Minimalism vs. Essentialism


These two words, and the concepts they represent, have been squatting on some pretty prime real estate in my heart and brain, lately. I’m still plugging through back episodes of The Lively Show and being inspired towards things like simplicity, intention, efficiency, and authenticity, and I’m reading Jen Hatmaker’s 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, and I’m having conversations with friends and family about de-cluttering and eliminating excess. I’ve been working on perfecting my summer capsule wardrobe, and helping my husband with his, and going through other drawers and cabinets and storage containers around the house, getting rid of things that we don’t love. I have a capsule wardrobe collaboration coming up, and hopefully some more similar projects. Life in general continues to invoke deeper meaning, the longer I live.

I’ll definitely have to post a full-fledged book review of 7 once I’m finished with it, so I’ll save my ramblings on that for now. But that, along with the Essentials issue of Kinfolk Magazine I was reading while we were camping the other weekend, the conversation I had with my friend Jenny on the way home from the beach yesterday, and an article I read online last evening, have distracted my thinking for much of the day.

The aforementioned article was called The Problem With Minimalism. The title caught my eye as I was scrolling through my Facebook news feed, and since it was posted by a friend whose opinions I value and admire, I decided to check it out. (If you haven’t opened that link in a new tab by now, do it before you scroll down any further!) It’s a somewhat lengthy but easy-read discussion of the elitist persona that minimalism tends to incur, which put into words some of the struggle I’ve been wrestling with as I’ve been getting rid of things. Also, as one commenter on my Facebook post noted, it evaluates both sides of the spectrum without demoralizing either one.

The Kinfolk issue referenced “essentialism” as an alternative to minimalism. It’s maybe mostly a splitting of hairs terminologically, but the difference between the two is realizing, investing in, and hanging onto the things that are “essential” to each of our individual versions of “the good life” as opposed to trying to “make do” with as few things as possible (in some cases, even assigning a number to that goal, i.e. The 100 Things Project).

If the process of letting go of material possessions in order to create more time and energy for people, for the things we really love, and for the Creator and His Creation is something you’re intrigued by, that particular article and that particular magazine (Issue 16) are some of my most highly recommended reading. You can also click here for a few other resources I referenced a couple weeks ago.

What’s been inspiring you towards a higher quality of life lately? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

12 thoughts on “Minimalism vs. Essentialism

  1. I am so glad you are wrestling with this as well! I just started focusing on the bathroom today and noticed how many products, some being very similar just a different shade or company, I own and are half full or hardly used. I am giving myself a challenge to simplify my living and minimize the amount I own. I agreed that minimalism is probably not the word I want to use or method I plan to follow. I’ll have to treat myself to that issue of kinfolk!

    • Katie, YES! I have been enjoying super empty bathroom cabinets and closet for a couple months now. Such a good feeling! Plus, getting ready takes less time since I don’t have to decide which products to use OR figure out where to find them.

      Give yourself time! That’s what I keep reminding myself when it feels like I have soooo far to go. Baby steps! Last month it was the bathroom cabinets. This week it was my underwear drawer. Full steam ahead.

      I am really looking forward to hanging out with you on Monday. 🙂

  2. Love the photo and the article! Yes, essentialism is another positive way to think about minimalism when minimalism is viewed as “snooty.” 🙂 Thanks for shedding light on this! I’m sure you inspired so many readers to search essentialism and learn what values they can take with them. 🙂

  3. I’m glad you commented on my blog, because it brought me to your blog, and I very much like it so far. This post, at least. The one on beard oil wasn’t particularly relevant to my life. 🙂

    Personally I like the term “Minimalism” more than “Essentialism” because it seems easier to have a minimal amount of stuff than to only have the essential stuff. “Essentialism” makes me feel panicked, like, “is this bottle of perfume REALLY essential?” while “minimalism” gives me an excuse to keep that perfume as long as I get rid of the three other bottles that have been sitting there for seven years and rarely getting used. I realize that this is a totally arbitrary definition based on how I perceive those two words.

    I read “The Problem with Minimalism” and enjoyed it but also disagreed with part of its fundamental premise. As a financially poor person who is also sort-of minimalist-ish, I’ve found that a big part of minimalism is just being ok with not having convenient things. The author mentioned that the poor person will haul around a giant laptop and power cord, while the rich person just needs a lightweight modern computer with a long battery life, and thus can have less stuff. Minimalism for me is learning how to do without a laptop altogether, which is totally possible, even for a college student. Go utilize the library computer like the rest of the proletariat.

    Although I will say that I don’t follow minimalist blogs anymore because they all seem to be rich-person minimalists, so in that way I very much agreed with the article.

  4. Oh I’m so glad, Emily — thank you!

    I love the way you engaged with this post. Your perception of the terms certainly does differ from mine, but you’ve given me more food for thought, and I’m always hungry. 🙂

    I could relate better to the other example the author of “The Problem with Minimalism” offered — where a “poor” person needs a junk drawer because we might actually need those spare parts one day, because we fix things instead of going out and buying new ones. That’s definitely one of the struggles my husband and I have had as we’ve been de-cluttering: wrestling with the thought that, while no, we haven’t used this in the last three years and maybe don’t love it, there could come a day when it could totally save us money. But I think you are right on when you say that minimalism is learning to do without a laptop altogether.

    This just goes to show that minimalism looks different for all of us, and that’s why I try to say “my version of minimalism” when I talk about it.

    Thanks again for your insight!

  5. for real, you are my new favorite blogger!

    and this post is exactly what I’ve been wrestling with in my own head. I love the idea of living with less and thinking through my purchases to make wise decisions. What I’ve been struggling with is the fact that it feels like my life is revolving around things, and the whole point for me is that I can focus more time on people and doing projects we love. I’m pretty certain that once we de-cluttered around the house even more it will begin to feel more natural. We started with our bedroom, honestly, it’s so open and simple I wake up with a smile on face (perhaps that just the “I’m so happy we changed our bedroom after almost 5 years!” but i’m going to hang on it)

    What I’m struggling with the most is the children’s toys. We have so many great ones, not only do people give great gifts…but we find fun ones as well. I feel bad moving on gifts from others because they might be offended (I keep reminding myself that they don’t need to clean up after them)

    What is beautiful about the whole process is that it’s going to be different for everyone, and Thank You for helping me process even more mentally, and introducing me to the “The Problem With Minimalism.” article it was exactly what I needed to read.

    (I’m also plugging away at the back episodes of “the Lively Show” [thanks to Rosina])

    • Thanks so much, Lisa!

      I feel you, and yes, I think the further I get with the decluttering process, the less space in my brain and calendar the things take up. And gifts are definitely a tricky thing to navigate. I haven’t even read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up yet, but I’ve been applying what I understand is a concept from it: acknowledging the joy those things once brought me makes it easier for me to say goodbye to them.

      Thanks for your feedback and I’ll look forward to hearing more about how the process goes for you!

  6. I tend to use the word ‘simplifist’ to describe myself, and what I am trying to become. I am simplifying my life, my space, my belongings. I am creating space. Space for life, for friends, for family. I am trying to maximize my time, and my money by not investing in things. I have lived in a 640 square foot castle that is just the right size for however many people (and animals!) live here, because we all share at least one thing in common – an address.

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