Can simple be minimal, and minimal be simple?
Although one could consider these two concepts two sides of the same coin, they are definitely not the same. If taken literally, they are not even similar. Simplicity implies to remove or reduce complexity, while minimalism implies removing or reducing quantity. Sometimes the two can link or contribute to the success of the other, but it is not always the case. To me, minimalism deals with my possessions, while simplicity deals with my thoughts and emotions. That is what attracted me to the simple life – the chance to remove complexity from my thought processes in order to free up brain-space to focus on other things. Let me explain. Having a capsule wardrobe is a minimalistic idea. You take your existing wardrobe and you remove all of the non-essential items, leaving behind only items that are practical. These items then form part of your core capsule, and you wear them year-round with here and there a seasonal piece. If you take the guidelines of starting a capsule wardrobe and you combine it with the principles of living simplistic, you will not only remove items that are not practical or essential, you will also remove items that do not give you joy. Because at its core, living simply means reducing your life in order to increase your joy. Now, because I have a simple yet loved wardrobe, getting dressed is a breeze. Anything I pull out of my closet will 1. Fit, 2. Work with the rest of the items, and 3. Be preferred by me. All my clothes will make me feel comfortable, at my best, and uncomplicated. Another example would be décor. Strict minimalists have almost-bare walls, very little items as décor, and also very little furniture. Nothing is cluttered, full or busy. They keep only what has a use. For a simplist (my new word) their home is their sanctuary. It might be bare and minimal, or it can be full and busy and loud. Their only rule? Whatever I have must be loved and bring me joy, and not cause me to spend too much time, energy and money on. If I have too many things standing around just for looking pretty, and I have to spend lots of time to get them all clean, then they are not contributing to my simple life. But if they look pretty and bring me joy, and they are no hassle, then they can stay – even if it means I have way more than what I need or should have.
When reading blogs and literature, the words and phrases that are frequently used to describe minimalism are declutter, get rid of, anti-consumerism, eliminate, remove, decrease. It comes with action plans and steps, and you get the overwhelming feeling that if you do not have discipline, you will never succeed being a minimalist. For me, these characteristic words and phrases indicate that minimalists might be looking for external solutions to provide short term results. Simplicity, on the other hand, is described using words and phrases like gentle living, find joy, add value, freedom, breathe, extra time, caring for the environment, intentional, sustainable, balance, slow. What is really evident is that the simple life centres on your contentment. With yourself, with your surroundings, and in your relationships. Simplicity deals with an internal search for long term solutions. I don’t know about you but I would much rather be content than disciplined.
Another way of differentiating between the two concepts would be the “why” behind the change. I mostly associate minimalism with an urge to save money, while simplicity to me means to save ourselves. The minimalist would maybe change their household cleaner to a homemade one because it works out a lot cheaper, while the simplist will change because it is chemical and toxin free. I am definitely not saying that one is good and the other is bad, not in the least. In actual fact, I wish I could become more of a minimalist myself. I have too many things, and some do take too much of me. But for now, I am focusing on other aspects of my life. Things that need to be simplified in order to support my mental wellbeing as well as the physical health of myself and my family. Whether you associate more with a minimalistic approach or with a simple approach doesn’t matter, all that matters is that you identify your reason why, and ensure that your change becomes part of who you are. If not, group pressure will most likely quickly lure you back to your previous way of living.
Of course, a minimalist can live simply, and someone who strives to live simply can do so minimally. The two are not mutually exclusive, and can sometimes borrow from the one to make the other more bearable, more acceptable, or more possible. Sometimes the minimalist will still feel overwhelmed by all the rules and expectations, and sometimes the simplist will feel that they need to get rid of everything and move to a commune. That is the problem with labels, sometimes you just don’t fit in.
Who am I? I like to think of myself as someone who aspires to be a simple minimalist. My definition of that would be someone who gets rid of (in an ethical and sustainable manner, keeping in mind the principles of zero waste) things unwanted, unused, and unloved, but keep everything else. The unwanted, unused and unloved extends to my thoughts, ideas, relationships, even abstract things like goals and dreams. Whatever I remove I remove with the sole purpose of making my life easier, happier and safer, and for no other reason. I want to increase my joy, and spend more time doing what I love. If that means living in a house filled to the brim with knickknacks, photos and other mementoes, then so be it. The minimalists will cringe, but the simplists will see the spark in my eye and it will make sense to them.
So what I am trying to say is minimal can be simple, but simple is not always minimal, and that you can be whoever you want to be.