity have come to pass. And it was in the refining and defining of these ideas that so much of my growth has come.