Minimalism vs. Essentialism: A Battle that Never Happened
“Imagine two warriors, Minimalism and Essentialism, poised on a battlefield, ready to duel.
But instead of clashing swords, they pause, ponder, start to laugh, and then… share a cup of tea.
In the epic saga of ‘Minimalism vs. Essentialism,’ the anticipated showdown might just be the greatest non-fight in the history of personal philosophies.
Both champions of simplicity often get pitted against each other in an alleged rivalry.
But what if I told you that this face-off is more of a harmonious tango than a titanic tug-of-war?
Let’s dive into the tale of these two and uncover the ‘battle’ that, quite frankly, never truly happened.”
What Is Minimalism?
In my article “13 Jaw-Dropping Facts About Minimalism,” I touched on the origins of Minimalism, which I will recap shortly here to explain better what it is.
Minimalism isn’t just a fancy art term you’ve stumbled upon in Britannica.
It’s a deep-rooted philosophy with ancient ties.
Zen Buddhism from 7th century Japan preached simplicity and reflection, an ethos mirrored in Zen writer D.T. Suzuki’s words [Zen and Japanese Culture].
Those ancient Greeks, like Seneca, believed craving less was true wealth [Letters from a Stoic].
Fast forward, and Thoreau lives deliberately in a forest cabin, urging for simplicity [Walden].
Or Matsuo Bash Bashō’s haikus that distilled life’s essence in just three lines, embodying minimalistic principles.
Don’t forget the Japanese architectural principle “Ma,” celebrating emptiness [In Praise of Shadows].
The 1960s brought Minimalist artists like Donald Judd, abstracting beauty [Minimalism: Art and Polemics in the Sixties].
Even music, like Steve Reich’s compositions, underlined the power of minimalistic repetition [Writings on Music].
Even decluttering guru Marie Kondo nods at Minimalism [The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up].
It’s not just art. It’s a philosophy emphasizing simplicity and intentionality.
Minimalism’s core advocates for identifying what’s essential in life and intentionally eliminating everything non-essential.
This can apply to possessions, activities, relationships, ambitions, and other life areas.
The idea is that by decluttering and focusing on the truly valuable parts of life, one can find clarity, purpose, and contentment.
While often associated with having fewer material possessions, Minimalism’s principles can be applied to other facets of life, promoting mindfulness, intentionality, and a focus on quality over quantity.
Here are the core principles of Minimalism you can find in many of my articles:
- Simplicity (focusing on the essential)
- Freedom from materialism (appreciating what you already have)
- Quality over quantity
- Living in the present
- Self-sufficiency (depending less on external things for happiness)
Let’s keep the second principle on the list (simplicity) in our minds for later as I continue with this article.
What Is Essentialism (The Origins)?
With Essentialism, we have two approaches.
We can pretend it’s separate from Minimalism or part of it, as I prefer to see it.
Look again at the Minimalism core principles, and there you have it.
If we pretend it’s something different from Minimalism, we could call it a close relative, such as Minimalism’s practical cousin.
In that case, instead of focusing solely on “less,” Essentialism is all about “less but better.”
Imagine your life is a closet.
Now, instead of tossing out random items, you’d keep only those that serve a purpose, right? That’s Essentialism.
“Essentialism’s” origin is Greg McKeown’s book, “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.”
His big idea?
In our hectic lives, we’re drowning in tasks and commitments.
It’s like being in a noisy room and trying to hear a whisper.
Essentialism helps mute the noise so you can hear the important stuff.
The Difference Between Minimalism and Essentialism (Is There Any?)
The lines between Minimalism and Essentialism often blur, and there’s significant overlap between the two philosophies.
Both aim to simplify life and make it more meaningful, though their areas of emphasis might differ slightly.
Greg McKeown’s book zooms in on the principle already present in Minimalism.
The author essentially (pun intended) explores focusing on the essential, trimming away the non-essential, and making more deliberate decisions about where to invest one’s time and energy.
In that sense, he’s taking a core tenet of Minimalism and diving deeper into its application, especially in the modern work context.
You could argue that “Essentialism” provides a more detailed playbook on one aspect of Minimalism.
Instead of focusing on Minimalism’s typical focus on possessions, it emphasizes the intangible “clutter” in our lives: our commitments, tasks, and where we allocate our energy.
In essence (there I go again…), while Minimalism has a broader scope, encompassing lifestyle, possessions, and mindset, Essentialism zeroes in on discernment and prioritization in our actions and decisions.
It takes only one Minimalism principle out of the toolbox and expires it deeply.
So, because of that, I find there is no difference between Minimalism and Essentialism.
It’s just a subset or a specialized branch of Minimalism you can develop when you explore the minimalism principle of simplicity (focusing on the essential) and apply it, for instance, to tasks and goal setting.
To see both as different would be similar to seeing an aircraft’s instruments as distinct from an airplane.
So, instead of seeing Minimalism and Essentialism as separate entities, you want to view them on a spectrum.
You could also call it a style of Minimalism.
Minimalism vs. Essentialism Examples
Let’s compare Minimalism and Essentialism through various examples to understand their nuances (not differences since it’s part of Minimalism):
- Minimalism: Having only a few pieces of furniture, muted color palettes, and almost bare walls to create a visually clutter-free space.
- Essentialism: Selecting furniture and items because they serve a purpose or have personal value, even if there’s more in the room than a minimalist might prefer.
- Minimalism: Owning a capsule wardrobe with a limited number of versatile clothing items.
- Essentialism: Owning clothes necessary for various activities and occasions, focusing on utility and value rather than quantity.
- Minimalism: Owning only basic tech items, like a phone and a laptop.
- Essentialism: Investing in technology that enhances productivity or quality of life, whether that’s a high-end camera for a photography hobby or specific apps that aid daily tasks.
- Minimalism: Reducing the number of tasks to the bare minimum.
- Essentialism: Prioritizing tasks based on importance and impact, even if that means having more on the to-do list.
- Minimalism: Limiting social engagements to maintain a lot of personal free time.
- Essentialism: Choosing social engagements that are meaningful and enriching, even if it means a busier calendar.
- Minimalism: Owning very few books, relying on libraries, and reading digitally to reduce physical possessions.
- Essentialism: Keeping books that offer lasting value, knowledge, or sentiment, even if it results in a sizable personal library.
- Minimalism: Buying only when necessary.
- Essentialism: Making thoughtful purchases based on genuine need or long-term value rather than impulse.
This article has been reviewed by our editorial team. It has been approved for publication per our editorial policy.