Minimalism & Stoicism: The Twin Paths to Ultimate Peace?
Imagine if Marie Kondo met Seneca in a coffee shop.
He’d be sipping on a modest cup of plain, hot water.
She’d be gleefully folding napkins into tiny squares, and both engaged in a heart-to-heart about sparking joy and the impermanence of life.
Welcome to the rendezvous point of Minimalism and Stoicism.
These two ancient yet modern philosophies might seem more mismatched than pineapple on pizza (controversial, but I like this combination).
Still, they both offer a tantalizing recipe for serenity.
In this article, I will explore whether these twin paths can genuinely lead us to the ultimate peace or if they’re just the philosophical equivalent of a hipster avocado toast – trendy but fleeting.
I will discuss…
- Six Core Principles of Stoicism
- Eight Core Principles of Minimalism
- Minimalism vs. Stoicism Principles: Common Ground and Differences
- What is stoic Minimalism
Six Core Principles of Stoicism
So Stoicism is the ancient philosophy that makes you ponder, “Why did I buy that 10th pair of shoes, again?”
But first things first, Stoicism isn’t about being an emotionless robot; it’s more like being a wise Yoda in a world of over-caffeinated squirrels.
1) The Dichotomy of Control
Some things are up to us, and others…not so much.
So, focus on what you can control and for the rest? Let it go.
Let’s use an example.
Imagine this: You’re an avid plant lover, and you’ve planted a lovely rose bush in your garden.
What You Control:
- Choosing the Plant: You picked a rose bush because roses are amazing (and maybe you’re channeling your inner Shakespeare).
- Watering and Care: You ensure it gets water love, and play it some classical tunes (because you heard plants love Mozart).
- Protection: You place a little fence around it to keep cheeky rabbits at bay.
What You DON’T Control:
- Weather: A sudden frost could give your rose a chilly surprise.
- Natural Disasters: A surprise mini-tornado decides your garden is the perfect place to dance.
- Random Events: A lost bird decides your rose bush looks like the ideal landing spot, snapping a few branches.
So, the dichotomy of control in Stoicism teaches you to focus your energy on the things you can control (like your care for the rose) and to accept the things you can’t (e.g., surprise frost).
Instead of getting upset about the frost-damaged petals, you’d embrace the opportunity to learn about frost-resistant plants or appreciate nature’s transient beauty.
2) Nature’s Flow
Stoics say, “Go with the flow,” because, let’s face it, you can’t really argue with the universe.
It’s like trying to argue with your cat. Pointless.
Let’s use a river analogy to illustrate what “go with nature’s flow” means.
Imagine you’re floating on a river in a trusty canoe.
You first want to find out the current direction.
The river has its own flow.
Instead of furiously paddling against the current (and getting a serious arm workout), you decide to paddle with the current, using its natural direction to guide you downstream.
Then, you want to adapt to changes.
Up ahead, you see some rocks.
Instead of panicking or complaining that the rocks shouldn’t be there, you adjust your direction, steering around them smoothly and going with the flow.
But you also need to accept the unpredictable.
Sometimes, the water is calm and serene. Other times, it’s wild and rapid.
Instead of getting upset about the rough patches, you embrace them, feeling the thrill and knowing they’re part of the river’s natural rhythm.
“Nature’s Flow” philosophically is about recognizing the natural order of things, accepting it, and working in harmony with it.
It’s the understanding that life, like that river, has its own rhythm and flow.
Trying to fight against it or wishing things were different is futile and exhausting.
Instead, adapting, accepting, and flowing with what comes our way leads to a more harmonious life.
3) Inner Fortress
Your mind is like a castle.
No, not like the ones in fairytales with moats and dragons.
It’s more about having a solid, unshakeable core.
When life throws lemons, you don’t just make lemonade; you sip it like a champ, thinking, “Is that all you got?”
This fortress has, of course, solid walls.
Think of these as your core values and beliefs.
Like fortress walls fend off invaders, your values help you stand firm against external pressures.
So when society yells, “Buy this! Do that!” you’re inside your fortress thinking, “Nah, I’m good.”
In addition, it has a “drawbridge control.”
This is your selective filter.
You decide what (or who) gets access to your inner world.
Do you have a negative naysayer or a toxic friend trying to storm your gates?
Up goes the drawbridge.
Then there is the fortress tower.
From this vantage point, you can see the bigger picture.
While the world may be chaotic, you remain calm and centered from your tower (your inner perspective), watching the world with detachment and clarity.
To survive longer, you also need storage rooms in the fortress. That’s your internal resources.
And within the fortress walls, you’ve stored all your emotional and mental supplies.
This is your resilience, wisdom, experiences, and memories.
When times are tough, you don’t need to look outward for validation or support; you have a stockpile inside.
So, the “Inner Fortress” concept from Stoicism is about recognizing and nurturing this internal space or sanctuary that remains untouched by external events and opinions.
No matter what’s happening outside—be it a storm, an invading army, or just Dave from next door being annoying again—inside the fortress, you’re unshakable, centered, and at peace.
4) Death & Impermanence
Well, this sounds a bit gloomy, but stay with me.
Remembering that we’re here for a good time, not a long time. This can make us appreciate things more.
This whole “death and impermanence” thing is, of course, best explained with a cookie example.
The Perfect Recipe: Granny Edna had a cookie recipe that was the talk of the town.
They were not just cookies; they were bites of fleeting joy.
People came from all over to savor them because they knew these delights wouldn’t last forever.
Limited Batch: Granny Edna baked cookies only once a month.
The moment they emerged from the oven, their timer began ticking.
By evening, every crumb had been devoured.
Passing on the Tradition: Granny Edna knew her days on this earth, like her cookies, were numbered.
So, she taught her grandkids the sacred art of cookie-making, ensuring the legacy of her cookies lived on.
Savoring Each Moment: Every bite of an Edna cookie was cherished.
People weren’t just tasting butter and sugar; they were relishing the impermanence of the moment, appreciating the cookie’s fleeting existence.
Now, taking a step back from our cookie-filled tale, the concept of “Death and impermanence” in philosophical traditions like Stoicism is about recognizing and internalizing the temporary nature of everything.
Life, possessions, experiences, and even Granny Edna’s cookies have an expiration date.
Rather than letting this realization bog you down, it’s meant to liberate you.
It teaches you to cherish every moment, to not sweat the small stuff, and to prioritize what truly matters.
5) Virtue is the Highest Good
For Stoics, being a good human being is top-tier.
It’s not about the bling, trophy wife, house, or Insta-fame.
It’s about character, integrity, and maybe not stealing someone’s lunch from the office fridge.
As an example of virtue, consider this scenario…
On his way home from a rather tiresome day at work, Tim stumbles upon a wallet on the street. It’s packed with cash.
Tim thinks of all the things he could do with the money.
He’s been eyeing a new gaming console, that snazzy pair of shoes, maybe even a fancy dinner.
He’s on Cloud Nine with the windfall.
However, it doesn’t take long, and another thought emerges.
Someone’s probably having a bad day, fretting over their lost wallet.
Tim recalls his mom’s teachings about doing the right thing, even when no one’s watching.
Putting his desires aside, Tim uses the ID in the wallet to track down its owner and returns it, full of every last cent.
The owner is beyond grateful, but for Tim, the real reward is the warm fuzzy feeling inside.
So, what’s the big idea?
“Virtue is the Highest Good” as a stoic core principle is not the money, fame, or snazzy shoes that define our true worth, but our character, choices, and how we align our actions with our virtues.
In our story, while the cash could have given Tim temporary happiness, the act of doing the right thing—of choosing virtue over vice—gave him a lasting sense of contentment and pride.
6) Emotions & Judgment
Fun fact: It’s not events that upset us but our judgments about them.
Burnt your toast?
Don’t blame the toaster; it’s just trying its best.
Stoics believe in checking our judgments and reactions.
Let’s take this example of a sentimental slip-up.
One lazy afternoon, Sally’s phone buzzes.
It’s a message from her friend, Jenna, saying, “We need to talk.”
Nothing more. Dun dun dun…
Sally’s imagination goes wild.
Did she accidentally like an embarrassing picture on Jenna’s social media?
Did she forget Jenna’s birthday?
Or, horror of horrors, did Jenna find out about her secret affection for singing cheesy 80s hits in the shower?
Sally’s stomach churns, her anxiety spikes, and she prepares an apology tour mentally.
Instead of seeking clarity, Sally’s emotions start clouding her judgment.
She assumes the worst, starts drafting lengthy apology texts, and even considers sending Jenna a peace-offering gift card to the local coffee shop.
Jenna finally calls, only wanting to discuss a book recommendation.
The “talk” was just about whether Sally preferred mysteries or romances.
The emotional rollercoaster? Entirely self-inflicted.
The Stoics believed that it’s not external events but our judgments about them that cause our emotions.
In Sally’s case, the text itself was neutral.
However, her judgment (or misjudgment) about its meaning sent her into an emotional tailspin.
So, don’t be Sally the next time your phone buzzes with a cryptic message.
Before you hop on that emotional rollercoaster, check if you’ve got a valid ticket or if you’re just jumping on board out of habit.
Eight Core Principles of Minimalism
Here we go:
Intentionality: Ever buy something ’cause it looked cool, then forget about it a week later?
We’ve all been there.
You want to choose stuff like you’d choose Netflix shows: only the ones you really want to spend time with.
Functionality: Why’s it there if it doesn’t work or serves a real purpose?
Like that app on your phone, you opened… once.
If it’s just a digital paperweight, maybe it’s time to swipe left.
Simplification: Less is often more.
But when it comes to stuff, having fewer things means less time spent looking for your left sock.
Quality over Quantity: One sturdy umbrella or ten flimsy ones that flip inside out in the wind.
Remember that you’re not doing a Mary Poppins impression the next time it’s raining.
Clarity and Focus: Clear out the clutter; suddenly, fog lifts.
This study confirms that physical clutter competes for our attention and can decrease performance and increase stress.
So, a tidy room is not just for show.
Mindfulness: It’s like being on a diet but for stuff. Savor and choose what counts. And this is not only limited to stuff. You can translate it to many other areas, such as communication.
Value-based Living: Keep things that spark joy, purpose, or have a story.
Not because they’re shiny and were on sale.
Limitation: Boundaries can be liberating.
Think of it like an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Sometimes, picking a few dishes you love is better than piling everything onto your plate.
The same is true for (toxic) friendships.
Minimalism vs. Stoicism Principles: Common Ground and Differences
Now that you’ve learned about stoic and minimalist principles, we have the groundwork to identify overlaps and differences.
Common Ground of Minimalism and Stoicism
Here are the four areas where minimalism and stoicism overlap…
1) Focus on Essentials
Stoicism: It’s all about understanding what’s truly important in life and focusing on one’s virtues. External possessions? Meh.
Minimalism: Strip down to what adds value. That fifth coffee maker? It’s probably unnecessary unless you’re running a café from your kitchen.
2) Control & Intentionality
Stoicism: Focus on what you can control, and don’t sweat the rest.
Minimalism: Make intentional choices.
Does this item or commitment serve a genuine purpose in my life? This, in some way, implies you can make the difference between what you can and can’t control.
3) Internal Value
Stoicism: Inner strength and virtue are where it’s at.
Stoics would rather cultivate inner wisdom than flash external bling.
Minimalism: It’s not about the stuff but the value it brings.
A valuable life experience trumps the latest gadget.
Stoicism: Keep life straightforward and focus on core values.
Minimalism: Simplify, simplify, simplify. Both your possessions, commitments, and other areas of your life and work.
The One Main Difference Between Minimalism and Stoicism
Now that I covered where Stoicism overlaps with Minimalism, let’s look at the three main differences.
Perspective on Emotions
Stoicism: It’s not events but our judgments about them that cause emotions.
While Stoicism doesn’t preach emotionlessness, it emphasizes rational control over them.
Minimalism: Doesn’t particularly address emotions directly, but decluttering and focusing on the essential often leads to less stress and increased contentment.
So, while this is a core principle in Stoicism, it is a positive side effect or benefit from applying minimalism principles.
While Stoicism and Minimalism shake hands on many principles, like focusing on what’s essential and embracing simplicity, their main points of departure lie in their approach to emotions.
So, they’re like distant cousins.
There’s shared DNA, but each has its spicy flavor.
What Is a Stoic Minimalist?
Okay, I covered the overlaps between Stoicism and Minimalism. And the next question you may have is what a stoic minimalist may be.
Or, put differently, can one truly embrace Minimalism without a dash of Stoicism?
A Stoic Minimalist is like the philosophical equivalent of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Two individually powerful ideas merge to form an even tastier treat for the soul.
Stoicism teaches acceptance, resilience, and the idea that virtue and character are the highest goods.
It tells us to differentiate between things we can control (our actions, judgments, desires) and things we can’t (basically everything else).
Minimalism emphasizes simplicity, decluttering, and the art of valuing experiences over things.
It’s about removing excess and focusing on what truly adds value to life.
Mash these two together, and a Stoic Minimalist is born.
They don’t just declutter their wardrobe but also their emotional baggage.
They understand that while owning fewer things creates physical space, accepting life as it is (à la Stoicism) creates mental space.
Embracing Minimalism on a deeper level means not just letting go of things but also of desires, anxieties, and societal pressures.
And where do we learn that? That’s right. Stoicism.
So without a smidge of Stoicism, Minimalism might just become another form of consumerism – buying fewer but more expensive things or constantly chasing that “perfect” minimalist aesthetic.
In Conclusion, while you can practice Minimalism without Stoicism, adding a sprinkle of Stoic wisdom might elevate your minimalist game.
It’s like adding a pinch of salt to your chocolate chip cookies – it enhances the flavor, making the experience richer and more profound.
This article has been reviewed by our editorial team. It has been approved for publication per our editorial policy.